Real Talk 08/10/18: The Breaking Point

In which I reach the breaking point and pull a trigger I should have pulled a long time ago.

Doing Not-Doing

Before we get to what’s going on in my life, I want to talk about what I’ve been reading. The Tao Te Ching, a philosophical work by Taoist godfather Lao Tzu, has been on my to-read list for a very long time. After finishing the first half of Ray Dalio’s Principles, which is really two complete books plus an extended preface, I decided to mix it up and read a completely opposite kind of book.

Or so I thought.

Principles, an excellent guide for anyone who wants to do anything more effectively, is a practical instruction manual written by the CEO of a highly successful stock market investing firm. Dalio distills his vast knowledge of economics, science, and psychology into a set of basic ground rules for life and work, relying on logic and evidence each step of the way.

Nobody knows much about Lao Tzu, but the conventional wisdom is that he wrote his Tao in a cave somewhere in rural China a few thousand years ago. The Tao Te Ching is a collection of contradictory statements about the nature of reality, arranged in short verses which almost read as poems.

I’m only twelve verses in to the Tao, but so far, it’s similarity to Principles is striking. Both books are about living your life according to the most basic principles, which should be distilled by observing the world accurately rather than seeing what you want to see. Both are about learning behaviors that will serve you well in all possible situations, rather than reacting to events on a case-by-case basis.

I’ve talked about my love for oxymoron, dichotomies, and the contradictory nature of reality, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I’m loving the Tao Te Ching. I’m treating the book like a series of logic puzzles, meditating on each 50-word verse for anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes. You could read the whole book in that time, but I don’t think you’d get much from it.

Each verse sparks some kind of revelation in me, even–especially–the verses that seem completely unintelligible at first glance. If you decide to give it a read, approach it with an open mind. The verses read like the kind of empty nonsense statements people post on Facebook to look enlightened, but the wisdom in this book is highly practical stuff that you can apply to your life. I’m sure I’ll talk more about it as I continue puzzling my way through it, but for now I want to mention a few of the lessons that have struck me most powerfully.

Disclaimer: I have no clue if any of my thoughts about this book are accurate. My understanding of Eastern philosophy in general is limited, so treat the following as an eight-year old trying to explain the themes of a Shakespeare play.

The core of the work seems to be the concept of wei wu wei, “doing not-doing”, which is very different than doing nothing. It’s similar to the “flow state” discussed in modern psychology: finding enlightenment by disappearing into your work, entering a state where your conscious mind ceases to exist and you blend seamlessly into whatever you are doing. As a writer, for example, my goal shouldn’t be to write a book or earn fame and fortune as a result. The aim is to write and to disappear into my writing, reaching a state where my books essentially write themselves and I am simply a vessel through which words pass. Okay, that sounds really abstract and out there, but psychologists agree you work most efficiently when you enter a flow state, so it is a practical technique.

Another concept I like is the emphasis on emptiness. The Tao, or Way, which is the subject of the whole work is referred to as infinite emptiness with limitless potential. Talking about the power of nothingness sounds like another abstract truism, but Lao Tzu demonstrates its truth very practically. The useful quality of a bowl is that it is empty; having nothing in it allows it to hold whatever we want. When we build a house, we are enclosing a certain amount of nothingness and claiming it as our own. We use wood and concrete and so on to build with, but can only live in empty space, so emptiness is the most important building material. If you yearn for a bigger house or apartment, you’re really longing for extra nothing to work with.

I just finished a verse today which really struck me. It talks about how sensation blinds the senses: for example you can’t see anything when blinded by color, you can’t hear anything when deafened by noise, and so on. At first, I thought it was about living in a more quiet, muted environment, so you could learn to pick up more subtle, nuanced sensations. A practical example is how fancy restaurants will serve bland Swiss cheese as an appetizer to reset your palette and allow you to taste nuanced flavors. Then the verse added the heart and mind as sensory organs, which perceive the stimuli of desire and thought. The idea that desires and thoughts are not things that we create but things we “see” or “feel” is fascinating to me, and really drives home the importance of mindfulness meditation.

Más Megas Por Favor

Since moving to Mexico nearly two years ago, I’ve rented a small room in a house shared by about a billion people. I’ve learned to love my room since then, but one issue has continued to bother me: poor internet. There are three internet lines into the house already, but they’re all a fair distance from my room, and all being used by multiple people already. I don’t know what speed the connections actually are, but seeing as none of my housemates have need of a powerful connection, I’m guessing they sprung for the cheaper plans. I have functional internet most of the time, but it’s slow and unreliable, as anyone who has watched me tried to record the Crossroad podcast knows.

I’ve lived with this under the assumption that I’ll be getting my own apartment at some point and should just live with it until then. Recently, though, I’ve rethought my plans and think I might stay in this little room for a few years longer. In that case, it might be worthwhile to install yet another line into this house, this time straight into my room (or as close as it can get, I don’t really know what the wiring situation is yet). I’ve been thinking about it for a bit but hadn’t decided if the expense was worth it.

Then, last Thursday, the internet was out completely. I still don’t know why, though it may have been weather related. In any case, we had to skip doing the podcast entirely last week, and that was the last straw.

I’ve ordered a new line to be installed tomorrow. If all goes well, I should have my very own 100 megabyte per second connection up and running by tomorrow night. That means a more reliable and higher quality podcast, but it also means I can look into streaming video games and other content without having to rely on my brother to do the streaming. In other words, there might be a lot more Desdenada content headed our way.

Twenty-Five Years Later

Last week, Venezia’s parents had their twenty-five year wedding anniversary. In Mexico, they celebrate that by basically doing the wedding ceremony over again, so I basically got the experience of being a groomsman at a wedding. The ceremony took place in beautiful Cuernavaca, City of the Eternal Spring, and marks the first time in my life I’ve worn a suit (I dropped out of high school before prom and don’t go to enough high-society events, apparently).

Venezia’s sister also came back from Paris for the event, and I got to meet her boyfriend. Venezia and I tend to communicate in Spanglish anyway, but we took it to a new level with Sprenchlish, using our incomplete grasp of French to make up for his incomplete grasp of Spanish or English. We also taught him to drink mezcal, although there was no worm salt handy, so he sadly missed out on the full experience.

The past two days were a nice breather after the hectic weekend previous. Now it’s time to look ahead to next weekend, though, which features both Venezia’s birthday and the two-year anniversary of when we first met–not to be confused with the two-year anniversary of when we started going out, which is on the same day exactly one month later. We’re still nailing down the birthday plans, but brunch and an escape room are definitely in the picture.

Meanwhile we’re working on getting our Hallowe’en costumes together. The plan is to go as Éponine and Marius from Les Misérables, which is a little tragic as far as couples’ costumes go, but should also be a lot of fun.

What are you going as this year?