Tag Archives: discipline

Happy One-Year Anniversary

October marks the one-year anniversary of the +A Positive Action Press WordPress website, RethinkingSurvival.com. Looking back, I’m amazed at the way daily, incremental baby-steps have added up.

With the help of (sometimes) forbearing computer savvy friends, I’ve gone from cut-and-paste technology to working with a photo-shop clone to produce illustrations. Starting with no marketing skills and less interest, I’ve swallowed my pride and actually gotten interested in the process. From being overwhelmed by Twitter, I now really enjoy direct messaging with savvy, fun new folks. Certainly limiting myself to messages of 140 characters or less has significantly altered my writing style for the better. : )

So tonight I thought I’d take a break from my current projects to revisit the Essay on Practice from Conscience. Written in the year 2000, it’s not in my current voice. But it speaks to my immediate appreciation for the benefits of daily discipline.

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27. PRACTICE

Each T’ai Chi movement is related to a particular hexagram of the I Ching. This relationship holds vital clues to a deeper understanding of Chinese thought which, like all valid world-views, is based on knowledge of the self gleaned from the practical experience of meditation. — Dal Liu, Tai Chi Ch’uan and I Ching: A Choreography of Body and Mind

Practice is essential. Through regular practice, you will become familiar with the feeling of being relaxed. You will find that you can achieve results with shorter and shorter practice sessions. You will become like a pianist who is ready to play a beautiful Mozart sonata as soon as her hands touch the keyboard. — Kenneth S. Cohen, The Way of Qigong

One should never rush in entering Taoism. . . One must proceed step by step, never advancing to the next stage until one is ready. One need not fret. If one discharges one’s tasks and proceeds with training perseveringly, then the transitions are virtually automatic. — Deng Ming-Dao, Chronicles of Tao

THE FRONT

Practice means to do or engage in frequently, make a habit or custom. It means to do repeatedly in order to learn or become proficient; to exercise or drill oneself. Practice is using one’s knowledge, as in a profession. To practice is to adhere to beliefs or ideals. It means to teach or train through exercise. An archaic definition suggests intrigue, trickery, or scheming.

Practice is closely related to the words discipline and preparation. It implies the ability to anticipate the future and make decisions about how best to make ready for it. It was the practice of Chinese emperors to consult ministers and sages for information on how to prepare for the future. They, in turn, consulted the I Ching to decide the best ways to adjust to alternating seasons of hardship and plenty in order to maintain social, political and economic equilibrium.

By biblical account, Joseph was sold into slavery by jealous older brothers and taken to Egypt. Thus, he found himself in the right place at the right time to fulfill his destiny. By correctly interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams, he saved countless lives, including those of the brothers whom he forgave.

He foresaw coming changes in nature and drew conclusions as to how prepare for the future. The practice of disciplined conservation during seven years of plenty allowed Pharaoh to feed his people during the seven years of drought which followed, thus preventing starvation, mass suffering and social upheaval.

Applications to current economic practices should be abundantly clear. Squandering resources during times of abundance is a sure recipe for famine, widespread misery and unrest when the rhythmic pendulum of history swings, replacing times of plenty with times of hardship. Wishing and hoping current “good” times will last forever because we want them to, refusing to heed clear warning signs that they never do, foolishly puts everyone at risk.

Music is a demanding discipline which emphasizes the importance of regular practice, preparing in advance to perform well. Similarly, martial arts instill respect for regular practice, cultivating the ability to adjust quickly and skillfully to sudden danger. In this case, the body itself is the instrument and tuning it a fine art. As Chuck Norris says, “Practice, practice, practice! Practice can save your life.” God forbid you’ll ever be attacked. But be ready.

Through the daily practice of meditation balanced by Tai Chi meditation-in-action, it is possible to make teachings real through experience, fulfilling the maxim “Learn by doing.”

Then, with sustained focus and loving attention, everyday activities and relationships are transformed into spiritual and martial arts training. Practice becomes a way of life, an ongoing proof of commitment in action. It’s not just a few hours set aside from the rest of the day. Nor is it to be flaunted, foolishly attracting envy and vengeance.

In Cleary’s translation of The Taoist I Ching, meditation and action alternating in rhythmic sequence are described as equally important complements. Inner stillness develops the abode of rest. Action completes and tests the abode of rest. Progress achieved by steady, gradual, consistent efforts accomplishes far more than dramatic spurts of activity that can’t be sustained over time.

Understanding the philosophy and science of the I Ching intellectually is relatively easy. Putting it into practice is more of a challenge. It’s not like something memorized for class, and then you’ve got it forever. It requires consistent attention and renewal, applying the readings to myriad kaleidoscope changes during the ongoing process of a lifetime.

THE BACK

The opposite of practice is lack of foresight and disciplined preparation for the future. Aesop’s fable of the race between the tortoise and the hare captures the difference between making steady progress toward a goal and the lazy assumption of inevitable victory, sleeping until it’s too late.

Enforced drilling is an inadequate substitute for intelligent practice. Mechanical repetitions without understanding and involved commitment are pointless. Repeating affirmations instead of taking positive action doesn’t produce quality results.

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Rethinking POSITIVE DISCRIMINATION

An earlier blog took a different approach to racial prejudice in the context of Affirmative Action legislation. Here is the balancing, opposite and equally positive approach to discrimination.

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19. DISCRIMINATION

“Relying more on the social scientists than on legal precedents . . the Court insisted on equality of the mind and heart rather than on equal school facilities. . . . Brown symbolizes the Good America, rather than the country that slaughtered Native Americans, subordinated women, and enslaved blacks.” — Jack M. Balkin, What “Brown v. Board of Education” Should Have Said

“Dealing exclusively on a rational level with an issue like discrimination which is deeply emotion-laden (sub-rational) on the one hand, and highly value-laden (super-rational) on the other, fails to acknowledge and draw on the levels where problems begin and where solutions can be found.” — Patricia West, Positive Action: The Next Generation

“Seeing and hearing are like food and drink; you need them every day, but you also need to digest and eliminate them every day. If they are not digested and eliminated thoroughly, they remain in the gut, eventually producing illness.” — Taoist Meditation, trans. Thomas Cleary.

THE FRONT

Three levels of definition attribute opposite, contradictory meanings to the single word discrimination. In the last century, failure to recognize and sort out this confusion resulted in muddled perceptions of purpose, inconsistent implementation and half-hearted compliance with Affirmative Action legislation.

The Oxford English Dictionary’s rational definition of discrimination posits a neutral function of mind. To discriminate is to distinguish with the mind or intellect; to perceive, observe, or note the difference in or between. As an analytical tool, discrimination is the neutral function of mind used to dissect a situation’s parts and deduce cause/effect relationships amongst them. As a tool, effects of its use, whether creative or destructive, depend on the motives and competence of the user.

The last given definition adds a preposition: against. To discriminate against is to make an adverse distinction in regard to, to distinguish unfavorably from others. This negative definition is the sub-rational use. It describes abuse of the critical faculty of mind to separate, distance and subordinate others, and to rationalize exploitation. Discrimination as a function of biased, negative emotions such as fear, hate, envy, arrogance or greed is the polar opposite of objective analysis.

Still further from the rational meaning of discrimination is its super-rational definition. It is not included in The Oxford English Dictionary. However, in Eastern scriptures, the highest function of mind is called buddhi (hence the name Buddha), translated into English as “the power of discrimination.”

This usage alludes to the ability to see through deceptive illusions, to recognize the eternal in the midst of change, to be aware of all-pervading spirit operating within gross material forms. While rational discrimination is neutral and sub-rational discrimination has separatist results, the super-rational function of discrimination is unifying in effect.

Depending on the user’s mind-set, the I Ching can be used to serve rational, sub- or super-rational motives. Ideally, it’s used to facilitate the process of mental metabolism. When the senses are overloaded with impressions, the Book of Change can be approached as a discipline for settling down and organizing one’s thoughts sufficiently to define the immediate situation and ask questions about it.

As negative emotions surface, they’re named and released, not unlike the process of separating toxins from useful nutrients, eliminating them as waste. Rational thoughts are then simplified, prioritizing essentials and aligning them to basic purpose. Then, when emotions and rational mind are harmonized and stilled, the higher mind is invoked.

It is in this state of tranquil revere that one pierces the veil of ordinary thought, allowing the transcendent awareness attributed to genius to come forward. Einstein, for example, acknowledged that his famous e = mc2 formula came in a flash of inspired contemplation. He faulted his peers for what he called the “fateful fear of metaphysics,” a pernicious prejudice that’s easily as dangerous as racism or sexism.

THE BACK

Mercy and compassion ameliorate the effects of negative discrimination. Introspective activities like self-analysis and use of the I Ching promote the positive capacity to discriminate, make correct decisions, and act wisely. In human law, the opposite of discrimination is justice and equity. In an equitable society, wisdom is promoted as the foundation of harmony and order.

The discipline of positive discrimination is neglected in an unjust world. Ruthless extortionists in positions of political power will kill to prevent discriminating thinkers from recognizing and opposing their abuses. Tyrants promote negative discrimination. They exploit hatred, weakening the people by turning them against each other, conquering by dividing them.

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What “Brown v. Board of Education” Should Have Said. Ed. Jack M. Balkin. (New York University Press: New York, 2001.) pp. 4, 5.

Patricia West, Positive Action: The Next Generation of Affirmative Action. Unpublished paper. (Madison, 1976).

Taoist Meditation: Methods for Cultivating a Healthy Mind and Body, trans. Thomas Cleary. (Shambhala: Boston, MA, 2000.) P. 57.

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See the UPSG for a description of the structure-within-structure format of the Essays, an overview of CONSCIENCE: Your Ultimate Personal Survival Guide, and an alphabetical list of the Essays.