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From the Office of the Scholar August 31, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Life, Men, Wisdom, Women, Writing.
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“We are all strangers

We are all living in fear

We are all ready to change”


– quoted from The Air I Breathe

The movie The Air I Breathe is partially inspired by the idea that human emotions are like fingers on a hand. In fact, the primary characters in the movie are named (or referenced as) Happiness, Pleasure, Sorrow, Love, and Fingers. The movie presents extreme depictions of each emotion as a life experience. The idea behind the inspiration is that to be fully human, to live a full life, we must experience all of the emotions – or, that as we are living our lives we will experience all of emotions – and that the emotions are interconnected: like fingers on a hand.

So, consider a hand. You can think of my hand, your hand, the hand of your favorite person or your least favorite person. You can think of someone who works with their hands, someone who is constantly working on their hands, or someone who does both.  It doesn’t matter; in fact, think of all the different kinds of human hands. The typical human hands (like the hands of some other primates and even some frogs) are different from the extreme appendages that other animals use to pick up things, appendages we often refer to as paws, because we typically have opposable thumbs. These thumbs, along with the fingers, enable a person to not only pick up a plethora of objects, but also to use those objects as tools. Our thumbs and fingers give us a level of dexterity that affects the way we interact with the world.

Now, let’s say that you were missing a piece of your hand or a portion of your hands function. Maybe you were missing a fingernail or a tendon. Maybe you were missing a finger, a thumb, or maybe a whole hand. Maybe no one else is missing what you are missing. Or, maybe you are surrounded by people who are missing what you are missing. Either way, it may change the way you interact with the world. It may even change the way you eat, create, or put on a mask – because your mind-body will recreate different muscles to do what you need to do. The question then, isn’t how the body functions without the missing piece. The question is: How do you function?

Does the missing part change the way you think of yourself? Does it change the way people think of you of you and then, therefore, how you think of yourself? Does the answer depend on how and why you are missing the piece or the function? Does the answer depend on how obvious it is that you are missing something? Does it matter if it is inside or outside? Does it even matter?

“It is one of those fables which out of an unknown antiquity convey an unlooked-for wisdom, that the gods, in the beginning, divided Man into men, that he might be more helpful to himself; just as the hand was divided into fingers, the better to answer its end.”

– quoted from the 1837 “The American Scholar” speech by Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have known people who would answer “no” to all of those questions; however, I also have known people who would answer “yes.” And, there is a part of me that thinks maybe these are the wrong questions. There’s a part of me that wonders at what point we start thinking of ourselves (and others) as a single part of ourselves (especially a missing or different part). There’s a part of me that wonders when we stop (or start) thinking of ourselves as a whole. Tied to that last piece of wondering is the acknowledgement that when we consider ourselves as the whole, we are no longer missing…anything.

Today in 1837, Ralph Waldo Emerson delivered “The American Scholar” speech to the Phi Beta Kappa Society at Harvard College. The students invited Emerson to speak after the world’s powerful reception to his 1836 essay “Nature.” The speech was an introduction to Transcendentalist and Romantic views on Nature, as well as the American scholar’s relationship with and responsibility to Nature. It garnered him more accolades and more invitations to speak. It also made people think about the way they thought. In particular, it made people think about the way they thought about themselves.

“The old fable covers a doctrine ever new and sublime; that there is One Man,—present to all particular men only partially, or through one faculty; and that you must take the whole society to find the whole man. Man is not a farmer, or a professor, or an engineer, but he is all. Man is priest, and scholar, and statesman, and producer, and soldier. In the divided or social state these functions are parceled out to individuals, each of whom aims to do his stint of the joint work, whilst each other performs his. The fable implies that the individual, to possess himself, must sometimes return from his own labor to embrace all the other laborers. But, unfortunately, this original unit, this fountain of power, has been so distributed to multitudes, has been so minutely subdivided and peddled out, that it is spilled into drops, and cannot be gathered. The state of society is one in which the members have suffered amputation from the trunk and strut about so many walking monsters,—a good finger, a neck, a stomach, an elbow, but never a man.”


– quoted from the 1837 “The American Scholar” speech by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Now, following Emerson’s logic, we can see a lesson that also appears in the Upanishads: the Neti neti, “not this, not that” lesson pertaining to the nature of the Divine. The parallels in the argument are no accident. Emerson was in fact stating that if we focus too much on one aspect, one nature, one ability, then we lose sight of ourselves as a whole. The same can be said of an individual and their mind-body, as well as of an individual and their whole society. We are, after all, parts of a whole – and, the minute we forget that is the minute we become a thing. Like Frankenstein’s “monster,” there is more going on (inside and outside) than is apparent when we only view things through a single point of view.

“Man is thus metamorphosed into a thing, into many things. The planter, who is Man sent out into the field to gather food, is seldom cheered by any idea of the true dignity of his ministry. He sees his bushel and his cart, and nothing beyond, and sinks into the farmer, instead of Man on the farm. The tradesman scarcely ever gives an ideal worth to his work, but is ridden by the routine of his craft, and the soul is subject to dollars. The priest becomes a form; the attorney a statute-book; the mechanic a machine; the sailor a rope of the ship.

In this distribution of functions the scholar is the delegated intellect. In the right state he is Man Thinking. In the degenerate state, when the victim of society, he tends to become a mere thinker, or, still worse, the parrot of other men’s thinking.”


– quoted from the 1837 “The American Scholar” speech by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Please join me on the virtual mat today (Monday, August 31st) at 5:30 PM for a 75-minute virtual yoga practice.

This is a 75-minute Common Ground Meditation Center practice that, in the spirit of generosity (dana), is freely given and freely received. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

If you are able to support the center and its teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” my other practices, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible, class purchases are not necessarily.)

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practices. (But, Van is the Man, and “the Belfast Cowboy” turned 75 today so…)

“If it were only for a vocabulary, the scholar would be covetous of action. Life is our dictionary. Years are well spent in country labors; in town; in the insight into trades and manufactures; in frank intercourse with many men and women; in science; in art; to the one end of mastering in all their facts a language by which to illustrate and embody our perceptions. I learn immediately from any speaker how much he has already lived, through the poverty or the splendor of his speech. Life lies behind us as the quarry from whence we get tiles and copestones for the masonry of to-day. This is the way to learn grammar. Colleges and books only copy the language which the field and the work-yard made.

But the final value of action, like that of books, and better than books, is that it is a resource. That great principle of Undulation in nature, that shows itself in the inspiring and expiring of the breath; in desire and satiety; in the ebb and flow of the sea; in day and night; in heat and cold; and, as yet more deeply ingrained in every atom and every fluid, is known to us under the name of Polarity,—these “fits of easy transmission and reflection,” as Newton called them, are the law of nature because they are the law of spirit.

The mind now thinks, now acts, and each fit reproduces the other. When the artist has exhausted his materials, when the fancy no longer paints, when thoughts are no longer apprehended and books are a weariness,—he has always the resource to live. Character is higher than intellect. Thinking is the function. Living is the functionary. The stream retreats to its source. A great soul will be strong to live, as well as strong to think. Does he lack organ or medium to impart his truth? He can still fall back on this elemental force of living them. This is a total act. Thinking is a partial act. Let the grandeur of justice shine in his affairs. Let the beauty of affection cheer his lowly roof. Those “far from fame,” who dwell and act with him, will feel the force of his constitution in the doings and passages of the day better than it can be measured by any public and designed display. Time shall teach him that the scholar loses no hour which the man lives. Herein he unfolds the sacred germ of his instinct, screened from influence. What is lost in seemliness is gained in strength.


– quoted from the 1837 “The American Scholar” speech by Ralph Waldo Emerson



### OM OM AUM ###


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