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Month: July 2019

PICK YOUR GAME (Another IPS)

PICK YOUR GAME (Another IPS)

ANOTHER IPS (Inner Peace Symptom):  An understanding that Life is an opportunity to play.  [What you play (and how and why and when you move) often makes for a lot of difference in the results you get.]

Playing and helping other people play is my greatest “happy.”

I still think that one of the best things I ever did was to choose to look at all of the different aspects of Life-Its-Own-Self as play.

The possibilities inherent in that one excite me.   It sure does keep things cheerful in my world.

DEFINING THE GAME THAT IS LIFE

More than 15-some years ago, I stumbled across a book, FINITE AND INFINITE GAMES:  A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility by James P. Carse.

By that time the book was already old news.  It had been published in 1986.

It’s one of those books that you either love or you hate.

I mean, what do you do with a book that starts out with, “There are at least two kinds of games.  One could be called finite, the other, infinite.  A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play.

It goes on from there, with concept after concept piled up on top of contradictory concept, simultaneously building up and out and in and down towards the final comment (number 101) on the last page of this slim book, “There is but one infinite game.”

The book contains no actionable steps, no five- or ten- or twelve-step programs…or any steps at all.

There are no exercises, no tips, no shortcut life-hacks.

All it has going for it are musings about life and the ways you can play in it by a guy who is a certified deep thinker who thinks big thoughts.

Carse was Professor of Religion at New York University when he wrote the book.  At the time, he had won the University’s “Great Teacher Award.”  He retired in 1996 after thirty years of teaching religion and as head of the department at the University.

Carse wrote other books as well — such scintillating things as DEATH AND EXISTENCE:  A Conceptual History of Human Mortality, BREAKFAST AT THE VICTORY:  The Mysticism of Ordinary Experience, and THE SILENCE OF GOD:  Meditations on Prayer and several others.  Wo!

(I never did feel the urge to explore the guy’s other books so I can’t tell you much about them.)

You’ll find a lot of great takeaways in Carse’s “Game” book (if you happen to be the sort who gets stuck in head-games and are way into thinking about life and meaning and mana).  It’s one of those books that makes you nod and go yes, yes, yes.

The book is a deep dive into the patterns and templates you can look for as you construct your own life-story.

kaleidoscope
“Kaleidoscope” by Nigel Wade via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]
It is a reminder that, at any given time, you are intimately involved in a grand and timeless game and it is you who gets to decide whether you will play the thing as a Finite game or as part of the Infinite one.

THIS THING’S A PLAY-BOOK….

Carse describes the ways of playing used in each kind of game and he delineates the underlying patterns of them as well.  It is a bit like a play-book for Life, I think.

He points out the differences in the moves that players in either game – Finite or Infinite – make and what the results of that way of moving is likely to be.

Carse does tell some good stories along the way.

It is a fascinating study, especially if, like me, you are prone to trying to figure out which of the two basic games the other people wandering through your life have chosen to play.

The thing the book is really good at is helping you to focus on whether you are choosing to play in a Finite game or the Infinite game your own self, and it helps you figure out which moves you need to consider making.

strategy
“Strategy” by tylerhoff via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]
Through the years, Carse’s FINITE AND INFINITE GAMES has been the one constant book that sits on my writing desk among a number of changing titles that I have used to help to nudge my thinking in varied and sometimes helpful directions.

It has often been a starting point when I sit down to examine and consider yet another confusing tangled mess that I’ve somehow either wandered into or precipitated as a result of general dumbness.

The book has been most useful at helping me to suss out the options and directions that possess some modicum of grace from the many possible moves that I could take.

highways-crossing
“Highways Crossing” by Michael Theis via Flickr [CC BY-ND 2.0]
I confess that I do prefer to be an Infinite Game player.  I especially like the goal of continuing the play.

I am not particularly fond of “winning.”  (Winning usually means the game stops, and then I just have to go find some other game and start all over again.  Pfui!)

However, I also know that often it is necessary to play in the assorted Finite games that occur within the Infinite one because sometimes that’s the only way to get to a place where you can either continue to help keep the play going or expand it in all kinds of more interesting directions.

(For me, the bonus has always been getting some pretty good poems.)

NOT FOR EVERYBODY

I suppose I do also have to point out that if you are not interested in constructing your own life-story or if you are determined to win (or at least not lose) at whatever game you are playing then you will probably find the book a bore.

You’ve already plunked on playing some Finite game or other. You know your playing field.  You’ve got the rules down.  Your goal is to win the game and that is that.  (Good fortune go with you.  See ya!)

If you have not had practice contemplating paradoxes and playing around with metaphors and analogies and do not see the value of that sort of play, the book will not resonate with you.

It’ll join the pile of other woo-woo nonsense and romantic novels in the used book sale down the street.

karims-used-books
“Karim’s Used Books Nehru Place – Delhi” by Alan Morgan [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
If standing in uncertainty gives you the heebie-jeebies, then the thoughts and constructs contained in the book will seem like a major pile of high-browed hoo-hah.

If you have very strong ideas about how the world works that allow no room for wiggling, then it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to unlock the wonders the book contains.

Instead, you will declare that the assumptions you’ve adopted about the world you see are the only truths for you and you will confidently move forward along the paths they dictate.

And that can be a good thing too.

WHAT THE BOOK IS GOOD FOR

Carse’s book is a magnificent example of a thing that psychiatrist Albert Rothenberg, a noted researcher on the creative process, calls “Janusian thinking.”

The online Wiktionary says the phrase is an adjective that means, “having or relating to the ability to conceive and use multiple antithetical or opposite thoughts simultaneously.”

Rothenberg named it after the Roman god of thresholds and transitions, Janus.  Janus is typically depicted as a guy with two faces each facing in the opposite direction.

Not only does Janus have eyes in the back of his head, he’s got a whole other face.

janus
“Janus” by Mike Scoltock via Flickr [BY-NC 2.0]
Janusian thinking is what you do when you grab two or more contradictory ideas and hold them together in your mind until they stop fighting and start playing nice together.

What you try to do while the ideas are in there duking it out is to look at the captive concepts deeply enough so that you can come up with a third idea that will allow you to unlock the strengths and energies contained in those ideas and combine them in new and novel ways.

Talking about Janusian thinking is not easy, mostly because it is so foundational that it’s like talking about taking your first baby-steps.

baby-steps
“Baby Steps by Kevin Kratka via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
When you were a baby, you tried so very hard to get vertical and to totter forward.

Because you took those brave first steps and kept building up your skill at stepping, all kinds of other interesting things started happening as well.

All of a sudden you could move in all kinds of directions and get into all kinds of mischief.

Janusian thinking’s like those first baby-steps.  Your very first attempts at it are going to feel terribly awkward and clumsy.

Janusian thinking is “counter-intuitive.”  It goes against most people’s automatic gut reactions and often you may not find support for the thoughts you are thinking.

Janusian thinking is also another way of Un-Seeing.

Its function is to take you past your first thoughts and your default settings, your habitual patterns and your carefully built-up life routines.

If you succeed in getting past them, you will reach a space where you can construct new ways of doing and making things.

fluke-story
“Fluke Story (55 Chevy Bel Air Sports Coupe Frame Off Restoration)”

While you’re learning to use this particular style of thinking — until you get the hang of deconstructing your deeply held assumptions, looking at things from every angle as the battling ideas wrestle each other into the ground — the whole process is going to be very effortful and it’s likely to feel sl-o-o-w.

This means you are going to feel really, really stupid doing it.

Keep doing it and it does speed up.  You can reach a place where just sticking the contradictory ideas into the ring starts a whole string of new ideas popping up in your head.

fight
“Fight” by MAZA FIGHT JAPAN via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Once you get the hang of deconstructing old preconceptions and letting go of past judgments as well as nurturing a multiplicity of perspectives and learning how to transmute the knowledge you gain from them into new understandings, you’ll be able to choose more effective ways to address whatever situation you might encounter.

That’s just a fancy way of saying you’ll be able to come up with fresh ideas that just might work way better than anything you’ve ever tried has worked before.

(Hey!  You may even be hailed as an innovator-extraordinaire or the next Steve Jobs or Warren Buffet or one of those Nobel Prize winners that Atherton studied or some such thing.)

Janusian thinking is a component of several higher systems of thought-making that have been studied by assorted guys in white lab coats:

  • cognitive thinking – the process by which you transmute the knowledge you get from experience, thought and sensory input and turn it into understandings you can use to solve problems or make stuff
  • design thinking – creative problem-solving that focuses on the people for whom a new product is being created
  • synergistic thinking – a process that blends and balances logical linear thinking and associative non-linear thinking to boost creativity, innovation and Making

It could also be viewed as a simplistic description of the foundations for Taoist and Zen thought processes, for shamanistic or indigenous thought precepts, and for other high-wizard stuff.

Do this and eventually you get to play in Harry-Potter-World…or maybe you’ll get to be the Sorceror’s Apprentice.

the-hat
“the hat” by Camron Flanders via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

AND THEN THERE’S THE DOWNSIDE

The downside of all of the processes that start with Janusian thinking is that they can also multiply the variety, intensity and severity of the mistakes you can make…if they don’t paralyze you with the sheer volume of possibilities.

Sometimes when you are dancing on the edge, you make a mis-step and fall off.  Other times you stand on the edge of chaos and look into the Void and see the Void looking back at you.   (Yeep!)

Those who depend on their world staying concrete and linear and rational won’t go there.  (This thing is not for the faint-hearted nor for those who panic when they are stuck in ambiguity.)

It’s also not for those who are not seriously into examining their underlying motives and intentions.  (Intent gets really important when you play in Harry-Potter-World.)

Janusian thinking is the place where innovative geniuses go. It is also the place where the mad ones stay.

This is the place where the old maps say, “Here there be dragons.”

here-there-be-dragons
“Here there be dragons” by gomagoti via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]
And if you choose to go there, it can, as well, make it really hard for you to talk to regular folks who have never left the living room couch.

Those who walk the trails into the Mystic and the serious psychedelic rangers go through initiation rites that require “dying to the world” in some way or other.  So do those whose intense creative, athletic or scientific bent takes them way into the middle of the Zone.

Janusian thinking is exactly like that.

All of the ones who choose to play the Infinite Game are often more than a little strange.

long-road
“La Longue Route” by marcovdz via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
If you choose, instead, to become a poet or a storyteller, however, then it can all turn into play.

Good poets and storytellers have no problem talking to people.  It’s what they do.

Here’s a poem about a clash between someone playing a Finite game and another who’s more into the Infinite one….


WRONG MOVIE

There she goes, stomping along strong,

Being Godzilla attacking Tokyo.

(I guess I’ve been cast as Tokyo.)

Hmmm….

 

My job, it says here, is to stand there

Getting pounded and ground down

By big, stomping feet,

And pushed and shoved aside

By strong, powerful shoulders,

Pummeled by massive fists all the while.

I’m supposed to bend and break

Before the temper-tantrum wrath

Of riled-up Biggie.

Uh-huh….

 

My role, it says here, is to quake

As roars and growls fill the air.

I get to dash around in panic

Trying to find a place to hide

My own small self.

Right….

 

Oh, and, it says here,

There’s supposed to be

A lot of bleeding with street-pizza decorations

Strewn about in the general mayhem,

All those slash wounds from gy-normous claws

Having taken their toll.

O-ka-a-a-y…..

 

Gee, it says I’m supposed to weep in despair.

AWWW….

This won’t work.

Sorry, babe.

You need to call Central Casting again.

They sent you the wrong character actor, I think.

 

See, mostly I spend my time playing at being Wind.

I’m not sure this Godzilla movie

Has much use for gentle breezes and sweet, soft zephyrs.

I don’t think it can use snazzy updrafts and down-drafts

And slider-currents that support cunning wings.

There are no sails around here I can fill

To push the story forward.

And I’m pretty sure you won’t like

The hurricanes, the tornadoes and the cyclones

I’ve been developing.

 

Ah, well…

So it goes.

See ya….

By Netta Kanoho

Header picture credit:  “House of the Sun” by David Fulmer via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]

Thanks for your visit.  I’d appreciate it if you would drop a note or comment below and tell me your thoughts.

 

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HONORING IMPERMANENCE

HONORING IMPERMANENCE

One of the wisest thoughts I’ve ever encountered about impermanence is this one from English writer W. Somerset Maugham’s novel, THE RAZOR’S EDGE:

Nothing in the world is permanent, and we’re foolish when we ask anything to last, but surely we’re still more foolish not to take delight in it while we have it.” 

It reminds me of a Hawaiian aesthetic that holds that beauty is made more precious when we understand that it is ephemeral and will not last.

The world changes and changes and, if we are wise, we will drink in whatever beauty we find and enjoy it while it is still with us.

Delighting in the beauty that we encounter and not begrudging the limited time it can stay, is the only response that makes sense in this world of change, Hawaiians say.

The glory of rainbows must surely be affected by our understanding that they do not linger on and on.  They come.  They glow.  They fade away.

bridge
“Hawaiian Heimdall guards this bridge….” By James Huckaby via Flicker [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
One of the most beloved flowers used for making Hawaiian lei garlands is the pua kenikeni.

This tubular, five-petaled wonder has a strong, unique fragrance that lingers as (in one day’s time) a strand of the flowers slowly morphs from being an exquisite creamy whiteness to a vibrant golden orange before becoming a collection of brown straggling bits.

fagraea-berteroana-pua-kenikeni
“Fagraea berteroana – pua kenikeni” by Forest and Kim Starr via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]
The entrancing dance of lava flowing from the Big Island’s Kilauea volcano in this National Geographic Showcase Short Film produced by Lance Page and Wesley Young is hypnotically beautiful.  The YouTube video was published in 2015.

Always, the eruption of one of our volcanoes is a dramatic reminder that change happens and the display of destruction and creation can be very beautiful.

All of these likely Hawaiian examples of impermanence are taken from nature, but in Japan — another island kingdom across the Pacific — honoring the beauty of impermanence, process, and regeneration takes a more human turn.

ANOTHER PEOPLE’S WAY OF HONORING IMPERMANENCE

For 1300 years and more, the Japanese people in the city of Ise and the surrounding areas in the Mie prefecture have carried on a tradition of cyclical reconstruction and deconstruction.

Every 20 years or so the people connected to the place rebuild two of the holiest of their holy buildings as well as a number of other structures that comprise the Shinto Ise Jingū or Grand Shrine.

The rebuilders use Hinoki cypress wood — some from trees that are over 400 years old with trunks that are 4.5 feet (1.4 meters) in diameter — taken from ancient mountain forests that surround the area.

The cultivated trees are planted, maintained, earmarked and harvested on a cycle that spans hundreds of years in order to provide material for the great work.

This short 2019 YouTube video, “Ise Shrine/Ise Jingu,” which features a tour of the shrine complex was uploaded by travel vlogger Charlie Casia.  The serene beauty of the complex shines.

The two main shrines in the complex are the Gekū (Outer Shrine) and Naikū (Inner Shrine).  They are separated from each other by about four miles (6 kilometers) of forested land.  More than 120 smaller shrines and sanctuaries have sprung up around them as well.

The main shrines were originally built from wood harvested from the same forest that surrounds the latest iterations now.

These days, the local Hinoki wood is not as abundant as it once was so the shrine rebuilders have come to depend on other domestic producers who insure that only the very best wood is used for the work.

Logs are obtained from the mountains and floated down the rivers flowing past Ise.

Once the logs are harvested, they are put through a lengthy seasoning and drying process during which they spend several years in a pond before being dried and prepared as building material.

Timber for Gekū is landed from the Miya River while that for Naikū is landed from the Isuzu river.

No nails are used in the shrine construction.  The master artisans who erect these buildings use an ancient post-and-lintel technique with intricately cut and fitted joints that are designed and carved to fit together like puzzle pieces.

My favorite YouTube video about the miyadaiku carpenters of Japan is this one, published in 2019 by a Great Big Story.

It is titled, “In Japan, Repairing Buildings Without a Single Nail” and features Takahiro Matsumoto, a miyadaiku from Kamakura, Japan who assesses and repairs damaged temples in his own city.  It shows the kind of work these master craftsmen do.

A 100-meter long (longer than a football field) wooden bridge that spans the Isuzu River at the entrance of the Naikū shrine is rebuilt as well.

It’s actually a part of the training process.

The bridge is a journeyman project for the traditional miyadaiku temple builders — craftsmen and artisans who will, if they become masters, be entrusted with the next rebuilding of the main shrines.

ise-uji-bridge
“Ise, Uji Bridge” by Bernhard Scheid via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
The two shrines are each rebuilt on an empty building site that is adjacent to the current shrine.  Each rebuilding has always alternated between these side-by-side building sites.

(The next scheduled rebuilding of Naikū, which is deeply connected to the Japanese imperial family, is scheduled to occur in 2033 on the lower, northern site.)

Other shrines in the complex are also included in the rebuilding project.

While the people at Ise Jingū are not the only ones to practice this kind of rebuilding, these structures are the only ones that have been consistently rebuilt through the many centuries of their existence.

Besides the builders and carpenters involved in the building, scores of other craftspeople prepare thatch for the roofs using traditional techniques, cut the gold sheets that make certain of the ridge poles shimmer in the sun, weave the cloth used for hangings, and attend to the myriad details that go into making the newest shrine incarnation real.

kan-hatori-hatadono-jinja
“Weaving at Kan-hatori-hatadono-jinga” by N. yotarou via Wikimedia Commons [CC BY 2.0]
All over the country other artisans create the sacred offerings and utensils that will be used in the renewed structures as well.

The local people in the surrounding areas are often deeply involved in the process, participating in various traditional events as well as a number of festivals that also include the millions of pilgrims and tourists who visit the Grand Shrine complex every year.

There’s a special festival when some of the logs and timber that will be used in the rebuilding are moved onto the site with help from many willing arms and backs.

okihiki
“Okihiki Festival, Ise” by D Kerr Ka-ru via Wikimedia Commons [public domain]
This video, “Ise Shrine,” was published in 2007 by Journeyman Pictures and offers a slice of the experience from one tourist vlogger.

The pebbles in the courtyard surrounding the newly built shrine are gathered, washed, then moved to the site and placed there by respectful human hands in a two-month process that involves the residents and visitors to the area.

(Afterwards the pebbles from the old structure are returned to the river.  One day they may be returned again to the site.)

The entire reconstruction process ideally takes about 17 years, with the initial years focused on project organization, general planning and fundraising, and the last eight years concentrated on the actual physical construction of the buildings.

Ritual and celebrations orchestrated by the Shinto priesthood is generously mixed in throughout the whole process and the people come to help and to participate in and watch the spectacle slowly unfold.

About six months after each new shrine building is completed and the sacred objects housed in the old shrine are ceremonially transferred to the new one, the old shrine is disassembled.

Some parts of the old shrine are kept for use in the next rebuilding effort.

The old major shrine’s two massive main pillars are repurposed to make the enormous torii gate that greets the multitudes of pilgrims and other visitors to the shrine complex.

ise-jingu-shrine-geku
“Ise Jingu Shrine (Gekū)” by tablexxnx via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]
Other parts of the old shrine are used to repair and maintain the smaller shrines that have sprung up around the two main shrines or are distributed around the country to other shrines that need repair.

And still other bits will become part of Ise amulets that are then sold throughout Japan to be placed on household altars – in Japan and almost certainly in other parts of the world as well.

The thing about the Ise Grand Shrine rebuilding is that it continues, rippling through the world in ever-widening circles.

MORE THAN JUST A HUGE CONSTRUCTION PROJECT

Each rebuild costs about half a billion US dollars (of which at least half are paid for by Japanese tax payers).

Every rebuild requires about 10,000 to 12,000 old cedar trees, many of them grown and harvested from areas outside Ise, and all of them expensive.

It is a costly proposition, keeping the culture alive.

However, it is worth noting that the Ise Grand Shrine rebuilding is an ages-old, ecologically sustainable practice that provides a structure and a framework for renewing a deep national commitment to an ancient spiritual and creative tradition.

This tradition brings together large numbers of like-minded individuals as well as those bound to the place through all the generations of families who have been a part of the ongoing project.

How much is an affirmation of Life-Its-Own-Self really worth?

NOT A UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE

As I’ve said, the rebuilding of the Ise Grand Shrine is all about honoring impermanence, process and regeneration.

Maybe that’s one reason why these holiest of holy buildings in a country that is full of them –  buildings that have occupied their current sites for more than 1300 years – have not made it onto the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) began their famous list of sites that are judged to be “important to the common culture and heritage of humanity” in 1972.

These sites, they say, have cultural, historic, geographical or some other unique feature that make them worthy of protection from harm.

Some of these UNESCO sites are considered to be places where humans made great strides in advancing technology or intellectual and spiritual thinking.

The UNESCO list and the preservation program connected to it, it is said, is one of the most widely acknowledged international agreements.

The sites on the list are very popular with world travelers and tourists as well.

[Click the button below for the latest iteration of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list.]

click-here

There are currently 1,121 sites on the list.  Twenty-three of them are in Japan.

You will notice, however, that Ise Jingū, the Shinto “Grand Shrine” complex which is not only historically connected to the imperial family of Japan but is also a justly famous pilgrimage site, is not on the list.

pilgrims
“Pilgrims” by Bong Grit via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
It’s said that the Shinto Imbe priests who care for the Grand Shrine have resisted the inclusion of it on the UNESCO list.

The priests say they do this because the shrines are a part of an ongoing, living tradition that continues still.

That reminds me of one old Hawaiian friend who once pointed out, “Preservation is not the same as perpetuation.  Preservation is what you do to make pickles.  When you perpetuate something, you are helping to keep it alive.”

Through the centuries of practicing this form of reverencing life and caring for the sacred within the world, the living tradition evolves, passing through the hands, hearts and minds of many people, and yet it remains the same.

future-site-of-inner-sanctuary-of-ise
“Future site of inner sanctuary of Ise” by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
Here’s a poem:


TIME

Time.

 

Time flows,

Eddying here,

Slowing there,

Rushing on and tripping

Over rocks and logs,

Half-seen in the depths

Of the river that

Flows on and winds

Past cities, towns and wild places,

Moving on and through

And in and out

Of the mind’s panoramic landscape,

Moving on and always

Moving forward, never back,

Carrying memory and recall

Into the future.

Time flows.

 

Time.

By Netta Kanoho

Header photo credit: “Ise” by Bong Grit via Flickr [CC By-NC-ND 2.0]

Thanks for your visit.  I’d appreciate it if you would drop a note or comment below and tell me your thoughts.

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