Douglas Adams famously wrote that all one need do in order to get the knack of flght is "[learn] how to throw yourself at the ground and miss....Clearly, it is this second part, the missing, that provides the difficulties." Indeed. Adams later went on to explain that the missing of the ground is best achieved -via- distraction. The philosophical implications of this idea are stunningly thick.

In "real life" (whatever the hell that may be) flight works thusly: wings (airfoils) work by creating a difference in air-pressure due to their shape, providing their "lift" effect by essentially sucking the trailing edge of the wing up into the air (and pulling the plane attached to them in a direction generally perpendicular to the cross-plane of the airfoil).

In aviation science, the major problem to avoid while flying is the dreaded "stall". A stall is often misunderstood to be a lack of engine power. In actuality, a stall is (generally) when the angle of attack of the leading edge of an airfoil (the wing) increases beyond the ability of that airfoil to generate lift. This can happen when the engine (jet, prop, etc) is running. You can be tooling along at cruising speed, jerk the yoke back too far, and suddenly have buzzers and alerts going off. So, you can be running perfectly fine under power, make a few--relatively minor--bad choices, and suddenly start to fall out of the sky in a rather messy and uncontrolled manner. At this point, you can try and do one of two things to right the situation: 1) nose the plane downwards, thereby using your increase in forward airspeed combined with a flatter angle off attack on the wings in the hopes of reestablishing lift and flight control, or if that fails (or you're so inclined, who am I to say?) 2) simply miss the ground as you fall.

En lieu of better piloting skills, I must get the knack of one of these two methods.

Even when under power, I have a tendency to stall. And when I stall, I loose momentum and control. That's me: engine running, prop spinning, falling out of the sky in an ugly flat-spin. And I really and truly do hate this about myself and my personality.

My sensei talked with me last week in sanzen about this. He mentioned how we're all self-loathers, and how we primarily hate our bodies. I need to ask him about loathing the mind.

I think in this next phase of my life, for however long it lasts, I need to get a real handle on this. I need to get my mind to mesh with my body in a real true and tangible way. My sensei is constantly trying to get me to see that I am not my intellect. He's mentioned to me over and over again just how smart I am, what a powerful intellect I am, what a incredibly critical thinker I am, blahblahblah. It nearly feels patronizing--this incredibly smart and intellectually adept person whom I deeply respect regaling me with "you're so damn smart" admonishments--but I know for a fact that he would no more patronize me than hit me in the face with his hand-bell. I know that he's trying to pull or push me into a place that is about direct experience rather than mere intellectual analysis (aka "mental masturbation" in my book).

Sitting outside this morning, smoking my pipe (again, alas) as the drizzle came down, it all settled in on me once more. Gaining weight from stress eating. Smoking. Staring at my laptop endlessly, looking at IKEA's web-site at stuff I "need" but can't afford. I'm doing it again. I'm stalling.

While up at the monastery for the Beginner's Mind retreat, I had a realization that alot of my weight issues can be looked at as a kind of self-harm, not unlike people who cut themselves as a physical manifestation of their interior pain and self-hatred. I don't have all the dots connected on this one yet; I'm saving it up for my therapist. But it occurs to me that this stalling of mine may also be hooked into this as well. My avoidance of beginning things. My refusal to complete things. My life is a series of over-enthusiastic starts and lack of follow-throughs that have left me forty-something years old with very little to show for myself.

But I am starting to understand a few things about myself and my life now--or at least perceive things differently--thanks in no small part to my Zen practice. I can't honestly look at myself that way. I can't look at my life as unfinished, unfulfilled and without accomplishment. As my teacher said to me a few weeks ago; "Every single action you've ever taken in your entire life has been intergal to you being here before me today. What part of it do you want to describe as a 'failure' or 'mistake'? Are you a failure in being right here, right now?"

The thing they don't tell you about formal Zen teacher/student practice is that it is irritatingly simple. Honestly, it's as easy as flying a kite. All you need is someone better at seeing the reality of the moment than you are, showing you that you are--in fact--as capable of it as they are, right there, right then. All you need is someone who can ground you. Kites don't stay aloft unless someone is down on the ground holding the string and pulling it back into the wind. Once you have that; once you have that connection to the ground, flitting about up in the sky is easy-peasy. In that way, Zen is very much like kite-flying.

But, as with kite flying, that flight is not all that useful. You zip about in the air with little control. It's very pretty and rather entertaining at first, but on the whole, it's not all that productive, unlike airplane flight. In a plane, you don't have the safety of that string tethering you to the ground. You have a much greater level of freedom, but you also have inherently more risk. If you're willing to take the risk, you can combine training with art and flight will be yours. But you need to have the will to suffer the consequences of failure. You do that as the pilot, and frankly you do that as a passenger when you buy a ticket on a MD-80. The dirty truth of flying, be it a kite or a big-assed plane, is that no matter what, it's all nothing more than a controlled fall back down to earth.


Jamie said...

"The second point related to the Dalai Lama's initial reaction was his response, 'Hate oneself? Of course, we love ourselves!' For those of us who suffer from self-hatred or know someone who does, this response may seem incredibly niave at first glance. But on closer investigation, there may be a penetrating truth in his response. Love is difficult to define, and there may be many different definations. But one definition of love, and perhaps the most pure and exalted kind of love, is an utter, absolute, and unqualified wish for the happiness of another individual. It is a heartfelt wish for the other's happiness regardless of whether he does something to injure us or even whether we like him. Now, deep in our hearts, there's no question that every one of us wants to be happy. So, if our defination of love is based on a genuine wish for someone's happiness, then each of us does in fact love himself or herself - every one of us sincerely wishes for his or her own happiness. In my clincal practice I've encountered the most extreme cases of self-hatred, to the point where the person experiences recurrent thoughts of suicide. But even in these most extreme cases, the thought of death is ultimately based on the individual's wish (distorted and misguided as it may be) to release her- or himeself from suffering, not cause it.
So perhaps the Dalai Lama was not far off the mark in his belief that all of us have an underlaying self-love, and this idea suggests a powerful antidote to self-hatred: we can directly counteract thoughts of self-comtempt by reminding ourselves that no matter how much we may dislike some of our characteristics, underneath it all we wish ourselves to be happy, and that is a profound kind of love."
-The Art of Happiness (HH Dalai Lama & Howard C. Cutler) page 240-421

Jamie said...

it's pages 240-241, not 421.