If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll know that I’ve been on a Zen kick lately. So I was pleasantly surprised a couple of weeks to learn about a book called The Unfettered Mind by a 17th-century Japanese Zen Master called Takuan Sōhō. It’s actually a collection of three essays or letters to a master swordsman, Yagyū Munenori. They offer advice and philosophy combining both Zen buddhism, and swordsmanship, perhaps an odd combination given that non-violence is core Buddhist tenet.
However, The Unfettered Mind is not the only such work in this vein. Yagyū Munenori himself wrote a book called The Life-Giving Sword, possibly inspired by this work. His contemporary and rival, the legendary Miyamoto Musashi, also wrote a book fusing the art of swordsmanship and the discipline of the mind: The Book of Five Rings.
Together these three books make for a sort of trilogy, combining martial arts and Zen practice. I worked my way through The Unfettered Mind over the last week and have The Book of Five Rings waiting on my bookshelf. And yes, I did find The Unfettered Mind quite enlightening, though I suspect it will take me a few more readings to really grasp the various nuances.
It’s been a couple of weeks since I started writing Daily Digest posts. I don’t write them everyday, so Daily Digest might have been a misnomer, but it does feel good to reflect on the day and get thoughts out of my head. It also helps me remember little details about the day I would otherwise forget. One of the other hand, I also write about things I’ve been reading and watching in the Digests, which leaves me with less to write about on Sunday. I’ll have to work on finding a balance between the two over the next few weeks. With all that being said, here’s a somewhat lighter Sunday Selection.
While we’re on the topic of writing more, Julia Evans makes an interesting point: write about the things you’ve struggled with. It’s a good way to both cement your knowledge and maintain a record for the future, not to mention, create something that will be useful to others.
Talking about blogging, getting better at writing is something I’ve been interested in for a long time. I took a number of creative writing classes in college, and I remember a number of assignments that focused on observing the world, rather than directly writing about it. So here’s an article about getting better at writing by getting better at noticer. It’s full of both examples and exercises, and will definitely go into my writing toolbox.
The first teaser trailer for the upcoming Eternals movie from Marvel dropped a couple of days, which reminded me of this article that I saved a couple of months ago and never got around to reading. So I remedied it, got a peek into Nanjiani’s life, and the kind of mental and physical training that it takes to have the body of a superhero. As someone who’s put on a rather embarrassing amount of weight over the last year, I’ll put this in the “inspiration” category.
And on the topic of the Eternals trailer, here it is:
For the first time in a while, I’m reading a number of different books at once. Of those, this one strikes a good balance of being entertaining, informative, and easy to digest. The author takes us on a (non-chronological!) tour of Kierkegaard’s life, and in the process gives us a thorough understanding of his philosophy and the cultural context in which his ideas came about. It’s also a surprisingly quick read, and I’m going through almost a chapter day. Highly recommend if you have an interest in European philosophy.
Some good news: I got me first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine a few days. I was completely exhausted for a day and then very hungry and thirsty for a couple of days. I take all that to mean that my body is doing work. After over a year of mostly staying at home, it seems like there is now a promise of some semblance of normalcy at the end of the tunnel. It will be another three weeks before I get the second shot and two weeks after that before I can expect the vaccine to reach full effectiveness, so for the next month or so I’ll mostly be doing what I’ve been doing so far. But I am hoping to start easing back to normal after that. Till then, I’ll be continuing to spend more time in front of a screen than I would like to, so I might as well as metabolize it into blog posts.
If you’re anywhere around the software or information technology, you’ve probably heard that Richard Stallman was recently reinstated to the board of the Free Software Foundation. This has been widely regarded as a bad move, and has caused a number of board members to resign. This article argues that maybe it’s time not to praise free software, but to bury it, an opinion I find myself agreeing with.
With the weather starting to improve, and more people getting vaccinated, I am looking forward to being out and about more often, which means more opportunities to take pictures. Though I’ve always been interesting in photography, I’ve never managed to justify the cost of a good camera, and even when I’ve bought standalone cameras, I’ve not inclined to carry them on a regular basis. So having a very good camera on a device I already have on me has been just right for me.
I don’t know if this my type-A personality or something else, but it’s often hard for me to relax. Part of that difficulty is feeling the need to always do the best thing, even if it’s relaxing. For a long time, I would feel bad if even my “time off” activities didn’t produce something, or lead to personal improvement in some way. For better of worse, the last year of sitting at home has changed that. I couldn’t do a lot of my go-to activities like going to museums, concerts, or various talks and lectures. Doing the digital version of those things just felt like spending even more time sitting in the same place. Instead I’ve had to get used to doing things just because I liked them (like reading comic books) or sometimes just doing nothing at all.
But of course, I can’t escape my type-A-ness all together, so a lot of my non-fiction reading has been about Buddhist philosophy recently. It’s something I’ve encountered in bits and pieces over the last few years, but it’s nice to have a well-written book that clearly explains the key concepts in an orderly fashion (I’m one of those people who prefer learning things from a textbook). While the writing style is a little dated, and does flow awkwardly at times, it does a good job at both explaining key concepts and answering some more technical questions (like what does it mean for free will if there is no self). If you’re interested in Buddhism at all, this is a good place to start.
Ursula K LeGuin is probably one of the foremost intellects of the 20th century (which makes me more than a little ashamed that I haven’t read much of her work). I’ve been reading more about Zen Buddhism, and it’s close cousin Taoism over the last few years, so I’m looking forward to reading this in the near future. This is really more of an interpretation than a translation, but as the excerpts show, it seems to capture the spirit of the original (along with some choice commentary for the modern age).
Talking of cultural icons, I did not know much about David Lynch until this piece. I think the only work of his I’ve seen is the 1984 Dune, which this piece calls “pretty unwatchable”. I was drawn to this piece because of the subtitle which talks about Lynch “living a farmer’s life during the pandemic” by keeping himself “engaged with self-prescribed daily routines”. That’s certainly been a luxury that’s out of reach of most of us, but as I noted in my reflections on 2020, it’s not enough to simply exist. We have to live as well, even in tough times, and we must make use of our privileges and luxuries where we have them.
Talking of pandemics, the past year has certainly shaped a lot of conversations and thoughts about family, community and caring. As someone who’s often depended on friends and acquaintances for help in ways both big and small, this year has made me even more aware of the value of self-sufficiency. At the same time, I do believe that humans aren’t meant to be alone, and we should all work harder to develop bonds of family and community, but it’s much easier said than done, and no, I haven’t figure out how to do it for myself yet.
We’re at the end of the first month of 2021, and what a month it has been, at least for those of us in the United States. Personally, I’m mainly in the mode of sitting at home patiently while waiting to be eligible for getting the COVID vaccination, which is almost certainly another couple of months away. Luckily it is currently cold and snowy in my corner of the world, so I’m not particularly incentivized to go outside. While I’m stuck at home, I’m trying to read and write more, so here we are:
Even though I’m not very familiar with Rollins’ artistic work, his writing always seem to strike a chord with me. Some years ago, his article on Iron and the Soul encouraged me to make regular exercise, especially weightlifting, a serious part of my life. It was something that I managed to more or less keep up over the years and my life was better for it (until COVID-19 made gyms a bad idea). Similarly, the advice and ideas he presents in this piece are not exactly new, but he phrases them in a way that makes them seem like a breath of fresh air in a world that lately seems rather stale.
This is probably not going to be of much interest if you’re not a mathematician or theoretical computer scientist, but it’s something that’s been bouncing around my head. I’ve been looking into the Lean Theorem Prover, where one can write mathematical proofs in a programming language, so that the computer can check them. Theorem provers are being increasingly used to verify properties of software, but it seems like the pure mathematics is just getting on board with how useful they can be. This article tells us why these theorem provers might be crucial for advancing the state of pure mathematics, in more ways than one.
If there’s anything I like more than computers and software, it’s science fiction (ok, and food and drink and friends and family, but that’s a matter for another blog post). Brad Wright is a writer and showrunner responsible for the Stargate TV shows and for Travellers, which I think is one of the best high-concept, low-flash science fiction shows of the last decade. In this article, he talks about some of his rules of thumbs for not just good science fiction, but good storytelling, and I think many of my readers will find themselves nodding along.
I decided to start my book reading this year with one of the slimmest ones on my bookshelf. This is a series of lectures given by Stephen Hawking on how the universe began, how it’s continuing and how it might end. But what’s perhaps more interesting, Hawking goes into depth about how we came to know about all of it through centuries of discovery (and a number of wrong turns on the way). Reading this book reminded me of how much I enjoyed pop science as a teenager. I might have to pick up Hawking’s Brief History of Time after I’m done with this one.
If you haven’t been living under a rock you’re probably aware of the Democrats’ win in Georgia, thanks in large part due to the organizing activities of Stacey Abrams. I didn’t know much about her until the elections, besides that she ran for Georgia governor in 2018. In this TED talk from shortly after that election, she talks about events from her life that shaped, and as the title says, 3 questions to ask about everything you do.