Contemplify NonRequired Reading List for November 30, 2019
November NonRequired Reading List
My stomach bellowed like a calf stuck in the mud. I was similarly stuck in a contemplative practice. Here I was playing contemplative with my eyes closed, back straight, and hands clasped in perfect meditative pose in a circle of practitioners. Then my belly began, well, its bellyaching. I opened an eye to ensure this tummy quake hadn’t knocked the elderly meditator to my right off her chair. She was upright and unperturbed. Relieved, I settled back into my body, took a deep breath and - Mmmmaawl - dammit, the calf was still mudstuck and awnrier than before. This latest outburst quivered the candle’s flame in the center of the circle. My digestion of the morning’s scrambled eggs with garlic and a hint of dill was causing a stir. Shuffling in my seat and cursing my breakfast, I chuckled at my self-flagellation. I welcomed the intestinal tremors to my practice and began again.
My inner critic catcalls my phoniness as he combs breadcrumbs from his mustache. He only breaks from his post when my inner witness floats in to mirror back my self-defeating monologues with a forgiving smile. I know my witness has arrived when I laugh at my circumstances, bellyaching, and breathe sanguine acceptance back into the practice. The razor’s edge of contemplation is momentarily sharpened.
I didn’t notice, but the calf eventually quit her hollering. She must have worked her way out of the mud once she quit fighting it.
This month’s NonRequired Reading List runs the fields of practice, vitality, and minimalism: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, A Really Big Lunch and “Being in Nothingness”.
Novmember's NonRequired Reading List
A Really Big Lunch: The Roving Gourmand on Food and Life by Jim Harrision (Get it at the Public Library or IndieBound)
My ritual of choice from my Christian tradition is the sharing of the bread and the wine. Over the years I have come to expect the lifeless wafer and drab grape juice (or battery acid wine) in this holy sacrament. A paltry dilution of a ritual originally so scandalous it was considered cannibalistic - eating Jesus’ body and drinking his blood. The symbolism still rings the bell of my human heart even if the modern expression is but a distant resonance of the original clapper’s strike. Incarnate truth is only experienced in body, beauty, and ritual. Truth too poetic for words, it creates a speechless vividness that one can not take back after partaking.
None of this has to do with Jim Harrison’s A Really Big Lunch except that his essays spurred ruminations like this each day I spent in his pages. Harrison’s humor and fussy details about the decadent food and game, cases of wine, and untamed company he kept, all served his insatiable appetite for a vivid life (My beloved just stopped and sipped from my whiskey as I write. I take this as a surefire omen we are pursuing a shared vivid life).
Harrison writes of a 37 course meal he once ate in France that cost the price of a new Volvo. I couldn’t get over the fact that against the chef’s wishes he ate breakfast before embarking on this gluttonous spread. He was a character in living and looks. My kids stare at this picture of Harrison smoking a cigarette with his wrinkled mug looking askew on the back of his last book of poems. I am struck by it too. His honest face is the carnal truth of a vivid life.
This book is for people who risk a vivid life. One who pokes around in the woods with a dog who has never known a leash and takes direction from their own incarnate compass.
“Being in Nothingness” by Kyle Chayka (Read it at Harper's Magazine)
When forced to describe my aesthetic, I say midwestern hipster grandparent. Our house is full of goods with stories; a bookshelf made by my wife’s grandfather with lumber from his back porch, a linoleum block print I made for my wife in honor of our firstborn, and a weeping Buddha statue I had sought out for years only to find it waiting for me at a yardsale two blocks from my house. We are a wabi-sabi home. Although I have admired those who adorn their homes with minimalist effect, it tends to leave me a little pale. This chafed me as it seems a more natural fit to my spiritual penchant for the apophatic. Then I read “Being in Nothingness.”
“Blank slates always prove to be mythical. Minimalism is a communal fiction. It is popular around the world because it reacts against a condition that is now everywhere: a state of crisis mixed with a terminal dissatisfaction with the material culture that seems to have brought us here, though the fault is our own. Rather than a cause, the omnipresent minimalist style is a symptom, a way of adopting the pose or outline of a solution to this dissatisfaction without broaching the real answer, which would be to actually start over. Instead of cleaning our closets and painting our walls white to highlight the few expensive objects we have left, we could imagine society anew.”
Modern minimalism is presented without a shadow element. A pseudo critique of consumerist culture. Emptiness as the signal of material abundance. I may be wrong about this, but I am currently taking carnal pleasure in finishing my whiskey from a glass that my wife bought me as a thank you for lending my car to a friend of hers four years ago this month.
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami (Get it at the Public Library or IndieBound)
I am back on the treadmill. Literally and figuratively. Another attempt to find my stride amidst the armful of responsibilities that include work, family, and a bedtime nudging alarmingly close to sunset. Never a driven runner, I blamed the cold morgues called gyms and the insanity of driving a good distance just to run a trail out of doors. Excuses abound. Haruki Murakami, a novelist by trade and runner by fixation, showed me I am missing the running gene.
The lens for Murakami’s memoir is through his obsession with long distance running. He tees up the reader with, “Somerset Maugham once wrote that in each shave lies a philosophy. I couldn't agree more.” (vii) Murakami risked unbuttoned discoveries for the reader by zeroing in on a passion that revealed idiosyncrasies and moveable existential questions. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is Murakami’s philosophy of life by way of laced running shoes and feet hitting pavement. It is the ordinary life of an otherworldly artist.
“I see this book as a kind of memoir. Not something as grand as a personal history...but through the act of writing I wanted to sort out what kind of life I’ve led, both as a novelist and as an ordinary person.” (p.177)
I’m still getting back into running. I am doing so at a pace that would have been laughable to me 5 years ago. But I now know I don’t have the inherent goods of a natural runner and my life philosophy is not best understood via running. But this memoir did get me back into my sneakers and out the front door huffing and puffing around my neighborhood. Murakami’s slow committed attention to a practice skinned my excuses alive and retaught me that philosophy is best caught in the details of a shave, a run, and sweeping the kitchen floor.
This book is for anyone who wants to read a deep spirituality of running without any utterance of spirituality.
Arts and Articles
‘Tales of America’ by J.S Ondara (jsondara.com): This album is kitchen music par excellence. It is a complete album which is a rarity in our current climate. Start to finish it is ace songwriting with a voice that Tracy Chapman would find familial.
‘Vivid’ by Greg Brown (YouTube): The perfect pairing for the pursuit of a vivid life.
The 3 most recent episodes...
As you finish this email, one click away from deletion, I leave you with the words and spirit of Jim Harrison to find the heat of the vivid life,
“Our difficult selves are cast in iron.
Only the most extreme heat makes us malleable.”
(pulled from ‘Moon Suite’, Dead Man’s Float)
Wishing You a Vivid Advent Season,
P.S. An invitation before the Non-Required Reading List closes out...do you have a burning contemplative question that you think I might be able to respond to or explore? A question that was born from examining your own life or arose from listening to Contemplify ? If so, you can record your question here and it could be featured on a future episode of Contemplify. I thought this could be a fun and fruitful experiment for us to create together.
P.P.S. If you were forwarded this NonRequired Read List and want to sign up to receive the next one, sign up below.