Skip navigation

Category Archives: mind

“There are many menial tasks a monk must complete in a day (cooking, cleaning, cutting down trees, chopping wood, making brooms), and he is given very little time to do them. If he does not move fast enough, senior monks scream at him. There is very little talking—only bell ringing (to indicate a change in activity) and screaming. There is a correct way to do everything, which is vigorously enforced. When a monk wakes in the morning, he must not move until a bell is rung. When the bell rings, he must move very fast. He has about four minutes (until the next bell rings) to put up his futon, open a window, run to the toilet, gargle with salt water, wash his face, put on his robes, and run to the meditation hall. At first, it is very hard to do all those things in four minutes, but gradually he develops techniques for increasing his speed. Because he is forced to develop these techniques, and because even with the techniques it is still difficult to move fast enough, he is intensely aware of everything he is doing.

“He is always too slow, he is always afraid, and he is always being scrutinized. In the winter, he is cold, but if he looks cold he is screamed at. There is no solitude. The constant screaming and the running, along with chronic exhaustion, produce in him a state of low-level panic, which is also a state of acute focus. It is as if his thinking mind, his doubting and critical and interpreting mind, had shut down and been replaced by a simpler mechanism that serves the body. The idea is to throw away his self and, in so doing, find out who he is. A well-trained monk, it is said, lives as though he were already dead: free from attachment, from indecision, from confusion, he moves with no barrier between his will and his act.”

– Larissa MacFarquhar Last Call


“The hurricane months are not so far away, I thought, and saw that tree strike its roots deeper, making ready to fight the wind. Useless. If and when it comes they’ll all go… The bamboos take an easier way, they bend to the earth and lie there, creaking, groaning, crying for mercy. The contempuous wind passes, not caring for these abject things. (Let them live.) Howling, shrieking, laughing, the wild blast passes.

“…I think of my revenge and hurricanes. Words rush through my head (heeds too). Words. Pity is one of them… Pity like a naked newborn babe striding the blast.”

– Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea

“It is not my impression that people wish to become worse; they really wish to become better but very often do not know how.”

– James Baldwin, Nobody Knows My Name

“I’ve heard it argued that long ago pain begat consciousness. To avoid serious damage a simple creature needs to evolve the whips and goads of a subjective loop, of a felt experience. Not just a red warning light in the head – who’s there to see it? – but a sing, an ache, a throb that hurts. Adversity forced awareness on us, and it works, it bities us when we go too near the fire, when we love too hard. Those felt sensations are the beginning of the invention of the self. And if that works, why not feeling disgust for shit, fearing the cliffedge and strangers, remembering insults and favours, liking sex and food? God said, Let there be pain. And there was poetry. Eventually.”

– Ian McEwan, Nutshell

“Reality is a very subjective affair. I can only define it as a kind of gradual accumulation of information; and as specialization. If we take a lily, for instance, or any other kind of natural object, a lily is more real to a naturalist than it is to an ordinary person. But it is still more real to a botanist. And yet another stage of reality is reached with that botanist who is a specialist in lilies. You can get nearer and nearer, so to speak, to reality; but you never get near enough because reality is an infinite succession of steps, levels of perception, false bottoms, and hence unquenchable, unattainable. You can know more and more about one thing but you can never know everything about one thing: it’s hopeless.”

– Nabokov

“What I’m talkin’ about is entertainment versus art, where the main job of entertainment is to separate you from your cash somehow. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It gives you a certain kind of pleasure that I would argue is fairly passive. There’s not a whole lot of thought involved, the thought is often fantasy, like ‘I am this guy, I’m having this adventure.’ And it’s a way to take a vacation from myself for a while. And that’s fine – I think the same way candy is fine.

“We’re absolutely dying to give ourselves away to something. To run, to escape, somehow. And there’s some kinds of escape – in a sort of Flannery O’Connorish way – that end up, in a twist, making you confront yourself even more. And then there are other kinds that say, ‘Give me seven dollars, and in return I will make you forget your name is David Wallace, that you have a pimple on your cheek, and that your gas bill is due.

“And that’s fine, in low doses. But there’s something about the machinery of our relationship to it that makes low doses – we don’t stop at low doses…

“This problem is not gonna go away. In ten or fifteen years, we’re gonna have virtual reality pornography. Now, if I don’t develop some machinery for being able to turn off pure unalloyed pleasure, and allow myself to go out and grocery shop and pay the rent? I don’t know about you, but I’m gonna have to leave the planet. The technology’s gonna get better and better at what it does, which is seduce us into being incredibly dependent on it, so that advertisers can be more confident that we will watch their advertisements. And as a technology system, it’s amoral.

“It doesn’t have a responsibility to care about us one whit more than it does: It’s got a job to do. The moral job is ours. Why am I watching five hours a day of this? Why am I getting 75 percent of my calories from candy? That’s something that a little child would do… Somewhere along the line, we’re supposed to have grown up.”

– David Foster Wallace, Althought Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself

“My mother used to say the more lost you are, the later it got, the more you had invested in not being lost. That’s why people who are lost so often keep heading in the same direction.”

– Ann Patchett, “The Sacrament of Divorce”

“The first two rooms she looked in were empty. But in the room called Sage she found all three anorexics gathered together vomiting in the moonlight. Their families were all gone; none of them had been the sort to get many visitors, especially during bad weather. They had only each other and Thelma, whose great wonderful fatness they could look at no longer than they could stare into the sun. They restricted more and more, and as the weeks passed began to binge, something all three, high, pure anorexics, who had defeatedt their bodies by becoming creatures of pure will, would have disdained in the dry world…

“By the time Jemma visited them they had made themselves ghastly-beautiful. From the door she saw them gathered under the window, around a plastic tub that stored toys by the bushel in the playrooms. They held hands and brusehd up against one another languidly, arching their necks and throwing back their heads to swallow their fingers before adding another unit of barf to the big bucket. They were surrounded by the remains of their feast, vanilla-ice-cream puddles glowing in glass dishes shaped like leaves; candy-bar wrappers in neat heaps; chicken skin and chicken fat glistening in patches aorund them in a circle, and bones under their feet. Jemma trod on two large cupcakes as she approached them, her green hands clasped behind her back. They did not notice her until she ws quite close. their pajamas, altered, short, hanging dresses of sage, pumpkin, and ocher, and their hair, brittle but long and styled with particular care into identical sets of heaped and cascading curls, their dramatic poses, their bare feet among bones, their long, sharp nails, and finally their number all gave them an ancient Greek air; though they were exquisitely frail, and close to dying, they seemed as powerful as they were pathetic, three purgies discharging their eternal duty. Jemma, nearly upon them, felt a little afraid, but still laughed out loud. They all turned at once, and spoke from left to right.

” ‘It’s a stomach flu,’ said the first one, defiantly. ‘Who are you?’ asked the second, more meek. The third, finger in mouth, merely stared.

” ‘I am the great fatty,’ Jemma announced, then brought her hands forward, and struck. Green fire spilled into the air as she grabbed at them. They all shrieked identically, and tried to escape, but she was too close for them to eavde her, and they were too weak to break away. They were so thin she could hold all of them in her arms. In three blows she made them right, all four of them burning together. First she restored their organs, heart and lungs and guts ruined with months of self-consumption; no sooner had she wanted it done than it was done, the three girly shrieks climbing into song as Jemma pushed with her mind and her spirit. Then she restored their flesh. She filled them with fire that burned for an instant and was gone, leaving muscle and fat in its place; they popped out of her arms, but remained bound to her by fire. Lastly she restored their minds – already they felt covered with abomination. She weeded their brains, reaching in with fire fingers to rip out that perception; right or wrong, truth or distortion, it was hers to command, and must come out with her, and when she commanded it to scatter on the dark air it must do it.

“When she released them they threw up their arms, as if in praise or surrender, and then fell to the ground, strong bones cushioned by newly upholstered fat. She left them sleeping beside the vomit tub, scattering candy wrappers back and forth between them with their breath. She wiped her feet and moved on.”

– Chris Adrian, The Children’s Hospital

“[Mutual knowledge is] the difference between two people knowing something and each one knowing that the other knows that they know that the other knows ad infinitum. Which makes both a logical and a psychological difference. So if Harry says to Sally, ‘You ought to come up and see my etching,’ and Sally, says, ‘no,’ then he knows that she’s turned down a sexual overture, but does she knows that he knows that she knows? And does he know that she knows that he knows? In the absence of this higher-order knowledge, you can maintain the fiction of a platonic friendship.

“Whereas overt language leaves nothing to the imagination. The difference between individual and mutual knowledge is the basis of ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes.’ When the little boy says, ‘The emperor is naked,’ he isn’t telling anyone anything that they can’t see with their own eyeballs, but he is conveying information – because everyone now knows that everyone else knows that they know. This changes the relationship. They can now challenge the authority of the emperor in a way that individual knowledge didn’t allow them to.

“So blurting things out, as the little boy does creates mutual knowledge, and thus forces the relationship to change in a way that is not forced when you use innuendo.”

– Steven Pinker

“You can be afflicted by some mental torment, and if you haven’t got the means or entitlement or the language to shape it, to describe it to yourself, all you can do is suffer – and often not be fully aware that you are suffering. Children in particular can suffer in this way. This is why language is such a precious tool.”

– Ian McEwan

After you have practiced for a while, you will realize that it is not possible to make rapid, extraordinary progress. Even though you try very hard, the progress you make is always little by little. It is not like going out in a shower in which you know when you get wet. In a fog, you do not know you are getting wet, but as you keep walking you get wet little by little.”

– Shunryu Suzuki-Roshi

“We know the facts, but we don’t always realize them with that imaginative, emotional engagement that makes them vivid forces and deciding factors.

“…The moment when mortality, ephemerality, uncertainty, suffering, or the possibility of change arrives can split a life in two. Facts and ideas we might have heard a thousand times assume a vivid,urgent, felt reality. We knew them then, but they matter now. They are like guests that suddenly speak up and make demands upon us; sometimes they appear as guides, sometimes they just wreck what came before or shove us out the door. We answer them, when we answer, with how we lead our lives. Sometimes what begins as bad news prompts the true path of a life, a disruptive visitor that might be thanked only later. Most of us don’t change until we have to, and crisis is often what obliges us to do so. Crises are often resolved only through anew identity and new purpose, whether it’s that of a nation or a single human being.”

– Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby

“…being a witness at times demands action, and failing to witness in these situations is amoral or perhaps immoral. The communities where we immerse ourselves are generally far less able than we ourselves are to expose human rights violations, abuses of power, and repression. The choice is really not between ethnography and activism. Certain circumstances call for an ethnography that is aware of the broader social conditions in which ethnographer and subject find themselves.”

– Beatriz Manz, Paradise in Ashes

“After being conditioned as a child to the lovely never-never land of magic, of fairy queens and virginal maidens, of little princes and their rose bushes, of poignant bears and Eyore-ish donkeys… of the magic wand, and the faultless illustrations… of Griselda in her feather-cloak, walking barefoot with the Cuckoo in the lantern-lit world of nodding Mandarins, – of Delight in her flower-garden with the slim-limbed flower sprites, – of the Hobbit and the dwarves, gold-belted with blue and purple hoods, drinking ale and singing of dragons in caverns of the valley – all this I knew, and felt, and believed. All this was my life when I was young. To go from this to the world of “grown-up” reality. To feel the tender skin of sensitive child-fingers thicken; to feel the sex organs develop and call loud to the flesh; to become aware of school, exams, bread and butter, marriage, sex, compatibility, war, economics, death and self. What a pathetic blighting of the beauty and reality of childhood.

“Not to be sentimental, as I sound, but why the hell are we conditioned into the smooth strawberry-and-cream Mother-Goose-world, Alice-in-Wonderland fable, only to be broken on the wheel as we grow older and become aware of ourselves as individuals with a dull responsibility in life? * to learn snide and smutty meanings of words you once loved, like “fairy.” * to go to college fraternity parties where a boy buries his face in your neck or tries to rape you if he isn’t satisfied with burying his fingers in the flesh of your breast. * to be aware that you must compete somehow, and yet that wealth and beauty are not in your realm. * to learn that a boy will make a careless remark about “your side of town” as he drives you to a roadhouse in his father’s latest chromium-plated convertible. * to learn that you might have been more of an “artist” than you are if you had been born into a family of wealthy intellectuals. * to learn that you can’t be a revolutionary. * to learn that while you dream and believe in Utopia, you will scratch & scrabble for your daily bread in your home and be damn glad if there’s butter on it. * to learn that money makes life smooth in some ways, and o feel how tight and threadbare life is if you have too little. * to despise money, which is a farce, mere paper, and to hate what you have to do for it, and yet to long to have it in order to be free from slaving for it. * to yearn toward art, music, ballet and good books, and get them only in tantalizing snatches. * to yearn for an organism of the opposite sex to comprehend and heighten your thoughts and instincts, and to realize that most American males worship woman as a sex machine with rounded breasts and a convenient opening in the vagina, as a painted doll who shouldn’t have a thought in her pretty head other than cooking a steak dinner and comforting him in bed after a hard 9-5 day at a routine business job. * to realize that there are some men who like a girl as a companion in mind as well as body. * to realize that just as you will meet one of the few whom you could learn to be companionable with, the War of Double Hate will blow his guts out for the sake of shedding the light of freedom on the darkened half of the oppressed people of the world. * to study the futility of war, and read the UN charter, and then to hear the announcer on the radio blithely announce “The stars and stripes march” for our courageous fighting forces. * to know that there is a mental hospital on the hill in the back of the college. * to know that for those qualities I covet in others, those same others covet qualities in still others. * to know that millions of others are unhappy and that life is a gentleman’s agreement to grin and paint your face gay so others will feel they are silly to be unhappy, and try to catch the contagion of joy, while inside so many are dying of bitterness and unfulfillment * to take a walk with Marcia Brown and love her for her exuberance, to catch some of it, because it’s real, and once again love life day by day, color by color, touch by touch, because you’ve got a body & mind to exercise, and that is your lot, to exercise & use it as much as you can, never mind whose got a better or worse body & mind, but stretch yours as far as you can.”

– Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

” ‘My life getting better, but it ain’t getting any easier. Depression ain’t something you just get off of. You can’t get clean from depression. Depression be like a bruise that never goes away. A bruise in your mind. You just got to be careful not to touch where it hurts. It always be there, though.’ ”

– Jeffrey Eugenides, The Marriage Plot

“If you want to build a ship don’t gather people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”

– Saint-Exupery

“He was after all not an infant, but a man experiencing the chaos of infancy welling up in his conscious mind. As the compassion expanded he saw himself on equal terms with his supposed persecutors, saw his parents, who appeared to be the cause of his suffering, as unhappy children with parents who appeared to be the cause of their suffering: there was no one to blame and everyone to help, and those who appeared to deserve the most blame needed the most help.

He noticed how his tears cooled as they ran down his cheeks. Washed eyes and a tired and empty feeling. Was that what people meant by peaceful? There must be more to it than that, but he didn’t claim to be an expert. He suddenly wanted to see his children, real children, not the ghosts of their ancestors’ childhoods, real children with a reasonable chance of enjoying their lives. He picked up the phone and dialled Mary’s number. He was going to change his mind. After all, that’s what Thomas said it was for.”

– Edward St Aubyn, At Last

“The people who tell us to ‘get over it’ and ‘get on with it’ are the least able to have teh direct experience that they berate navel-gazers for avoiding. The ‘it’ they’re ‘getting on with’ is a ghostly re-enactment of unreflecting habits. Not thinking about something is the surest way to remain under its influence.”

– Edward St Aubyn, At Last

” ‘I can’t help thinking how much your father would have enjoyed this occasion. Whatever his drawbacks as a parent, you must admit that he never lost his sense of humour.’

‘Easy not to lose what you never had.’

‘Oh I disagree. He saw the funny side of everything.’

‘He only saw the funny side of things that didn’t have one. That’s not a sense of humour, just a form of cruelty.’ ”

– Edward St Aubyn, At Last

“The subject of consciousness, in order to enter the realm of science, must become the object of consciousness, and that is precisely what it cannot do, for the eye cannot perceive itself, cannot vault from its socket fast enough to glimpse the lens. The langauge of experience and the language of experiment hang like oil and water in the same test tube, never mingling except from the violence of philosophy.”

– Edward St Aubyn, At Last