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2007-04-10 12:22 a.m.

thinking about the future

The sakura are in bloom in Japan now.

A few weeks ago, on the way to iaido practice, I heard someone practicing my favorite piano piece, Debussy's "Claire de Lune," inside their home. They played it terribly, to the point that the tune was almost unrecognizable (it sounded like a lower-intermediate level player was trying to sightread it, actually), but there was no mistaking what tune it was. That made my day, actually.

Most of the following is just me doing that thing I do where I find out what I think and feel by writing it down. I can't guarantee it will be an interesting read.

Doors have been gradually closing, while one remains open. I'm pretty sure about where I'll end up for graduate school at this point, but a little more time remains before it's for sure. Chances are high that the question will be resolved by the end of this week. It's looking like I'll be in the central time zone, which until now has been the US time zone I've spent the least time in.

I'm heartened to find that I'm pretty excited to start graduate school. I've been studying biochemistry every morning the past while, and I find it more interesting now than I ever did as an undergraduate. I'm thinking of entering graduate school almost as entering a monastery. I want to shut out all outside distractions.

Though I seem to be penciling in quite a few distractions, anyway. The major one is that, after a lengthy period of consideration, WTF has decided that she wants to accompany me to America. I have mixed feelings about this, as she has not responded very well to being surrounded by Americans speaking English in the past. Sometimes I'm unsure of what, exactly, it is that I really feel for her, but when I examine my feelings I do know that breaking up is not an option I'm willing to consider right now, especially if she's willing to give American life a try. To tell you the truth, I expect this move to result in either an extremely messy break-up or an engagement. (I haven't told her this.)

The basic plan would be for her to enroll in an intensive ESL school for a year or two and then probably to enter a university (perhaps starting with community college). She doesn't have much money, and I had thought that I would need to help support her if she came, but she insists that she'll live on her own and take care of all the financial stuff herself. She doesn't plan to work while studying, either. I have no idea where this money will come from (the only possible source I can think of is her parents), but that would make things easier in a lot ways (especially if things don't work out). From my perspective, I'm happy to help her out. If I was her friend looking on this from the outside, though, I'd recommend she not be financially dependent on the dude at this point.

I feel guilty to admit it, but if WTF wasn't willing to try living in the US, I wouldn't be willing to stay in Japan for her sake and the relationship would probably end when I left. I rationalize this to myself by saying that if I were to end up with a Japanese girl, it would need to be one that spoke English fairly well and was comfortable in the American cultural setting. Which is a valid point. But it also seems that I've never yet dated a girl for whom I was willing to change my plans. I'm not sure if this is because (A) I'm just a bastard; (B) I just haven't met the right girl; or (C) none of the above.

I have some of the same confusion of feelings about WTF that I did about Junko. Sometimes I feel like I'm not as passionate as I should be. But lately I've been starting to think that my kind of love is less in tune with the sentiment that "anything less than mad, passionate, extraordinary love is a waste of time" and more like "the eternal rocks beneath- a source of little visible delight, but necessary. I am [my lover]- [s]he's always, always in my mind- not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself- but as my own being."

Two other distractions, which I worry will have to be erased in the face of the one just mentioned, are writing and karate. I'm hoping to get as much writing done as possible before school starts (and then see about getting stuff published while I'm in school, deciding what to do about further literary efforts depending on how that turns out (and on how intent I become on the path that grad school would naturally lead to)).

As for karate, though, the ideal would be to start a karate club, or at least a small practice group, while I'm in school. This wouldn't necessarily have to conflict with giving WTF proper attention, at least if she was willing to join, but thus far she's been pretty resistant to the idea of me teaching her karate. It might be hard to work it in with graduate school, anyway, but… I want to make regular physical activity a priority in my life, both for physical heath and mental clarity. I'm right about the age when a lot people start letting that slip, only to regret it down the road. Karate would be the perfect thing to keep that going. Swimming would also be nice, and I hope to do that on a quasi-regular basis, as well.

And then where in all this will music and reading (not to mention Go and other (video) games) fit in? The cracks, I suppose. Or not at all. [sigh]

And then there's Zen. My interest has been rising again, recently. Not that I ever stopped practicing zazen. I can sit in full lotus now, actually. A crappy full lotus, but full lotus nonetheless.

The thing is, I think that I am an inherently spiritual person. I feel a need for a spiritual aspect to my life. But my experiences and ponderings thus far have led me to reject the interpretations that the vast majority of people choose to attach to their spirituality. In short, I accept that spiritual experiences are real. But the concepts about reality that these experiences are typically seen to be proof of are all mutually contradictory. This, combined with considerations that are specific to the conceptualized "truths" in question, has led me to the conclusion that there is an extremely small chance that any of them are true. I'm a little hesitant to say this outright, but I do actually consider this understanding to be a very valuable form of intellectual enlightenment. This tends conflict somewhat with my desire for spirituality, since spiritual paths that don't require you to swallow a lot of nonsense are fairly rare. If I am going to follow a spiritual path, it will need to be one that does not dictate to me what those spiritual experiences mean. As Walt Whitman put it:

i swear i will never henceforth have to do
with the faith that tells the best
i will have to do only with that faith that
leaves the best untold

Philosophically speaking, I like Taoism the best (and I've been known to be enamored of Epicureanism and Stoicism, as well). But what is missing in Taoism, as far as I've been made aware, is a spiritual practice to help one develop the desired mindset. This is what Zen (theoretically) provides. Zen is concerned with a direct spiritual experience that cannot be put into words and that is independent of any conceptual frameworks. In theory. In practice, Zen is often very Buddhist, and, as I have noted, Buddhism as generally interpreted is most definitely one of those conceptual frameworks that I have a problem with.

Lately, though, I think I'm starting to resolve some of my problems with Zen. I've become more confident in the idea that you don't have to use traditional Buddhist teleology to interpret the results of Zen spiritual practice (which is an interesting full circle in outlook). I understand that not all teachers see it that way, and I don't really care. I will continue to practice zazen indefinitely, with a teacher when possible. And I will keep my own counsel on what it all means.

“You must cease concerning yourself with the dialects of Buddhism and instead learn how to look into your mind in seclusion.” –Dogen, founder of the Japanese Soto sect of Zen


Not to say that everything is all resolved. I've been reading Nietzsche lately, and a lot of his stuff almost seems like a direct assault on Taoism and Zen. Some of it makes a lot of sense, and it's caused me to rethink some things. Oh well. Certainty is not something I'm particularly interested in attaining, anyway.

There is a Zen center in the city I'll likely be living in starting this August, and that is another potential time sink.

as soon as you open your mouth you are wrong,


P.S. As far as spiritual paths go, another intriguing possibility has recently come to my attention: psychedelic drugs. I've been reading a lot about them lately, and that's a topic for another entry, but suffice it to say that at the moment I have not tried any and currently have no plans to.