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Desert Solitaire
by Edward Abbey

The Bhagavad Gita

The Bhagavad Gita
Stephen Mitchell (trans.)

The Bhagavad Gita
A long-standing trouble of mine with regard to Eastern religions has always been the issue of contentment. The Tao Te Ching is rife with passages about the value of being passive, the value of being content, the value of non-resistance. To be sure, these are things in which I do see great value, and most of the people who know me well would probably say that I exemplify them most days. But there is still something about the idea that doesn’t sit right with me. Specifically: what comprises the very fine barrier between contentment and complacency? The dictionary is no help here: it defines “content” as “desiring no more than what one has; satisfied” and “complacent” as
“contented to a fault; self-satisfied and unconcerned”. I understand the difference in the linguistic sense of the two words; what I have always struggled to understand is the particular set of empirical circumstances that make one more applicable than the other in one’s life.
Arjun and Krishna
The relative value of contentment is something that I’ve recently discussed much with a friend who is a yoga instructor. She argues that a life of contentment is a harmonious life; a life without conflict. Very well, I say, but isn’t it conflict and a certain amount of discomfort that inspires us to improve ourselves and our world? Doesn’t the very notion of doing anything presuppose some desired end state which one does not currently possess? Wouldn’t a life of perfect satisfaction also be a life of perfect inactivity? And if so, I reject satisfaction — something that I’ve seen myself do for many years now. Embracing discomfort as impetus for positive change and new situations, while it may make Lao Tzu cringe, has always seemed to me to have an enormous potential for benefit.
And so I finally picked up the Bhagavad Gita, and found the beginnings of some insight into the issue. I was surprised to find Krishna at once advocating a life of perfect satisfaction, but also characterizing himself as the standard for a life of perpetual activity. The answer supplied by the Gita is activity free of intentionality, or at least activity free of expectation of a particular result. This makes at least some sense to me. One doesn’t need to be dissatisfied in order to act; one could just act for the sake of action, independent of desire for results. This begs another question: then why act well? Again, perhaps for the goodness of the action itself, not necessarily the goodness of the outcome. It’s sort of an anti-utilitarian approach to morality in which we don’t motivate actions by their outcome nor by their intent, but by the merits of the actions themselves.
While the notion is still fuzzy in my mind and will require more reading and thinking to bring it into sharper focus, the Bhagavad Gita has at least gotten me thinking about the problem in a new light. It is entirely possible that I’ve been intuitively utilizing the principle for quite a while without quite being able to articulate what it was I was doing. I often find myself unable to account for my own actions in terms of intention or desire; there are a great many things that I do because it seems intuitive and/or beautiful to do them in the particular moment and space in which they occur. I’ve recently been described by someone as “guileless”, which may or may not be quite right. There are definitely some things that I approach with an engineer’s eye toward problem-solving, and definitely other things that I do entirely without craft. Learning which to apply to human relationships certainly constitutes one of the most important lessons that I have learned in my dealings with the world thus far.

Home Buying For Dummies

Home Buying For Dummies
Eric Tyson and Ray Brown

Home Buying For Dummmies
The very fact that I have purchased and read a book called Home Buying For Dummies disturbs me. It seems that my life has a tendency to change quickly and thoroughly. Four months ago I was living out of a backpack in the hills of Ireland, and now I’m working a full-time computer software job and trying to figure out how mortgages function. I’m currently trying to grapple with the realization that I was far more comfortable with the former. There are multiple ways to interpret the fact. The most obvious and most likely is that I’m not cut out for nine-to-five life with a house and a yard and all of the trappings of an ordinary middle-class existence. But there are others. Basic, irrational fear of commitment is a strong contender. Unreasonable unwillingness to compromise is a good bet, too. Immaturity (if the label can be considered meaningful in the first place) is another likely possibility.
The fact is, I can’t really point to anything quite wrong with my life as it is. As jobs go, I can hardly imagine one more suitable to my interests and lifestyle than the one that I have. Perhaps a shortage of creativity on my part, or perhaps I have a good job. And yet I’m uncomfortable with the very fact of having it. Maybe not because of what it is, but maybe because of what it represents: a conventional sort of income that could be easily applied toward a conventional sort of life.
This becomes pretty central to the whole house issue. Every time I raise the topic in the company of other people, they usually tell me I should buy a house. Why? “Because it would be a good investment.” And right there is where I have to stop listening. The language of investment and return is foreign to me. It seems to presuppose that the purpose of money is to reproduce, and buying a house is a way of providing a cozy petri dish in which hundreds of thousands of little dollar bills can get busy procreating. But it’s an angle with which I just can’t sympathize. If I buy a house, I want it to be because it’s good for me, not just because it’s good for my money. This is where we cut to the heart of the matter. What is good for me, anyway? In what ways is it good, and on what time scale? That’s the part that I can’t quite grasp yet, because I haven’t really decided what kind of life I want for myself yet. Buying a house — whatever financial sense it may or may not make — constitutes a full-on commitment not just to a particular dwelling place (that part I could handle), but to a particular kind of life. The kind of life in which I need to continue a forty-hour-a-week existence at least long enough not to be plunged deeply into debt for the rest of my very-grown-up life. And that part is a commitment that I’m not yet sure I’m willing to make. Commitment to a home, to a person, to a project — those are things that make sense to me. Commitment to sitting at a keyboard for eight hours a day just doesn’t.
And so I am trying very hard to take the long view right now. Not the chronological long view that Investors are supposed to take, but the standing-back-and-squinting long view to try to figure out the most beautiful possible arrangements of events, people, and forces in my life. The Impressionist long view, I guess you could call it. If all of the parts orchestrate into a beautiful whole, then they’re the right parts. If not, then they need rearranging. My life as it is looks pretty amazing through the squint. Considering ways in which to make it even better is the crux of the current quandary.