Meditation on the Beautiful

Courtesy: www.breatheinyoga.com
Courtesy: http://www.breatheinyoga.com

In Arthur Evelyn Waugh’s novella, The Loved One, there is a cutting piece of commentary concerning a lady whose habit it is to bite her fingernails. The duty of responding (via letter) had fallen on Mr. Slump – a gloomy man who on good days required the chain smoking of cigarettes to palliate his throat, and on bad, tended to regurgitate things he never knew he had swallowed.

Mr. Slump asks his secretary: “Here’s another one from the woman who bites her nails. What did we advise last time?”

“Meditation on the Beautiful,” quips the secretary.

“Tell her to go on meditating.”

What on the surface may sound like a piercing comment might have more to it now, especially with the rising number of studies and researches published on meditation and how certain tools to shift our attention can physically rewire our neural connection. We know from brain scans that the phenomenon of neuroplasticity is real and tangible. That the structure of the brain responds to changes in behavior and through the uses of our attention seems obvious enough. But after having had my own recent dose of “meditation on the beautiful,” I hereby present a few observations that are pridominantly variations of the theme on the bullet-point ‘benefits’ of meditation. This I hope would provide greater depths of insight and motivation for you readers to cultivate this habit, at least couple of sessions a day.

Continue reading Meditation on the Beautiful

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Three Recommended Audiobooks

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Playing on the theme of my previous post, here are a few audiobooks that have provided me with innumerable hours of pleasure and personal satisfaction. My initial inkling to explore the medium was to naturally gravitate towards authors whom I adored in print, but our senses often tend to have a motive of their own. The voice-actor, I’ve come to find, are as pertinent to my satisfaction as the contents of the books themselves. But I was relieved to notice that these audiobooks have been narrated by professionally practiced patrons. Afterall, why shouldn’t they be? They are widely acclaimed classics…anyways, without further ado, here are they:

1) PG Wodehouse – The Code of the Woosters, narrated by Jonathan Cecil (Link)

My love of PGW is no secret and if there is such a thing as pure love, I ought to not apologize for my constant recommendation and so, I will not. What I would commend highly instead is Jonathan Cecil’s most delightful rendition of Bertie Wooster for the silly, urban and brave bachelor that he is. “Constantly landing in the soup,” as my memory reminds me. Wodehouse is an ideal candidate for dramatic narration, radio work, use of his funny metaphors in real life, as the master of verse leaves much to the imagination to fill in for the delights to occur. Pure joy and happiness – get, listen and be prepared to be satisfied to just exist beautifully.

2) Stephen Fry Presents a Selection of Oscar Wilde’s Short Stories (Link)

Stephen over here does a sublime job of exposing the intricate wit of Wilde. For instance, in The Devoted Friend, which recollects the story of the miller and little Hans through a conversation between a duck and a rat, there is a great quality of losing myself in the narrative tracks of Mr. Fry’s voice. I remember Stephen once remarked about standup comedians, that the important thing for a staged performer is to able to communicate to the audience that everything is going to be fine, and reassure them in a way that would make them rest back in their seats. After having read Mr. Fry’s autobiographies and his combats with his emotions and physical insecurities, I’m yet doubly astonished by the reassurance of his voice. There’s hardly any intimidation in these recordings. Plus, there’s something to be said about that brand of British accents (Alistair Cooke, Richard Burton…) towards which we are all, rightfully, suckered in. Evelyn Waugh might lampoon me for making such a statement, but hey, Mr. Waugh can go toss it! Go Wilde and get Fried.

3) Rudyard Kipling – Plain Tales From the Hills, narrated by Mike Harris (Link)

I’ve only recently come across the output of Librivox and I’m astounded. I was on the lookout for short stories a night ago and my mind decided to gravitate towards Rudyard Kipling (funny how two of the three recommendations are children’s tales.) I’ve only read a couple of his shorts before, but I’ve quickly found that Kipling is fun, Kipling is fine, and Kipling exudes that strenuous sense of balance required to live in any day and age (in my school years, the poem ‘If..’ was given to us boys as a sort of anthem for growing up.) The great bard of children’s stories has still yet an arresting effect on my mind, and the beauty he evokes in these tales has a lot to do with the rhythm and music of the prose. Mike Harris, in this free recording, although slightly monotonous, is also possessed of a deep bassy voice that you would instantly agree with if the bass guitar happens to be your favorite instrument. Oh, I forgot to repeat that it’s free. What more, if I have succeeded in converting any of you readers to Wodehouse by now, then feel free to grab his recordings of PGW’s short stories as well, which is bound to bring only more joy and happiness. Undesirable consequences, of course.

Righteo then, cheers for reading.

In Praise of Audiobooks

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Given the ever-increasing shortage of time at our disposal for the perusal of books, the accumulation of knowledge, which in turn accords us a greater perception of the world, audiobooks have briskly become a medium in helping to bridge this gap. It is common to find that even students of philosophy entering college, due to the demands of the curriculum (in school and subsequently in college,) have hardly had time to let their minds settle down on a work of Zeno,Cicero, or Plutarch. Although there is the difficulty involved in receiving serious works through the ears whilst on the go to school or work – since it doesn’t allow for the dialogue and the give-and-take process involved in the reading of printed words, there is yet some virtue to be had in the form of an introduction to the said author rather than to not have read the text at all. But these discrepancies shouldn’t distract us in getting to the meat of the matter – which is that some audiobooks – especially, I submit, of short stories, of the dramatization of comedies, and of essays, often end up highly satisfactory in experience.

Take these two forms for instance: what the short story and essay often have in common is that they are contained and are a highly concentrated version of the author’s thoughts and experiences. If written well, the goldmine of experiences in the offering is a small price to pay. Plus, there’s the added bonus of mobility and convenience. We’d be much the poorer without the bewitching beauty of Oscar Wilde’s short stories or John Stuart Mill’s emancipating tract on liberty. There’s no reason why one shouldn’t read the printed text – by all means, do so. But there’s also the satisfaction (that word once again) to be had in the repeated ingestion of these tales and tracts, and what more, whilst on the move.

Secondly, I’d put forth that it makes better listeners of people. The activity demands a certain concentration of the mind and the open receptivity to ideas. It’s important to train our ears to listen with attention to what others have to say. This is conducive to prodding, questioning, and understanding our fellow human beings than to just wait for their uttering to end and have our own preconceptions discharged. A key to developing our individualism is to be able to take the knowledge that one has gained, and turn them into understanding. Thus, the flourishing of human relationships and civilized society demands to a certain extent that we develop our individuality whilst simultaneously acknowledging the individuality of others. To express one’s will and self-determinism is vital to the armoury of the freethinker, and the ears are the antechamber to the birth of new ideas. It is said of Mozart that some of the best tunes he penned were the one’s he picked up from musicians in the streets of Vienna and reworking it for his own purpose, and subsequently, to our profit.

Lastly, I’d also submit that to listen brings back a traditional norm from centuries past when the production of a book was an expensive task. “Group reading” has been quite the trend amongst college students for years, but isn’t it the case that what one gets out of a book is what one reads by themselves? But with the elimination of the visual aspect of printed words, sounds of a narrator enter in through our ears, up into the brain, and strait to the imagination.

This isn’t taking into account the possible talents of the narrator, whose capability to jump in and out of different characters and pacing the scenario as and when it demands. None of this is meant to replace the printed word, but give it a try. You may pleasantly be surprised by Martin Jarvis’s masterful rendition of the Wodehouse classic, The Code of the Woosters. Or Frank Muller’s gloomy recording of All Quiet on the Western Front.

A Journey to the Great Deeps with Loren Eiseley

Loren Eisley

“Whenever I see a frog’s eye low in the water warily ogling the shoreward landscape, I always think inconsequentially of those twiddling mechanical eyes that mankind manipulates nightly from a thousand observatories. Someday, with a telescopic lens an acre in extent, we are going to see something not to our liking, some looming shape outside there across the great pond of space.

“Whenever I catch a frog’s eye I am aware of this, but I do not find it depressing. I stand quite still and try hard not to move or lift a hand since it would only frighten him. And standing thus it finally comes to me that this is the most enormous extension of vision of which life is capable: the projection of itself into other lives. This is the lonely, magnificent power of humanity. It is, far more than any spatial adventure, the supreme epitome of the reaching out.” Continue reading A Journey to the Great Deeps with Loren Eiseley

Happy and Funny Poems for the Morning Hours

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Courtesy: http://www.rontranmer.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/poetry3.jpg

As an experiment of sorts, I’ve decided to forego my daily ingestion of news and break an habit of nearly a lifetime. The news is all well and fine but I don’t see the point anymore of viewing new casualties in Gaza or the kidnap/rape/torture/murder of whoever it may be. This sounds callous, but believe me, to be outraged, and to feel moved doesn’t cover the fact that nothing gets done about any of this by watching or reading the news. And this alone – my own powerlessness to act – call it weak-willed, indecisive, cowardly, name it whatever you please, has convinced my neurons that to desist from this activity wouldn’t be a terrible loss at all. In any case, I’m bound to hear the latest gossip either at the nearest coffee shop, or when I’m face to face with friends, acquaintances or even strangers. Continue reading Happy and Funny Poems for the Morning Hours

P.G. Wodehouse – A Man For All Seasons

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PG Wodehouse with his signature pipe – undoubtedly typing/scribbling out notes with his other hand for his next installment.

We all escape the strenuous nature of our day-to-day existence by resorting to various activities: gardening, netflixing, reading, video-gaming, willfully induced soliloquies etc. etc. Only a small minority of the population gets to have the privilege of making their living through means that they would naturally consider as “escapist.” But even then, the time in between their activities – say, painting for instance, the time that’s ever magnanimously approaching like a droopy headmaster ready to give you the pep-talk will invariably consist of periods where a whole load of nothing happens. In such instances, even when the predicament is quite ideal – a loving partner whose love, as they say, is unconditional, a permanent enclosure which is better than a hamlet and doesn’t require a transfer of green paper bills to an unwitting creditor, a pettable creature at a convenient distance within this enclosure, and a bank balance that will not allow your head to swarm with stratagems of Machiavellian proportions, even with these and some extra seeds of a future boost to our Dionysian prospects added to the mix, one may find that there are limits to our happiness beyond which we risk entering a tormenting Dalai Lama of the mind. Majority of us take a painful eternity to approach two-thirds of the way up, only to be confronted by another stern headmaster who had bought his way to the silvery gates and is ready with the examination papers. P.G. Wodehouse found his stride roughly by age 6, found the upper extremity of this happiness bar, and said to himself, “Right ho, this seems pleasant enough, think I’ll just stick to it.” Continue reading P.G. Wodehouse – A Man For All Seasons

Patrick Leigh Fermor – A Man Of Style and Substance

This picture is from the book by William Stanley Moss which chronicles the abduction of the German general Heinrich Kreipe in Nazi occupied Greek island of Crete.
This picture is from the book by William Stanley Moss which chronicles the abduction of German general Heinrich Kreipe in the then Nazi occupied Greek island of Crete (Paddy is sitting in the centre with Stanley Moss to his left.)

It’s fashionable for humans to think themselves as adventurous, charming, erudite, courageous and gritty. Most of us have some of these qualities in varying degrees and even showcase it from time to time. I myself, at the mercy of caprice, flip my neural architecture every now and then and go out on a limb to do an action or make a decision that is profoundly uncomfortable to my central nervous system. Some of these include activities as silly as my very first venture into a strip club by myself (yes, yes, the silliness of my jitters only magnified after the pleasantness of the encounter) to activities as stupid as to spend ginormous amounts on an education in another continent that probably wouldn’t repay itself anytime in the near-distant future. There you go – the grand total of my risk-taking adventures thus far amounts to no more than a trouser button. The recurring line to exorcise any doubts or misgivings that occur in my head is one by Joseph Conrad: “Facing it, always facing it, that’s the way to get through. Face it.” But at all times and ages, we do get an handful of men and women who not only codify the qualities that I had pointed out, but also succeed in transposing and transforming them. By doing so, not only do they grow in stature, but they make others who read about them grow as well. Patrick Leigh Fermor (or “Paddy”) was one of them, who, after innumerable adventures on foot, in his mind as a writer and historian, and in the battlefield as a patron of espionage and sabotage in Nazi occupied Crete, managed to stay pickled till he was 96. Continue reading Patrick Leigh Fermor – A Man Of Style and Substance

Musing, Loafing, Croozing