I admit it. I read all sorts of stuff. Good stuff. Bad stuff. Stuff that defies description, but after you read it and someone asks you what you read, you’re all, “Um, stuff.”
When I was about fifteen, I got very curious in the nature of the soul and the existence of God. I blame this, appropriately enough, on my parents. (Isn’t everything their fault?) More specifically, it’s my dad. See, he studied to be a priest when he was in college. Nine years of becoming a Paulist Father (they’re the order involved with the media – television, radio, that kind of thing). He dropped out two months before he was to be ordained, citing significant philosophical uncertainty in the divinity of Christ.
All well and good, except that in first grade, my parents enrolled me in Catholic school.
Sorta confusing, you say? Tell me!
So what’s all this got to do with New Age Foo Foo? Well, when I was fifteen, my dad started studying Zen Buddhism. Now, when a man with a Masters in Philosophy, a B.A. in Theology, and a classical education decides to study something, they don’t fool around. Only trouble is, my dad doesn’t speak or read Japanese. Accordingly, copies of D.T. Suzuki and Lao Tzu started showing up all over his house. I asked him, “Dad, why do you have five – no, six – copies of Suzuki on the dining room table?” “Well, I’m studying Zen Buddhism. And I don’t read Japanese.”
“Um, Dad? These are all in English…?”
“Why, Dad? Why do you have six copies of Suzuki in English, to study Zen Buddhism, because you don’t read Japanese?”
“Those are all by different translators.”
It was then that I began to understand Zen. A little.
I’m very proud of the fact that I did not once take a nerf bat to his head.
Thought about it, though.
“Okay. You have six copies of D.T. Suzuki, all by different translators, in English because you don’t read Japanese, because you’re studying Zen Buddhism. WHY?”
“Because it’s the only way I can get as close as possible to the original language. See, it’s like this. Each translator sees the language a little differently, so they translate it a little differently. By reading them and comparing them, I can get as close as possible to the original language without actually speaking Japanese.”
Ask a stupid question…
So we started discussing Zen Buddhism. At dinner. Over ice cream. While doing chores.
And you know what? That stuff is kind of interesting! I started to ask about theology in general, and we were off. We talked about Saint Thomas Aquinas, who interpreted the works of Aristotle for the Church, we talked about religious hysteria when I subscribed for a while to a magazine called The Plain Truth, we talked about God and concepts of deity…
Fast forward to college. I got interested in different religions and went to church or temple with anyone who would take me. In college, I met some Wiccans and got invited to come to a ritual with them. I was, naturally, interested. One of the books they gave me was by a woman named Anodea Judith, a Western-trained Jungian psychologist who became interested in Eastern healing modalities. She wrote a book called The Sevenfold Journey, which is a primer about the chakras for Westerners. I loved it! Set up like a workbook, it has exercises for people to try, all associated with the individual chakras. (If you don’t know what a chakra is, hold on, I’ll tell you.) It had journal exercises, of course, but what I like about it is it has physical ones too, and music, spirituality, all sorts of things. You don’t have to change your religion to go through it, either – it explains the concepts and gives you stuff to do and think about.
A chakra is an ancient Hindu concept, which roughly translates to “spinning wheel.” And no, I did NOT read six different texts by different translators to find this out; I’ll trust Anodea Judith’s definition. The idea is that we have these wheels in our body, associated with major intersections of nerves. This makes a lot of sense to me, actually, since nerves transmit electrochemical impulses. The idea that there is an ‘energy’ associated with that transmission seems plausible, since electricity is energy. There are several chakra systems, depending who you talk to. Judith teaches about seven major ones.
What does this have to do with writing?
Good question. Judith has a number of tools in her books, not just The Sevenfold Journey, that allow a person to ruminate on themselves and their place in the universe. I figure, I’ll snag one or two each issue and share my thoughts about them. If you want to try them in the privacy of your own morning pages, more power to you.
I won’t, though, translate for you.
This was originally posted on my now discontinued blog, Noonsense, 07/27/2010.