I’ve been reading Quantum Psychology by Robert Anton Wilson as part of a book club. We’ve moved on to part two, Speaking About the Unspeakable. I found myself still wrapping an argument around a point of certainty which, in retrospect, seemed contrived. Sometimes, I feel like I’m going around in circles. So, this is a review of part one; How Do We Know What We Know, If We Know Anything?
Robert Anton Wilson starts with the observation that all presumed knowledge and experience starts with observation. There may be a “Deep Reality” that exists beyond observation, but it is unknowable. And so any claim of objectivity is suspect. After all, an electron can be observed to have the properties of a wave, and separately observed to behave as a particle. Similarly, a therapist will get different perspectives of the same events when working with a couple. Both versions may be true. Or, they may be false.
RAW uses the “scatter method of Sufi mystics”, using many examples to illustrate a point. There’s lots of finger pointing, but the message is to observe the moon. However, it feels like we’re covering the same ground again and again with the only conclusion being this applies here too.
I’m currently in a state of “so what?” Life is ambiguous in ways that are cumbersome to explicitly put into casual conversation. However, we often misinterpret the simplified version as absolute truth. The map is not the territory, and we do need reminding of this. Repeatedly. So, I’m sticking around for some more reminders. Perhaps it will cause another shift in perspective.
So, now what? What do I need to engage with to make these ongoing discussion more fruitful? Remember:
Certainty is illusory, and there’s always a perspective.
Consider if statements are meaningless (or purely subjective), and check for indeterminacy.
e.g. “My boss is a male chauvinist drunk, and this is making me sick.” Could be framed as:
I perceive my boss as a male chauvinist drunk, and right now I do not (or will not) perceive or remember anything else about him, and framing my experience this way, ignoring other factors, makes me feel unwell.
I’m looking forward to the chapter on E-Prime. I’ve also been enjoying how Charles Eisenstein talks about stories as abstraction, but I might need to think a bit more to be able to tease out those deconstructions.
I finished reading Breath, and enjoyed it throughout. The first half of the book tells of the recovery of the capacity of the author. Like many, he suffered from sleep apnea. That part of the book contains advice that is broadly applicable.
Then it explores done a little breath work and looked up the Wim Hof Method, I wasn’t shocked. But I am intrigued. And, it looks like we’ve discovered and forgotten these principles so many times.
One of the biggest surprises for me, was the notion that we’re a society of chronic over-breathers. Breathing less may be the path away from the feeling of a shortness of breath. Especially with the plethora of stressors in modern society.
So, breathe less. CO2 is a vasodilator. So, having higher carbon dioxide in your blood lets the oxygen penetrate deeper into your tissues. Lengthening your exhales is relaxing, and achieves this. And you can lengthen your inhales to match.
Blood oxygen will actually stay similar through different patterns of breathing. CO2 fluctuates far more. And the urge to breathe based on CO2, but the sensitivity is conditioned. Faster breathing is considered a symptom of panic attacks, but what if it was the cause? By becoming accustomed to higher CO2 levels, cause and effect may be lessened.
Sophia and I have been playing the The Witness. And, the more we get into it, the more I appreciate how sublime the level design is. It’s an open world puzzle game. Steam recommended it since we’ve played Myst and The Talos Principle. You walk around, finding puzzles, and solving them or deciding to come back when you have a clue.
The Witness has a much lighter touch even than The Talos Principle for story, and makes Myst feel railroady. The nature of the place is for exploration not exposition. It took us 15-20 hours to realise there are voice messages!
The gameplay is simple at its core; you wander around finding maze puzzles to unlock areas. Which leaves a lot of space for creative design. No, really. There are about a dozen different variations and restrictions for completing sets of puzzles. And figuring them out is quite a challenge. You will find linear sets of puzzles, but the sequence of discovery and completion is up to you. And, there are other puzzles you will find before you know how to solve them.
So, you explore and solve some puzzle, then explore some more. Then, you come back to places you’ve seen before and may not know how to approach this puzzle, and begin your search anew. Even later, you’ll realize that there’s an entire facet of the game that you’ve missed!
Unlike so many games, there are only two achievements. One is for completing the game. The other must be for some extra hidden things. The title and the tone of the game becomes more apparent as time goes on. It’s been a joy playing this game with Sophia, and us puzzling over the challenges together. Some are difficult and need a level of detail to solve. We’ve been taking turns leading, and having the insight from one another has stopped the game being frustrating.
And, it’s been nice to share the revelation of how to progress. We have sunk a good number of hours over the past couple of weekends, in a way that we don’t usually do. It’s that good. And slowly, you realize that the entire map is some sort of puzzle in its own right.
In The Stanley Parable, there this scenario called The Adventure Line. It’s my favorite path. Dramatic music plays, and you follow this linear line that has a life of its own. And then there’s this corridor, where the music stops and the narrator says to look at this fern, it “will be important later in the story”. Of course, he’s being facetious. However, that statement feels far more true for The Witness. Things which appear to be scenery are actually be part of the game design. There are so many flourishes!
The completion rates on this game is quite a bit lower than The Journey Down, which we played and enjoyed recently. But that’s not important. It’s the journey that it’s important. There is a Zen flow state to be found playing this game other games in the genre don’t come close to.
Highly recommended for the right player.
Point on the Timeline
We have a house! The move to Bristol is going ahead. We’re near our ideal part of town, and a pottery studio for Sophia. And, house hunting is over! It’ll be nice to regain that focus.
Maybe the house-hunting is why I was drawn to the game, but the weekend was mostly that and reading. I’m half way through Breath, ad I’m really enjoying it. BREATH THROUGH YOUR NOSE, but I know that already. I’m looking forward for the perspective on Tantric and other non-ordinary breathing practices.
Next weekend was meant to be Roadburn. No trip to the Netherlands unfortunately, but they’re doing something online! So, that’s our weekend booked. A playlist of doom, metal, hardcore and experimental music. Could be worse.
A passing comment “why don’t we give up chocolate for lent” turned into a deeper look into diet. I’d was reading on Ayurveda at Christmas, and found it interesting. But, the volume terminology and things to consider was overwhelming. It didn’t turn into behavioural change. This time around, I started with the practical, picking up some cookbooks and taking it from there.
Ayurveda is an ancient Indian approach to, with 2000 year old canonical texts. But it’s also a living tradition. The culture includes interpretation, commentaries and validating the written with the experiential. Its origins may be close to that of Tantra. Where Tantra is a narrow path, Ayurveda is open to all.
It contains a detailed understanding of anatomy. And maps relationships between different systems within the body. It’s a full medical practice. It also favours lifestyle choices and dietary considerations as preventative. It considers a healthy body ailment free. A blocked nose or aching joints would receive simple suggestions including dietary changes. Ayurveda considers all chronic conditions to have small starting points. These are addressable before they incubate. Only if untreated, will they spread or move through the body.
What’s good for you might not be for me
The principles of Ayurveda are universal, but the practice is very situational.
Each person has a Prakruti, or nature, that is unique and irreducible. Much of the attributions and descriptions refer to the three doshas; vata, pitta, and kapha. These are described as thought, action, and substance. Or, as catabolic, metabolic and anabolic. As well as many other correspondences.
Almost everyone has the expression of one dosha or two more than the others. These basic types neatly divide people into categories, but this is only a starting point.
I’m a vata type, which means I’m tall and thin. I’ve got comments like “how can you eat that? You’re so thin.” It’s that very quality that means I can handle some sweet and heavy foods without putting on weight.
Living with, and sharing meals, with a pitta type has shown me which foods I’d naturally avoided and why. Pittas are defined by their strong ability to digest almost anything. In fact, the advice is to rein back on ginger and other digestion aids. After reintroducing beans and cheese, my corollary is “how can you eat that without getting gassy?”
Foods and activities are balancing or aggravating for one or more of the doshas. Don’t avoid things that can aggravate your primary dosha, but perhaps have less. The aim is to have a diet and meals that keeps the doshas balanced. Your predominant dosha defines your disposition and will be easier to aggravate.
Aggravated vata can leave you spacey, pitta angry, and kapha lethargic.
You are what you digest
“You are what you eat” is a common enough phrase. It’s better than “calories in, calories out”. Ayurveda takes it one step further; you are what you digest. Which includes not just your doshic balance from your prakruti, but how you are this very moment.
Agni is foundational to this process. Agni means fire in Sanskrit, and your digestive fire is a quality to nurture. Agni is the capacity to digest, and like a fire it can be smothered with too much food, or doused with too much liquid. Certain spices will increase your Agni over time. Dense foods, and foods served cold, are naturally harder to digest.
Your stomach is the seat of Agni. Food needs digesting before being incorporated into your tissues. The build-up of blockages, called Ama, in your body can get in the way of digestion and assimilation. There’s no direct translation for Ama. One source suggested cholesterol as an example. Plaque builds up, and veins lose their elasticity, stopping nutrients getting into your tissues.
The white coating on the tongue is a visible sources of Ama. You can also have a buildup of Ama in your digestive tract. Having a good amount of fibre, as well as not overeating can help reduce this.
Overall, this advice leads to favouring lighter foods. Which means less meat, eggs and cheese (especially hard cheese). And having them at lunch, when Agni is strongest.
Milk, ghee (clarified butter) and fresh yoghurt can be good, depending on the condition of the cows. Ayurveda finds a lot wrong with industrially farmed dairy. Taking calves away sours the mother’s milk. Then homogenisation and pasteurisation makes it tamasic. Raw milk, boiled with ginger on the day of consumption, and making yoghurt fresh, is the recommendation. I haven’t gone this far.
The right amount of the right food
Ayurveda recommends having smaller meals, at fixed times. And, to only eat when hungry. Then, eat to two thirds full; a third solids, a third liquids, leaving one third air in your stomach. Enough to stimulate digestion, without slowing it. One source suggested burping as a signal of being full. There’s something to that, even if it’s having the presence and body awareness while eating.
There are other suggestions for what to do when eating to ensure you actually digest it. Things like eating in silence, at a moderate pace, not eating when angry. Think of a time when you’ve been with friends and family, and when food came the conversation stopped. Good food can do that. Body and mind both giving attention to food and digestion. You’ll digest food better than mindlessly eating in front of the TV.
Foods that leave you peaceful and alert are sattvic. Energising foods are rajastic. Draining foods are tamasic, and recommended for no one. Compare the diet of a saint and a king and you’ll get some idea of which foods are sattvic and which are rajastic.
Advice biases towards a sattvic diet, partly due to who is writing the advice. But, a rajastic life can be a fine way to live. A rajastic meal may be recommended for soldier or a king before battle. But, too much rajastic food can leave your scattered and violent.
There are three phases of digestion, the first being taste.
Taste is quite literal. Ayurveda defines six tastes. Things taste sweet, sour, or salty, and they can also be bitter, astringent, and pungent. These tastes affect you when they hit the stomach. A good meal will cover all six.
Taste is an evocative word for the intent. Consider how good the first bite tastes when we are ravenous. And, that when we are full a meal can become tasteless. Our senses are letting us know what we need.
Sweet, sour and salty foods balance vata and can aggravate kapha. The remaining tastes balance kapha and can aggravate vata. Pitta falls somewhere in the middle. Sweet, bitter and astringent balance pitta, and pungent, sour and salty are aggravating.
There’s a push-pull interplay between all the ingredients in a meal. Which is why the advice isn’t to avoid foods entirely. Everyone around the table may have the same foods, but the proportions and needs will differ.
Foods then have digestive and post-digestive effects, which are also expressed as tastes. What we ate a meal or two ago affects our current needs. Spices are for their digestive effects, not only their taste. There are also effects that fall outside this model.
There are tables for ingredients’ tastes, doshic effects and recommendations.
What did I change?
We succeeded with no chocolate over lent! We did eat less meat, and more vegetarian meals. As well as having more root vegetables instead of grains.
I stopped intermittent fasting (i.e. Skipping breakfast on purpose). Instead, I had porridge, or banana bread. Something small and light. Food is grounding for vata, so eating earlier helps.
We’ve also (mostly) been having dinner earlier. I’ve been avoiding snacking after dinner, or having a large second portion. With a mid-afternoon snack of yoghurt (warmed to room temperature), or nuts before it. And I’ve been eating more fruit here and there.
We’ve experimented with more recipes. And had no ready meals. This has been good! As well as the baking, we’ve been making soups. Noodle soup has become a regular part of our roster.
Eat, Taste, Heal is the one book I’d recommend to get started. (Even with that title.) The first half of the book gives a decent introduction to Ayurveda for diet. The concepts build nicely, and there’s reference tables. It’s well edited and the recipes actually look good, without being too complicated.
Any vegetarian cookbook will get you most of the way to a sattvic diet, by avoiding meat. As long as you’re gentle with the cheese and eggs.
For a technical understanding, Vasant Lad‘s books are good. I’m only now venturing into that territory. The first book I read was by Robert Svoboda, and that was a good overview, if dense. Their Youtube channel has short introductions.
Well, I’m more emotionally balanced and alert than when I started, but I am still feeling a bit scattered. Part of that is the pressure and uncertainty that comes with house hunting at this very moment. The market is moving fast!
But, the path’s life-long, right? There are specific, non-food suggestions to balance the doshas I’d like to explore. I’d like to build out an exercise routine, again. I’ve fallen off the wagon here too. The daily routine advice may guide my approach.
And, taking walks in the sun, now there’s more of it. More time in nature would definitely be nice.