Time to reflect

In approximately 48 hours I’ll be starting a new job. Last night I said goodbye to my branch with an appropriate Peking Duck feast. I’ve been reflecting on Trying Not to Try by Edward Slingerland. He has studied Chinese philosophy and modern neuroscience and written an erudite self help book with plenty of scholarly footnotes, describing the chain of thinkers starting with Confucius, Laozi, Mencius, all the way up to our pop western Buddhists and the paradox of human effort. He identifies two strands of practice- one promoting strict practice and the other deriding structure, that people have followed to reach the same goal. Authentic spontaneous right action, thought, and speech.
Slingerland concludes a bit limply that different methods work for different people at different times- the strict need to loosen up, the loose need to focus. I enjoyed the descriptions of the ancient Chinese arguments between protohippies and protosuits. It seems that humans in all recorded history have faced the same conundrums. Our current culture (especially perhaps in NYC) is so dominated by desperate strivers (me) that we need someone to explain to us that more work is not better work, that pushing and pushing won’t get you a date, and that the best way to be persuasive to others is to relax and speak about something you genuinely believe in.
In the Chinese section of our library we have a portrait of a cheerful, fat, sandal wearing Confucius. The Library is itself a paradox, home to so many seeking self improvement, but resolutely remaining open and loose to whatever it is our patrons seek.

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Author: Emily

Writer/ Librarian

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