Thoughts on Literature, Food, Faith and the Subversive Power of Living Small

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Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
The Solace of Leaving Early by Haven Kimmel
In Her Shoes by Jennifer Weiner
Fools Crow by James Welch
What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt

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Carpal Tunnel strikes LivingSmall
Having a random hand spasms and low-level wrist pain here at LivingSmall ... will return after seeing the French Acupuncturist tomorrow (he sounds trés charmant on the phone). And yes, I ordered a new keyboard.

posted by Charlotte at 4/09/2003 07:25:00 PM


Fourteen Precepts in Seventeen Days

Fourteenth: do not mistreat your body. Learn to handle it with respect. Do not look on your body as only an instrument. Preserve vital energies (sexual, breath, spirit) for the realization of the Way. Sexual expression should not happen without love and commitment. In sexual relationships be aware of future suffering that may be caused. To preserve the happiness of others, respect the rights and commitments of others. Be fully aware of the responsibility of bringing new lives into the world. Meditate on the world into which you are bringing new beings.
Being Peace, by Thich Nhat Hanh

Here we are at the last precept ... which, like all the others, asks us to be aware, aware of our energies, aware of our bodies, aware of the consequences of our physical actions. Thich Nhat Hanh, in his commentary on this precept, points out that it has historical roots in both monastic celibacy and a world where a lack of birth control and high infant mortality rates linked childbirth to suffering in a way that might not seem natural to those of us living a comfortable middle-class existence here in America.

I think this one is a little tricky to write about, because in western traditions, admonitions against sexual expression tend to be rooted in an old and deep mind/body dualism that privleges the mind/spirit at the expense of the body. That is, the road to spiritual enlightenment almost always comes at the expense of the life of the body. I don't think this is what the Buddhist precept is asking of us here, and Thich Naht Hanh notes in his commentary that the sexual liberation that has come with the advent of reliable contraception has been in many ways a good thing.

But there has also been a downside, and one of the things that really bothers me is the way a certain construct of "sexiness" has come to so pervade our society that having a "sexy" body has come to supercede so many other values. It becomes another consumer object to be acquired, whether through dieting and exercise, or plastic surgery, or whatever. And like the acquisition of the requisite sexy body, sex itself becomes a commodity -- not a means to intimacy and love, but a trading card. One is supposed to have a sexy body, and to use it for "fun", to ride in the convertible laughing at the wind. I think what this precept is asking is that in we not devalue this most intimate of human forms of contact. That we not turn it into yet another commodity. That if we can't have mindful, loving, intimate sex with a partner to whom we are committed, then we should refrain. Not that sex itself is bad, but that bad sex, sex for sex's sake, sex for power's sake, sex for the sake of getting more stuff, is perhaps not a useful way to use our energies.

posted by Charlotte at 4/08/2003 08:23:00 AM


Fourteen Precepts in Seventeen Days: Day Fifteen

Thirteenth: Possess nothing that should belong to others. Respect the property of others but prevent others from enriching themselves from human suffering or the suffering of other beings.
Being Peace, by Thich Nhat Hanh

LivingSmall took the weekend off from writing about the precepts (one can never really take time off from the precepts, since the precepts are always with us). But now I'm back on task, with this deceptively simple precept. I say deceptively simple because how many of us can truly say that what we possess should be ours?

One of the things I think this precept asks us to do is to examine the real costs of the things we buy. What are the real costs of buying, say, strawberries? This time of year, the markets are full of glorious, big, red, shiny strawberries, most of which are grown in a small part of California around Watsonville. In order to grow the kind of big, red, shiny strawberries most consumers have come to demand, farmers have had to use enormous amounts of pesticides and fungicides. What is the environmental cost of these berries? What suffering do they cause the earth? And then there's the human component. Strawberries can only be picked by hand, and although they grow in rows on hillocks, it is still backbreaking work to pick them. When he first moved to California, and was broke much of the time, my brother used to have to drive out that way quite often for work. "No matter how bad it was," he says. "Those poor guys out there picking strawberries had it worse than me."

I would imagine too, that invading a foreign country because certain members of the government feel that we should possess their oil, that we have a right to that oil, that their oil rightfully belongs to us would also count as a pretty major violation of this precept.

It's a good question to ask oneself before buying more stuff: should I possess this thing? What suffering did the production, harvest, transportation of this object cause to others? Asking these questions doesn't mean one can never, for example, buy strawberries. But it does mean that if one buys strawberries, one will at least be aware of the real costs of those strawberries, and awareness is the space from which we begin to effect change in ourselves and in the world.

posted by Charlotte at 4/07/2003 07:16:00 AM


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