Thursday, October 17, 2013

On Living Well, and Arroz con leche

When I was in graduate school--the second time around--I took a Philosophy of Education course in which we were assigned Aristotle's Ethics.  I remembered hating Aristotle from some other course, so I wasn't looking forward to revisiting it, but in my re-reading I was drawn to the concept of eudaimonia, which--often mistranslated as "happiness"--really means "doing and living well."  As I was boxing up some books to take to my new office the other day, I took Ethics off the shelf and began to thumb through it fondly, realizing, with some small degree of horror, that I ended up loving philosophy after all, and thinking that perhaps I hadn't had enough life experience to fully appreciate Aristotle when I read his work the first time.

Skimming my marginalia, I was surprised to notice how much Ethics reminded me of my study of yoga, how much living well was bound up with the activity of right intention, which Aristotle calls "virtue" (but which isn't exactly virtue as we tend to use the term now).  Most of us think of happiness as a state of consciousness, something internal, and even passive.  But the way Aristotle describes it, eudaimonia involves real, messy, being and doing in the world--even if slightly limited by the fact that his is a state-backed model of the good life.  Eudaimonia comes of habit (according to Aristotle), like the "practice" of yoga texts. Even considering right action in yoga discourages attachment to outcomes, where for Aristotle the means are oriented to the end through the process of rational thought, there are striking parallels between Ethics and the Gita.*

My yoga attendance these days has been sporadic at best; I don't get home early enough for the Thursday night class I used to take, and I try to spend my weekends being available to my kids instead of commuting to Frenchtown where other people are trying to breathe through vinyasa.  I brought my mat and yoga pants to work today, hoping to escape for an hour during lunch, which I ended up eating (in the form of an apple and a granola bar) at my desk, trying to manage a situation that was stubbornly resisting management.  Given the sort day I've been having, I felt deflated.  On the other hand, what I was doing was sort of along the lines of right intention.  It just didn't have a very physical dimension.

What we know about anatomy suggests that the mind-body connection isn't a connection at all, but is really one in the same thing: essentially, two nerves connect our bodies to our brains.  Body is mind, and mind is body--even for Aristotle, in a way.  My daughter reminds me of this constantly, (still) learning by touching everything, expressing herself (despite her advanced verbal skills) by jumping up and down or rolling around on the floor.  I could practice yoga on my own, but my best practice is in sangha, in community.  Which makes sense to me, after all; if living well is practicing right intention, then it follows that the practice of yoga, which is also about living the best life by cultivating a space for right action, entails not abstracting oneself from the world, but figuring out how to immerse oneself in all of its dimensions.  Doing yoga all the time.

Remember that Mary Oliver poem, "Rice"?
I don't want you to just sit at the table.
I don't want you just to eat, and be content.
I want you to walk into the fields
Where the water is shining, and the rice has risen.
I want you to stand there,
far from the white tablecloth.
I want you to fill your hands with mud,
like a blessing.

Don't just sit at the table; fill your hands with mud.  Get down and dirty, out in the field. That's happiness.

*(Philosophy PhDs and yoga experts: go ahead, tell me where I got it wrong.)

Arroz con leche
This is a simple dessert from my childhood, which I find myself craving when the weather finally takes a turn towards fall.

4 c. milk (of your choice)
1/2 c. short-grain rice
1 cinnamon stick
1/4 t. dried orange peel
pinch salt
1/4 c. sugar
3/4 T. butter (optional)
1 t. vanilla 

Add the milk, rice, cinnamon stick, orange or lemon peel and salt to a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Immediately reduce heat to very low and simmer, stirring often and scraping bottom, for about 45 minutes.

Add the raisins and sugar and simmer for another 15 minutes. Stir often to keep from sticking to the bottom of the pot.

Remove from heat and stir in the butter and vanilla. Adjust sugar to taste and serve hot or cold, sprinkling the top with some ground cinnamon.
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  1. This post has been open in my browser for hours. I read it before putting the kids to bed and came back to it to read it again. I want to write this post in the sky, Justine. Seriously. Every. Last. Word. I get this. I get that happy is about engaging. Putting intentions into actions. I think we forget at times, that the engagement is really the best part. Better than the results or the finish line. So many of us miss that the best part is about getting the mud on our hands. And yoga. How do you explain so someone who has never practiced how it changes your life completely?

  2. Well I love both parts of this post. You've actually made me want to read Aristotle.

    I can see what dessert I may be serving later this week...

    I wish you well with your intention about the work situation.


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