Thinking Allowed - Including musings by Daan Spijer.

From the Kitchen

June 17, 2009

From the Kitchen #4

fireCirculation; a word I don’t think about much, most of the time.  It’s on account of my cold nose and toes and fingers that it comes to mind.  Because of the lack of it, the impairment of it.

I have just come back into the warmth of the kitchen.  The dog and I have been exploring the local ‘community forest’, a leash-free area.  Leash-free allows me to wander at will, without the dog restricting me.  I can go where I want to go.  I can stop and take macro close-ups of tiny mushrooms and mosses and sniff the dampness they grow in.

As the dog and I do a meandering circuit of the forest, my blood circulation withdraws from my exposed extremities.  I can’t wear gloves or balaclava when using the camera.  The dog wears a genetically acquired thick fur coat and leggings, and even his ears look like muffs.  Only his moist black nose is exposed and this he uses continually, as he circulates from compelling smell to interesting odour.

I sit down now with the dog, next to the stove, and bury my fingers in his fur.  He loves the contact and I regain some peripheral circulation.  I decline to so the same with my nose, not being too enamoured of his personal ‘wet woolly jumper’ smell.

In the forest there are other dogs and humans circulating, in twos, threes or fours.  The dogs sniff each other out.  The humans do the same with words.  The dogs chase each other.  If we were kids, we might chase each other, but that would be embarrassing now, wouldn’t it?

When I was a university student I went to the occasional party.  I would spend most of my time on the most comfortable chair or couch and hope for deep and meaningful conversations to come to me from those circulating and finally plonking down next to me.  “Why don’t you circulate more?” my girlfriend would ask.  I would answer that I felt more like the rock than the stream.  That’s my bent – when out without the dog, or my wife, I like to sit and contemplate.  Sitting in a quiet spot in the forest, or next to a creek, or on a cliff above the bay, I can be the rock and allow the birds and insects and sounds and rabbits to do the circulating.

In the quiet, ideas start circulating in my mind.  I let them wash through me and over me, as the sea washes through the sponges which filter out the nutrients, without having to move themselves.  I filter the ideas, allowing some to nourish me, some to inform me, and some to make me smile.

In the warmth of the kitchen I can reach the same state, with the background sounds of snoring dog and crackling firewood masking the outside world.  It’s easy, sitting at the kitchen table, to be the still rock, knowing the results of these scratching will soon circulate on the Internet.  A wider circulation is hard to imagine.  I can be the rock and create the stream.  However, when I connect with the Web to facilitate the circulation of my words, I can also easily allow myself to be swept up by the stream and travel willy-nilly.

Right now the dog is doing a very good impression of a woolly rock.  He is able to seamlessly switch from one state to the other.  Even on energetic circulatory walks, he can suddenly drop like a stone, his tail going back and forth like a weed caught in the current, as another dog comes close and sniffs.  Just as suddenly, he’s back up again and being chased, or chasing.  Round and round they go.  It is so uncomplicated for the dog.  What has us make it so convoluted?

In a Zen world, there is no difference between the rock and the stream.  Are they same or are they two aspects of the same?  To paraphrase the wisdom of someone from the past: you cannot step into the same stream more than once, but you can step onto a rock as many times as you like.

© 2009 Daan Spijer

acrobat reader logo for link to PDF version of post CLICK HERE to download a formatted PDF of the above post

Seventh House Communications Logo See more of Daan Spijer’s writing and his photos at Seventh House Communications

  1. I’ve always been inclined to the view that “altruism” does not exist. It is an idea, but a flawed one. (Other examples are “greed” and “laziness”. These words tell us nothing about the human condition.)

    Human beings are pack animals. We are “hard-wired” to help each other – it feels good when we do, which encourages us to go on doing it which, in turn, is good for the species at large.

    Of course, we are also “tribal”, so we help those in our tribe, and oppose (to a greater or a lesser degree, depending on the circumstances) those in another tribe.

    So what about the times when we help people from another tribe? Isn’t that altruism? I don’t think so. It’s complicated. Usually, if you dig deep enough, you can find a reason why one person helps another.

    Comment by Stephen — June 17, 2009 @ 1:36 pm
  2. Admirable, inspiring writer-habit discipline, and warm stories.

    Comment by Ashlley — June 19, 2009 @ 1:39 pm
  3. Last July I took my son and a friend of his cross-country skiing at Mt. Stirling. We are all fairly experienced, but they had never skied at Stirling before, and it was over ten years since I had.

    There was heaps of snow, but it was bitterly cold, with poor visibility. We had the mountain to ourselves. The Geelong Grammar School hut, where we stopped for lunch, was an ice-box, with snow piled against the windows. After half an hour of relative inactivity, I was very cold indeed, and was keen to get going again. My hands in particular were complaining. One finger on my left hand, in particular, was complaining. (Being an anti-technology freak like you, Daan, I always wear woollen mittens, eschewing the expensive, modern, leather types. I’ve always sworn by them, but I have to say they were letting me down this day!)

    I decided we should follow the snow-poles, and complete the summit circuit. We were falling over frequently in the deep snow, and the fog made the ground difficult to see. I became a little concerned that my hands were not warming up again, in spite of the exercise. We came to a fork in the track, and I realised I had forgotten which way to go. I punted for turning left, but as we skied down steeply towards Mt. Buller, I knew I’d gone the wrong way. I had to take my mittens off to consult my map, and that did not help my hands at all!

    In a flash, the track came back to me, and I realised what we had to do. This involved a bit of climbing to re-trace our steps before we could start skiing the right way. By now, the last two joints of the worst affected finger were gone. They felt like wood, a very disconcerting feeling. I could have bitten the finger off, and felt nothing. I realised I was racing against time if I wanted to avoid permanent damage.

    We were making good time now, but when we passed an incoming school party in clear conditions I urged (no, ordered is the correct word!) the boys to resist the temptation to stop for a chat. I needed to lose altitude ASAP! As we raced down the lower slopes, I felt my finger starting to throb. Hallelujah! It was going to be OK!

    The lesson? I’m not sure. I still really like my woollen mittens. Maybe I should invest in a new pair that doesn’t have any holes!

    Party circulation? I’ve never been a great one for small-talk. Never could see the point in it, and never mastered the knack. A successful party for me was one where I had a fairly intense conversation with one person only (or at least only one at a time) on the fringes somewhere. I’ve never thought of it in terms of the rock and the stream. I certainly wasn’t the stream, but I couldn’t really say I was the rock, either, as most of the stream did not wash past me. I think I was a pebble on the beach, looking for another pebble to shoot the breeze with for a few hours.

    Comment by Stephen — June 20, 2009 @ 1:40 pm
  4. Stephen passed on your email about the new website and I’ve just been catching up on your weekly posts. I’ve bookmarked the site for easy reference. It’s a great idea and your reflections definitely provoke some thought!

    Number 4 (June 17) in particular rang a few bells as I can most certainly identify with your time on the couch as the ‘rock in the stream’. My wife calls my version of it ‘people-watching’, and I can thoroughly recommend it for anyone interesting in writing. So much, be it poetry or prose, originates from someone or something observed in passing. But it takes stillness, and concentration, at the centre.

    I hadn’t come across the observation that you can’t step into the same stream more than once (thanks for that!), but it’s a fascinating image that prompts many thoughts … and here are a few of those speculative meanderings.

    To get all philosophical, to what extent does a stream still exist when it’s not actually running? Do we still call it a stream? (A variation, I suppose, of the old conundrum about whether a falling tree actually fell if there was nobody there to hear it or, in another version, whether there would be a sound if there was nobody there to hear it.)

    In reality, of course, we can never exactly repeat the same action because something in the situation will have changed, even if it’s only the passage of time. (Ever watched that film ‘Groundhog Day’? It’s a philosophical goldmine.) And the rock, despite the symbolism, changes too, both between each step and as it is stepped on. You can’t step onto exactly the same rock more than once.

    Then, to push the analogy further, can a rock ‘create’ a stream? A rock can divert a stream, and may even stop the flow altogether. But create it? I would argue that your ‘scratching’ is a diversion, a redirection, perhaps even an interpretation. And what you write is then re-interpreted and diverted at the other end in as many ways as there are people who read it.

    That’s why the internet is such an amazing phenomenon. It places at our fingertips far more information than we can possibly process. It is, in a sense, a ‘stream’ that has become a raging torrent that anyone can access but nobody can control. It is only as reliable as the information we place there, but is more than the sum of its parts because of the way technology can spread that information instantaneously to places that the originator cannot possibly foresee. And then be used with equal unpredictability. It is truly anarchic communication. In the world of communication there aren’t any rocks in streams, just grains of sand being buffeted hither and yon well below the surface. Until somebody pulls the plug. Now there’s an idea for a short story!

    And now my brain hurts.

    Comment by David — July 29, 2009 @ 1:41 pm

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.