The other day, with a few minutes to kill, I pick up a book from a shelf. It’s a copy of “Thinking” by Gary Kirby and Jeffrey Goodpastor. The book is “designed to challenge your mind and to strengthen your thinking ability.” A good book. I skimmed it before. I flip to the last page and come across the following quote:
“When Robert Peary asked his Eskimo guide what he was thinking, the guide replied: “I do not think. I have plenty of meat.”
This quote opens up the last chapter of the book on “The Challenge to Go on Thinking.” The authors themselves continue:
“Thinking does not stop with the end of a book… Let’s think about our future thinking: How wide will we range? How deep will we plunge?”
I ponder this snarky juxtaposition: “Plenty of meat – no need to think” versus “Range wide, dig deep, keep on thinking.”
And I conclude: Eskimo’s right: there is no need to think if you have plenty of meat. Mind is a leg: it walks us away from What Is.
Vladimir Nabokov would have thought so too, I suspect. In Transparent Things, he writes:
“When we concentrate on a material object <…> the very act of attention may lead to our involuntary sinking into the history of that object. Novices must learn to skim over matter if they want to stay at the exact level of the moment.”
So, there you go: skim over matter if you want to stay in the moment, no need to dig deep.
Nabokov, the great Russian-English novelist, whose own style is so ingeniously laden with association-rich detail, here, both de-constructs his own style and defines Zen:
“A thin veneer of immediate reality is spread over natural and artificial matter, and whoever wishes to remain in the now, with the now, on the now, should please not break its tension film.”
Nabokov’s advice is: to stay in the moment, we must somehow avoid weighing down “what is” with our pre-conceived notions of “what it means.”
How do we do that? By letting go of thinking. Indeed, when there is plenty of meat, there is no need to range wide or dig deep or think long.
Mind is a leg: rest it now and then.
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