Language Games and Interfaith

I had a striking experience with acupuncture yesterday.  Not only did the tranquility of my treatment relax my stiff muscles, it helped me with concentration, alertness, and mood–it put a spring in my step.  It accomplished all this as I lay on a table with a few needles in me, listening to meditative music with ocean waves.  My body healed itself.  Or as the Chinese doctor said, acupuncture restored the flow of ch’i in me.  The philosophy behind this treatment was to still my mind first, then my muscles would relax.

This got me to thinking.  Lying on the cot, stilling my mind and muscles, listening to quiet music made me think about life outside the doctor’s office.  The stillness, the absence of stimulation, all quieting my mind, relaxing my muscles.  Then there is the hectic pace, the over stimulation of our society, the noise.  If it is therapeutic to be in a still, quiet environment, is it still possible to live an ordinary life in society?  I saw that I would need to adjust my lifestyle, of course, and not let stress and stressors into my mind.  I thought about the tranquil Chinese music they played when I practiced T’ai Ch’i at another Chinese studio.  It would be as hard for me to listen to Chinese music, if I weren’t doing T’ai Ch’i due to its simplicity and meditative quality.  T’ai Ch’i, the acupuncture office, Chinese music are all products of a culture that values quietness, I think.

I thought about interfaith relations.  I am deeply committed to interfaith ideals and multicultural societies.  But what if being deeply immersed in a culture that values stillness and quiet is incompatible with other cultures that are more boisterous, aggressive, and confrontational?  I ask, can one be open to intercultural ideals while being committed, oneself, to a deep tradition and culture?  This is what Lyotard calls, “the heterogeneity of language games.”  What if music is more than aesthetic?  What if music embodies a cultural philosophy and ethics, like the Chinese music I heard at the T’ai Ch’i studio?  I like classical music, jazz, blues, and rock.  But these are aesthetic judgments.  These forms do not embody a western ethics or culture.  Beethoven composed in Vienna, but his music has world appeal.  But the Chinese music I heard reflects the ethics of stillness, meditative quiet, and tranquility of Chinese culture, I think.  It is akin to Palestrina’s choral music, which one could say does embody a Christian ethics.

Is it possible to live within the norms of a deeply held culture, and also hold multicultural ideals?  That would be quite a feat.  I once heard a Christian minister speak art an interfaith gathering.  She was so sensitive to interfaith values, and so anxious not to offend anyone, that she didn’t even pronounce the name, “Jesus.”  That is interfaith at its worst.  That is multiculturalism eroding one’s own norms and values.  Interfaith means different faiths living in mutual respect.  But can I live with the tranquil Chinese music and all that it represents, and also enjoy Z.Z. Top?  Or does one preclude the other?  One thing I do know, life is richer for me living in the multicultural city in which I live.  Without multiculturalism, a white man like myself wouldn’t have been able to experience Chinese healing.

What Acupuncture Taught Me about the Tao

I went to a centre of oriental medicine today to get a Tui Na deep tissue massage.  I was experiencing muscle stiffness, especially in my neck and shoulders due to the amount I type or play the piano.  I thought that the rough kneading, slapping, and chopping that comprise the Tui Na massage would loosen me up.  I had experienced some relaxation from a Tui Na massage I got at booth at a city fair in summertime.  So I went to the centre to get another one.

They ushered me into a room with an oriental doctor and he asked me some questions about my lifestyle and symptoms.  He said something really interesting, “First you relax the mind, then the muscles relax.”  Then doc had me lie on a table.  Next thing I knew, doc started putting acupuncture needles in me–feet, legs, abdomen, arms, cheeks, and interestingly, a needle at the top of my head–right where the last chakra is, and another needle where the “third eye” is, as doc said.  Then doc attached an electric pulse to the two needles in my head and third eye.  Then doc dimmed the lights, put on some soothing music with ocean waves, and left me there for 20 minutes.  At first it was really hard for me to lie there.  My mind was restless; my body was restless; I got bored.  I felt a disjunct between my muscles and my inner self/feelings.  After a while, my mind/body were all one.  Calm was coming over me.  After acupuncture, doc put some suction cups on my neck, shoulders, and back.  I felt much, much better.  Doc told me to come back in a week.

I wanted a force external to me to manipulate my muscles and relax them.  But by leaving me on a table to relax, with the few acupuncture needles in me, my mind relaxed and my body relaxed itself from within.  My mind/body healed itself from within.  Taoism teaches us to be natural and spontaneous.  In Taoism you don’t force things–either in social manners, or in ethics.  You yield to “the way of water,” “the breath of the valley spirit” and return to “the uncarved block.”  I think that’s what happened to me at the oriental medicine centre.  I began my healing process and my body taught me about the Taoism I learned in school.