Digital, Analog

This is not about modern audio system technology, but about older ways to understand and interact with the world in general.  You can approach life as pairs of opposites like inhale/exhale, awake/asleep, night/day, open/close, good/evil, yes/no, on/off, Yin/Yang, etc.  This is what I’m calling digital.  Or you can experience reality as processes that flow somewhere in between like waves on the ocean or winds in the air, as continua, as analog.  

1. Breathing.  For example, continuing our breathing-as-exercise theme, there are two main classical traditions, Indian Yoga and Chinese Qigong/Chi Gung.   India would be more digital because it makes a clear distinction between moving the breath and holding it, including via the right vs. the left nostrils.   Along with holding the breath they have ways to hold back the blood flow.  Why?  Because when you open it back up the flow rushes out with a much greater force, which can have a great clearing out effect, sort of like a power washer.  

That could have a minor down side, such as a stroke if your vascular system has weak spots,  so clearly you’d have to work that one gradually and carefully, preferably under qualified supervision.  According to the Taoists there is also the risk of clamping down your emotions in the process, so they avoid it altogether.  

fullyinyangWhat the Taoists like  to do is keep the breath moving continuously even at the changeover points where inhale and exhale gradually trade places.  This is best illustrated in the Yin/Yang wheel where dark and light increase and decrease inversely.  They use the same approach with the blood flow, slowly building up and letting go of pressures in the circulatory system.   

The end result of both Asian systems is greater health through greater movement of air and blood in the body.  Here, I would call the analog more conservative and the digital more daring.  What you prefer depends of your general robustness and your personality. 

2. Everyday Meditation.  Suppose you care nothing for breath and blood.  We all have to make yes/no decisions everyday, and sometimes those decisions are so unclear we don’t know how to make them.  It’s instructive to observe how we handle those situations, which could run anywhere from courage to chaos.  It’s a classic meditation question.  One suggestion is, Do not say, “Yes I can” or “No I can’t.”  Instead find a way in between and go there. Find the place of neither yes nor no and just be present in the situation.  Then see what is called for.  

It is said that habits are always yes/no situations.  “I always do this do this, I never do that.”  Frequently the advice we get for changing a habit is also yes/no.  Now if you’re inclined toward socially alienating behaviors that’s probably the better way but if you have some leeway there is more freedom, insight and creativity in the middle path.  I’ll skip the examples here partly because a few moments of reflection will reveal a vast area of explorable territory for any one of us.   

3. Any Practice.  In learning any skill you generally need the discipline to learn the rules first.  “This will work, that won’t.”  Later, when you’ve sorta mastered them you can go beyond and play spontaneously, with the freedom of an artist.  Can it work the other way around?  Sometimes, but you’re gonna end up re-inventing and re-discovering the rules anyway.   At the end of the day it matters little where you started.  You can’t really live without either discipline or freedom.  It’s more a question of knowing both so you can choose what’s better at the present moment.

images-1Beginning students of Tai Chi are often surprised at the orthogonal angularity demanded of it since every posture has to face one of the eight directions of the compass.  But one must also embody the circularity that connects every posture together in one seamless flow.  I often think of the Chinese coins with square centers as illustrative of these two processes, though I wouldn’t say they were minted with that in mind, lest I be called a revisionist historian.  Alternating your emphasis between static angles and moving circles is standard Tai Chi practice methodology.   You don’t want get so technically correct you have no grace.  Nor do you want to flow so freely you lose your substance.

I Ching green4.  I Ching.  The Classic, Book of Changes, a sort of divination manual, is a curious combination of digital and analog.   When you throw the coins they can only turn up as heads or tails, i.e. digital.  That doesn’t mean you can ask yes/no questions because it’s set up so that there are 64 possible outcomes, which is 2 to the 6th power, too many to comprehend as either/or.  Apparently 64 descriptions are enough to cover most any situation.  Then, under each of the 64 you could get a further 6 variations.  Now when you examine these you see that they read like a progression from birth to death, from seed to fruition, from ebb to flood.  And the last one always anticipates a return to the first; when the process is finished it spills over the top to become its opposite and starts again.  So this part of the reading tells you where you are on the spin cycle.  

Finally, it’s rare if not impossible that you’d operate exclusively in either digital or analog.  They form their own yin yang continuum where each is contained in the other.   Neither is right nor wrong, true or false. The main point  here is to use that continuum to act in harmonious balance in any situation.  To paraphrase a bygone professor,  “None of our attempts to put reality into categories can be true but they can be quite useful.”