Zhu Xi: On Reading

2016 was certainly an interesting year, with a myriad of personal highs and lows I won’t bore you with now. One of the central themes of the back 9, as it were, was a deep dive into Eastern religion, philosophy, and meditative practice. I’ve written quite a bit on this personally, both as assignments for class and in my own ongoing notes… and it’s time to share. Here’s an entertaining introduction to “close reading” and the struggle goal-driven Americans may encounter on their path to embracing the Meditative state. Enjoy! 

 

Instructions for the Assignment:

2. Select a text (1-3 pages) – this could be a primary text we have read this year, a selection from the standard works, another religious text or almost anything.

3. Create a plan to read this text as a transformative experience by becoming intimately familiar with it. This plan should have at least three activities completed on three separate days. (examples might be: read the text slowly, out loud, in a place of complete silence, with a specific body position/posture, during a media fast; record yourself reading the text and listen to it; find and read different editions or translations of the text; read the text in the original language or another language; copy the text in your own handwriting; make a small section of the text a mantra repeated out loud and silently throughout the day; read the text with others; read a commentary of the text; read all footnotes and cross references in the text; mantra meditate with a word or phrase from the text; memorize a portion of the text; journal on a single sentence, verse, or section; read the text 10, 20, 50 times; look up key words in the text in the OED or specialized dictionary; etc.; etc.)

From the moment I read the assignment, I knew I wanted to choose a text set to music. Unfortunately, Justin Bieber’s latest single resonated with me on a deeply personal level and I had in on repeat for a solid week about a month ago. A couple things to note about this song before we get started: 1) it’s a complete departure from his usual sugar-pop attempt at “bad boy” music with an even-keeled tempo and melody, simple guitar accompaniment, almost passive in nature 2) it’s fairly well-accepted that the phrase “love yourself” is a euphemism for “go <expletive> yourself.”

Having not listened to the song in several weeks, I started first with the lyrics. I pulled them up on Google Play Music and AZ Lyrics. Comparing the two side-by-side I noted striking differences in their format, structure, and punctuation. For a couple days on end, I read the Google Play version through three times each day. However, I noticed the silent reading wasn’t matching up with the feel of the song in my memory. For the few days, I listened to the song on repeat as I drove down the canyon to school. This was better, but part of me felt like Justin’s completely emotionless delivery of the lyric was also depriving it of something. So, for the next couple days, I listened to the song while looking at the lyrics and transcribing them myself. Adjusting punctuation and indentation on the page, I finally arrived at the written version of these lyrics I felt conveyed the emotion of the words and matched the meta message of the song. Here it is:

Justin Bieber’s Love Yourself

For all the times that you rain on my parade, and all the clubs you get in, using my name…

You think you broke my heart? Oh girl, for goodness sake! You think I’m crying on my own? Well I ain’t.

And I didn’t wanna write a song…  ‘cause I didn’t want anyone thinking I still care – I don’t!

But you still hit my phone up… and baby, I be movin’ on and I think you should be something.

I don’t wanna hold back, maybe you should know that:

  • My mamma don’t like you and she likes everyone!
  • And I never liked to admit that I was wrong.
  • And I’ve been so caught up in my job, didn’t see what’s goin’ on.
  • But now I know– I’m better sleepin’ on my own.

‘Cause if you like the way you look that much, oh baby, you should go and love yourself!

And if you think that I’m still holdin’ on -to somethin’- you should go and love yourself.

But when you told me that you hated my friends, the only problem was with you and not them.

And every time you told me my opinion was wrong, you tried to make me forget where I came from.

And I didn’t wanna write a song… ‘cause I didn’t want anyone thinking I still care – I don’t!

But you still hit my phone up… and baby, I be movin’ on and I think you should be something.

I don’t wanna hold back, maybe you should know that:

  • My mamma don’t like you and she likes everyone!
  • And I never liked to admit that I was wrong.
  • And I’ve been so caught up in my job, didn’t see what’s goin’ on.
  • But now I know– I’m better sleepin’ on my own.

‘Cause if you like the way you look that much, oh baby, you should go and love yourself!

And if you think that I’m still holdin’ on -to somethin’- you should go and love yourself.

For all the times you made me feel small…. I fell in love; now I feel nothin’ at all.

I never felt so low when I was vulnerable; was I a fool to let you break down my walls?

And I didn’t wanna write a song… ‘cause I didn’t want anyone thinking I still care – I don’t!

But you still hit my phone up… and baby, I be movin’ on and I think you should be something.

I don’t wanna hold back, maybe you should know that:

  • My mamma don’t like you and she likes everyone!
  • And I never liked to admit that I was wrong.
  • And I’ve been so caught up in my job, didn’t see what’s goin’ on.
  • But now I know– I’m better sleepin’ on my own.

‘Cause if you like the way you look that much, oh baby, you should go and love yourself!

And if you think that I’m still holdin’ on -to somethin’- you should go and love yourself.

 

Once that was complete, I spent the remainder of the time reciting my written version of these lyrics to myself. There are still a few places that are awkward on the first pass, but with each successive iteration, the words become more and more my own. I address them to the person who deserves them, and even reversing the gendered pronouns to match my situation. I did notice as they became mine, my residual anger towards this person resonated through the text, which is something I didn’t fully anticipate. This was brought into stark contrast when the song came up on shuffle in my car without warning and the song sounded wholly different from the lyrics I’d been reciting. I was struck by how much Justin did NOT care and I still did.

I returned to Zhu Xi and noticed the directive he gives in 4.20: “Read little but become intimately familiar with what you read; experience the text over and over again; and do not think about gain. Keep constantly to these three matters and nothing more.” Some further insight is given in 4.21, which is paraphrased below:

  • Read little but become intimately familiar with what you read
  • Don’t scrutinize the text, developing your own far fetched views of it but rather personally experience it over and over again
  • Concentrate fully, without thought of gain

Using this as a rubric, I’d give myself 5/5 on following directive number one, 0/5 on directive number two, and a 4/5 on directive number three. There was a brief moment where I contemplated emailing this to him, posting it passively-aggressively on Facebook so he would know it was meant for him but no one else would, or just straight-up texting it to him with no further explanation. But! I realized soon enough that all three of these scenarios would be reading with thought of gain.

Finally, in my return to Zhu Xi I came across this verse which made me throw out this text entirely as one worth “reading”:

4.41 “The value of a book is in the recitation of it. By reciting it often, we naturally come to understand it. Now, even if we ponder over what’s written on the paper, it’s useless, for in the end it isn’t really ours.”

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