Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Pittiarniq as a life principle

One of the IQ principles that I try and live by is pittiarniq. The frustrating thing, and the beautiful thing, about the term is that it’s kind of difficult to capture and translate. Pittiarniq refers to not only “behaving well” but also “doing something well”; “excellence”; “aesthetically sensible/pleasing”; etc. – as in pittiaqsimajuq.

The term, at any rate, has a quality and notion of “Zen” or it can so be rendered in talking about the perfection of Nature and all things “natural” where and when ego and selfishness play no role; at the least, when the self is minimized and made quiet.

When I was a child, it was something I heard often: pittiaqpallutit “always behave well and kindly”, but it is a principle that, when accepted, grows and stays with one though it can never be perfected in the self. In my maturing process it is something I contemplate often and am only beginning to understand its depth.

The beauty of the term is that it is complex, differentiated and all-encompassing of identity. It is an evolutionary term, a process acquiring of wisdom and maturity within a person, a process of learning and growing as a person.

When I was a child – and even up to today, for that matter – I had/have a tendency to be impetuous and impulsive. I did not have pittiarniq. And neither did I really heed the knocking at my heart’s door: pittiaqpallutit. Then, I started thinking about the devastation I have caused upon myself and others with my selfishness and thoughtless behaviour. I’m a hot-head, and rather difficult to live with: My pittiarniq is fragile.

In Antoine de Saint Exupery’s, The Little Prince, the prince owns a rose that he loves and thinks is unique in the world – and it is, in his world. Pittiarniq is like that. It requires cultivation and care in order to take root and thrive in this sometimes harsh reality. It is a treasure whose value is nothing but to the self, and, in that respect, the most valuable thing that a person can own (or, more precisely, be owned by).

As a pedagogical device, or an object of contemplation, pittiarniq is “striving for excellence” in all that one does and is capable of being. There are examples everywhere but what I’d like to focus upon are the examples in Inuit culture.

It is the way tailoring and stitching is done in traditional Inuit clothing; it is the varied design of the basic idea of a qajaq in the circumpolar world. It is beautiful to look at, and awe-inspiring in its simplicity and utility based on the best knowledge of materials and creativity:

(an example of my humble attempts to recreate pittiarniq in qajaq model-making)

The IQ principle of learning and teaching by observation and doing is precisely because of the hands-on and experiential nature of pittiarniq. It is the basis of all things Inuit, from acquiring mature and thoughtful behaviour to hunting tools and techniques to creating beautiful and useful things. It’s a life-long striving, a template or framework for living life as an art. It is everywhere but silent and only opens up to those with patience and imagination to see and do.

The sometimes violent outbursts and general breakdown of our society and persons is a reflection of pittiarniq's absence. This is not a moral/ethical judgement, merely a statement of fact. Without pittiarniq the existential world of a person is violent and chaotic seemingly requiring violent and chaotic response. Or, one can hit rock-bottom and build up again with pittiarniq as a conscious principle.

Like Zen, one doesn't really need talent (I don't think I'm particularly talented, just trying to be open to the concept of pittiarniq, the creative force of the universe - like my ancestors). The willingness to open up to pittiarniq builds up talent and will over time and patient cultivation.


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