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Integral philosophy from a contemplative perspective.



The Consolation of Philosophy

Philosophy as a Path

Hi Folks,

I was thinking about all of you and how I might reach out. I know this is a time of fear and worry for so many of us. Then I remembered that an ancient Roman named Boethius wrote a book called The Consolation of Philosophy while awaiting his execution.

Then it occurred to me that some of you might find helpful to read why philosophy helps me cope with something as serious as this virus. It has to do with the power of Wisdom to serve as a reminder — there is far more going on than I can take in through the small world of my limited understanding.

Many great spiritual philosophers from the Buddha to Plato state that our ordinary view of the world is illusory and that we live in “a cave of shadows.” This means we don’t see things as they really are. I have always found this really helpful — to remember that I do not have the whole picture. That is my starting point.

Most people don’t think of philosophy as a spiritual path, but for me it is. By path I mean it uses suffering and fear as a means of seeking wisdom. It is the path of self-knowledge in the ancient meaning of that term. This is not knowledge about myself – an accumulation of data, but experiential awareness and contact with the deeper — or True Self — of one’s own deepest sense of “presence.” Contact with this Self is often the only real relief from fear and worry that I experience.

The questioning of who I really am can lead me past all the usual “answers” until nothing remains but silent awareness, the emptiness of full presence. In this space one can “know” things that are otherwise unknowable. I can’t talk or write about these things except indirectly because they go beyond language. But that does not mean this reality is not real or experienceable.

To know that when the pain of this world is almost too much to bear, I am reminded that this world is not ever going to give me the joy and peace I am looking for anyway. In some amazing sense then suffering becomes “a dark gift” because it can force me to look within for that which cannot be found without.


When I am in touch with my deeper self, the fear vanishes and only love remains. My path is to trust this love.


This, for me, is the consolation of philosophy.

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Updated: Sep 18, 2021

Hi Folks,

One of my favorite writers, Thomas Merton, wrote: “I travel toward my destiny in the belly of a paradox.”

I don’t know what my destiny is unless it is simply doing whatever I am doing at this time. But I love the word paradox because it reminds me that growth is not linear and we grow in some ways more than others.

Jerry Garcia, my favorite guitar player was this amazing person with incredible talents, and yet also died a drug addict. Such beauty and darkness in one person. It does not take a lot to see this in myself.

I once asked Jacob Needleman, my mentor, about my inconsistencies and he said “every stick has two ends” and another time, “the brighter the light, the darker the shadow.”

This time we are all going through can bring out the darker side of our beings, but it is also a time to see what the other end of the stick is like. For example, maybe I’m cold to someone I dislike, but then very compassionate to someone I love. Both are true and real. Once I accept that, then I can keep the closer. Instead of either/or thinking and I can work on both/and thinking.

To accept our darker side is the difficult path of knowing oneself. When a person gets out of denial about their darker side they can then work with it. But as long as it is hidden, we tend to project it out onto other people. Seeing these projections is also a good way to come to know yourself.

When I can accept my own paradoxes, then I can accept the paradox of others with less judgment and more compassion. That sounds like a worthy goal. It is also a practice of self-love.

During these challenging times, I try to remember another Merton quote I really resonate with: “You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.”

I am trying to embrace the unknown future with courage, faith and hope. So can you. Join me if you like!

Merton also wrote: “The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another.”

I went for a walk today and it was so nice to feel the sun and breeze on my face.

To Paradox!


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Updated: Sep 18, 2021

Hi Folks,

Just now, while trying to write this letter and trying to be present at the same time, I noticed the sound of the wind. I looked up and the trees were waving in the breeze. I would not have been aware of that if I was stuck in the future or the past.

Can you hear the wind? Can you see the trees bending with the wind? Trees have no resistance to the present moment. They just sway as they go with the flow.

One of my favorite American philosophers, Ralph Waldo Emerson, wrote “What lies behind you and what lies in front of you, pales in comparison to what lies inside of you.”

Can you sense your body? Not think about it, but simply sense it. For example, if you try, you can sense your feet on the floor. Perhaps your feet are hot or cold, sweaty or itchy.

The reason why sensing the body is important is because it gets us out of our heads and its stream of thoughts, mostly repetitive and boring, full of angst about the past and worries about the future.

However, your body is always in the present moment. This is why many meditative practices start with a focus on one’s breath. Breathing happens automatically without our having to think about it. But if you sense your breath, it brings you back to the present moment.

It has been said that if you want to change your future, you need to change your present. That is the only way because it is all we ever have. If we want our future to have less drama and more serenity, then we have to tap into the peace that is already within us, but deeper than we normally go.

Ralph Waldo Emerson also wrote “Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.”

Take care of your mind. Be aware of what you are feeding it. Just as we feel lousy if we eat too junk food, so we feel lousy if we feed our minds with junk. Be mindful of watching too much news, of taking in too much social media, of being around negative people.

Replace all of the negativity with good music, good books, good conversations with non-toxic people. Replace repetitive thoughts with mantras and positive affirmations. One of my favorites is: “Trust the love, for love is the answer.”

Can you sense your body? Can you hear the wind? Can you replace a negative thought with a positive affirmation? Yes you can, but like anything worthwhile, it takes practice. Come back to the present moment as many times a day as you can and find yourself awakening to the beauty of this moment.

To Letting Go!


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Updated: Sep 18, 2021

Hi Folks,

Are you remembering to take deep breaths? All we have is this breath right now. Take a deep breath. Let it go. Do this a few times and come into the present moment with me.

I heard this story I like where a Zen master would ask his students: What is wrong in this moment? In this moment I am always OK. That is amazing. All of my problems are in the past or in the future. In this present moment everything is fine. And the only thing to do is the next right thing. Not everything, but just this next right thing in front of me, which right now is typing this note.

I have been thinking a lot about how much I tend to whine about things. I hear a lot of whining from others as well. I get this real sense that things should be different then they are. But why do I feel so certain?

The whining implies that I know what is best. I know how things should be. But is this true? How could I possibly know? I am so limited. I don’t know very much. I am not God. I am not running the universe. So where does this idea that I know what is best come from? This question interests me.

One thing I have learned is that some of the worst things that have happened to me have opened unexpected doors and new opportunities. For example, I was a terrible high school teacher. I could not figure out how to manage a class of teenagers. It was a disaster. But through teaching high school, I found my way into college teaching, which has become the great professional joy of my life.

I also wanted to get a full time, tenure line position that would lead to becoming a professor. That did not happen either. Instead I teach part time at different schools. And while this is not the way it was “supposed to be,” it has proven to be really perfect for me. For example, when you are full time you are expected to serve on committees and other such chores. These duties require one to be plunged into politics, which I hate.

My life now consists of just teaching, which I love. I come in, teach, and leave. No bullshit, no politics. As a result, my mental health is much better. I never saw that coming. What I thought were things not working out, actually worked out perfectly.

I remember the first time I had my heart broken. It felt like the world was over. Later I realized the relationship would never had worked out and I met my wife. I have many examples like this and I imagine you do too.

So I have been working for years now on coming to a deeper acceptance of the way things are, trying to really let in that I cannot know for sure what is best for myself, let alone everyone else.

We live in a different place than a couple of months ago. Again, there is a sense that we should not have to go through this pandemic. But why not? Who knows what good will come from it?

This doesn’t mean I don’t try to do the normal things, the normal steps to make my life better in ways that seem logical and positive. But I realize that I don’t really know what is best and somehow that is OK. I try to do my best, but also be willing to change gears and go with the flow.

Are you breathing? Come into this present moment with me!

To Breathing!


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About Apophat

So good to have you here.

I have been studying philosophy and religion my whole adult life. Intellectually, my home is in the world of Integral Philosophy. I attended graduate school at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, earning my Ph.D. in Philosophy and Religion. 

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© 2021 by Apophat.

We Are Apophatic. Stay in the Question.

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