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Integral philosophy from a contemplative perspective.

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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.

 

Updated: Sep 18, 2021

Hi Folks,


I hope this finds you all healthy and doing OK under these new restrictions. A few of you have called me, which I really appreciate. Please don’t hesitate. It is nice to hear voices and not just see letters on a screen!


The saying that “you teach what you need to learn” is so true. Over and over again I have seen that the wisdom I try to pass on in my classes is the wisdom I need so much myself.


I was working on an online essay I use for my MPC class on Stoicism. Stoicism is an ancient philosophy of Greece and Rome. Simply put, Stoicism puts the emphasis on working with our inner life in an effort to not place so much emphasis on our outer lives, much of which we do not control.


So much unhappiness is a result of putting the focus on the wrong things. For example, we can’t really do much about this virus other than take the usual and common sense steps that we have been advised to do.


But we can work with our thoughts and attitude. Some students, for instance, have told me they are bored. I understand that, but I would also challenge you to see all of the opportunities that are still possible to learn and grow during these unusual days.


I wonder how my life might have been different if I had been taught when I was very young to work with my thoughts rather than simply believe them. In other words, as the famous anthropologist Margaret Meade said, “We need to teach children how to think, rather than what to think.”


These were some of the quotes I used:


  • Seneca: “We suffer more in imagination than we do in reality.”

  • Seneca: “He is most powerful who has power over himself.”

  • Marcus Aurelius: “Is a world without pain possible? Then don’t ask the impossible."

  • Marcus Aurelius: “You have power over your mind, not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”

  • Epictetus: “Man is affected not by events, but by the view he takes of them.”

  • Scipio Africanus: “I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% on how I react to.”

  • Epicurus: “Not what we have, but what we enjoy, constitutes our abundance it.”


My hope is that you will really think about how these thoughts, if put into practice, could really change the quality of your life for the better.


We are all invited to live an "examined life." One powerful way of doing this is to study your life using these quotes. For example, our modern culture places the emphasis on money and materialism. Most of us buy into this focus without even knowing we are doing so.


So the question is, how much do I want these materialistic values to dominate my life? Do you want your life to be about how much you accumulated or how much you enjoyed whatever is was that you did have?


To Inner Freedom!


Apophat


Updated: Sep 18, 2021

Hi Folks,


Staying connected is one of the best ways to deal with all of the stress each of us is facing.


I think some of you will experience boredom during this time of being forced to stay home. I think this is a problem that prisoners face too. Realizing this, I thought of prison stories I have read that impressed me with how some people approach spending time behind bars. Malcolm X is the most famous. As a result, you may be familiar with his story. If not, The Autobiography of Malcolm X is a great read and there was a movie made about his life you might want to watch.


I bring this up because those in prison have lost control of their outer lives. It is obvious. We can see this. However, for those of us not in prison it is more difficult to see that outer control is also an illusion even for those of us who are “free.” It looks like we are free, but that does not mean it is true. A closer look reveals all of the conditioning we were faced with as we grew up. This conditioning controls us.


Self-knowledge is the antidote to this conditioning. It is only as we see ourselves that we can grow into greater freedom. When we really see the conditioning, only then do we start to loosen the cords that keep us bound. Seeing, in other words, is the first step. Seeing is facilitated by taking time to reflect on our lives.


This time of being limited and bored is basically outside our control. But how we use this time of forced “imprisonment” us up to us. We can waste our time or we can make good use of it. Malcolm X was turned on to reading while he was in prison. He was lucky that they had a good library. He read hundreds of books, many of them the great classics. He used his time in prison to educate himself. He said that he found true freedom while he was locked up. This is very important!


All of this is to say I hope you will use this time of forced limitation to grow. You could read so much more. You can watch more documentaries. You could listen to more podcasts. In other words, use the current conditions to grow as a human being. The practical way to do this is to come up with a schedule and stick to it. You might set a goal of reading for 30 minutes before you do something fun like binging on a show. Then 35 minutes the next day, then 40 etc. Take it slow and then build it up. This is an example of self-care on a deeper level then just getting more sleep or drinking more water.


Inner growth is not mandatory or automatic. You have to work at it. This period of time could be committed to becoming a wiser and more compassionate person on the other side of this pandemic. That is my hope for you — and myself.


To Inner Growth!


Apophat


Updated: Sep 18, 2021

Hi Folks,

I was thinking about all of you today 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.


To Philosophy — The Love of Wisdom!


Apophat


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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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