top of page

Apophat

Integral philosophy from a contemplative perspective.

Welcome!

FacebookLogoWhite.png
TwitterLogoWhiteGlow.png

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.

Blog Start

With grief I greet you,


A favorite student of mine — Rae-Rae — passed away last week. I have been grieving more than usual. I think this is because she took several classes with me and so I got to know her well, including how her health issues made life difficult and precarious. She knew she did not have long to live, but she had hoped for more time.


One of the main goals of philosophy is to remember we are going to die and that it could happen at any time even though most of us wish to see that date put off to old age. It is not to be gloomy that we practice this awareness, but to live more fully. And this is what Rae-Rae did. She lived fully because she knew death was close in a way in which most of us avoid.


The lyricist Robert Hunter wrote in one of his beautiful songs.

All I know is something like a bird

Within her sang

All I know she sang a little while

And then flew on


I heard this song the evening I learned of her passing, and it made me cry. Rae-Rae was a beautiful person who did sing in the sense that the classes she was in were my best classes. This was because she would share freely her struggles. By risking vulnerability, she opened the door for other students to be real and authentic.


All too many students complain about all the work it takes to go to college. Rae-Rae did not need to take on all this work, but she did so because completing college was on her bucket list. It was part of what made her live her life to the fullest. During this past spring 22 semester, she missed many classes due to her health struggles, but she worked with me diligently, made up all the work, and received an A, as she did in all my classes. Most importantly, I never heard her complain.


“In Blackwater Woods,” Mary Oliver, my favorite poet, concludes with the following lines:

“To live in this world

you must be able

to do three things:

to love what is mortal;

to hold it

against your bones knowing

your own life depends on it;

and, when the time comes to let it

go,

to let it go.”


When anyone passes, but even more so with someone so young and vibrant, it can be a call not only to grieve and celebrate a life, but also a call for each of us to embrace life more fully. Time is precious and when you remember that you waste less time. You not only love more, but you let other people know that you love them.


On the last day of class Rae-Rae came up to me and gave me a big hug. She told me that the study of philosophy helped her face her future and its uncertainties. I will remember that hug as long as I live. Such moments remind me that teaching — for me anyway — is a sacred experience. This is because I see philosophy as not abstract intellectual mumbo-jumbo, but as a path to transformational education. When philosophy is taught correctly as the “love of wisdom,” then it can help us seek wisdom and perspective on the most difficult subjects, including death.


Robert Hunter again in another song:


River gonna take me

Sing me sweet and sleepy

Sing me sweet and sleepy

All the way back back home

It's a far gone lullaby

Sung many years ago

Mama, mama, many worlds I've come

Since I first left home

Going home, going home

By the waterside I will rest my bones

Listen to the river sing sweet songs

To rock my soul

Rae-Rae was truly a ray of light in our dark world. Her body may be gone, but her spirit remains in all of us that had the honor to know her.


Apophat

28 views1 comment

Greetings Philosophers!


Philosophy often takes hits for trying to answer the great questions. There is a sense that we can somehow develop an intellectual formulation that can explain this basically infinite reality we call the Cosmos.


However, my training in philosophy centered around Immanuel Kant’s assertion that “The mind can ask questions that it can’t answer.” In other words, the emphasis I received taught me that asking the great questions is still important because the act of questioning itself opens us to an experience of reality only possible when we acknowledge that we don’t know.


My favorite poet, Mary Oliver, wrote:


“That summer I hurried too, wakened

To books and music and circling philosophies.

I sat in the kitchen sorting through volumes of answers

That could not solve the mystery of trees.”


One of the reasons I love her poetry so much is that she acknowledges the great questions while bowing to the mysteries that can be experienced at times, but never articulated as intellectual formulations.


My growing love for poetry stems from the fact that it lends itself to pointing to the experience of everyday mysteries we can open ourselves to without making dogmatic statements. Even the very form of poetry lends itself to multiple interpretations.


The great religious scholar Karen Armstrong asks an important question: “What if all of the religious texts of the world were experienced as poetry rather than prose?” It seems to me that if religion dropped dogmatic beliefs and replaced them with means to open ourselves to mystery and wonder, we could have avoided all the religious wars fought over who was right and who was wrong in their understanding of God.


I am concerned about the growing ties of religion with nationalism. It is very dangerous. It has a long history of ugliness. To see this growing movement in the United States and other parts of the world frightens me because we know — if we are wise — what it will lead to.


To remember that we do not know is one of the important roles that philosophy can play in our lives. If we learn to love the questions more than the answers, we open ourselves to a life of “radical amazement.” We would abide in a state of wonder, a state of mind that seems impossible to hold and be violent at the same time.


We could enjoy the experience of trees even as we know that we cannot “solve the mystery of trees.”


To Wisdom and Wonder and Mystery!


Apophat

10 views1 comment

I send sad greetings to my philosophical friends.


I have been struggling to come up with something meaningful to write after the mass shooting in Buffalo and now there was another one in Texas. There have been 210 mass shootings in the United States in 2022 as of May 24, that is more than one a day.


“When nearly 3,000 people died on 9/11, it was enough to create massive change in our society. Over ten times as many people die from guns each year. Where is the social change?” DaShanne Stokes


What is wrong with our culture? What is wrong with me? What makes a person feel free to shoot African Americans or nine-and ten-year-old children? What can we do in the face of such madness?


Well, we should become politically active. We should get involved. “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Archbishop Desmond Tutu


However, we can’t take on all the problems of the world. If we do so, we will be overwhelmed and do nothing. But it is possible to do one thing. Pick something to give some of your time and energy and money to that supports positive action.


Doing this will empower you because you will know that you are being part of the solution rather than part of the problem.


For me, the consolation of philosophy is to embrace the idea of all the wisdom teachings that call us to overcome ourselves — to answer the call for the transformation of consciousness. Unlike the growth of our bodies, our consciousness will not grow to the level of compassion and wisdom — love — without undergoing a process of intense inner work.


There is no one way to do this inner work. There are many ways such as meditation, journaling, and practicing mindfulness awareness. The ancient Zoroastrian religion teaches “good thoughts, good words, good deeds.” Good deeds spring first from good thoughts. We must struggle with hopelessness and despair. We must not let them control us because then we only add to the problems we all face.


It takes courage and commitment to undergo this process of transformation. It is not easy for an acorn to become an Oak tree. But acorns cannot solve our problems. As a metaphor, this means only Oak trees have the wisdom to solve the many problems we face, including the one of violence.


"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: Only love can do that." Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


My overall commitment is to adhere to wisdom’s call to transformation. My personal effort is in working for change in our broken and racist prison system. One way I do this is by supporting Bryan Stephenson’s work at the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI).


Mark Twain wrote: “If you want to change the future, you must change what you’re doing in the present.”


Please join me in the overall commitment to inner transformation. And then join me by finding one problem that just breaks your heart — and then do something positive and constructive about it. Do your part to make the world a better place.


Apophat

17 views1 comment

My Latest Essays

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. 

Screen Shot 2021-01-28 at 5.37.47 PM.png

Reach out, we'd love to hear from you!

© 2021 by Apophat.

We Are Apophatic. Stay in the Question.

bottom of page