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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.

 

Greetings Philosophers!


Russia has invaded the Ukraine. This, on top of everything else, has caused many people’s stress and anxiety to go up.


Can philosophy help us?


While it can’t solve this problem politically, it can help us deal with it on a personal level. For one thing, it provides perspective. For example, in the Bible it says that “there is nothing new under the sun.” War has raged throughout human history. This speaks to what, for lack of a better term, can be called “the human condition.”


Wars will continue to rage as long as humans remain as they are. War, as with all suffering, invites us to leave Plato’s “cave,” and come out to the real world. Of course, what is real is an open question (and a very good one to ponder).


But at the least, it is a call to stop thinking “the shadows on the wall” of the cave are real. It is a call to wake up, to pay attention, and to work with my own mind.


This is only possible in the present moment. Perhaps our life is more perfect than we think when we move out of our thoughts and into our being.


One of my favorite authors, Thomas Merton, wrote: “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.”


It relaxes me to realize that I do not need to know the future or dwell on the past to enjoy what I can do in the present moment. It is my imagination that says there should be more and my whining nature to say that things are not good enough the way they are just now.


How much of human misery is self-generated by this insatiable need to know? How much joy are we losing due to our own addiction to being in control?


Today, right now, breathing in and breathing out, I am OK. The practice comes by remembering this need to keep coming back to this present moment.


Eckhart Tolle writes: “In today’s rush we all think too much, seek too much, want too much and forget about the joy of just being.”


Perhaps — and just perhaps — the best thing I can do to end war is to make peace with myself. If I can “vibrate” with the finer energy of love, then — perhaps — I can influence the “vibration” of fear and hatred that keeps us in a cycle where wars are inevitable.


From this loving space, an intuition may arrive about something I can do, such as making a donation to the Red Cross or another organization that is helping the refugees.


My favorite visual of just being in the present moment is watching a dog with its head out of a car window as it is driven along. It is a picture of bliss and I wish you all this present moment awareness bliss throughout the turmoil of these times.


Apophat

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Greetings Philosophers!


Is there a need to teach through fear?


Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.”


I was talking about religion with a student and they mentioned how their training was fear based. The fear of hell was stressed more than the love of God.


I know some of you may not believe in God. But I think some thoughts here might help us understand not just religion, but how we use fear to train children. I would suggest we do this only because we do not know a better way. But there is a better way.


So, ignore the “God” part if it does not apply to you. Instead, ask yourself if using fear is a good educational tool?


In philosophy, God is by definition infinite. In the theistic religions, this God is not simply infinite, but Infinite Love. I asked a monk I considered very holy once what he thought about the teachings about hell. I really wanted to know how he combined his teaching that God was “mercy upon mercy” with eternal damnation.


He told me that if you believe in free will — that people have a choice — then you have to have an opposite choice than choosing love. That absence of love is Hell. But then he turned to me with a twinkle in his eye and a beautiful smile and said: “but you are not required to believe any one is actually there.”


I had a similar experience with religion. I was taught to fear the fires of hell. To teach a child to fear Infinite Love is a form of child abuse — spiritual abuse — at least as I experienced it. This type of abuse is not talked about as much as it needs to be. There are much healthier ways to introduce children to a religious world view and encourage their spiritual growth.


When children ask questions, this is when we could nurture their curiosity and critical thinking skills. For example, when a child asks where their grandmother went when she passed away, many parents answer "heaven," which closes down the question. A better answer might be, "where do you think she is?" and then engage them in a dialogue.


Ok, enough of God for those who don’t like this line of thought. Let’s instead look at parenting. Many of you are or will be parents. If not, you certainly had to have had parents.


Many parents spank their children when they do not behave. But my experience working in special education proved to me that you can train kids without hitting them. In fact, if I had hit a child I would not only have been fired on the spot, but the parents would have the right to prosecute me for child abuse.

This knowledge, and the training I received, was like a bomb going off in my head! If very difficult children could be educated without hitting them, then surely, we don’t need to hit children who do not have these severe challenges.


Children learn about life — and God, if you believe in God — by what we do far more than what we say. Do we want to teach by means of fear or by means of love?


“The object of education is to teach us to love what is beautiful.” Plato


Apophat

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Greetings Philosophers!


I have two dogs. Do you?


Part of living an examined life includes facing our dark side. It is a painful experience for me to accept that there is a part of me that I do not like at all. For example, I can be mean, petty and judgmental. The natural tendency is to push this out of awareness. But repression does not really work.


The famous Native American Chief Sitting Bull said: "Inside of me there are two dogs. One is mean and evil and the other is good and they fight each other all of the time. When asked which one wins, I answer the one I feed the most."


It reminds me of the saying that we need to keep our friends close and our enemies even closer.

I was confused for a long time about what Jesus meant when he said we need to love our enemies. Shouldn’t the goal be to have no enemies?


Perhaps we are supposed to have enemies, at least in the sense of those we oppose because of their lack of respect for equality and justice for all people. Perhaps.


But it really rang true when I think of the enemy within — the dog that is self-centered and lashes out at people. The dog that is lazy and apathetic. The dog that is cruel.


Yes, this is me too.


I imagine the darkness will always be there. I feed it with my resentments, anger and regrets.

But I can work on disciplining this mean dog, who is a good dog that has been conditioned to be mean. Dogs are not born mean. Thus, I need to forgive this dog — but not ignore it.


How do I nurture the other dog, how do I feed it? This dog needs to be fed music, dancing and books! This dog thrives on the attention provided by self-acceptance and love and the great world of ideas. This dog grows healthy and beautiful by having time to be out in nature and putting aside time for reflection and contemplation.


In actuality, I think I have many dogs. My name is legion, or as Bob Dylan sings, “I contain multitudes.” But the two dogs metaphor works for me. It is important for me to check in with my inner dogs. Which one am I feeding with my thoughts and actions?


I have two dogs. It is good to know that. It is wisdom to know which one bites and which one likes to cuddle, lick my face, and sleep next to me.


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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