Apophat

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!


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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Greetings Philosophers!


I am writing this on Thanksgiving evening so it seems appropriate to write about gratitude.


The great Sufi poet Rumi wrote: “Gratitude is the wine for your soul. Go on. Get drunk!” Of course, as a Muslim, he did not drink alcohol. So, what did he mean?


A monk I was lucky enough to meet a few times wrote a book called Gratefulness: The Heart of Prayer.


All traditions I have studied have the practice of gratitude at their heart. What is it about being grateful that is so important?


I think the key is not simply noticing when good things happen to us (although that in itself is an important mindfulness activity). I think it is referring to a conscious effort we need to make. One does not need to pay attention to one’s thoughts for very long to see that they are almost a constant stream of negativity — judgements about ourselves and other people.


These thoughts bring us down, make us sad, and lower the quality of our life. So, I think gratitude is a conscious decision to focus on the positive and find the goodness in the difficult roads so many of us walk.


Terrence McKenna wrote: "Our world is in crisis because of the absence of consciousness." Being grateful is one way to bring more consciousness into our lives and into our world. It is a gift we give ourselves. And this gift spreads out to others. Why? I think gratitude is as contagious as complaining is.


To practice gratitude, especially when we don’t feel like it — especially then — is like forcing ourselves to exercise when we don’t feel like it. For example, we set a goal to go jogging a few days a week. If you have ever done this, you will notice that the good chemicals don’t start flowing until you have been running for a while. Starting can be difficult, but then running becomes its own reward.


So, it becomes one measure of our maturity to see if we can force ourselves to take a few minutes to be consciously grateful each day. We can do simple things like noticing the sun on our faces, to sending someone a text message saying we are grateful that they are a part of our lives, to keeping a journal. I have seen people take the 30 day challenge to post on social media one different thing they are grateful for each day. I would love to see social media used to spread some goodness around and avoid some of the trivia that I mostly associate with its use.


A music hall that I have seen literally hundreds of concerts at, has recently closed. I am sad about this. It was a big part of our (Cheryl and me) lives for nearly ten years. But what I found so moving was how many people did not complain about it, but instead posted notes of gratitude, sharing their favorite memories, photographs and gratitude for the community of music lovers that also became good friends. So, even a sad event can give rise to a great sense of thankfulness for all of the many happy times we shared the joy of music and dancing together — really with one another.


What are you grateful for? Speak and write it out! It will transform your life. But only if you practice it every day.


So, if you have read this far, please know that I am grateful that you are in my life. I love teaching because I have the opportunity to try and love so many people every semester/quarter. It has made my life fulfilling. And in this day and age, when so many complain about their work (or lack thereof), I get to go to work with a smile on my face!


To Gratitude!


Apophat


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Greetings Philosophers!


A student recently sent me a film titled “Plandemic.” The idea behind this film is something many of you have heard about — that Covid-19 is a biological weapon, set loose intentionally. They asked me to watch it and then let them know what I thought.


The issue of conspiracies is a difficult question to answer. The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard wrote: “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.” This means, to me, that we can know there have been conspiracies in the past. For example, there was a conspiracy to not only kill Abraham Lincoln, but also other high government officials.


My question is, can we know about conspiracies while they are happening? I have much less certainty about this. Critical thinking provides some insights.


Critical thinking is a skill that needs to be learned and practiced. But it only works well when you also have the correct information. And that is exactly what the question of conspiracies addresses. Do we have the correct information?


My overall feeling about conspiracy theories is that there is some truth to them, but we can’t really know it at the time, but only later. So, when someone claims to know what is “really going on,” I immediately become suspicious.


I think when a person believes in a current conspiracy theory, it speaks more to their need for psychological security than it does to the accuracy of what they are hearing and reading. We live in a world of uncertainty that can make us feel anxious.


One way of dealing with anxiety is to feel like, even though billions of people are victims of misinformation, somehow, I am on to the “real truth.” Emotional security is not a replacement for critical thinking. So, as a philosopher, I try to keep closer to the questions than the answers.


So, is COVID-19 a biological weapon? Perhaps. But how can I really know?


In the meantime, I think we worry too much about what we don’t know, when we do not address what we do know. For example, we know we are killing ourselves with cigarettes and fast food. Far more people die of obesity and smoking each year than from this pandemic, at least so far.

We do this because we succumb to advertising and peer pressure. That, at least, is something we can fight. No one makes us smoke or eat junk food.


Having said all of that, I believe that the only thing I can really do is transform my consciousness and inspire others to do the same. That is why I have dedicated my life to helping young people think critically, creatively, and outside of the box. I believe that true education is subversive and transformational.


To 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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