Category Archives: philosophy

Notes to Self

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The guy who wrote the original did so in Greek, but was actually an intellectual Roman who was to govern Rome after succeeding the Emperor Antoninus Pius, spending a couple of decades trying to placate the Senate and put down minor rebellions. It was some time ago.

Marcus Aurelius lives long in the mind – this is a book that belongs in the bookshelves of the great and the good throughout history – it has shaped the thinking of men. And yet it was not written for publication – it was written as an ongoing discourse with himself as to how to live a life, how to wrestle with the challenges that being human brings , a ‘design for living’. He is setting  out his set of rules, quite unaware that it would become a key text in later attempting to understand the Roman Stoic philosophy.

 

I am fascinated how threads of understanding weave themselves through history – occurring separately to thinkers from disparate cultures and times – and how those threads resonate generations later, making a fascinating complexity of human thought spinning itself through time and place.

I am reminded of these words,

Knee-deep in the cosmic overwhelm, I’m stricken

by the ricochet wonder of it all: the plain

everythingness of everything, in cahoots

with the everythingness of everything else.       Carl Sagan  ‘Diffraction’

and from Edgar Allen Poe

 “that space and duration are one”

Who dreams in Latin?

know thyself

Me apparently.  Now I understand there is going to be a minority of educated peeps who regularly visit their night time muse and discourse via that ancient language.  Because they can.  I am not of them.  I detested taking Latin in school and confounded attempts to make me regular or irregular with verbage, refused to consort with Hannibal and Hasdrubal despite the allure of elephants, and exited the class only with the ability to ‘tu, te, tui, tibi, te’ to  rhythm courtesy of my doctors eccentric wife who brought a whole new dimension of dance into the conjugation theme. Saying that I do know that ‘Julia puella parva est’ tells me what anyone with eyes could determine – Julia is a small girl. Latin as a discipline was forced onto my curriculum by my mother, who had been denied the opportunity and believed it to be necessary in any right thinking girls armoury, which may have been the case in Montaigne’s time, whose father denied his son the use of any other language as he grew up. But times change. Move on – the thrust of my enquiry is why would I be dreaming Latin phrases?  I awoke recently with the clear message of ‘Nosce te ipsum’ plastered all over my consciousness in the style of a Banksy’s graffiti.  I knew I knew what it meant, but couldn’t recall – I had to resort to the husband, who resorted to the Google machine.  Of course – Nosce te ipsum is ‘Know Thyself’  – now the nub of the real enquiry is why is my subconscious sending me this command?  Is it thrust at me dagger like, suggesting I lack self awareness and something very dark and looming is about to reveal itself in my personality?  Or is it somewhat self congratulatory , extolling the virtues of introspection and reflection which anyone who knows me will confirm I expound.  I like neither scenario – self congratulation is about as welcome as self flagellation in my eyes, with less soreness. And I have lived a whole life like Henny Penny who clucked around her friends asking whether the sky was falling .

Despite the anxiety around whether my subconscious is alerting me to something I ought to know, I welcome this intrusion .  ‘Know thyself’ seems a good mantra to me.  Look at your virtues and examine your faults – try every moment you can to be the best version of yourself – this is what I take from the message.  I fail, I pick myself up and I fail again, but in the attempt to understand my errors, my poor decisions, I end up making better ones. Everyone’s a winner. I have never regretted saying sorry. Sometimes I have not said it, or not soon enough and I have regretted that. I suppose saying sorry makes you vulnerable, shows a side that is less than perfect.  I like that. I like that when I create something and something goes wrong, I always end up with creating something better in it’s stead. Always.  And when someone says sorry to me, I tend to cut them some slack. That’s the way it works.

Nosce te ipsum.

St Augustine quotation Anne Corr

We are the music while the music lasts with Alan Watts

Don’t forget to dance.

‘To understand music, you must listen to it. But so long as you are thinking, “I am listening to this music,” you are not listening.’

I was walking alongside the overgrown paddock this morning, which has developed into a sea of buttercups, grasses and purple clover.  It is a thing of beauty. Each buttercup is a miracle in itself – a dizzyingly shiny yellow miracle, and yet , when it is no longer shining brightly alone, but hid amongst a host of fellow buttercups, it still retains its wonder.  And when my eye wanders along that wave of brilliant primary and is distracted by the long grasses swaying sensuously in the wind, the host of buttercups is not diminished in its loveliness. It’s loveliness is enhanced with the collision from the purple of the clover, augmented by the movement of the grasses within. The whole is wholly  magnificent in its diversity and in the spectacle of the collusion from its individual parts.

Lucky us, to be here.

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Where the spirit meets the bone

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Today I heard Clive James, the well known and loved writer and presenter talk about his imminent death and what he was thinking about while still in the here and now.  His regret centred on not feeling that he had been kind enough, that he had not paid enough attention to generosity of spirit, nor to being a good enough husband .  I expect many of us feel regrets  – some more than others and some without facing death as a close encounter – there must be time for reflection in all of us.  Kindness seems to be an underrated virtue, one almost meeting scorn and mockery in our cynical age.  There’s a tide that may be turning – in the words of Plato – ‘Be Kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle’.

It may be no coincidence that Clive James is also a poet – it behoves a poet to be reflective, and one of poetry’s great gifts is that it often takes us down a path that leads us to some introverted consideration that questions our behaviours and attitudes.  A good poem is like a shortcut to something we need to know about ourselves, a spotlight that focuses our attention and drives us to exploration.  Poetry is a signpost that can direct us to to where we want to be, to who we want to be.

Richard Porty wrote  in an essay “Pragmatism and Romanticism”;

‘Shortly after finishing “Pragmatism and Romanticism,” I was diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer. Some months after I learned the bad news, I was sitting around having coffee with my elder son and a visiting cousin. My cousin (who is a Baptist minister) asked me whether I had found my thoughts turning toward religious topics, and I said no. “Well, what about philosophy?” my son asked. “No,” I replied, neither the philosophy I had written nor that which I had read seemed to have any particular bearing on my situation. I had no quarrel with Epicurus’s argument that it is irrational to fear death, nor with Heidegger’s suggestion that ontotheology originates in an attempt to evade our mortality. But neither ataraxia (freedom from disturbance) nor Sein zum Tode (being toward death) seemed in point.

 

“Hasn’t anything you’ve read been of any use?” my son persisted. “Yes,” I found myself blurting out, “poetry.” “Which poems?” he asked. I quoted two old chestnuts that I had recently dredged up from memory and been oddly cheered by, the most quoted lines of Swinburne’s “Garden of  Proserpine”:

 

We thank with brief thanksgiving

Whatever gods may be

That no life lives for ever;

That dead men rise up never;

That even the weariest river

Winds somewhere safe to sea.

 

and Landor’s “On His Seventy-Fifth Birthday”:

 

Nature I loved, and next to Nature, Art;

I warmed both hands before the fire of life,

It sinks, and I am ready to depart.’

 

It doesn’t seem melancholy to me to begin to consider the brevity of our lives – it seems sanguine to work out while we still have life how best to use the minutes and seconds.  Life is busy, demanding, inconsiderate in it’s relentless drive to succeed, to impress. I like the impressions of poets and philosophers – they help me get to where I want to be.

Richard Rorty (1931-2007) was an American philosopher best known for revitalizing the school of American pragmatism. He served as a professor emeritus of comparative literature at Stanford and was the author of several books -http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/richard-rorty

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Men of the Porch

Sadly I cannot make this event  http://blogs.exeter.ac.uk/stoicismtoday/2014/10/20/stoic-week-2014-everything-you-need-to-know/ but we live in a virtual world for which I am grateful.  Nevertheless, it may be worth consideration if you are in London this week.  If not there is always the possibility of downloading the book free until the end of this week, just go to the site with the link above.

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I have been drawn to Marcus Aurelius and Seneca amongst other classical authors and they have informed my life since I was a teenager.  The interest in Stoicism will be timeless, and the blog is an interesting read.  I am not sure how faithfully I would follow any formal approach to practice as I have been averse to that mode of instruction since forever. I am more likely to dip into a broad spectrum of source material and reflect as and when my mind thinks fit. But I would have been a frequent visitor to the porch in the central market of Athens when Zeno was hanging around.

If you click on the image below, there are a few treasures worth collecting.

stoicism

Smooth

sun god worshipperWalking the dogs this morning,  I was considering the complexity that belonging to the human race involves.   I am feeling ‘smooth’ this morning, an expression used by our housemate over breakfast and one that sums up my current frame of mind. Smooth.  That may not appear that surprising to any of you readers out there ( are there any?)  but it is. Because all of my life I have lived with a realism that results in a constant battle of dealing with an imperfect world. I tend not to catastrophize events in my own life, which is  a plus, but the negative aspect is that any joy is tempered by the knowledge that somewhere a war is being fought, or torture is continuing to be applied in areas of the globe I know nothing about. So it is.

It was serendipitous then, that I ventured upon this short video by Cognitive, which expresses so well the importance of realism in everyday life, in the politics , in the economics of living in the 21st century.  We have no excuse for not looking clearly at the challenges we face as a species, and today the Rosetta space mission is attempting to land Philae on a comet;  once settled, Philae will begin to reveal secrets about the solar system and maybe even give us clues about the origin of life. We have to hold close the hope that is the catalyst to any investigative project, and while we hold it, simultanteously understand the difficulties and hazards that are the barriers to success.  Our actions will govern the sustainability of ourselves and our co-habitants of the planet, and it is why we need to be realists in our own endeavours, whether that be managing a family, directing a company, guiding a country, or running a space mission.  Realism has to lead to fortitude, and hope has to be our guide.

http://www.wearecognitive.com/videos/rsa-animate-smile-or-die

Morning call – take a moment.

morning haze  monet

I was working earlier this morning at promoting my hand made books on a craft site called Etsy, wherein there are forums which enables the site users to engage with one another, a method of bringing people together in shared endeavour.  Mainly the forums ask questions relating to their shops, or customers, or problems or simply to have a chat to break up the day.  This morning a question provoked my interest as it broke away from the everyday and asked

“What are you doing when you find yourself truly connected to nature?”

There was a variety of interesting replies,  many supporting the view about how nature was a resource for recharging and inspiration.  One reply noted how seeing an animal in distress connected her to the immediacy and demands nature sometimes places on us.  I thought about it for a few moments and replied.  This is my reply,

“nature holds everything , our existence on the planet is all about connection. When we learn how interconnected everything is, we start to take on responsibility in our own lives for how we choose to live. I am beginning to feel that life is about understanding that interconnection, and living fully within that realisation. It is lifelong learning full of challenges and deep joys. The journey toward Truth and Beauty is the totality of our lives, we determine how far we proceed on that journey. ”

I am loving how rich that journey is, and how important my decisions are everyday, every moment as to how satisfying my brief encounter on this planet is.  At the same time I face the constant reminders that the human experience is very different depending what situations we are born into. My responsibility is not only to myself and my immediate family, it extends to all living matter.

I am sending my thoughts out in the hope that they resonate and that as companions in time, we all respect our individual journeys.

The beautiful image is by Monet, an artist who worked tirelessly at his vision of truth and beauty.