Half, Whole, or Just Disjointed?

Half, Whole, or Just Disjointed?

04.29-30.2019

Easter 2019

 

Is the state of gaining knowledge a synonym for being live?  A comment I hear from time to time is “You talk quite a bit about “living” and “everyday living”.  Isn’t philosophy or the study of philosophy just … living?”  Another comment asks how I can discuss religion as if one size fits all.  Both are great questions.

 

Aristotle considered philosophy not a study of the parts of reality but a study of reality itself.  For example, the parts of reality might be the study of math or music, politics or history.  Reality is the existence and properties of things, their changes, causalities, and possibilities; reality is about the time and space of the here and now.  He called this “first philosophy” metaphysics as previously discussed based upon the Greek words “meta” meaning beyond and “physica” meaning physical.

 

The question implies that we gain knowledge just by being alive, by … being.  Those struggling to find food and shelter in the aftermath of earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, etc. often find themselves in a struggling state of being.  We learn a great deal from such survivors and marvel at their tenacity and resiliency.  Certainly they are giving life their every bit of effort.  By doing so, are they also gaining knowledge?  Those participating in riots or who create mass shootings are also putting energy and effort into their behavior but do we really think they are “learning” just by their doing?  Perhaps a better question is what are we learning in the aftermath of such events?  We must gain knowledge if we are to prevent them from becoming as commonplace as they currently are.

 

Aristotle maintained that there are five “predictables”, five common ways that we discuss a subject or object.  We can define the object very specifically [Aristotle referred to this as the species]  or we can discuss it in general terms [the genus].  We can notate what distinguishes it from other objects [the differentia], what makes it unique or special [propia], or we can discuss it by discussing things that are not like it [accidentals].  Philosophy instructor Dr. Maxwell Taylor illustrates Aristotle’s Predictables with one of my most favorite musical instruments and shapes – the lowly triangle.   For instance, a triangle is specifically a three-sided figure or in general terms, a shape.  It is different from other shapes by its number of sides and its properties are varied in that the sides can be of differing lengths.  Perhaps the easiest way to describe a triangle is by comparing it to shapes it is not like, starting with the fact that it is not a rectangle, square, diamond, or rhombus.

 

The definition of something is that which makes it what it is.  Aristotle called this “horos” which means definition.  Porphyry called it “eidos” which means forms and Boethius called it “species” to imply an object’s specific essence.  Both the survivors in Nepal and the protestors in Baltimore are living but their manner of form of living is very different.  Still, both groups are living and that fact would be classified under the “genus”, that part of the two groups that, although very different, they share in common. 

 

The genus is the general things found in common with other things that are otherwise different.  Perhaps an easier illustration or analogy is that flowers would be the genus and roses, daffodils, tulips, and lilies would be the species.  Not all species are the same, however.  Some roses are climbing vines while others are bushes.  Some flowers have specific number of petals while others have fewer or greater number of petals.  This would be the differentia.   

 

Things can become a bit involved, however, when we start discussing the “propia” or properties of an object.  The general population in Nepal is not accustomed to great wealth or lavish luxuries but the current conditions in which they are living are very different from those of some of the protestors in Baltimore, residents of the area who also live in abject poverty and sometimes deplorable conditions.  The destruction of businesses in Baltimore will leave some of the area’s residents homeless, although not homeless like the survivors in Nepal.

 

It is easier to use our analogy of the triangle; the properties are easier to explain.  We’ve already mentioned that a triangle’s form or definition is a three-sided object.  The genus would be that it is a shape.  The differentia or differences between triangles is determined by the angles within the three-sided shape.  Where the three lines of a triangle meet, angles are formed.  Those angles differentiate one triangle from another.  The specific angles are the properties of the triangle and there are six different types of triangles but do not make the object any more or less a triangle.

 

As I have noted before, triangles are one of my most favorite shapes and also musical instruments.  The tone of the instrument can be affected by the type of metal used which affects the number of vibrations, the number of overtones and the sound that reaches your ears.  The type of beater or mallet used also affects the tone as does the manner in which the triangle is hung or held.  Most musical triangles are equilateral triangles, having three equal sides, although they come in varying shapes.  Almost all musical triangles have the same basic pitch and skill in playing is determined by physical dexterity in handled in the beater as well as knowledge of acoustics.  None of those things change the type of triangle being played or its general properties or its basic definition.

 

In addition to the equilateral triangle with three equal sides, there are five other types of triangles.  An acute triangle is one with an angle less than ninety degrees.  A right triangle, fittingly enough, contains a right angle or an angle of exactly ninety degrees while an obtuse triangle has an angle greater than ninety degrees but less than one hundred and eighty degrees.  An isosceles triangle has two sides which are equal while a scalene triangle has no sides of equal length.  These are all properties of a triangle but there is still yet another way we might describe or refer to a triangle.

 

Imagine if you will a page of triangles.  The can be of varying types and sizes, some alike while others are different colors.  I might ask you how many are isosceles triangles or how many are acute triangles.  Either one of those questions would be answered by using something specific to the triangle or its classifications.  What if I asked how many were black triangles or red or yellow?  That response has nothing whatsoever to do with any specific aspect of the triangle but rather its color.  Other things have those same colors – a box of crayons, a row of pants or sweaters, or even the flag of the state of Maryland, a flag proudly displayed on the law enforcement vehicles burned and overturned by the protestors in Baltimore.  The fact that same of the triangles were red, black, or yellow has nothing to do with the definition of a triangle; it is simply another or accidental part of their description.

 

How can we apply these “Predictables” in our own philosophy of being, in our own living?  Certainly all of mankind shares some things in commons.  First of all, we are all mammals… but so are cows and dogs and cats.  Man is known as “homo sapiens” or “wise being”.  We have two genders present at birth, although that is being challenged in both life and the court systems around the world.  We also have different ethnicities and races, often noted with adjectives denoting one’s skin color.  Some use these latter descriptive types to denote value or worth or even potential.  In some countries, cows are more revered than women; people are discriminated against or profiles based upon their skin color or even eye shape.

 

The study of philosophy gives us an argument for being.  With it, hopefully, we can learn that existence is living and living means potential.  A triangle is no less a triangle simply because it has three equal sides or no equal sides.  A green triangle is just as much a triangle as a red triangle.  Lives matter – black, brown, red, or white.  You may consider someone damaged or different but it does not change the fact that they are alive, they have value, they matter.  Each and every human being, as with all life, deserves respect.  What may seem out of place to you fits perfectly for someone else.

 

The value of living is reason enough for us to give it our very best efforts, to give all of mankind our very best efforts.   Aristotle noted: “The value of life depends upon awareness and the power of contemplation rather than upon mere survival.” 

 

Facing the Tides of Tomorrow

Facing the Tides of Tomorrow

04.28.2019

Easter 2019

 

Leonardo da Vinci described water as “the driving force of all nature”.  The 1937 Nobel Prize for Medicine was awarded to a Hungarian biochemist, Albert Szent-Gyorgyi.  He is noted for a great many things but I think his definition of water is the best.  “Water is life’s mater and matrix, mother and medium.  There is no life without water.”

 

Water is necessary for all living things, animal or vegetable and sadly it is not as abundant as the world needs.  Water became the answer when on man sought to discover what the world was made of by rational thought.  Known as Thales of Miletus, he is considered to be the first philosopher.  Because water is essential to all living things, Thales reasoned that everything must be derived from it.  Water exists in several forms: solid when cold; a gas when heated; liquid in what most consider its natural state.  From this beginning and the reasoning of Thales of Miletus comes the modern theory that all matter can be reduced to energy.

 

The Tao philosopher Lao Tzu also considered the philosophical properties of water in the sixth century BCE.  “Nothing in the world is more flexible and yielding than water.  Yet, when it attacks the firm and the strong, none can withstand it, because they have no way to change it.  So the flexible overcome the adamant; the yielding overcome the forceful.  Everyone knows this, but no one can do it.”

 

Thales reasoned that the earth grew out of the water that surrounded the land masses.  Over seventy-one percent of the earth’s mass is water, after all.  His student Anaximander reasoned that the earth must float on air.  If water supported the earth, he asked, what supported the water?  Anaximander believed everything could be reduced to air.  While neither man was correct, their argument/counterargument form of deduction still forms the basis for philosophical thought and discussion today.

 

OF course, though, philosophy encourages questioning and someone did just that after Thales and Anaximander.  Heraclitus proposed a “theory of opposites”.  He believed that rather than everything being derived from a single element, there was an underlying principle of change.  The world to him consisted of opposing tendencies.  His argument to support this theory was the basic fact that the path that went up a mountain was the same path that went down the mountain.  Another analogy was the fact the while a river remains constant, the water within it is constantly moving and flowing.  Heraclitus proposed that the reality we see as constant is really a reality of processes and changes.

 

Later Xenophanes would suggest that the knowledge we claim to know is just a hypothesis.  Our searches for knowledge start from working hypotheses but the actual ultimate knowledge, the “truth of reality” will always be beyond our grasp to understand.  Xenophanes believed in a cosmic composition of life, based upon two extremes – wet and dry.  He combined the Milesian ideas of air and water with Heraclitus’ views of opposites and used fossils to support his theories.  This was the first evidence-based argument recorded.

 

Philosophy would not remain in this mode of thinking for long.  It would evolve into theories based upon something being everything and nothing being impossible to be something.  We’ll save that for another day, though.  What we should focus on today as we start Monday and a new week is whether or not we are one element or living in a state of contrasting opposites.

 

Night falls at different times on the earth as the planet revolves through its orbit around the sun.  Just as the timing of the night is different so does what nighttime looks like.  For the child growing up in a refugee camp, night might be a period of cooler temps but scary flashes of light indicating mortar rounds being fired.  For the child snug in their bed in Paris, the City of Lights, nighttime is a warm blanket and a calming bedtime story.

 

Today I heard a story about a school-aged child whose class went on an over-night field trip to a state camp.  The two-day excursion included nature walks and environmental lessons.  The child’s class was to be the last to experience such a visit as the camp was deemed inefficient with a delinquent revenue stream.  Sitting around the campfire, the children listened to the sounds of the night.  Two weeks later, as he closed down the program and prepared for his next job, the director of the program received an envelope of thank-you notes from that last class.

 

The drawings of the various birds, and other wildlife discussed he had expected but it was the simple handwritten note of a young girl that truly touched him.  “Thank you,” she wrote, “for showing me what creation is really about.  I liked the walking, the trees, the flowers, and learning how to reuse things.  I liked seeing the baby rabbits and although it was scary, even the snake in the grass on the trail.  My favorite, though, was learning that nighttime can be nice.  At my house I cannot see the stars.  I see the restaurant signs.  We don’t have quiet on our block.  We hear cars and sometimes, gunshots.  At camp, I got to see the stars and hear the quiet and then the call of the night animals.  What I saw at camp was creation.  Bobby next door calls it Allah and my grandma calls it God.  I am just going to call it life.  Thank you for showing me what life can be.”

 

We all see life each and every day.  Like the water Lao Tzu spoke of, life can sometimes attack us and we might feel we cannot withstand it.  With knowledge though, and thought, we can learn to be flexible and by being flexible, gain strength.  Knowledge is power when applied properly.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr summed it up:  “Science investigates religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge which is power; religion gives man wisdom which is control.”

 

Wallace Stevens remarked that “Human nature is like water. It takes the shape of its container.”  The environment with which we surround ourselves influences us.  Alysha Speer compared life and water:   “You never really know what’s coming. A small wave, or maybe a big one. All you can really do is hope that when it comes, you can surf over it, instead of drown in its monstrosity.”

 

Many cultures use water as a type of rebirth, a cleansing of the old in preparation for the future.  Da Vinci pointed out that “in rivers, the water that you touch is the last of what has passed and the first of that which comes.” 

 

Man does not live very long without water.  It is more than essential; it is life itself – both in birth and in destruction.  Most of us forget to really use water in our daily living.  Charlotte Eriksson offers us the best way, I believe, to face the morrow and our life.   “Take a shower, wash off the day. Drink a glass of water. Make the room dark. Lie down and close your eyes.  Notice the silence. Notice your heart. Still beating. Still fighting. You made it, after all. You made it, another day. And you can make it one more.  You’re doing just fine.”

Knowledge: Cause and Effect

Knowledge: Cause and Effect

04.25.2019

Easter 2019

 

Mankind took the leap to discover knowledge at the dawn of man.  In the creation stories of the Torah and the Bible, it was curiosity that led to sin and evil.  For many belief systems, education is still a privilege granted only to a select few or group.  Five years ago   the Nobel peace Prize was awarded to the youngest recipient ever, Malala Yousafzai,  because she dared to follow her dream to learn.

 

In the Christian tradition the fortieth day after Easter is known as Ascension Day.  It is the day Christians celebrate as being the day of Jesus Christ’s bodily ascension into heaven.  In a world with the philosophies of Anaximander, Aristotle, Boethus, Diogenes, Empedocles, Heraclitus, Leucippus, Parmenides, Plato, and Socrates, how, you might be asking, could they believe that a man could be crucified, buried, walk among people for forty days, and then ascend to the afterworld?  After all, Leucippus came up with the theory of atoms and he lived five centuries before the man known as Jesus of Nazareth.  How did people think those atoms could be destroyed, rejuvenate themselves, and then vanish into thin air?

 

As it gained momentum, the Christian Church in the form of the Roman Church became the vessel for all learning.  Scholasticism became the method of teaching and it used strict dialectical reasoning to teach Christian theology and to interpret the ancient classical texts of learning.  Using Aristotle’s approach of determining knowledge through our senses proved too down-to-earth for church leaders who felt it took away from the mystery of faith.

 

Nicholas of Cusa proposed something he termed “learned ignorance”.  According to Nicholas who was also known as Nicolaus von Kues, all knowledge came from “the One”, “the Good’.  God, according to Nicholas came before that so it was impossible for a mere human to truly know God.  Nicholas believed that one should use reason to understand this ignorance and that we only knew of God what we could through the “learned ignorance”.

 

Dutch philosopher Desiderius Erasmus took exception with the Roman Catholic doctrine and felt one’s personal relationship with God was much more important that the doctrine of the Roman Church.  The knowledge of philosophy he saw as a hindrance to the basic human traits emphasized in scripture and preached by Jesus.

 

Knowledge had not been seen as evil by all belief systems, however.  Mohammed founded Islam and by the seventh century it had spread from Arabia to Asia and Africa and then to parts of Spain.  Rivaling the empire of Christian Europe, Islam entered into what is known as its “Golden Age” around 750 ACE.  This period lasted for more than five centuries as learning and discovery was encouraged in the field of math, sciences, and scholarship.  Major advances were made in astronomy, alchemy, medicine, and mathematics and Aristotle’s philosophy was smoothly integrated with Islamic tenets of faith.

 

The Islamic philosopher Avicenna proposed a “flying man” theory which married knowledge gained from our senses and reason.  He offered that a man flying blindfolded and floating in the air would still know he had a soul or self, even though his senses were not giving him any information.  According to Avicenna, one’s mind and body coexist but as distinct entities.  He also suggested that if this is true, then the mind or soul existed in a different realm than the body and did not die when the physical body did.

 

Not surprisingly, Avicenna’s theories were not accepted by all.  Al-Ghazali was an Islamic philosopher who felt such beliefs were contrary to the Qur’an.  The Iberian Islamic philosopher Averroes or Ibn Rushd disagreed.  He argued that the Qur’an presented metaphorical truths and that, instead of any incompatibility between religion and philosophy, philosophy could be used to interpret religion.  This way of thinking was similar to the paradoxes of Plato.  They also greatly influence Christian philosophy of the period.

 

The conquests by Christian crusaders in the eleventh century are seen by many as an unjust invasion and their beliefs can be understood.  These invasions unlocked Europe to the knowledge of the Islamic world, though, and soon the influence of such spread throughout Europe, leading to the Renaissance and the losing of control over scholarship and knowledge previously held by the Roman Church.

 

Whether you believe in the ascension of a man who previously presented as a mere mortal or whether you fail to believe in any religion, one cannot deny basic principles of life and our living.  We all need air to breath.  Plants use photosynthesis to convert light energy into chemical energy and then into carbon dioxide which is released into the atmosphere and creates the air we breathe.  The plants in my garden in one hemisphere are not the same plants I had when living in another.  Yet, they still follow the same basic processes in their growth, their blossoms or fruits, their harvest, their period of dormancy, and their value.

 

For one day a year, the Christian Church celebrates the ascension of the central figure in its teachings.  Yet, do we live every other day in dissension and the descent of knowledge?   What I do or do not do today affects my tomorrow.  The Hindu mystic Swami Vivekananda says “The will is not free; it is a phenomenon bound by cause and effect, but there is something behind the will which is free.”  American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: “Shallow men believe in luck.  Strong men believe in cause and effect.  Cause and effect, means and ends, seed and fruit cannot be severed; for the effect already blooms in the cause, the end preexists in the means, the fruit in the seed.”

 

Mankind has always been curious and that curiosity has fueled a quest for knowledge that continues today.   Regardless of the period of history or location on the planet or even in space, we are constantly learning as we live.  Living in the northwest part of the USA, young adult author Richelle Goodrich sums up our ascent into living and the subsequent knowledge gained from it this way:  “You are here to make a difference, to either improve the world or worsen it. And whether or not you consciously choose to, you will accomplish one or the other.”

 

I fear the real truth is much simpler and in its simplicity, much more complicated to live.  We cannot spend time on this earth without affecting it.  We occupy space and the air we inhale and exhale affects our environment.  We all have a carbon footprint and that also affects the future.  How we gain in knowledge is really up to us.  That is the simple part.  The complications arise when we live or fail to live our beliefs.  We do make a difference by being on this planet and we will either leave it a better place or worsen it.  The future is the fruit of the seed of our actions today.  What will you decide to do?  How will your curiosity lead to greater knowledge?

 

 

Are We Real?

Are We Real?

04.22.2019

Easter 2019

 

Are We Real?

04.22.2019

Easter 2019

 

American author and artist James Thurber once stated:  “Philosophy offers the rather cold consolation that perhaps we and our planet do not actually exist; religion presents the contradictory and scarcely more comforting thought that we exist but that we cannot hope to get anywhere until we cease to exist. Alcohol, in attempting to resolve the contradiction, produces vivid patterns of Truth which vanish like snow in the morning sun and cannot be recalled; the revelations of poetry are as wonderful as a comet in the skies, and as mysterious. Love, which was once believed to contain the Answer, we now know to be nothing more than an inherited behavior pattern.”

 

Thurber would probably not be pleased that I am considering him a philosopher.  Born in Ohio and raised in both Virginia and Ohio, Thurber had a rather typical early twentieth century American boy’s childhood.  Not so typical was an injury he suffered as a child when an arrow of his brother’s resulted in Thurber being blinded in one eye.  He worked as a journalist in Ohio after attending but not graduating Ohio State University and then moved to New York City where he obtained a position on the staff of ”The New Yorker” magazine.  Thurber become known for his cartoons of animals and his drawings of dogs soon had their own career on pages of periodicals, newspapers and books, often watching strong-willed women and seemingly weak men.

 

Thurber once remarked “The wit makes fun of other persons; the satirist makes fun of the world; the humorist makes fun of himself, but in so doing, he identifies himself with people–that is, people everywhere, not for the purpose of taking them apart, but simply revealing their true nature.”  Many enjoyed both his drawings and his books, of which there were more than just a few.  Often people saw themselves on the pages of Thurber’s drawings; always they saw their neighbors.  Few took offense, though, knowing that Thurber was pointing his pen not only at them but also himself.

 

“There but for the grace of God go I” is an idiom attributed to Anglican priest James Bradford.  It is also a paraphrase of the scripture found in the New Testament, I Corinthians 15:10.  That the quote in English form is also attributed to a Roman Catholic priest is no surprise and quite fitting given Bradford’s life.  Ordained an Anglican priest shortly before the Roman Catholic Mary Tudor took the throne as reigning monarch of England, he was later imprisoned and hung for his beliefs.  Bradford preached of the connectivity of mankind and saw himself in the face of the lowest of it.  Mostly, Bradford saw each man has a reflection of another except for perhaps life’s circumstances.  He advocated spreading good will not judgment.

 

However you might define reality, we are real.  If you doubt that, get a hammer and bring it down intensely upon your finger.  I really doubt you will question the pain experienced.  Life is transitory but the travails we experience are very real to us.  “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”  Elie Wiesel was referring to events leading up to World War II specifically but his words ring true for everyday living.

 

We are not only real, we are connected one to another.  A couple of years ago after a natural disaster, Face Book began running a streamer at the top of personal pages giving ways people could contribute to charities helping the victims of the earthquakes in Nepal.  Some people have protested this, good people with no motive for malice.  “Wouldn’t it be better to help people in our own country?” was a common response people posted on their own pages.  “Why do we have to see this ticker about giving to Nepal?”  The unspoken meaning here is let the Nepalese help themselves while we help our neighbors.

 

That is a great thought except for one thing – Nepal was a country in dire straits even before the earthquake.  The victim of countless regimes whose only purpose was personal greed, these “live and let live” people were in abject poverty before nature took its revenge on them.  How can someone with nothing have their lives and homes literally upturned by seismic events then pull wealth out of their empty pockets to “help themselves”?

 

Every country has its poor, its disenfranchised societies.  For many, these populations are simply uneducated, sometimes on purpose based upon gender, and/or the wrong ethnicity, again the victims of deliberate discrimination.  Sometimes these populations suffer from illnesses that are not fully understood or greatly feared.   No one country has enough money given to completely render all needed assistance to these groups.

 

Tragedy is forever with us.  The tragedies in Sri Lanka this past weekend are evidence of that.  With the complexities of weather systems and the natural disasters we face, mankind has decided to up the ante and make staying alive even harder.  People are being led by fanatical zealots as well as greedy politicians to kill themselves and take with them, hundreds of innocent victims.

 

Reality may be a word that means different things to different people and sadly, many feel they are invisible and that their lives do not matter.  Another thing all countries share is that somewhere today someone will take their own life.  In spite of a number of terminal illnesses, accidents, and crimes that will result in death, people will feel their own personal situation has no meaning and is just a riddle too hard to contemplate resolution except by death.  TO not give others a chance to live must surely be among the most heinous of crimes.  People are dying simply because they were engaged in living.

 

Einstein might have been correct when he said “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.”  I prefer to believe that human stupidity is reversible, though.  Another in common is countries where children and adults wear socks is that, at some point, one will end up with a mismatched sock.  Seeming to defeat the laws of physics, one sock will magically disappear.  Once during an epic spring cleaning, my spouse and children put all their mismatched socks into bags.  The final count was an even one hundred pairless socks.  Of course, once the socks were all laid out, pairs were found or someone remembered the puppy tearing a sock up, etc.

 

Just as our socks were real, the mystery of the disappearance of their matches had resolution.  For an hour, said spouse and kids enjoyed making up stories about the disappearances.  Their imaginations took flight and they did indeed come up with delightful tales.  In fact, I think at least still imagines at least two socks are orbiting the earth as I type today!  The reality was far less exciting and entertaining but resolution was found.  We did not find all the socks but those that remained single became adorable little snowman figures (comment here and I’ll send you the instructions for this craft!).

 

James Thurber felt that love was simply an inherited behavior pattern but I would differ with that sentiment.  Love for ourselves and one another might just be the answer the world needs to exist.  Surely it is the one way we can prove we are real, we are alive. 

 

Man is real.  We have solutions if we but have faith that we can find them.  It will not be easy but then, most things seldom are.  Pain cannot be seen or even quantified on a scale with weights and balances and yet, pain is all too real for those experiencing.  We should not share in another’s blame or guilt but we can and should offer to help.  Life is hard but it is not impossible.  All we need to do is believe in ourselves.  Perhaps that is the hardest problem philosophy has to solve.  Today I hope you smile more than you cry and, when you pass another, your eyes are opened to not only see that other person but also your own value.  We are real.

 

 

 

 

 

The Next Step

The Next Step

Easter 2019

 

The past sixteen days have been quite emotional.  First we had the anniversary of a college campus shooting that killed thirty-two students.  Then we had the anniversary of the bombing of the Alfred E Murrah building that killed eighty-two people.  In-between those two dates the Cathedral of Notre Dame caught fire and suffered disastrous destruction.  Then yesterday was the twentieth anniversary of the school shootings at Columbine that took the lives of eleven victims and the two shooters.

 

Living in the moment can be uneasy.  It is, however, vital, if we are to fully live and participate, even in something as simple as a sip of coffee.  Let’s say you have really thought about the last hour and fully been in the moments of each of those sixty minutes.  You fully experienced that sip of beverage and felt is as it entered and then followed its course through your throat.  You smelled that bite of food before partaking it and then thought about the texture and taste instead of gulping it down in a hurry.  You felt that air on your skin as you walked outside and heard the ambient sounds around you.  What comes next?

 

Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, poet, scholar, and human rights activist, who was nominated by Martin Luther King, Jr. for the Nobel Peace Prize. His books include “Being Peace”.  Nhat Hanh describes the process as being mindful as much more than just thinking about things.  “Mindfulness is the energy that helps us recognize the conditions of happiness that are already present in our lives. You don’t have to wait ten years to experience this happiness. It is present in every moment of your daily life. There are those of us who are alive but don’t know it. But when you breathe in, and you are aware of your in-breath, you touch the miracle of being alive. That is why mindfulness is a source of happiness and joy.

 

“Most people are forgetful; they are not really there a lot of the time. Their mind is caught in their worries, their fears, their anger, and their regrets, and they are not mindful of being there. That state of being is called forgetfulness—you are there but you are not there. You are caught in the past or in the future. You are not there in the present moment, living your life deeply. That is forgetfulness.

 

“The opposite of forgetfulness is mindfulness. Mindfulness is when you are truly there, mind and body together. You breathe in and out mindfully, you bring your mind back to your body, and you are there. When your mind is there with your body, you are established in the present moment. Then you can recognize the many conditions of happiness that are in you and around you, and happiness just comes naturally.

 

Nhat Hanh believes we are all entitled to being happy.  Many people do not.  They would rather wallow in their self-pity because it seems comfortable to them.  The next step after you have been mindful for an hour is to be brave and practice mindfulness for a day. 

 

Nhat Hanh explains:  “During the time you are practicing mindfulness, you stop talking – not only the talking outside, but the talking inside. The talking inside is the thinking, the mental discourse that goes on and on and on inside. Real silence is the cessation of talking – of both the mouth and of the mind. This is not the kind of silence that oppresses us. It is a very elegant kind of silence, a very powerful kind of silence. It is the silence that heals and nourishes us.”

 

The next step is to believe you deserve the right to be happy and let the silence teach you.  Listen to the advice of this monk.  We need to honor the past and learn from it but we also need to experience the joy of living. 

“Mindfulness practice should be enjoyable, not work or effort. Do you have to make an effort to breathe in? You don’t need to make an effort. To breathe in, you just breathe in. Suppose you are with a group of people contemplating a beautiful sunset. Do you have to make an effort to enjoy the beautiful sunset? No, you don’t have to make any effort. You just enjoy it,” Nhat Hanh advises.  “The same thing is true with your breath. Allow your breath to take place. Become aware of it and enjoy it. –  Effortlessness; Enjoyment. The same thing is true with walking mindfully. Every step you take is enjoyable. Every step helps you to touch the wonders of life, in yourself and around you. Every step is peace. Every step is joy. That is possible.”  When you achieve that, then your step will be one of joy.

 

Easter is a celebration of joy, of not letting death defeat us all.  It is about taking that next step mindfully and with joyful expectations.

Slip Through the Cracks… and Stop!

Slip Through the Cracks … and Stop

Day 40

Lent 2019

 

The note was short and written in a surprisingly strong hand.  “It is ironic that I have chosen this course of action.  I do so because I am tired of slipping through the cracks.  I offer suggestions that are never followed up.  I volunteer only to never get called.  I am, apparently, a profession al slipping through the cracks.  Emails go unanswered; phones never returned.  I thought I had something to offer.  I thought my life had value.  Apparently I was wrong.  And so, I am calling it quits.  The irony is that some will consider that choice to be “cracked”.  Perhaps that is fitting since it was caused by my slipping through the crack of life.”

 

I have written some posts in this series about the Beatitudes.  A well-known piece of scripture, the Beatitudes are about eight groups of people upon whom blessings will be given in the after-life.  One of the comforts of the Beatitudes for me is that they describe what we all experience in life – the good and the bad.  No one walks a smooth and straight path all the time.  We all encounter detours and bumps and yes, sometimes dead ends.  Marlon Wayans believes that “Success is not a destination but the road that you’re on.  Being successful means that you’re working hard and walking your walk every day.” 

 

Henry David Thoreau sought peace and personal success in his own unusual walks of life.  “As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.”

 

We cannot give control of our lives to others, even when we seem to be ignored, forgotten, or slip through the cracks.  As Gautama Buddha once said, “No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.”   More recently Jay Woodman said something similar: “The world is a wide place where we stumble like children learning to walk.”

 

We all stumble and at some point in time, feel like we have slipped through the cracks.  Maybe we have but anything that can slip though can also crawl or pull itself out.  When we forget that one basic fact, that even the negative things in life, the stumbles and falls we make on our path can offer us lessons, that is when we truly stop living.  Our life is a gift and we have much to learn and to offer.  If you feel you are being ignored or overlooked, make a turn and go down a more productive path.

 

Steve Maraboli offers this wisdom:   “Live your truth. Express your love. Share your enthusiasm. Take action towards your dreams. Walk your talk. Dance and sing to your music. Embrace your blessings. Make today worth remembering.” 

Hope Floats Us All

Hope Floats Us All

Day 39 – Palm Sunday*

Lent 2019

 

I remember reading a biography of a military strategist.  “The outcome [of a particular military campaign] was inevitable.  There was no hope at all of a victory.”  I stopped and reread the previous several pages because I thought I must have missed something.  I had expected this man to be on the side that ultimately won but here he was saying that this major battle was doomed for failure.  I actually reread the pages three times and finally on the fourth time, read them aloud.  I had missed nothing and so I continued forward.  Then I read the last sentence of the chapter.  “Fortunately, the leaders were better at encouraging their men then in military rational.  They had hope and their hope won the battle, a battle that, on paper, was never theirs to win.  Hope that day was the best strategy.”

 

As I remarked yesterday, I do not presume to know what was in the speaker’s mind when he uttered the words we now call the Beatitudes.  I do think their purpose and his intention was to offer hope.  The goodness offered within the text speaks of the expectation of not great times but also the optimism those times can ultimately create.

 

Hope is not the same as optimism.  Optimism is a feeling that sees the good and its approach is quite positive.  Hope is an emotion that often arises in the midst of turmoil, of despair, of grief.  Hope is a choice.  We can choose fear or we can choose hope.

 

Barbara Fredrickson describes hope this way.  “Hope literally opens us up. It removes the blinders of fear and despair and allows us to see the big picture. We become creative, unleashing our dreams for the future.  This is because deep within the core of hope is the belief that things can change. No matter how awful or uncertain they are at the moment, things can turn out for the better. Possibilities exist. Belief in this better future sustains us. It keeps us from collapsing in despair. It infuses our bodies with the healing rhythms of positivity. It motivates us to tap into our signature capabilities and inventiveness to turn things around. It inspires us to build a better future.”

 

Psychologist C. S. Snyder, in his book “The Psychology of Hope: You Can Get There from Here” defined hope as a “motivational construct” that allows one to believe in positive outcomes, conceive of goals, develop strategies, and muster the motivation to implement them.  While not actively studied until the last twentieth century, it has become apparent that we need hope not only in times of chaos and turmoil but all the time.

 

I believe the Beatitudes to be a commentary of life.  We all will face despair, grief, will feel meek, will hunger and thirst for righteousness.  We also, hopefully, will strive to be peacemakers, be merciful, and pure in heart.  At some point in our lives, we all feel the thorns of persecution.  Hope is the antidote to all of those negative feelings and the motivation for the positive ones.   Perhaps poet Emily Dickinson describes it best:  “Hope is the thing with feathers; that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all.”

*In case you are wondering how Lent can have forty days and Palm Sunday means there are still seven days left in Lent, yet I am at day 39…. In this counting, because many readers are of different faiths, I count each day straightforward.  In the “forty” days of Lent, Sundays are not included in the count.