Here, the Crysalis encapsulates today’s problem. When natural philosophy was effectively superseded by objective science, we set off on a track that has inexorably led to today’s loss of wisdom. It won’t be easy to get back, but without wisdom how can humanity hope to survive long term?
( featured image from Blake’s Ancient of Days, by Frank Vincentz, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)
Before there was something called “Science” (with a capital “S”, and which is only of relatively recent coinage) it was called “natural philosophy”. That name itself is significant because it indicates that science and philosophy were not considered separate specialist activities and departments, but a unity — the unity of the quest for knowledge with the pursuit of wisdom.
I suppose that to some people the theme of Connie Zweig’s book The Inner Work of Age: Shifting from Role to Soul will have no meaning. If we take the view that all life is on the surface, with no interiors, then what could inner work mean for the materialist? If we take what seems to me the sensible viewpoint, that we live in parallel interior and exterior worlds, and that through experience and inner exploration we can become more perfect beings, even align to what it is that led us to be born, then this book could have a lot of meaning for you.
Connie Zweig suggests that in the later part of life we have the opportunity to realise what our whole life process has been about, potentially becoming Elders and mentors for others. The process of building ego, that constituted the first part of life, evolves into a learning process, an uncovering of the strong ego that we built, to transcend its fundamental selfishness and in the light of our new understanding make a positive contribution aligned with our unique destiny.
This is, of course, aligned with the messages underlying transpersonal psychologies and all the world’s major religions and spiritual teachers, extensively quoted by Connie. She suggests that there are two major processes that we go through – psychological reconciliation with the Shadow (and, I would suggest, any traumas accumulated there), and the movement from dominance by ego to being led by our inner soul/spirit.
For me this was like a revision of many approaches to psychological and spiritual growth that I have become aware of over a lifetime, and important reminders they are.
Becoming reconciled with our own failures and ultimate death are of course a part of this process – death being the great taboo in a surface-oriented culture, death being the end of ego.
Important to me was the emphasis on achieving wisdom, and moving towards the role of the wise Elder, and the importance of this role in society – a role forgotten in many countries including my own – where the upper house of Parliament is apparently misused to reward those giving money to Parties, rather than being the place for the most wise members of society to reflect on new developments.
An important book on an important subject, which is of course outside the current mainstream, but no less important for that.
This post by Jane Fritz gives an excellent summary of some key aspects of the ancient wisdom of the indigenous peoples of the earth, who knew how to live sustainably on the earth. Our current societies in all the countries of the world have so much to learn from this.
Let’s start with the humility to recognise that such earlier generations actually have much wisdom to offer us about living a good and sustainable life. It is the hubris and arrogance of modernity to discount the value of this wisdom, in favour of modern more materialistic concerns. It is apparent that this is leading to massive destruction of our natural environment, soiling the only nest we have, so to speak.
Today is not just the third Monday of my postings for National Indigenous History Month, it’s also National Indigenous Peoples Day. It’s a day for celebrating Indigenous knowledge and culture, and Indigenous contributions to our planet. [You can find some wonderful pictures of powwows and community celebrations that take place on this day in non-COVID times at my last year’s post: Celebrating National Indigenous Peoples Day in Canada.]
In recognition of this special Day, I’d like to focus on lessons non-Indigenous people would be well advised to take from the teachings, traditions, and beliefs of Indigenous Peoples in Canada and indeed Indigenous Peoples around the world since time immemorial.
Lesson 1: Sustainability.
From the Assembly of First Nations (AFN):
For countless generations, the First Nations and Inuit people have had unique, respectful and sacred ties to the land that sustained them. They do not claim ownership of the Earth…
Stories of the origins of Christianity and the myths of Jesus are an ongoing fascination.
There are two competing visions of Jesus, well articulated in this post from Medium (limited free access).
There is the Jesus of Faith, which was created by the Roman Church when it became an institution linked to political power through the Emperor Constantine. Personal salvation comes through faith.
Then there is the Jesus of Wisdom, understood by many early Christians, suppressed as heretics by Church dogma, leading to inquisitions and crusades. This Jesus was rediscovered through the Gospel of Thomas, found in 1945 at Nag Hammadi, probably of earlier origin than the canonical gospels. Personal revelation comes through seeking within. This ‘gnostic’ Jesus shows the spiritual possibilities of a Christianity that was and could have been.Read More »
I’ve always been drawn to philosophy, as the love of wisdom, read quite a few books over many years, but never been drawn to studying it in an academic way. This post by maylynno expresses well many of the benefits of reading or studying philosophy. In short, it makes us wiser.
When I am asked what I do for living and I answer that I am a philosophy teacher: usually I get rolled back eyes or some couple of seconds shock. These reactions are also followed by this question: do you read people’s minds? Can you analyze a person?
A philosopher is not a medium, nor a psychotherapist. Even the latter can’t objectively analyze a person from a glimpse. Let’s rewind and define philosophy and why it is needed urgently.
Philosophy is simple yet so difficult. It is a rational discipline that starts with astonishment which leads to questioning. The reason why I mentioned astonishment is because one is never able to question anything as long as everything seems normal. Questioning is critical thinking, bringing us all the way to conceptualization and redefinitions.
After this tiny introduction, here are the benefits of reading (or studying) philosophy:
What are we to make of the rise of elected leaders who appear to be unsuited to the task, being driven by personal ego aggrandisement and the desire for personal power and gain? They seem to be everywhere. They appear to be individuals without self-insight, with little psychological or spiritual development, hence no wisdom, but often with great cunning and charisma, the ability to appeal to large segments of the population.
Voting appears to become more like a popularity contest than one in which the electorate consider what would be best for their country. The popular media love to play this game, as divisive as possible, it makes for good copy.
Serious and complex issues get over-simplified and trivialised. Politicians align their speech with their party line, and people no longer believe or even hear what they say.
The real issues, like climate breakdown, like social care in the UK, are first denied and then deferred to a later date.
This is no way to run a human society, we need all the wisdom we can muster to address the drastic challenges facing our societies.
Within our human collective we know how to make wise individuals, we know how to make learning organisations, we have many exemplars of wise leaders. None of these involve big egos, but involve people engaged with personal insight, growth and transformation.
Perhaps these big egos are there to provide just the counter-example we need!
The posts on Aperture of Brahma are simple yet challenging. Consider the latest one here. I will quote and comment on some of the points made.
By holding a mental picture in mind, we gradually but surely draw the thing nearer to us.
So if we focus on fear, rather than a positive vision, this draws the things we fear nearer.
Difficulty and obstacle are necessary for wisdom and spiritual growth.
As a society we are presented with great difficulties in these times. These challenges are encouraging us, individually and collectively, towards wisdom and growth.
We may be of the most service by keeping an open mind. Be interested in the race not the goal; the pursuit not the possession.
Visualization facilitates feeling. Even during difficulty and obstacle, we can maintain a positive mental state by feeling positive. An open mind is a mind without judgement or assumptions.
It is the process of engaging positively with the challenges we face it is important that we do not to rush to judgement or stick to preconceived notions. For example, we should seek to ensure a positive outcome to the ongoing Brexit process – perhaps visualising what would satisfy most people, rather than just sticking to our preconceived notions of the ‘right’ outcome and fears of the ‘wrong’ one (oh dear, this is not easy!).
We do not have to laboriously shovel the darkness out. All that is required is to turn the light on… by adjusting our thoughts/directing our attention to an ideal state. By allowing our thoughts to focus on loss, disease, and disaster, we facilitate the maintenance of self destruction.
Focusing on a positive vision, linked to the good, the beautiful, the true, doing what we can, where we are now. This is the way of hope, as opposed to the self-defeating path of fear.
We can see wisdom in many places. Thank you, Aperture of Brahma.
Picture of light on Grand Canyon from Hopi Point by Tuxyso / Wikimedia Commons
What does it mean to thrive, or to flourish in life? Arianna Huffington’s book Thrive aims to answer this.
During heady days of spiritual exploration in the early 1980s, we attended a workshop by Tai Chi Master Chungliang Al Huang. At the workshop was a young and obviously intelligent lady, a bit pushy, Arianna Stassinopoulos, along with her mother. This was the lady who later became Arianna Huffington, co-founder and leading light of The Huffington Post. Arianna is also the author of a number of books. Thrive was published in 2014, so I’m a bit late catching up with it.
Thrive basically summarises all those good spiritual and personal growth ideas that were around in the early 1980s and which have been put into exemplary practice in Arianna’s hugely successful life – successful in terms of her influence on the world.
What is true well-being?
What does it mean to have wisdom?
Where is the sense of wonder in our lives?
How important is it to give, as well as to receive?
These are the subjects of the main chapters of this book. Much of it you will be familiar with, some of it may be new to you. What I can say is that it’s well written, makes much sense, and says things that are worth saying. Great stuff!
Interestingly, Arianna’s key inspiration was her mother – an almost obsessively ‘giving’ person, as was evident in that 1980s workshop!
T.S.Eliot had a way with words, a way of saying what is just beyond what can actually be said with words. Thus it is in the following, which says so much…
“The endless cycle of idea and action, Endless invention, endless experiment, Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness; Knowledge of speech, but not of silence; Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance, All our ignorance brings us nearer to death, But nearness to death no nearer to God.
Where is the Life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries Bring us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.”
Do we just learn more and more facts until eventually, we know so much that we are inevitably wiser? Look around you, the highly respected academics, advisers and some of their preposterous theories? Clever maybe, but not wise.
Do we just gain more experience of the world, of doing things, of managing people, getting our way? Look around you, the top businessmen and politicians – are they managing the world wisely? Cunning maybe, but not wise – although there are remarkable exceptions with obvious wisdom: Mandela, Havel, King, Gandhi… but the list soon runs out.
Do we become judges, so that we weigh complex matters of law in the balance? The judgement of Solomon? Well actually judges seem so constrained by the laws they administer and their ‘sentencing guidelines’, do they actually have the room to be wise? Whatever happened to natural justice?
Do we just live our lives and relate honestly to other people, making the best contribution we can? Think of the neighbours, friends, the family, people you meet shopping? Well a few maybe a, but not in general.
Do we follow a religion and in so doing become good and wise? History shows a lot of examples of religious people doing the exact opposite of wise, but again there have been highly respected exemplars, such as the occasional pope and saint.
Do we simply wait until we get older and become wiser? Well many older people just become encrusted with habitual behaviours, so no guarantees there.
Look at it psychologically. From childhood we develop the psychological ego, which enables us to function in the world. Along with that we develop facility in language, which enables us to be ‘educated’ and to rationalise everything, but tends to distance us from the reality of experience. This enables us to function in modern societies.
However, I suggest that rationalising and language are not the route to wisdom. Wisdom comes from perceiving a situation in its essential whole and doing what is needed for the whole (ie not for the ego), which may be nothing. Rational analysis may be relevant, but will not provide the answer.
So to be wise we must have moved in some degree beyond that attachment to the rationalising ego. In fact we must be operating from our true inner selves.
Evidence suggests that people following some sort of spiritual path, perhaps involving techniques such as meditation which help to see and then detach from the ego, will eventually get more in touch with that inner self – and that is the route to wisdom. This is usually, but not always, a long process – hence there is some association of wisdom with older age. Indeed the infirmities that beset the body as it ages bring the receptive person right up against the illusions of ego, ‘encouraging’ this process.
So, indeed, as in traditional societies, ‘elders’ can be wise – hence the wisdom of the World Council of Elders initiative.
[Looking at our own UK parliament, the famous unwritten constitution has at its heart the ‘House of Lords’, which performs a valuable service in providing a leavening of (hopefully) wisdom to the more youthful follies of the government of the day and the House of Commons. Shame then, that despite some recent progress, key criteria for Party Leaders topping up the population of ‘Lords’ appear to continue to be political subservience and money donation, rather than wisdom. ]
One could almost say that the purpose of human life itself is to go through this process of ego development and then ego dissolution, to become a truly wise person – to make the best contribution to an increasingly wise society.
America in the form of the USA was once the hope of the world. The founders of the US constitution tried to create a new form of government that would be suited to governing this is new virgin land. They recognised the problems of factionalism that had blighted the old continent of Europe and other civilizations of the world, leading to needless conflict and wars. They were inspired by the hope of a new form of governance that would reach the needs of the people in a way that addressed and encouraged both the inner development of the person and the outer development of society. Their motivation was essentially spiritual, founded on the idea of the spiritual development of man and mankind.
But of course there soon emerged evil, as the founders knew there would, it being the nature of man. Major evils from the beginning were the destruction of the indigenous Indian society and culture and the institution of slavery of the black man. Other forms of evil appeared along the way, such as the multiple needless wars America engaged in and a frequent stepping away from its ideals, such as recent examples of torture and secret surveillance. We might also add the excess materialism and the consumer society, spread from America around the world, which encourages focus on the trivial and ignores that which is most important and of the essence.
The US Constitution, with its checks and balances, was designed to be resistant to the emergence of such evils – recognising that the nature of the highest good is perhaps that it needs to experience evil in order to develop the wisdom to be good.
Today we see the ‘hope of the world’ in disarray with factionalism in the ascendant in the form of the recent interminable conflict across the institutions of government between the two leading political parties, but there is always hope and in this book Joseph Needleman gives us reason for hope.
He takes us on a tour of some of the major figures in the development of the US constitution: Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln. For each he draws out the story of how they were involved, and the spiritual principles that they lived by or at least ensured were followed in the constitution. And how their principles were followed through in the writings of those two eminent Americans Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Reading this book you will gain an understanding not only of the development of the US constitution and the inspiration behind it for creating a new form of society, but also of the essence of the contribution of these and other heroic figures .
And there is inspiration in the idea of a society dedicated to the inner development of its citizens and of society itself. Truly these ideas are the hope of the world, threatened by global warming, resource conflict, overpopulation, species extinction, pollution and all todays ills that modern politics is apparently unable to address effectively.
Sadly, the recent emergence of the Donald Trump presidential campaign suggests there are still more lessons to be learned before the US can reclaim the spiritual leadership of the world that is sorely needed. The election of President Obama showed that the desire is there in the hearts of many, and there may be disappointment at what his administration has been able to achieve in practice. We need the US to resist the siren calls of Trump and elect a leader who might prepare the way for a new generation of more spiritually inspired leaders.