Willful Ignorance of the Soul

I was in conversation today – or perhaps it was yesterday, time seems to be moving at such a strange pace that I’ve not been able to keep up in my own mind – where someone told me that the topic of religious education and talk of philosophical concepts was a waste of time. Why, I asked was it a waste of time and the response was as follows:

“Well I don’t believe in it and it’s all weird.” – X

“What you’ve just said there is exactly why this sort of thing is needed.” – Z

It makes me wonder, whether or not this kind of willful ignorance of not only the culture and beliefs of others but in fact the self is indicative of a wider pandemic of ignorance. Let’s think about it for a moment. This cynicism or rather rejection of exploration of even the most basic of philosophical thought is perhaps a dangerous indictment of the kind of society we are all contributing to. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not just faithful in universe but also the principles of science that frame it. Take Prof. Massimo Pugliucci, one of the most famous modern stoics is an atheist and scientist, showing for me that there is room in the grand church of stoic philosophy for a wide range of thought.

It was in the aforementioned conversation that animism was the subject of discussion at the time, being the ancient beliefs of the Aboriginal peoples. The lack of willingness to learn and receptiveness to new ideas was oddly disturbing to me and I felt a irrational flush of panic for the future. Yet, I stopped myself, what could this snippet tell me about the human condition other than in that moment the content of the discussion was dry for that particular age group and those present were not the most receptive to ideas at the best of times whether they be of a philosophical nature or not.

Despite this good catch by the stoic voice, there is still some thought to be put into this. Has it become such a stigmatised thing in the West to have faith whether it be communal or personal? Between the extremists and the charlatans perhaps it’s not had the greatest press recently, to have a faith of some sorts that is. I keep in my mind what the stranger in Leeds told me nearly a month ago:

“Don’t be religious, be faithful.”

Or could it be that I am being too harsh on the uninitiated to this kind of reflection. It’s such a personal journey, who am I to judge anyone’s reaction or response to this kind of information. For some it comes so natural for others it’s alien. I suppose a diet of Cartoon Network isn’t so much conducive to philosophical thought as Bible studies which definitely aren’t for everyone – in fact may be too much for some who seem to take books of love and compassion such as the Bible and Quran and find hatred, which in my opinion says more about the reader than the text. Strange then, I had the same education of Justice League and The Batman yet still find myself here questioning here where things changed.

Perhaps it is my own wilful ignorance of expectation of others and my expectation of others which is causing a moral panic within my own soul about the fate of humankind. A kind of strange hubris of philosophy and I need to learnt to keep in mind, rather than postulate and diagnose the world with apathy to keep in mind a core forgotten tenet of stoicism:

“Teach or tolerate.”

Perhaps, in the end, we all should.

Z3N0

Back To Work

So I decided to come back to work, not in the typical sense but in perhaps the only that matters: the work of philosophy on here. I’d taken a bit of a break, the summer and trips keeping me away from the internet or away from tangible insight.

I took myself to Leeds on a city break and indulged at two fantastic restaurants, Livin’ Italy and Little Tokyo (the address of both found in the postscript). The atmosphere of both places was fantastic, both rustic and true to their cultures and entirely authentic in cuisine. Yet it was not the lobster at Livin’ Italy that I will remember forever, nor the yaki udon of Little Tokyo but instead the words of a man on a street.

His name was Oliver and he stopped me to talk to me about Jesus. He spoke to me about first of all himself and how that he came to the very real realization that material things mean nothing in the end as we are all born the same way and die the same. He spoke about giving it all up to follow his heart and follow the fire of life, a fire you could clearly see in his eyes and cheeks. I was glued to the spot as he spoke, something telling me that I should listen.

“Have faith, be a believer but don’t be religious.”

It reminded me of the words of the Tao Te Ching and the scripture that says that the sage is both of the world and not. He invited me to his church, to experience what he called an “alive” experience as opposed to a “dead” one of human rites and traditions with no real meaning past the impressions of time and culture.

“We are all running in circles. We smoke, we drink, we go on to the next sexual partner after another to fill a void within ourselves. But we are all looking for the same thing,” he says, as he points to the grey sky of the early evening.

While the perspective was entirely Abrahamic, it seemed to light a fire in this man and seemed to leave a lasting impression on me and the wisdom of his words ring true in the most fundamental way. My own words were less convincing to a friend on the interconnectedness of the universe and that we are all expressions of the same life. Yet Oliver, with his hours in the main high street of Leeds sharing his fire and light with those who spoke to him in a world of sceptics, was something entirely inspiring to me. His words were not of hate or damnation or hellfire but instead of peace and harmony and finding serenity. The cynic inside me asks whether or not that was the next topic of conversation as he did allude to dark forces – a topic for another day – yet in that moment, it seemed like where we stood in the bustling city that there was a unique peace.

He gave me his phone number, perhaps he gave it to many people, but suggested that if I ever feel the need to talk for advice on finding my connection to the divine and my own spirit, to call him. One day I might but the most likely thing is that I won’t. Yet those 11 digits on the back of a flyer is are on the shelf next to Epictetus, Aurelius and Seneca just in case.

Z3N0

P.S.

As promised, my recommendations of places to eat in Leeds

https://littletokyoleeds.co.uk/

https://livinitaly.com/

As someone with allergies, both places were extremely accommodating as a bonus.

Enter Epictetus

So those of you who have been reading or following my journey thus far will have noticed a bit of an old habit of returning to Marcus Aurelius when in need of wisdom or soundbite. Moving onwards, while perhaps I should persevere with Seneca, I’m becoming a little bogged down in the details of Roman politics for my liking and shall be changing course. Like the title suggests: enter Epictetus.

I was out for lunch with a family member today discussing the usual things you do with family being primarily career and starting a family of my own and the question of when either things will ever come together. In my initial flicking through of Epictetus, I landed on a section that, another gift from Universe, spoke to me almost directly through the centuries. It’s a fresh page yet to be covered in my pencil scribbles, a reprieve only until I remember to get pencils next time I’m at the shop.

“Everyone has preconceptions. And one preconception does not contradict another. I mean, who of us does not assume that what is good is beneficial and choice, in all cases to be desired and pursued? Who of us does not assume that justice is fair and appropriate? So where does conflict come in? In the application of preconceptions to particular cases. One person, for instance, will say, ‘Well done, there’s a brave man,’ while another says, ‘He isn’t brave, he’s just deranged.’ This is how conflict originates and it is the source of difference amongst Jews, Syrians, Egyptians and Romans. They don’t dispute that what is holy should be preferred above everything else and in every case pursued; but they argue, for example, over whether it is holy or unholy to eat pork.” – Discourses and Selected Writings, 1.22

What we seek is the same from person to person: happiness and enlightenment. Yet preconceptions from person to person dictate the road taken to those goals or who we go with. It’s the similar argument of to be vaccinated or not to be with either camp declaring bravery or madness. Similarly, the heart citing bravery for clinging onto concepts of togetherness with someone while the brain scoffs – that one being a conflict of preconceptions rather than contradiction. Both want the same thing – harmony not chaos.

There is no chaos, there is harmony.

Through preconceptions, we dictate, much like the various religions what is holy or unholy to us and in those dications, we are collectivist. Yet in the finer details, the individual experience and impression is absolute law. When we see this, in all of us, in all things, we can witness the greater harmony of the Whole and see a fuller picture of a united humanity.

In our own lives, we all strive for the same core things that fall on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: physiological needs, safety needs, belongingness and love, esteem, and self-actualisation. The finer points, those nitty gritty things in the abstract are entirely arbitrary to the grander scheme of things. But in those points, we carve parts of life out for ourselves and make it our own with the stories and scars that leave an impression on us.

So, to answer the question that I dodged from my grandmother:

No things didn’t workout with person X, and I am in fact losing interest in career Y, but my needs are well on their way of being fulfilled all the same. Preconceptions of success that are not my own preconceptions have no bearing on that. Why would they have bearing on anyone? Of course that’s easy to say, with people experience enormous pressure to achieve someone else’s ideas of success not being a uncommon story. Then we ask ourselves, what are our preconceptions? What are our ideals? Who are we? Who am I?

Ask yourself.

Go on.

Z3N0

Equalizer

Even after my little outburst on Friday, I’ve found a great equalizer and the rebalancing of my social environment. It was almost as if the great push I experienced was pushing me in a direction that led to a greater understanding of myself, the people around me and even strangers who I have become friends with. Maybe it’s not the most amazing of revelations but when it’s tangibly happening around you, it’s nice to see. Even in the most minor way possible – it’s a sense of calm through my own perspective. It’s a feeling of support from the universe that we can all experience in one way or another. This strange equalizer, crafted a situation where my own abstinence of certain habits were broken and I indulged in the company of it. Yet days before I was set on a life of pure ascetism which leads me to take notice of the will of the Tao nudging me back to balance: of both indulgence and absolution.

“He who tiptoes cannot stand; he who strides cannot walk.” Tao Te Ching, Chapter 24

In a sense is the Universe (God, Yahweh, Tao) ultimately an actor for benevolent balance? In all beings balance means different things but ultimately one who is balanced is a still lake and at peace. I was talking to a Muslim friend some time ago who told me that Islam is the way of the middle path – this of course sounds familiar to me. In both Abrahamic ideologies and the ever more ancient Asian teachings such as Buddhism and Taoism and Jainism (I’m excluding Hinduism here as I’m not educated enough to comment) balance seems to be the goal. Balance in oneself is to be in tune with The Way and a state of living nirvana.

Was it a coincidence that in his philosophies, Zeno of Citium – my moniker namesake -, founded a school of such balance? Neither overly indulgent like the Epicureans or wholly ascetic like the Cynics: a duty to the natural order of things and others and balance within the self. Perhaps I’m oversimplifying: a very real possibility.

“The Whole is either a god – then all is well: or if purposeless – some sort of random arrangement of atoms or molecules – you should not be without purpose yourself.” Meditations 9.28

The purpose I find myself working for is balance. To welcome the great equalizers and be grateful for them. While not everyone will find purpose in being a still lake in the perception of chaos, it still stands to reason that everyone should be grateful for the equalizers and opportunities all the same. I think perception plays a big part in being able to observe the things that create equality of forces in our environment. Even in the most rationalist sense, our bodies seek balance in the form of homeostasis as a biological imperative.

“Calm acceptance of what comes from a cause outside of yourself, and justice in all activity of your own causation.” Meditations 9.31

Lady Justice’s scales have to be balanced, don’t they? Balance the needs of the body, balance the needs of the mind, balance the needs of the soul: you will find the Way, the middle path, whatever that may be.

Basically: have a balanced diet of life. Too much cake or too little cake does no one any good.

Z3N0

Pilgrimage

I’ve spoken before about visiting the Kaaba, the Basilica and the pagoda of Cebu in some Abrahamic-meets-Taoist adventure.

It occurs to me that I want to do this but I don’t want to go alone. Isn’t it strange? That feeling of knowing that self-sufficiency isn’t enough. Is it anxiety or is it something else? I was thinking about this today as I sat alone at lunch in the little workroom making notes in Meditations as I normally do. While I would be enriched and in awe of these places, where does my learning take me if I don’t have someone to share it with? Where does learning take any of us? Or perhaps it’s far simpler than that and this pilgrimage I want is less of a pilgrimage and more of a grand adventure inspired by some Doctor Who forgotten episode.

This need for independence and self-sufficiency that I’ve strived for all my life is all well and good yet in the face of real adventure, real enlightenment, I find myself in need of a companion.

“Pick me up and throw me where you will. Wherever I land I shall keep the good within me happy – satisfied, that is, if attitude and action follow its own constitution.”Meditations 8.45

In a way, despite this yearning, this is a solitary mission. By removing the judgement of such yearning imposed upon myself, I remove the thought and by removing the thought I remove the feeling. But there is no feeling – just a deep vacuole where something should be. I wonder how many others feel this or have felt this.

“All things are the same: familiar in experience, transient in time, sordid in substance. Everything now is as it is was in the days of those we have buried” Meditations 9.14

In the time of the Spanish Flu, I suppose there was such yearning for touch and connection. In the time of plagues past from 1346 to even further back in 165, was there such a feeling?

Or perhaps it’s more cosmic than that. The twin flame school of thought describes that all souls are made of two parts that require coming together to become balanced (how very Taoist). Perhaps this is my own souls way of telling me in feeling rather than words that both parts of me needs to go on this journey and the experience is so important to the wholeness of my being that I need to wait until both parts are joined.

Obviously, I’m not going bloody anywhere for the time being which something we all have to deal with. In the meantime, I’ll plan for lighter trips, staycations around the UK until the time is right. Of course, I won’t be able to find pizza like I would in Rome in Whitby but I suppose the fish and chips in Rome wouldn’t be quite the same either.

For now, this particular pilgrim is perfectly happy with waiting, with chicken and chips and Coronation Street.

Z3N0