The Ideal in the West

 

This is the site of the podcast and transcripts for The Ideal in the West. The aim of this project is to bring to people all over the world an appreciation not only of the philosophical tradition of the Ideal, but also the realization that it is not an abstract theory–it is the underlying Reality and the source of all love, beauty and beneficence. This will be an intellectual adventure and a spiritual travelogue–no prior experience required!

For books related to the Ideal, click here.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

Posted in History, Philosophy, Spirituality | Comments Off on The Ideal in the West

The Hierarchy of Law

 

I’ve written before on the existence of hierarchies, but here I would like to take it a step further.  Much is made of the “differing beliefs” of religious systems, but at their core all religions affirm a belief in the brotherhood of all people under the fatherhood of the One (okay, God).  (Read more.)

Posted in History, Literature, Philosophy, Spirituality | Comments Off on The Hierarchy of Law

Homeric Hymn (7) to Dionysus

 

A meditation on some similarities between this poem and the Homeric Odyssey.  Read the page here.

Posted in Literature, Philosophy, Spirituality | Comments Off on Homeric Hymn (7) to Dionysus

We Are Not Amused

 

This saying, attributed to Queen Victoria, is perhaps more meaningful than we know.  Although dictionaries dispute it, it seems one could see an etymology for amuse that means a=”not” + muse=”muse.”  “Without a muse.”  This is what happens when we are just in a state of superficial entertainment, seeing only the surface of things.  When we are “not without a muse,” we are more connected to source of things, to our own creative power and that of the One.

Posted in History, Literature, Philosophy, Spirituality | Comments Off on We Are Not Amused

Judgment of Paris/Garden of Eden

 

I’ve written before on the myth of “The Judgment of Paris.”  Here is the main quote:

Briefly it is this: a wedding celebration for Peleus and Thetis is attended by all the gods and Very Important Mortals except one–Eris, the goddess of discord and strife, who as a guest tended to be as we would say today, a bummer.  So true to character, she takes her revenge by tossing into the proceedings an apple on which is inscribed kallistēi, meaning “for the most beautiful.”  So true to their character, this sets up a competition among three of the goddesses in attendance: Hera, wife of Zeus; Athena, patron goddess of Athens; and Aphrodite herself.  Zeus is asked to judge, but, being wise, recuses himself in favor of the mortal Paris, who, not being so wise, chooses Aphrodite who has implied to him as a reward she will give him the most beautiful mortal woman–Helen, wife of the Spartan king Menelaus.  So we see where this is going–Paris abducts her to Troy and precipitates the events recounted in Homer’s Iliad.  Seen metaphorically, it is this theft of beauty that is in a sense the “original sin” of man, and which plunges him into prolonged discord and war.  Somewhere Eris is cackling.

Now some of the “original sin” parallels with this myth and that of the Garden of Eden are pretty evident.  We start off with a scene of unity and happiness, but a being embodying Strife (Eris/Satan) comes along with an apple (from the Garden of the Hesperides in the Greek myth) and plunges the race into misery.  (The question of who created this Strife Being and why is one that doesn’t seem to get asked.)  But the temptation in Genesis is fairly obvious–eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil–that is, duality.  The choice presented to Paris is rather more subtle, I think and bears some looking into.

There are several partial versions of this myth, and one has that Paris’s mother Hecuba, wife of Priam, king of Troy, had a prophetic dream tying him to the destruction of Troy while pregnant, and he was taken to be exposed, a common way of getting rid of unwanted children back then.  He survived though by being nursed by a bear, raised as a shepherd, and later, after defeating his brothers at boxing, was welcomed, or at least allowed, back into the family.  Big mistake.

Fast forward to the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, a mortal man and a goddess, representing a unity between the human and the divine.  Again, quickly, the snubbed goddess Eris tosses in an apple inscribed καλλίστῃ (kallistéi–for the fairest, dative case, so you know my study of Greek is doing some good), which sets off a competition among three goddesses.  (Still the females who cause the conflict, I might point out, but one that gave many artists over the years a good reason to paint the female nude.)

Michele Rocca, The Judgment of Paris, 1710-20

Michele Rocca, The Judgment of Paris, 1710-20

Anyway, Paris has to judge which is fairest among Hera, wife of Zeus, king of the gods; Athena, goddess of war and wisdom, and Aphrodite, goddess of beauty, love, and, well, sex.  Basically, he is presented with three choices:

  1. From Hera–unlimited power and glory (kleos), which as the wife of Zeus is no doubt hers to confer.  Some sources say she offered him the kingship of Europe and Asia.
  2. From Athena–skill in war and great wisdom.  An odd combination, I know, but the Greeks were known for that.  Anyway, think wisdom.
  3. From Aphrodite–well, beauty, love and sex, in the person of Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world, but the current wife of King Menelaus of Sparta.

So it’s worth asking: which would you choose?  Each has its divine aspect: power, wisdom, beauty.  But also each has its appeal to ego, to the ownership of the forgoing: glory, war, sex.  Could you distinguish between them, or wish to?  Well, I might point out (to myself as well) that we are in fact faced with this choice, this discrimination (krinein), at each moment of the day.  Let’s take this out of the realm of the mythological/theoretical: it’s about human choice.  Do I choose toward the divine or the personal?  For us or for me?  For the Good or the pleasureable?

We are each of us on a hero’s quest.  We are each of us an Odysseus trying to make our way home to the constant lighthouse of our Penelope and the Fatherland.  What do we do when we have to choose between giving up to the dark forces of the Cyclops or escaping to carry on?  What do we do when we are tempted by the pleasures of Circe or Calypso?  What do we do when we have to choose between Skylla and Charybdis?  Let us be able to remember these words of Plotinus:

“Let us flee then to the beloved Fatherland”: this is the soundest counsel. But what is this flight? How are we to gain the open sea? For Odysseus is surely a parable to us when he commands the flight from the sorceries of Circe or Calypso- not content to linger for all the pleasure offered to his eyes and all the delight of sense filling his days.
The Fatherland to us is There whence we have come, and There is The Father.
What then is our course, what the manner of our flight? This is not a journey for the feet; the feet bring us only from land to land; nor need you think of coach or ship to carry you away; all this order of things you must set aside and refuse to see: you must close the eyes and call instead upon another vision which is to be waked within you, a vision, the birth-right of all, which few turn to use.

Posted in History, Literature, Philosophy, Spirituality | Comments Off on Judgment of Paris/Garden of Eden

Denton J. Snider

 

I am pretty safe in assuming that this name is not familiar to you, although it should be.

Denton J. Snider (1841-1925)

Denton J. Snider (1841-1925)

For me, it’s one of the great things about the internet that old books and authors can be given new life, and that’s what happened with Snider (1841-1925).  Apparently pretty well-known in his day, he had fallen into obscurity, but recently turned up on my Kindle as the author of a number of books on the Homeric epics, Shakespeare–even Emerson.  Sounds like my kind of guy.  Although I must say that as of this moment I’ve read only his Commentary on the Odyssey and that long stretches of it did make my eyes glaze over.  However, I think he does have a good sense of it as an allegory, and in fact has interpreted the passage in which Menelaus describes to Telemachus his encounter with Eidothea (Image Goddess) and Proteus (Before God) while in Egypt in a way that had not occurred to me.  Here is an excerpt:

The etymology of the names of these two deities indicates their meaning and relation. The grand dualism of the world is clearly suggested: Appearance and Substance, the Transitory and the Eternal, that which seems and that which is. Menelaus had gone astray, he had neglected the Gods, he had followed Appearance, Delusion, Negation; the result could only be death. But even Appearance points to something beyond itself, something true and eternal. So Eidothea suggests Proteus, who is her parent; that is, she is the manifestation of his being. She is the many, he is the one underneath and in the many; she is change, he is the permanent in all change. He may well be designated as her father, whose transformations she knows and declares. These transformations are called his tricks or stratagems, the shapes he puts on in the world of Appearance; they are indeed Eidothea herself along with her voice telling what is higher than herself.

When this one first principle is clearly revealed, then all is revealed; the future becomes transparent, and the distant becomes near. But you must hold fast to the one true Proteus; he will turn to fire–hold fast; he will become running water–hold fast; he will change to tree, beast, reptile–hold fast. Then he will show himself in his right shape, and will speak the fact. Hold fast; the One is under all, and is a God, who will lift the veil of Space and Time from the visage of Truth. But unquestionably the man in his desperate struggle must never forget the injunction. Hold fast to old Proteus.

In other words, don’t let appearances deceive you–hold onto what doesn’t change and you will find the truth.

 

Posted in History, Literature, Philosophy, Spirituality | Comments Off on Denton J. Snider

Suitors of the Mind

 

The word “suitor” today has a very archaic aura to it, rather like the “gentleman caller” of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie (1945), old-fashioned even then.  It recalls a time of ritualized dating behaviors when young ladies received young gentlemen who came to press their suits (no doubt in pressed suits) with hopes that they would receive the lady’s hand in marriage.  The entire process would be overseen by the young lady’s parents who spent their time sizing up the young man’s prospects and intentions.  As a way of choosing a spouse, this ritual has fallen by the wayside, and it makes it rather hard to relate to the “suitors” or “wooers” who are pursuing Penelope’s hand in marriage.  But if we look at the allegorical function of suitors, their function becomes clearer.

Penelope and the Suitors, John William Waterhouse, 1912.

Penelope and the Suitors, John William Waterhouse, 1912.

In line 106 of the Odyssey we meet the suitors for the first time.  The word Homer uses for them is μνηστῆρας, mnesteras, which has a secondary connotation in the Middle Liddell dictionary of calling to mind, mindful of, derived from the root *mne.  This is of course the same root found in mnemonic (an aid to memory) or anamnesis (Plato’s term for “not not remembering”).  So they can be seen allegorically as thoughts, as “mind-stuff” and as I’ve written before as “that raucous internal monologue that provides a running commentary to our lives–making judgments, feeling superior, feeling inferior, criticizing, gossiping, nursing grudges, becoming angry and jealous, always looking for an advantage.” This would be forgivable frat boy kind of behavior except that, as Telemachus states, “they with feasting consume my substance: ere long they will bring me, too, to ruin.”  (Od. 1:251)  So these thoughts are not benign, as they would have us believe, but eat away at our substance, our consciousness, and keep us from realizing who we really are.

When we first meet Telemachus in line 112, he is “sitting among them,” while trying to imagine his father coming home and reclaiming his kingdom.  I know the feeling.

Posted in History, Literature, Philosophy, Spirituality | Comments Off on Suitors of the Mind

Apocalypso

 

In one of the CHS discussions on the Odyssey, Gregory Nagy makes an interesting point about the name Calypso (or Καλυψώ), about 40 minutes in.  We moderns tend to associate the word with Caribbean music (“Harry Belafonte with his shirt open to the navel.”) and/or the ship used by Jacques Cousteau for his research on the oceans, or John Denver’s song about it–happy, life-affirming stuff.  And pretty much all the art that’s been produced

Hendrick van Balen, "Odysseus as a Guest of the Nymph Calypso"

Hendrick van Balen, “Odysseus as a Guest of the Nymph Calypso”

on the subject depicts Calypso’s island of Ogygia as an erotic wonderland.  What’s not to like?

Well, as Nagy goes on to say, and I’m paraphrasing here, if you sleep with goddesses you may wake up dead.  The root “Cal” (Καλ) is related to the English “Hell,” and the whole name basically means “hidden” or “concealed,”  and has to do with deprivation.(Apocalypse, its opposite, means “revelation.”)  He draws a parallel with Calypso and the River Styx in Hades.

While all the other heroes from Troy have achieved their nostos (some with better results than others), “Odysseus alone, filled with longing for his return and for his wife, did the queenly nymph Calypso, that bright goddess, keep back in her hollow caves, yearning that he should be her husband.”  (Odyssey, 1:13-16)  Just as Penelope is dealing with the raft of suitors wanting to marry her, Odysseus has his own suitor in Calypso, who in a way is devouring his substance.  So this is a long stretch of time when Odysseus has a memory of Ithaka and his fatherland, but not the knowledge needed to get there.  To me this represents one of the plateaus we can achieve on the spiritual quest, what Brian Hines calls “Lake Partway,” where we may think we’re doing pretty well, where we can really feel superior to others who are content not even to try.  But it is only a plateau, not the peak, and to reach that we have to give up everything we think we know about ourselves and be prepared to get washed up like flotsam on some other unknown shore.

 

 

Posted in History, Literature, Philosophy, Spirituality | Comments Off on Apocalypso

Odysseus v. Agamemnon

 

Woodcut_illustration_of_Clytemnestra_and_Aegisthus_murdering_Agamemnon_and_their_subsequent_deaths_at_the_hand_of_Orestes_-_Penn_Provenance_Project

Woodcut illustration of the murder of Agamemnon and the revenge of Orestes. From Wikimedia Commons.

One of the undercurrents or subthemes of The Odyssey is the story of the return of Agamemnon from Troy and his (spoiler alert!) subsequent murder by his wife Clytemnestra, urged on by her lover Aegisthus, who happens to be Agamemnon’s cousin.  (And you thought your family had problems.)  The whole sad tale is of course documented in the Oreseteia trilogy by Aeschylus, which tells this tale as well as the subsequent revenge of Agamemnon’s son Orestes, after whom the trilogy is named.  Despite all the illicit sex and murder, it is actually a plea for a judicial system based on evidence and not on blind revenge.

It serves as a counterpoint to the story of Odysseus’s own nostos (return home) and the parallels and contrasts are instructive.  Unlike Penelope, Clytemnestra has not been faithful during Agamemnon’s absence and in fact has conspired to overthrow him upon his return.  Aegisthus, who is analogous to the suitors, actually is successful in seducing Clytemnestra and overthrowing the rightful king.   And Agamemnon, unlike Odysseus, returns home quickly, ego and military power in place, also with some booty from Troy: a new mistress, Cassandra.  Orestes, corresponding to Telemachus, is then put in the impossible position of avenging his father but at the same time perpetuating the cycle of violence.  So the whole situation shows what happens when the ego is allowed to be put in charge.¹

I think a parallel can also be made with the Analogy of the Cave in Book 7 of Plato’s Republic.  He describes what happens if a prisoner is introduced too quickly to the Reality behind his limited seeing rather than being habituated gradually.  As with Odysseus, time is needed to let go of the illusions about ourselves that we carry around, to prepare our eyes “to look upon the sun itself and see its true nature, not by reflections in water or phantasms of it in an alien setting, but in and by itself in its own place.”  (Republic: 7.516b)  So we need to learn patience, knowing that there is only one One, which is always there, and is the inevitable destination of our return.

 

¹The same forces are at work but to a lesser extent in The Odyssey.  The suitors, or limiting ideas, are killed by Odysseus and their “families” threaten revenge.  But in this case Athena steps in early (she does in the Oresteia also but not until more blood is shed) and brings peace, allowing the reunification to take place.

 

 

Posted in History, Literature, Philosophy, Spirituality | Comments Off on Odysseus v. Agamemnon

More on “The Odyssey”

 

In the last post I listed the sources I’m using to help with my idiosyncratic translation of The Odyssey, and there’s another tool that is proving to be quite useful.  The Center for Hellenic Studies at Harvard, in the very capable hands of Claudia Filos, is producing a series of discussions among members of its faculty–specifically Gregory Nagy, Leonard Muellner, and Douglas Frame–who read through ten or twenty lines and then discuss them.  Sounds kinda boring, and they start out giving the impression that they were dragged into this project kicking and screaming, but once they get going and start riffing off each other they bring out some very interesting stuff.

One idea that emerges is “the grammar of poetry and the poetry of grammar.”  This is something that would be much more apparent in a live performance of The Odyssey, which is not likely to happen for you or me.  But it has to do with the way the language is used to reinforce not only the points about the plot, but also the metaphors and allegorical aspects.  I’ll be summarizing some of the main points of these videos in future posts, but if you have time I’d suggest you go to original videos.  Here’s a link to the first one on the CHS Youtube channel, and the others should be listed nearby.  Enjoy!

Posted in History, Literature, Philosophy, Spirituality | Comments Off on More on “The Odyssey”

Learn the language!

 

A couple of posts ago I mentioned that I was trying to learn Homeric Greek so I could read the Odyssey.  The course I was taking with the nice folks at the Center for Hellenic Studies was great, but was more focused on Attic Greek and was going to cover a lot that, frankly, would not be that useful.  So I decided to “go commando,” if you will, and dive right into translating it for myself.  And only myself, since the world does not need another Odyssey.  I’m actually rather embarrassed by how easy it is: I’m going to the Perseus site at Tufts University, selecting the Odyssey in Greek, and then clicking on each word, which opens a Greek study tool giving the definition.  One still has to figure out parts of speech and declensions and all that, but it saves a great deal of time.

And already I’m starting to see other resonances that are supportive of my view that it is a manual for becoming whole again, that it deals with universal human issues and not just one guy’s trip back home.  Take the first word: ἄνδρα (you can click it yourself and go to the word study tool).  It of course means “man,” as a class of being between animals and gods, and it is usually translated with an article, such as “the man” or “that man.”  One of the differences between Attic and Epic Greek is that the epics are not so big on articles, so they’re often added in translation, but it seems to me that by keeping it as plain old “man,” that it remains more universal–it can be about all mankind and not just Odysseus.  Homer is talking to and about us all as we too struggle to get back to our “native land.”

Also the themes of unity and multiplicity come through clearly, if you are inclined to look for them.  In the first few lines there are several references to πολλὰ which means “many,” and to the idea of going off course, astray.  Odysseus and the Greeks have “destroyed the sacred citadel of Troy”–that is, they

Destroying "the Sacred Citadel of Troy." Anton Mozart, 1573-1625.

Destroying “the Sacred Citadel of Troy.” Anton Mozart, 1573-1625.

have “missed the mark,” committed sacrilege and are therefore destined to wander until they have overcome the “ego” and returned to unity again.

This is not punishment in the standard religious sense of a jealous God taking it out on those who dare break his laws.  It’s just the way things are: karma, justice, balance, cleaning the slate, however you want to characterize it.  If in our arrogance we cut ourselves off from the source of our consciousness and bliss (as do the suitors, whom we will get to) we can’t expect to feel its unity.

No doubt there will be more that is revealed as I continue to study.  Feel free to join in.

Posted in History, Literature, Philosophy, Spirituality | Comments Off on Learn the language!

Iliad v. Odyssey

 

I forget now where I first heard this pointed out, but in keeping with the warlike theme of the Iliad the gatherings in it are almost all about war and planning destruction of the enemy–even if the enemy is another Greek.  All the councils have to with war or adjudicating grievances.  It’s conflict and rage all the way down.  The one glaring exception is the heartbreaking scene with Hector, his wife Andromache (ironically “man of battle”) and their son, a domestic scene of people caught up in a conflict they don’t

800px-Odysseus_Circe_Met_41.83

Odysseus encounters Circe. Krater from the Metropolitan Museum, New York.

understand and don’t really support, but which duty compels them to fulfill.

 

The Odyssey on the other hand, even though it has its share of conflict and bloodshed, has much more to do with social gatherings, feasts, and xenia–even when it turns out badly.  The Odyssey is more about teaching us how to be human, to be welcoming, and ultimately how to be more than human; how to be divine, our true Self.

Posted in History, Literature, Philosophy, Spirituality | Comments Off on Iliad v. Odyssey

It’s All Greek to Me

 

Some time ago I made a resolution to read the Odyssey in Homeric Greek.  The few glimpses I’d had through translations of the levels of meaning, the resonances of the language that just don’t translate made me want to hear what else was there that I was missing.  Psyche–life and soul, for example, and the allegorical nature of so many other elements.

So I bought a DVD course and I’m taking lessons with some very patient people by way of the Center for Hellenic Studies at Harvard, and am gradually starting to get the hang of it, I think.  It is so foreign and yet so familiar.  It is leaving the safety of good old English with its word order and simple constructions and going into a strange world of declensions and genders and aorist tenses.  And yet I’m starting to understand that it is just that complexity that allows for the levels of meaning, the built-in allegories that are missing from so much English poetry–not to mention prose.  It is like stepping into another kind of consciousness; one where connections between things was more evident and unified, where Forms and the Good don’t seem like alien concepts.

So I’m going to hang in there, and I’ll give updates as appropriate.  Wish me luck.

Posted in History, Literature, Philosophy, Spirituality | Comments Off on It’s All Greek to Me

The Journey Back to Where You’ve Been (sic)

 

The Journey Back to Where You Are: Homer's Odyssey as Spiritual Quest

The Journey Back to Where You Are: Homer’s Odyssey as Spiritual Quest

The title of my book on the Odyssey really encapsulates the dilemma in describing a spiritual journey.  The word “journey” implies a movement from point A to point B, which as humans we tend to take literally.  But as we’ve seen, the nostos, the homecoming of Odysseus, is not about travel, but about remembering what he is.  In a very real way, Odysseus is never not the king of Ithaka, whether he is acting as captain of a sailing fleet or captive to goddesses or as a storyteller or wizened stranger in his own home.  Although at times he comes close, he never really abandons that identity because he can’t; it’s what he is.  But for most of the poem he is removed from his ability to exercise that identity, and only by letting go of all the limiting identities does he recover his ability to do that.  The movement from place to place–the journey–doesn’t really matter.  What matters is his own unburdening; the shedding of temporal roles that associate him with strife, with multiplicity, with forgetfulness.

This is of course also our own situation.  Our true identity is that of the Ideal, but we have forgotten it, or taken on a character in the world-play.  The “journey” is in continuing to play the character well, as does Odysseus, while letting go of our attachment to it until we no longer need the ability to discriminate, because like him everywhere we look we see the One.

 

Posted in Literature, Philosophy, Spirituality | Comments Off on The Journey Back to Where You’ve Been (sic)

Delightful

 

It occurred to me to write, “My work is to delight the Ideal.”  But then I thought about the word “delight,” which would seem to mean “to darken,” to de-light.  But it does not, especially one would hope when it comes to the Ideal.  And so: My work is to delight the Ideal.

Posted in Philosophy, Spirituality | Comments Off on Delightful

Twice Born Again

 

Given that this is Holy Week in the Christian tradition, it seemed like an appropriate time to look at some of the other instances of the idea of re-birth, of being born again.  It is of course almost a cliché in Christianity, but it appears in other traditions also.  The common theme is that the twice-born is given special knowledge which brings about his rebirth, his  new life.

Read complete page.

Posted in History, Literature, Philosophy, Spirituality | Comments Off on Twice Born Again

The Republic of You

 

In episodes 4, 5, and 6, we have already looked at the key arguments that Plato proposes in The Republic to show the special nature of the Ideal, insofar as it can be shown.  As he argues, knowledge of the Ideal is the unique realm of the philosopher, and “Since the philosophers are those who are capable of apprehending that which is eternal and unchanging….” (6.484b), they are the logical candidates to be the rulers of society.  He goes on then at some length to describe the nature of this society, which he calls “aristocracy,” or government by the best. (And this was before Downton Abbey!)  But later he admits that “since for everything that has come into being destruction is appointed, not even such a fabric as this will abide for all time, but it shall surely be dissolved…” (8.546a) and goes on to describe four imperfect societies, and the types of individuals that make them up.

Read complete post.

Posted in History, Literature, Philosophy, Spirituality | Comments Off on The Republic of You

Circum-scribes

 

One of the emerging themes–perhaps the emerging theme–from the presidential campaign is who will be circumscribing whom; that is, how great will be the limitations placed on whoever loses.  One side is very clear about wanting to restrict the movements of certain ethnic groups and religions, while the other wants to restrict the profit-making abilities of the rich.

800px-Odysseus_Circe_Met_41.83

Odysseus encounters Circe. Greek Krater, Metropolitan Museum, New York.

But of course the most insidious circumscribing is that which we do to ourselves.  To circumscribe really means to “encircle with words,” to draw a perimeter with a series of adjectives that keep us perpetuating a limited identity.  Rather like Circe “encircled” Odysseus and his crew, treating them well, but still defining who they were:

‘Odysseus, noble son of Laertes, tell your men to leave off crying; I know how much you have all of you suffered at sea, and how ill you have fared among cruel savages on the mainland, but that is over now, so stay here, and eat and drink till you are once more as strong and hearty as you were when you left Ithaca; for at present you are weakened both in body and mind; you keep all the time thinking of the hardships you have suffered during your travels, so that you have no more cheerfulness left in you.’  (Od. 10:456-466)

Until finally at the insistence of his crew, he begs to leave her island (but has to go to the Underworld–out of the frying pan into the fire….).

And too often we also let others define us, circumscribe us, and we internalize those definitions.  Even the flattering ones are limitations compared to our real identity as the Good, the Boundless.  We can’t think past them.  We choose a limited identity rather than identity with the Unlimited.

Posted in History, Literature, Philosophy, Spirituality | Comments Off on Circum-scribes

If life gives you lemons….

 

I’ve always been a little annoyed by this expression: “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”  Anyone who’s ever made lemonade knows you need at least an equal amount of sugar.  But then I realized that while you may be being given lemons, you are sugar.  That is one way of looking at the Ideal, which is your own self.  So you have an unlimited amount.

Posted in Literature, Philosophy, Spirituality | Comments Off on If life gives you lemons….

Adjectives and Nouns, Part 2.

 

I try to keep this blog free from contemporary influences, preferring to concentrate on those which are timeless.  But there is so much attention given to diversity now–and by process of elimination to its opposite: uniformity*–that I thought I’d wade in a little deeper than I did in my first post.

Now there are many different adjectives we can apply to ourselves, but for purposes of “diversity” only two really matter, those which are immediately apparent: race (or nationality) and gender.  These are characteristics we are born with, and over which we really have no choice.**  There are of course other adjectives of religion, sexual orientation, political affiliations, etc.  (Age enters into it also, but the consequences are less well defined.)  So in these terms I will identify myself as a straight white male (and I realize that for many that disqualifies me from having any opinion on this subject).  For the society as a whole, those three adjectives are superfluous–I am the norm.  And they are certainly barriers to any kind of self-examination. We are trained to see only differences, and those differences are what provoke the question “What am I?”  Seeing only uniformity does not lead to self-examination.  Many people might think of being a straight white male as winning the lottery, but if your goal is self-realization, it’s a loser.  It may seem to be a blessing from a societal point of view, but in terms of a spiritual quest, it’s a disaster.  The sense of being different that occurs to young children can be the start of a lifetime of self-examination.  Unfortunately, it usually stops with the most obvious adjectives.

So if you are not a straight white male, if you are an oppressed minority (a term that’s really redundant), what do you do?  Well, if you’re like most people, you also take your adjectives–gay/trans, black/brown/yellow/red, female–to be nouns.  They are what you are.  You start from a place of suffering, of anger, you band with others of the same adjective, and take actions to increase your power, your share of the country’s big apple pie.

And it may well work–you may get the part, the contract, the job, the respect, the gig–hey, you may even become president!  And I don’t mean to belittle the suffering and hard work of those oppressed who have struggled to overcome the conscious and unconscious barriers that the rulers have put in their way.  But still, in terms of self-realization, of remembering that you are a noun, this too can be a disaster.  Each “victory” becomes just another way to perpetuate the illusion that those adjectives are what you “are.” At some point we all have to turn in our body/mind/heart apparatus, and how difficult that will be depends on how attached we are to it.  (It does seem to me that the older one gets, the less one holds on to this attachment.)

We all need to look more deeply within and realize that we are something universal.   We are not just the accidents of our birth, or products of the epithets that have become attached to us, like polytropos Odysseus or constant Penelope.  We are not just beautiful, we are Beauty; not just loving, but Love; not just individuals, but the One.

A closing thought from Maya Angelou: “All great artists draw from the same resource: the human heart, which tells us that we are all more alike than we are unalike.”¹

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

*The coded subtext to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign is “Make America White Again.”

**Of course you could claim, as does Plato in Book 10 of The Republic, that we choose our lives on earth, and part of that would be the body/mind/heart apparatus that goes along with it.  That is a very interesting and relevant question, but since we don’t really have a way to verify it, I’ll leave it to one side for time being.

¹Letter to My Daughter, 2009.

Posted in Literature, Philosophy, Spirituality | Comments Off on Adjectives and Nouns, Part 2.

Daemons and Suitors

 

Another of the common traits in religions/spiritual systems is the presence of what I’ll call daemons, disembodied forces that seem to do battle using us as their battleground.  For all practical purposes, it doesn’t really matter whether we call them disembodied spirits or ingrained synaptic circuits; the result is the same.  They carry on monologues or arguments within our minds and take our attention away from what is in front of us.  They can be “good” (angels) or “bad” (devils), but as long as we identify with them and allow them to feed on our attention, we will be unaware of the influence they hold over us.  A good primer on this influence, at least from the “dark” side, is The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis.  Primers on the influence of “our better angels” also abound (you can find many of them here), but their message is getting harder and harder to hear amid the continuous chatter of the mediasphere.

Read complete page.

Posted in History, Literature, Philosophy, Spirituality | Comments Off on Daemons and Suitors

Norman Lewis

 

Title unknown (March on Washington), 1965, oil on fiberboard, 351/4 × 471/2 in., L. Ann and Jonathan P. Binstock, © Estate of Norman W. Lewis; Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, LLC, New York, NY

This morning I was taken by some friends to an exhibit of works by the American artist Norman Lewis (1909-1979) at the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Art.  I had vaguely heard of him before and may have seen reproductions of one or two of his works.  But spending real time in his presence (via his artwork) was very moving, and if any of you live near Philadelphia I would encourage you to visit this show before it closes on April 3.

I’ve often spoken of Emerson as writing from that boundary where the expressible transforms into the inexpressible, where words meet their forms.  Lewis’s work brought that to mind in painting.  Normally I am less than thrilled by abstract painting–most of it strikes me as very ego-driven, trying to find some edge to draw attention to oneself.  Lewis, by contrast, works in a place that borders on the representational with the abstract.  Many of his works contain suggestions of human and animal forms, but they are shown against a background of what could be called the primal stuff of creation.  It brings to mind Plato’s Divided Line; that fine line where the physical touches its source.  Lewis’s works are portals into that place if we can be still and take the inner leap.

A truly transcendent artist.

 

Posted in Philosophy, Spirituality | Comments Off on Norman Lewis

Pay Attention!?

 

One of the great crimes of the modern age (by which I mean since around the time of the Renaissance) is the “professionalizing” of philosophy.  It has, often among people with the best of intentions, become a purely academic study, with no “real world” implications.  It is exemplified in the statement, “There are nowadays professors of philosophy, but not philosophers.” If I tell you that was said by Henry David Thoreau in his work Walden in 1854, you’ll realize how long this problem has been around.¹  (A recent article in the New York Times supports this contention, although I would push the authors’ timeline further back.)

Read complete page.

Posted in History, Philosophy, Spirituality | Comments Off on Pay Attention!?

A Man of Constant Sorrow

 

Recent posts have started me thinking about sorrow and its purpose in human life, especially in the spiritual quest.  It may seem a strange topic to consider in relation to the Ideal, in the presence of which we know no sorrow, but as humans it is something with which we must contend until we realize the Ideal.  Our plight until then is that we are absent from our real self, and all the different forms of sorrow exhibit a sense of absence: absence of food, of friends, of health, of self-knowledge.

Read complete page.

 

 

Posted in Literature, Philosophy, Spirituality | Comments Off on A Man of Constant Sorrow

A Quote about Ficino

 

Ficino was fascinated by Plato and tried to imitate him in almost all respects. He made his
estate in the Florentine countryside like that of Plato’s near Athens. The stone pines at
Montevecchio were intended to play the role of the platanus trees in the Academy’s groves.
The Terzolle brook corresponded to the Cephissus River. On the walls of the lecture hall
where the members gathered, over time various fitting maxims appeared (just as in the
Athenian Academy): “A bono in bonum omnia dirigentur” (“Everything comes from the
good and returns to the good”), “Fuge excessum, fuge negotia, laetus in praesens” (“Avoid
excess, flee from troubles, rejoice in the present moment”). In the hall there was also a bust of Plato before which burned an eternal lamp. Like Plato, Ficino opened his home to his friends, whom came to be called academics (Academici). Their master was called princeps Academicorum. The place where they met came to be called the Accademia Carregiana.
With Ficino’s growing fame, he was called the “second Plato” (alter Plato), and the title of
academic was an honorary distinction bestowed by Ficino himself. In this way he gathered
around himself a circle of persons known as Ficiniani (at the Academy there were also the
Pichiani or disciples of Pico, and the Savonaroliani or disciple of Savonarola). He created a
community of “brothers in Plato” (fratres in Platone) who were the “Platonic family”
(Platonica familia). He became the “father” (pater Platonicae familiae). They greeted each
other with the words “salus in Platone” (“good health in Plato”). The basic conditions for
membership were erudition, moral probity and friendship with Ficino.

Marian Ciszewski,  Universal Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Posted in History, Literature, Philosophy, Spirituality | Comments Off on A Quote about Ficino

Seeking

 

Some will seek the limelight; I will seek the sublime light.

Posted in Philosophy, Spirituality | Comments Off on Seeking