February 19, 2022; Philosophers' Gathering
I thought I would share the essay I wrote about my discussion at the Monthly Philosophers' Gathering:
Philosophy Gathering – February 13, 2022
When Joy invited me to speak at February’s monthly Philosophers’ Gathering, I accepted with glee. It’s been a long time since I led a group discussion on anything and leading a discussion involving philosophy would require preparation. I can talk about yoga, qigong, nutrition and Spiritualism or just about anything for hours but I felt I wanted to explore the possibilities.
Whenever I think of philosophy I think of the intense discussions my son, Jason, and his best bud, Isaac, would have. These philosophical discussions went on for hours, sometimes days, and included many words I might look up in the dictionary if I’d had the time or desire. I didn’t.
Now that I am retired, I have the luxury of learning everything I can about anything I choose, and I choose lots of things! I had a free two-week subscription to Masterclass Series and I was taking classes from several artists on music, writing, humor and now I had a new subject to explore, philosophy.
There was only one philosophy class offered so I clicked on Cornel West’s Masterclass and sat for the entire two and a half hours rivetted to the screen. He was so informative and so entertaining I watched the entire class several times over the next few weeks, taking notes and adding my own life experiences, along with comments from my older son, Joshua. I felt confident I could speak and engage others in a meaningful philosophical discussion.
When I arrived at Joy’s home the food on the table made my mouth water and it was hard not to eat everything in sight! When we all sat down for my presentation, I explained I usually napped after lunch, so someone should wake me if I fell asleep.
Once the chuckles subsided, I began talking about Socrates and the fact that he never wrote any of his theories down. He felt everything changed so fast any written word would be obsolete by the time it was read. Thanks to Plato, we can talk about the Socratic method and how these men, and the philosophers who came before them, helped shape our human minds by asking questions which have no clear answers. What is Justice? What is Peace? What is Freedom? What is ???
From our philosophical discussion about Philosophy and its beginnings in Thales, Confucious, Socrates etc. I asked the group of about twenty people the question, “What does it mean to be human?” With no immediate response I explained the word Human comes from the Latin word Humando which literally means “to be buried.” So, basically, from the time we are born until the actual death of our human body, we are not only learning how to die as a human being but how to bury our judgments, our assumptions, our preconceived notions of nearly everything around us, if we want to live a full life, our best life possible.
I explained that self-scrutinizing ourselves and our beliefs is not necessarily essential to living our fullest life. When I asked my oldest son, Joshua, to explain how he felt about self-questioning, he told me, “I think I feel more peace now that I have stopped asking myself the hard questions that have no clear answers.” As someone in the group pointed out, being human is different for each and every person and we all agreed.
So, assuming we want to follow the Philosopher’s Way and 1-try to see things more broadly and more clearly, 2-desire to feel things more deeply and 3-live more fully, courageously and wisely, how do we accomplish this task?
The ancient Greeks developed a platform of education and learning called Paideia. It was created to help young men develop aristocratic virtues. Simply put into three parts, it teaches us to ask ourselves 1-Where do we put our attention? Once we are honest with ourselves about what we spend our precious time doing we are encouraged to 2-cultivate our critical thinking to be more rational and acceptable in order to 3-mature into compassionate beings, trying to be exemplars of the quest for excellence.
We should always be searching for Truth, Goodness and Beauty while making our lives a JOYOUS ADVENTURE. This is a lot to ask of ourselves but everyone in the room agreed we had all been through despair and had made the very best of it. I talked a little about what I call the “Dark Days of Diane; immersed in drugs and alcohol to escape my reality.” I know now I could have handled my disappointments in life differently but I did not and there is not a thing I can do to change that. Looking back now I realize if I had not gone through the self-inflicted turmoil of an eight-month Crack Cocaine Addiction I might not be the empathetic person I am today.
I survived my despair, as did many in the room, and have to believe I am a better person for it. As one of my favorite musicians, Keb Mo, says, “There is a lot of good that happens in our lives and there is a lot of bad that happens in our lives. I choose to focus on the good.” Amen and all agreed.
I mentioned the fact that Beethoven, one of the greatest symphony composers who ever lived, got up every morning and not only decided to look for the beauty in the world but labored to create beauty every single day while he was losing his hearing. And that the well-known activist Martin Luther King, faced despair and anger frequently and had to fight hard not to be consumed by it. I also mentioned on a side-note that I had seen an advertisement for a play coming out soon that touched on the disparities of his life and how he dealt with them. We will all be looking for those performances. Martin Luther King began many of his lectures, “Sinner that I am…” remaining humble and recognizing he was always working on himself to become a better and more compassionate human.
Remaining humble is easy to do when we recognize that there are forces and actions happening all around us over which we have no control. As the saying goes, Shit Happens. What we do with that shit is entirely up to us.
I asked the group what they, as individuals, did when Despair entered their lives. Joy explained she went into Silence. Many others agreed they went into silence as well and, I believe, Silence is an excellent place to go, allowing us to contemplate what has happened and how we feel about what has happened. Silence helps us take an inventory of where we are now and how far we have come. Meditation, prayer, talking to family and talking to others with similar circumstances were all good methods of dealing with despair.
I believe that music is another antidote for despair. Music puts emotions and relationships into words and allows us to lighten up when we really listen.
At this point I mentioned that Wounded Healers make great teachers and we were all excellent examples. I encouraged folks to watch a 1994 movie featuring Ram Dass teaching a six week course called “A Change of Heart.” Ram Dass encourages us to live a life of service. Living a life of service to others allows us to learn how to be better humans while we are volunteering to help those less fortunate.
I also reminded everyone we are not the circumstances of our past, our present or our future. We are influenced by things which happen but our actions are always our choice. Difficulties affect us but they do not identify who we are.
Yes, our community, our heritage and our traditions shape who we are but it is up to us to be better than the generations before us and we must teach our children to be better than we were.
I believe, for the sake of humanity as a whole, we must continuously try to live and act well during tense times. We must care for our screwed-up neighbors with our screwed-up hearts. We must look at everyone through a moral lens and love people who look and act differently than we do. As St. Francis tells us in his prayer, “…Let me not so much be understood as to understand…”
Please, for the sake of Humanity let’s all try to understand each other a little bit better, see what is happening a little more clearly, feel a little more deeply and live our best life possible. Our thoughts, our feelings, our words and our actions make a difference!
Make today the best day possible!