The School Of Practical Philosophy: Philosophy Works - Week Two
Posted January 25, 2011 at 8:43 AM by Ben Nadel
I just finished my second class on practical philosophy, and so far, I'm still rather enjoying it. Last week's class had left us with two exercises: one involving a sort of guided meditation; and the other, to ask ourselves the question, "What would a wise person do?" We spent the first half of today's class talking about this question and the second half talking about Awareness.
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I definitely found last week's exercise to be fruitful. But, more important than any one particular opportunity in which I could ask myself the question, I found that simply having the exercise on my mind made me more aware of the way in which I was interacting with others. In a sense, I became an observer of myself; and although I cannot physically part ways with my body or my thoughts, I found myself viewing my life as if an interested 3rd party. I felt not unlike a gamer, playing each moment as if it were a "next" move in some unfolding strategy.
While this might sound silly, it was actually quite empowering. This mindset made me feel and think more clearly. Rather than being one with my feelings, I found myself being able to critique them; and, much like the scientist that all philosophers are at heart, I then found myself trying to draw conclusions from what I saw.
For example, I was walking down 5th Ave, just below Madison Square Park, when suddenly I stopped and had the thought: Agreement negates anger.
That moment of clarity was the outcome of a review that I had been conducting in regard to my recent actions. What I had come to notice was that some of the anger and fear that I have experienced is nothing more than a byproduct of my attempt to dismiss truth. And rather than dismissing truth, I found that by agreeing with it, I no longer had to fear of it; I could transform it from an enemy into something of a teacher.
Thinking about this now, I realize that this concept is nothing more than a compacted version of the 5 stages of Grief. Denial, which leads to anger, is then subsequently calmed by acceptance. Acceptance, ie. agreement, negates anger.
Taking this a step further, however, I started to play with other strategies. I asked myself, "How can I turn resentment into love?" This then became the question, "How can I turn any situation into a compliment?" And, once I started thinking about love and compliments, coming up with the Things I Give concept was just a matter of connecting the dots.
Going back to class, I found that I wasn't alone. Another woman in the class discussed how she had changed the question in her mind to be, "What would a more generous person do?" She found that moments of applied wisdom were too few and far between; and, by lowering the bar from "wise" to "generous," she found an exercise that she could practice more often.
And that's really the whole point, right? Practice. Self-exploration is a tool to which we all have access; but, unless we practice it, it's not something at which we are going to get any better. I read books like the Four Agreements years ago; and today, I am taking a practical philosophy class. That doesn't mean that all of my exploits up until now have been worthless; rather, they have all helped me to practice - they have all been meaningful, practical steps in my life-long journey towards the attainment of wisdom.
There is so much more to discuss, but it's past my bedtime; so, I'll leave you with another question that the teacher posed: Have you had any "perfect" moments?
When she asked this, the first thing that popped into my head was programming. Many of my perfect moments come to me when I am programming. When I solve problems or I can see the beautiful nature of a solution, it feels perfect. It's like I'm part of some meta-physical lock and I can feel the tumblers slowly clicking into place and then BLAM! - the whole picture comes into focus and I know what I have to do.
Perhaps this "perfection" is just another word for, "flow" - the mental state of complete absorption. I talked about the state of flow as seen in the movie The Social Network. In the book, Muscle: Confessions of an Unlikely Bodybuilder, Samuel Fussell described this feeling as if hitting nothing by green lights:
Iron made sense to no one. To no one, that is, but me. All I knew was that I had found a sanctuary in the gym, and the more I trained, the better I felt. Out on the streets of New York, I'd found nothing but impediments, red lights, and stop signs everywhere. Inside the gym, I saw only green. ... From exercise to exercise I'd go, feeling as if I were driving a car on a dark, wet night in the city. Suddenly, the stoplight just ahead turns green, the next one green, and green again. You don't need to brake for even one light. All you see is the road before you. You're not quite sure why, but you're going at the right speed at the right place and time. You take a quick look at the speedometer. Just to memorize the reading. But there's no need. Just keep it going, another light, another block, another weight, another exercise. Green, green, green.
For him, it was weight lifting; for me, it is programming. Ultimately, however, this comes from both an awareness and a connectedness with the moment. We can go through life in a state of "waking sleep;" or, we can choose to reach a higher level of consciousness. The latter, however, can only be reached and then maintained through continual practice. Just as weight lifting requires a life-long regimen of resistance, the attainment of higher-consciousness requires the life-long practice of self-exploration.
Week 2's class left us with two more exercises: practice the concept of, "word is bond." Make your yes your yes and your no your no. Do not agree to or refuse to anything to which you do not plan to follow through. Also, if you find yourself in a state of, "waking sleep," become "fully awake."
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Great read - you're covering some of the great basic principles of life that are not complicated, but still hard to follow without a certain level of concentration. It seems like American culture sometimes encourages us to coast through life (go home and watch TV!) and it takes some effort to shut out these messages.
I like the 'Let your yes be yes' statement - straight out of the Bible - not complicated at all but requires an active thought process to not be flippant with what we say.
Looking forward to the next installment.
A few weeks ago, at the gym, a man from South Africa came up to me and said something along the lines of:
Reality television is making your country stupid.
This was just after another friend of mine was extolling the greatness of "The Jersey Shore." I don't watch reality television - it makes me too angry to watch people act that way. I am afraid that, to some degree, I agree with my South African friend.
People could definitely benefit from watching the "Situation" less and thinking about their own situation a bit more.
Glad you're liking this stuff. I am finding it quite enjoyable!
Following your blog has actually given me alot of insight into my programing as well as the way I view myself. Totally need to find oneof these workshops locally.
I watched the DVR'ed copy of "CrackBerry'd: The Truth About Information Overload" from CNBC last night (not trying to shamelessly plug). Of course, I was doing this while checking work e-mail, but I digress. Very worthwhile 42 minutes (+ 5 minutes of commercial skipping) of TV worth watching.
I concur that we're getting dumber, and my fear is that "kids these days" will become tomorrow's "leaders" but they won't have the same values of "The Greatest Generation" (there I go plugging an NBC-affiliated product again).
Thus, while we're Amusing Ourselves to Death (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amusing_Ourselves_to_Death), other countries who are "hungry" are going to overtake us faster than we will respond.
I also fear China has installed a kill-date on every computers' BIOS they've sent to America. But that's another topic.
Sorry for all the "air quotes."
Oh, and I have to mention, "Idiocracy," somehow too, at least the first ~15 minutes of the movie.