Category Archives: Philosophy

Lao Tzu says

chair

But you knew that, right?

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This is More Water

There was a rider attached to yesterday’s post, which I did not write.

It is this. Ending one’s life for incessant mental pain would perhaps seem to be no more or less valid than ending it because some other physical disease has eroded quality of life to the point where the future trajectory is adjudged to be only downwards.

I do believe however that there are two differences: the possibility of renewed hope, or its medically verified absence; and the openness, or otherwise, of the method.

I watched my grandmother die, and, although I question the events leading up to her death, it was as they say, a process. It was not brought on violently, or suddenly, by accident or on purpose. It did not traumatise any relatives or friends any more than it rightfully should have. We were left with a few questions surrounding the medical circumstances that eventually led to her slipping away quietly, but these were not unanswerable. We were not left with a burden to carry. In March, my grandpa’s youngest sister, the last of my paternal grandparent’s generation decided that her quality of life had reached its nadir. She took to her bed and refused food, until she died ten days later. Her family mourned, but we also understood and respected her decision.

Perhaps we humans should have the right to die when we can no longer go on, but as adults we have a responsibility to approach it ethically, as a process, in which the feelings and rights of others have a place, and a voice, which in turn may offer reasonably solid ground on which to stand when it is all over.

Whilst thinking about these issues, I read this article about the Swiss clinic Dignitas, which clarified its approach, particularly in regard to those people who are in sustained mental pain and anguish.

The Meaning Making Machine

We all have one.

Sometimes, I just want to flip the lid, take it out of my cranium and rest the damn thing on the window ledge.

There is no meaning. There is meaning. There is no meaning. There is meaning.

Chunter chunter, huffle puffle puff.

Wittgenstein was right.

The Philosophy of Forgiveness (continued)

I had at least one reader yesterday *waves* so feel duty bound to finish what I started; even though I know that the reader in question will be concerning themselves with striped mini feline japery this evening and not a lot else.

So, yes, I listen to podcasts at bedtime, often on philosophy, although tonight I might treat myself to the excellent Reaching Down the Rabbit Hole which is book of the week on Radio 4 and set in Harvard Medical School’s Neurology Unit. I digress. Forgive me.

According to the philosopher Lucy Allais, forgiveness means a willingness to see someone who has transgressed against you, not in the light of their wrongdoing with all the associated feelings of hurt or anger. Rather to be prepared and able to see them, if not as you saw them before the transgression, as still a person worth something to you. In short, you do not let an action, colour your whole relation to them. Forgiveness is a letting go, but it is not words, it is an internal process related to feelings.

At least that’s what I think she said, before I fell asleep.

Which brings me to how it feels when someone does not forgive, or when one cannot forgive another.

I think, on balance, it feels worse to be unable to forgive than to be personally unforgiven.

On which note, I commend the rather excellent Metallica song to you, of the same name. Which rather makes this blog post feel like The Weekend News I had to write at primary school, and this paragraph the quick ending I bashed out to get the thing finished before going out to play. In this case however I am merely sloping off to watch House on Netflix.

Now there’s a chap whose friends and colleagues know a thing or two about forgiveness.

What I’ve felt,
What I’ve known
Never shined through in what I’ve shown.

Be warned, this song was so good the band went on to record Unforgiven II and Unforgiven III. You may want to swerve this blog for a while, until we move on.

No Phone, No Blog

When I first started blogging I was more than happy to rob images off the internet to illustrate my point; in fact, that was half the fun. Now, I tend to use my own photos, and, since I dropped the phone after one too many meetings the other week and it went kaput on me, I also seem to have lost the will to blog.

But not quite.

The problem is, with writing, that if you don’t keep up your daily practice, you sort of create a mental log jam of thoughts and when you sit down to sift through them there are a number of occupational hazards. The first is, that if you are careless, you will end up writing AN UNCONTROLLABLE RANT, TO THE POWER OF TEN. That danger is only amplified when you find you wake up and are living in the UKIP poster county of Great Britain, you still have an OFSTED inspection, a friend dies too soon, a friend of a friend dies (some might say too late), and the 11 plus results are in town.

So let’s not go there.

The second problem is that, if you forbid yourself the luxury of a rant, you will instead find yourself going blank on the idea front. It’s almost as if the rant needs to be cleared out first. Like turning on the kitchen tap in an old house and waiting for the earthy brown flow of water to finally run clear. The thing is, if I even have one reader left, I’d hardly like them to have to read the murky effluent, although I am aware opinion can be entertaining and amusing and, if done well thought-provoking. It’s just that I’m not in the mood. Which brings me to the crux of the matter.

I suppose, to be truthful, I am depressed.

Again.

It’s not like I am not familiar with the concept, and accompanying feelings of drag, but, even after all these years (and I suppose it’s thirty at the last count) it still manages to creep up on me and settle in to my bones before I finally catch on. These days I have finally cultivated what could be considered a neat trick to manage it. Feel the feelings and do most of what must be done anyway. Don’t stoke the feelings with thoughts. Retreat to the Inner Citadel, where everything and all is well.

Just do it.

And I do. When I twig on. Which I have.

It is what it is

I can’t decide whether this now apparently ubiquitous phrase is great for getting one’s head around those things that we can’t change – or whether it is a deeply irritating cop-out, used far too often to avoid effecting any kind of meaningful difference in the world.

Genuinely I can’t say which side of the fence I come down on with this; I think I have been known to use it myself. Perhaps it’s ok, if it’s used in the real Buddhist sense of non-attachment, or even as Shakespeare’s Hamlet said.

There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so

And yet, there is still a fist shaker in me, who wants to shout no, this is wrong, there clearly is good and bad in the world. Like bodies dropping out of the sky over Ukraine, or people being bombed in Gaza and Israel and Syria, or a polar bear trapped in a zoo in Argentina and elephants chained up in temples. If all of us were to habitually go round saying it is what it is, then where is our compassion and evolution of kindness- where is the change?

I suppose it’s at times like this that one should invoke the last line of the serenity prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr and try and find somehow the wisdom to know the difference.

Here’s the version I’m going with…

Marbles, specifically the Blue One

Sometimes, I really feel am losing mine. Today I wrote an actual letter, with a pen and paper and everything. In my head, I am sitting at a desk with a view out over an unflooded meadow – perhaps it’s a summerhouse with a wood-burner in the corner. I guide my fountain pen over that thick creamy paper that costs a fortune and form elegant words that cohere and serve my purpose. In practice, I am sitting in the car, leaning on a student’s workbook, using a pen I picked up in the workroom and writing on a scratty piece of supermarket own A4. The pen turns out to be too good for the paper, and bleeds through heavily onto the reverse. This affects my formatting as my rambling text spreads over the page. I end up with my address written in capitals along the very top edge of the paper, my signature drifting out almost into the right hand margin.

I teach letter composition. It is in not my finest hour. Still, I enjoyed the pen.

Then I queued in the Post Office to post my missive. Old habits die hard. When I came upon the snake of people ahead of me, and the third cashier slammed the blind down on her position, I might have wept, fallen to the floor and gnashed my teeth. And then, I remembered that I don’t do that sort of thing any more. I am mindful now, and a queue gives me a quiet minute, or ten, to be in the moment, to meditate, and to connect with the interconnectedness of everything – even in Post Offices. A queue offers me the chance to connect with the inner bliss of everything. As I did this, I was reminded of the film – The Overview – about the experience of astronauts spending much time in space earth-gazing; literally gazing back at what is also known as the Blue Marble, our own planet. And as they do this, they experience a profound shift in perspective, that never leaves them. They will be able to explain it better than I can, so I am posting the link to the film here, but I will say that as I thought of the Blue Marble, in the Post Office queue, I was nearly brought to tears at the miracle I was ever born at all, to experience the wondrousness of it all.

For those of you who know me – don’t worry – I’ve counted the marbles and the few I have, remain.

Going retro

I think our generation… by which I mean…

Ah. Now you see – lately, when I come to think, or write something, I can get all tied up in knots because I now insist on categorising the concept in quite tight terms before I move into rant or pondering mode. Teaching has taught me that it is no good whatsoever assuming everybody knows what I am on about, I have to first check understanding, and clarify meaning.

Today, in class, we were talking about Power. I had to clarify that I was talking about power in a personal sense, rather than power in a professional or status sense, although there is that power too. We then moved on, all starting from the same page, hopefully… This evening I realised I had not written A Thing all week. This is a disaster on many levels, but you’ll be glad to hear I won’t define and categorise the substrates now; after all you may only have landed here by accident, expecting nice retro images or something, rather than a rather abstract meander about the Wittgenstein proposition that:

Actually, I don’t believe it, and, in the end, neither did Wittgenstein. There are many more fundamental ways to communicate than through words because, yes, they do limit us, it’s just that, just as we get caught up in thoughts, so we get caught up in words – expressing ourselves through language. We forget that there are other ways to express our feelings and intentions – our heart, soul too, if you believe in one.

This post was to talk all about how my generation has had a lot of techno gizmo work fast fast fast stuff to get on top of in our lifetimes, and my peers, like me feel that we may have reached a tipping point in our heads… that point where we say, you know, perhaps I don’t have to stay on top of all this now. Perhaps I can’t keep on top of it all now. Perhaps… there’s more to life than being able to interface with all kinds of technology in ever-efficient ways. Maybe, maybe it would be better for our wellbeing to just let some of it go.

So what if I can’t manage my Twitter timeline or feed properly. Heck, I don’t even know the difference between the two terms, or if there is one. And, the truth is, I don’t think I care. Not that much.

Maybe it really is time to go retro, just a little, at least at weekends, and let the world whizz by, if it wants.

Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent – Wittgenstein

Mandela

Stoic Week round-up

I’ve tried doing Stoic week and I can conclude there is way to go before I am a real Stoic. I can do some of it, but my big stumbling block is non-attachment to outcomes, particularly in regard to those outcomes we can’t control… As the Alcoholics Anon Serenity prayer says:

I really get attached to outcomes – in fact my whole working life is about them – and it’s not always knowing the difference between those that I can control, and those that I can’t that regularly struggle with.

You see, what if, I, on my own can’t control an outcome… but if I find enough like-minded individuals and get together with them – perhaps we can. I realise I now sound like Barack Obama’s first presidential election campaign, and maybe that’s my trouble. I can’t quite see my limitations… well not at least until I’ve run into them. Head first usually. And when that happens and I am rubbing my head, then I usually repeat my other maxims for life (to myself).

First this:

Then this:

And then, finally…

This one

And then, I lie down, light a cigar and have a glass of wine. So maybe, just maybe, I too am a little Stoic round the edges. Or maybe it’s just that I’m a plain stubborn, hardhead. Who knows.

(I’ve been so busy trying to be Stoic this week, that I am quite behind on things I need to write about. First there is the Isa Muazu case and immigration to the UK in general. In true Stoic style I am waiting until my emotions settle before I embark on that post, and I am hoping the Home Secretary will be called to answer questions about his failed and inhumane deportation tomorrow in the House of Commons which may enlighten my own writing process – although I doubt it. Then there are the two films I saw this week which mixed profundity and pain with kitsch moments and conversation that don’t say the half of it – and ain’t that just about the size of real life? And finally, there was a beautiful moment of connection I witnessed this afternoon that I am determined shall not be lost to the busyness of existence and would like to reflect on here.)

Oh, and there is a new blog to be revealed as this one is now bulging at the seams.

Keep up at the back.