Monday, November 9, 2009

Gracian on Memory

262 Be able to Forget. It is more a matter of luck than of skill. The things we remember best are those better for-gotten. Memory is not only unruly, leaving us in the lurch when most needed, but stupid as well, putting its nose into places where it is not wanted. In painful things it is active, but neglectful in recalling the pleasurable. Very often the only remedy for the ill is to forget it, and all we forget is the remedy. Nevertheless one should cultivate good habits of memory, for it is capable of making existence a Paradise or an Inferno. The happy are an exception who enjoy innocently their simple happiness.

Gracian so eloquently describes the blessing and the curse that is human memory. Always it seems, our memories of happy times are fleeting; they seem to have lasted for an instant and miles apart in time. And when we call them to mind, they appear foggy and distant as if recalling a dream. However, painful memories linger and can be nearly impossible to shake without concentrated attention--a conscious decision to cut the memory loose and stop torturing ourselves with emotional attachment we have to it.

This is something that we must train ourselves to do. We often move a such a rapid pace through our daily lives that we forget to make some space for happiness. We wake each day with thoughts of yesterday and how it will spill over into our new day, and we can't seem to get enough done in the present day to make us adequately prepared for tomorrow.

We punish ourselves mentally when we behave this way. We are judging ourselves so harshly for not meeting deadlines or the expectations that others have of us. We have an image in our minds of a perfect self, which we have agreed with others that we are supposed to be, and we beat ourselves up for not being that person. Then we cannot forget those times when we feel that we've been let down or let ourselves down, we replay this scenes in our minds and make emotional connections to them. They make us feel stress, and depression, and angst, and fear; then whenever we call those memories to mind we physically feel these emotions.

The worst part of this memory process is that we assimilate new negative experiences with past ones. If we cannot let go of the past we create an entire wall of memory of our shortcomings and we use this to reference our failures. We say, "See you should have never tried! You knew you couldn't do this." We create a terrible self-image this way. When we cannot forget the past, it will harm us in the present and can debilitate us from trying our best in the future out of fear.

We must train our minds to be able to forget those things which are causing us harm. If we can sufficiently remove ourselves from the past, then we can begin to live consciously in the present. It is important to realize that the judge in your mind is not God, and that you do not have to be the victim, listening to your own confounded criticisms. By living in the present moment, experiences of happiness will seem longer and memories of them will be more vivid.This must be done by consciously living and consciously remembering, instead of passively submitting to the voice of the judge which represents our fear of rejection and our addiction to the feeling of acceptance.

If we make this space for ourselves to experience happiness in our every moment of being, we can live in the Paradise Gracian refers to. Our state of mind and our attitude are a lens through which we view and record our experiences--it shapes our memories. It is so important to cultivate good memory skills, because the mind uses the same power to assimilate negative experiences with past bad memories, as it does to store positive ones. We can be living in a state of peace, experiencing the emotional responses of pleasure and joy that are triggered by calling positive memories to mind.

The Toltecs say that this is surrendering to the Angel of Death. Understanding that everyone/thing you know and love does not belong to you, it all belongs to the Angel of Death who could come and take it away at anytime; she is allowing you to borrow it all for now. She takes away the old and dead in order to make room for the new. She will save you and allow you to live in the state of peace, the dream of paradise, if you just let her take the past away. This is the remedy for our ills, we must remember to allow ourselves to forget. Inner peace is not an attainment or a place separate from here, there is no path there; it is as simple as remembering that to forget is a good thing, a virtue and a gift which makes room for new memories to happen. "The happy are an exception who enjoy innocently their simple happiness."

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Epictetus and the Stoic View

Epictetus', or perhaps Sharon Lebell's interpretation, the Art of Living was by far my favorite of the three Greek philosophies we have examined in this class. I don't know if it's the way the book is put together, much like a manual for living consciously; or the almost Eastern tone that it conveys that I really like more. This book much reminded me of the Dao de Jing, with it's central themes, of harmonizing yourself with nature and non-attachment. I have agreed with Socrates and his never ceasing to question societal concepts and I have agreed with Epicurus that wisdom is the key to living in the now and the path to feeling oneness with God. However, I grow tried of questioning and redefining, just as I have seen bad things happen to good people who've made all the right choices. Epictecus says that we must accept life's inevitabilities and learn to distinguish between things in and out of our control, if we are to move through this life gracefully and peacefully. Look to nature to show you how to live and behave in the world. Trees, for example, they do not prefer summer over winter but they continue to grow through the cycles of abundance and bleakness. To take from Masaru Emoto, a sapling does not resent the taller trees around it for casting shadows, it simply grows, reaches and branches out toward the sun and finds its own way, after all there is plenty of sunlight.
We must be like these saplings, finding our own niche, our own place in the sun.
We must flow with the Dao or tirelessly fight against it, either way we will be floating along in it's current. The only decision we have is whether or not we will enjoy our ride. We will have much more time to enjoy ourselves if we learn to stop clinging to the debris passing along at the edges.
Nature is a constantly changing but there is a rythmic simplicity to it. There are patterns to be seen and cycles to make note of. When we can attune ourselves to these cycles we will be better prepared to ride the current, without a fear of not being able to control that which is not within our power.

Epicurean ideal

In his letter to Menoeceus, Epicurus says that no one is to old to think philosophically. The old man thinks philosophically if he is content to look back fondly on his memories of life. Similarly, he says that the young think philosophically when they have no fear of what is to come. He compares the mindsets of the young and old philosopher; the elderly man waits for death acceptingly, knowing that he is nearing the end of his life; the younger man so enthralled with the current situations in his life, he has no fear of dying.
This is a great seg-way into one of Epicurus' main ideals, that if we are to live a meaningful life we must abandon our fear of mortality. Once we face our mortality and scrutinize what exactly it is we are afraid, we see that the pain we may enduring, or the inconvenient timing of our death is not the cause of our fear. What we really fear is the unknown, because we don't know what to expect after death.
"Whatever causes no annoyance when it is present, causes only a groundless pain in the expectation."
It is our fear of dying that frightens us and not death itself, for in death we have no fear at all. There is no longer an expectancy of death after we are gone, and so no fear.
Epicurus says that throughout our lives we are always seeking to diminish pain and fear so we may have rest. When our minds are at rest we find pleasure and ease.
Pleasure, he says, is our first and kindred good and by seeking pleasure and learning how to achieve it, we gain wisdom. When we have wisdom of these things, we will have the ability to make good choices which will lead us toward pleasure and good life and away from pain and discontent.
It is possible, through sober reasoning, to choose wisely and to make wise decisions that make and keep our lives pleasant; allowing us to pursue happiness and pleasure. This is ultimately, the good life to Epicurus, and the correct way of viewing life. It's not about overindulgence, or having it all, when you have only what you need, you appreciate the extras and luxuries a lot more. The greatest fortune in life is one that we all have, it is our ability to choose situations which bring us happiness and avoid those that will bring us down. Just as important, is the ability to distinguish which pains we should endure to bring a greater pleasure, and which simple pleasures we should abstain from to avoid a greater pain later on.
Epicurus says that we will reap what we sow. If we seek happiness and fulfillment, then we will find ourselves in situations where we see happiness and fulfillment; just as if we are convinced our lives will be full of pain and suffering, then we will find ourselves in situations where we hurt and suffer.
God is immortal and blessed, and pleasure is our first and kindred good. The feeling of pleasure is sustainable and being our first and kindred good, it is blessed. When we can live in the present, unafraid of the future and fully appreciate the good that is all around us, we feel pleasure, we feel an inner peace. Epicurus is saying that, that feeling of tranquility is God.
Nothing can be outside of God, he is immortal and blessed. Not even death--which is seen as the most fierce evil because it is an ending to life/pleasure as we know it. But it is only a ceasing of our senses and so not to be feared. If we may release our fear of death and impiety (displeasing the gods) we are free to seek a state of tranquility in the mind and body. In that state we find happiness, in happiness we find peace and in peace we find Oneness.
"For man loses all semblance of mortality by living in the midst of immortal blessings."

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Trial and Death of Socrates

Awaiting trial, Socrates meets Euthypro who is on his way into court to prosecute his own father for murder. Euthypro explains that while his family and mother think it impious for him to indict his father, they do not have a clear understanding of piety. Euthypro explains that his actions are just and in favor with the gods, because murder is wrong; even if it was unintentional.
Socrates tells Euthyrpo that he is right, and asks that Euthypro might become his teacher, so that he may be educated on what exactly piety is, and how he may accurately discriminate between which actions are loved by the gods and which are punishable.
In this exchange with Euthypro, Socrates (or Plato) easily extracts the inflated view that Euthypro holds of his understanding of morality and the importance of 'acting piously'. Euthypro explains that piety is correct knowledge of hot to sacrifice and petition to the gods, and that by carrying our these tasks in correct format, the gods are pleased. Socrates claims to have no knowledge of these things and asks Euthypro to further explain how we may please the gods.
Like a psychiatrist who remains a step ahead of his patient, waiting patiently to bring their client out of some mental delusion, or false belief, by coaxing them with a series of questions; Socrates plays dumb and gets Euthypro to counter his own theory that a thing is pious because it is something that the gods undoubtedly love. While the patient answers the questions of his therapist, he unwittingly brings a truth to the surface--perhaps one that he has hidden from himself.
This is an important viewpoint to examine, because it is one held by many. Loads of people, in my experience, are convinced that they have pinpointed which actions are acceptable, or in accordance to what God wants. In the same vein, they are just as certain that they have great knowledge of actions that are punishable and even hated by God. It is these convictions (assumptions rather), that can lead us to great prejudices. And it is these same convictions that can deter us from examining the origins of the moral rules which we let govern our very lives.

We should care more about what actions are just and fair when dealing with our fellow man, than what actions are in exact accordance with ancient temple laws. After all the gods love what is pious because it is pious; it is not pious because the gods love it.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Blog virgin

This is my very first post on a blog site. I'm a little nervous about all of these thoughts being open to the Internet, but, well you've got to start somewhere. Never be afraid to try new things. After all, amateurs built the ark and professionals built the Titanic.