Posts Tagged With: philosophy

Our Eclectic Lives

You have likely noticed my blog is a bit eclectic–a post on fitness is followed by a post waxing spiritual or philosophical which is followed by a post about the natural world or backpacking or fly fishing or whatever. The thought has crossed my mind that I would likely get more readers if I stuck to a more specified theme or developed more than one blog and built each around a particular topic. Such an approach suits the Western mind which is very adept at classifying and compartmentalizing. We have a work life and a home life and a personal life and spiritual life and on and on and on it goes. Sometimes we even consciously act to keep these aspects of life apart from one another.

But a simple truth of our living is that try as we might, our life doesn’t have neat little compartments that we walk into and out of. Life is in fact holistic–the different aspects of our lives interact with one another constantly on both conscious and subconscious levels. Work seeps over into home and vice versa. Our health affects just about everything we do and how  we view the world can have much to do with both our mental and physical health.

Additionally, everything we do as individuals happens interactively with the rest of the world as whole, including not only human culture but also our impact on the natural world in which the human culture exists and upon which it depends. Truly no one is an island, and even should we try that act itself would influence in its own way.

So my blog will stay eclectic because my life is–because our human life is and all life is. While I will no doubt emphasize certain topics due to my experience and interests, I will try to keep myself open to new ideas and experiences. No human mind can learn it all nor experience it all, at least not while wrapped in the finitude of our current existence, but it seems to me that the wider our experience here the deeper and richer it will be. And since we are here, living and breathing and learning and loving, why not engage everything with all the depth and richness we can?

Categories: Body, Mind, Miscellany, Nature, Outdoors, Spirit | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Knowing and Believing

I have found myself pondering “knowing” and “believing” lately. Such a pondering is fraught with peril because there is so much wiggle-room in the definition of the words and because of the unconscious baggage they often carry . In the America of the Culture Wars many are quick to associate “knowing” with science and fact and the physical world and “belief” with faith and religion and perhaps even superstition. In such a scenario, the terms become pugilists, squaring off in the ring at every bell and seldom returning to their respective corners. I myself have been guilty of such association, and hope here to avoid that particular quicksand though I am sure I will likely fall into it or some other.

Instead, I would like to show that the terms are actually friends who complement each other quite nicely, like coffee and mornings or movies and popcorn. Each of our lives is actually a highly interwoven fabric of fact and faith. There are things we think we know absolutely but in fact we have placed our faith in someone else or their knowledge and experience, and if we seek deeply enough we may come to see that they themselves did not “know” either, but believed what someone else had to say on the matter.

So first we need to get a definition or two out of the way. What I mean by knowing is that which I have direct experience of via the five senses. What I mean by faith is the acceptance of the testimony of another. Already I am on a slippery slope, but please bear with me a bit. As an example, I know there is a place commonly called “Spruce Knob” which exists in my home state of West Virginia. I know this because I have been there. I know it is aptly named because it is covered with red spruce trees at its highest elevations. I have seen them and touched them and smelled their lovely spruciness (spell check does not like “spruciness”, but I am overruling its objection because I stand as the Supreme Court of this blog). I know that wild blueberries and huckleberries grow there, sometimes in great preponderance, because I have stuffed my belly with them.

Now, there here are some other things I “know” about Spruce Knob, but I do not know them by the direct experience of my own five senses. I know them through the testimony of others and I presume that their knowledge is based on their five senses or the accumulated knowledge of the five senses of others. For instance I know the elevation above sea level is 4,863 ft. I certainly haven’t measured it myself nor do I completely understand the mathematics involved in calculating such a figure. I also know that Spruce Knob is the highest land elevation in this state. But again, I know this not by experience but by the testimony of others. I have trudged my way atop many of the mountains in West Virginia but certainly not all of them, and I haven’t personally measured the elevation of those either. So I have a knowledge but it a faith-based knowledge, not an actual knowledge possessed or experienced via my own five senses.

When we look at life this way, we are all believers of a sort. And there is no way for it to be otherwise since we are all limited in space and time and intelligence. None of us can actually “know” it all. But an objection quickly arises–while it is true that no one person can go everywhere or know every thing to be known, actual, physical people do experience these things or know them via the five senses so it is at least theoretically possible for an individual person to know them. In other words, just because I have never been to Paris and likely never will go to Paris you could take me there if need be and I could experience it with my five senses. It is therefore simply a matter of fact that I have not personally experienced, and not really a matter of faith at all.

Well, yes and no. The “no” being that theoretical knowledge and actual knowledge are not one and the same and therefore until I do actually get to Paris I’m just gonna have to trust you that it’s there (and I do, by-the-way). In other words theory and practicality often never meet. In fact, the more we learn, the more we seem to realize how much we haven’t learned yet. It’s like climbing a mountain–the higher we go, the more we can see. But the more we can see, the more we realize there is even more out there we cannot yet see. And sometimes, as the view changes so does our perspective of things we could see already!

There is also one “place” that at least none of us can go–the past. I live about 45 minutes from a place called “Fort Necessity” where a young man by the name of George Washington began to make something of a name for himself. Or at least that is what I’m told. I wasn’t there when everything went down. I have never met George Washington. But I trust the testimony of others and the evidence in terms of artifacts and such. I draw a conclusion and believe it to be so. I know these things but don’t really know them at precisely the same time.

My whole point is really a simple one. In a world where people have all sorts of convictions and all sorts of knowledge and all sorts of belief and all these things get rolled into a mass and crystallize, it’s easy to draw lines and start conflicts or pile on in existing ones. It’s easy to subconsciously place our own knowledge and experience on a pedestal. But if we could on occasion just step back and breathe and see how fraught with peril all our knowledge is it might humble us just a tad. Perhaps we might not be so quick to lay out fuses or put matches to existing ones. It might just gentle us a bit and my how the world could use that.

Categories: Mind, Miscellany, Spirit | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Be You (Part 2)

On reading my last post, a friend immediately commented via Facebook something along the lines of “I still don’t know who the real me is.” This is from an older friend much experienced in life, so I thought perhaps a few details might be helpful in reaching the point I hope to make.

We ended the last post with the thought of looking at ourselves with the labels stripped off. That is, trying to see ourselves before all the labels of nationality, religion, politics, work, etc got pasted on. What do we find in every human being when we look underneath those things? By no means is the following exhaustive, but it seems to me when the labels are stripped away you will find first and foremost…a person.

A person!

How silly that seems. Of course you find a person! But watch yourself and others carefully and you will note how quickly we minimize or even eliminate the humanity of others and even ourselves based on the labels we are wearing. Children who ostracize others or feel down on themselves based on surface issues like brand name clothing are just mimicking adults who do the same over the political, economic, and spiritual, and cultural brands we wear. We could end so much of the suffering in the world by just seeing past the labels both when we look in the mirror and when we look out at the world. Underneath the words we are all human beings–not human doings or human believings (no, that’s not a word but it should be).

Ok. So now we have stripped away our labels and found a person. What’s next? What do we see?

We see need. We have physical needs and emotional needs. We’ll save the physical stuff for another time and focus on the emotional needs. Primarily we see the need for love and connection. We may have different levels of need based on personality type, but we all need people who will love and care for us and we need to give it back. We are individuals but not just individuals. This is why neither selfishness nor emotional martyrdom lead to happiness. We are made to live in balance in community, both giving and receiving love. Tilt the balance one way or the other and we will be out of kilter.

Along with the need we see wounds from the times and places our needs have not been met. It’s important to recognize our wounds and to know they shape us, but also to know that we are larger than the wounds themselves and not lose our identities in them. When we lose ourselves to our wounds we become perpetual victims and hand over the keys to our lives to them and those that cause them–or in many cases to those who we believe cause them even if they do not. Living in our wounds we will always be blaming others and not take responsibility for our own lives. People not only survive but thrive in spite of great wounding when they live above it, refusing to give responsibility of their state of mind to others. Call it salvation, transcendence, triumph–I just call it Life. History is full of people who have done just that.

Fortunately, wounds are not all we see. We also see passions. I don’t mean here the romantic feeling of new love (though we could include it to a degree). I mean the things that set our hearts aflame with a zest for living. Have you noticed that we don’t choose these things? Instead, they seem to choose us, or to have been chosen for us. We discover them as our lives unfold. I have no idea why I love wild things and wild places so much. I only know I do and always have since I was a small boy. I come alive more fully in the woods and on the water. I am literally a better, bigger person when I’m out there. Others do it in museums or classrooms or concert halls or laboratories or  workshops and thousands of other places and things. What sets your heart on fire?

Lastly (for today anyway) you see some gifts. Everyone is good at something. Everyone’s a natural. Again, while we may develop our talents we do not cause them. They are given to us that we might give them to the world at large, the tools by which the love we have can be given to others.They are the means by which we leave our mark on the world, and our use or misuse of them will echo through the generations. If we fail to use them they eventually wither, so we must use them while we can!

So here is a start. If you don’t know who you are, begin here. Recognize your humanity and value and see the same in others–even if their labels differ wildly from yours. Know your wounds but don’t live in them and they will begin to heal. Pursue your passions and use your gifts in love, for otherwise they are wasted. In other words (and I find myself saying this so often these days)–LIVE!  Lovingly. Completely. Abundantly. Because there is only one other option.

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Whoever first said “Perception is reality” was wrong. Perception is just that. The interpretation of reality through our own intellectual and emotional filters. None of us lives entirely in the real world, but instead, in the world as we see it. No one is utterly objective. We all have vested interests–self very much included.

Perception is not reality but it does create reality in the sense of human events, because our perception is what we act on. A false perception still produces real events. An insecure person tends to take every criticism as a personal attack and acts accordingly with destructive effects on their relationships. Or a nation goes to war over a perceived threat. If it turns out the threat was only imagined the maimed will still be maimed, the scarred will still be scarred, and the dead will still be dead. Maybe we should take this perception thing seriously.

We are going to believe certain things about life and existence. It’s part and parcel of being human. We are going to wrestle questions large and small and live out our answers. The more our answers correspond to the real, the more we are going to experience actual living (as opposed to fantasy or even delusion) and the more peace, love, and joy we are going to see. The less we will be afraid. So we should seek truth–it is our friend.

We should, however, note with caution how elusive truth can be. How our perceptions can get in the way. How notions of what is real shift constantly. It is one thing to believe truth is out there–another to claim to know it completely, to own it entire. We have a way of deifying our understanding of things, of building little gods out of what we think we know.  Even in the realm of science, truth can be like a summer-day mirage. We arrive to find things are not exactly as we saw them to be. Remember, not that long ago, everyone knew the world was flat, the Earth was the center of the universe, and that if humans were meant to fly we would have wings. What will we know tomorrow?

I don’t know–and that is good reason to walk humbly in this world.

Categories: Mind | Tags: , | 1 Comment

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