Posts Tagged ‘Philosophy’

Terwyl jy hierdie briljante stukke skrywe lees kan jy gerus na Beethofen se Missa Solemnis luister, dit kan jou siel net goed doen.

How Bach Will Save Your Soul: German Philosopher Josef Pieper on the Hidden Source of Music’s Supreme Power

Maria Popova at “Brain Pickings”

Some of humanity’s greatest and most fertile minds — including Oliver Sacks, Walt Whitman, Virginia Woolf, Kurt Vonnegut, Susan Sontag, Aldous Huxley, and Friedrich Nietzsche — have contemplated the power of music, and yet the question of why music moves us so remains unanswered, and perhaps unanswerable. Why is it that music can permeate our deepest memories, help us grieve, and save our lives?

Four years after his increasingly timely case for shedding the culture-crushing shackles of workaholism, the German philosopher Josef Pieper (May 4, 1904–November 6, 1997) explored the abiding puzzlement of music’s power in a speech delivered during intermission at a Bach concert in 1952, later published under the title “Thoughts About Music” in his small, enormous posthumous essay collection Only the Lover Sings: Art and Contemplation (public library) — a set of reflections titled after Augustine’s beautiful assertion that “only he who loves can sing” (which Van Gogh echoed in his insistence that art and love are one), exploring what Pieper argues is the “hidden root” of the richness of all music, fine art, and poetry: contemplation.

(And it seems that very few people are indeed inclined towards a contemplative life. Which is perhaps the reason why so few can and do appreciate good classical music, poetry and art?)

Piper begins his Bach speech by examining our age-old preoccupation with pinning down the elusive source of music’s singular enchantment:

“Not only is music one of the most amazing and mysterious phenomena of all the world’s miranda, the things that make us wonder (and, therefore, the formal subject of any philosopher…) [but] music may be nothing but a secret philosophizing of the soul… yet, with the soul entirely oblivious, that philosophy, in fact, is happening here… Beyond that, and above all, music prompts the philosopher’s continued interest because it is by its nature so close to the fundamentals of human existence.”

Pieper considers the question of what we actually perceive when we listen to music. Surely, he points out, we perceive something greater and beyond the sum total of the specific sounds and words, something of additional intimacy and meaning, just as in poetry we “perceive more and something other than the factual, literal meaning of its words.” Echoing Aldous Huxley’s exquisite assertion that “after silence that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music,” Pieper writes:

“Music opens a path into the realm of silence. Music reveals the human soul in stark “nakedness,” as it were, without the customary linguistic draperies.”

With an eye to the canon of ideas about music in Western philosophy — including Schopenhauer, who believed that music is superior to all other arts for they “speak only of the shadow, but music of the essence,” and Nietzsche, who dramatized his monumental regard for music in the proclamation that “without music life would be a mistake” — Pieper summarizes the landscape of thought:

“The nature of music variously [has] been understood … as nonverbal articulation of weal and woe, as wordless expression of man’s intrinsic dynamism of self-realization, a process understood as man’s journey toward ethical personhood, as the manifestation of man’s will in its aspects, as love.”

All of these ideas, he suggests, can be summed up in a single formulation. A decade after the trailblazing philosopher Susanne Langer framed music as a laboratory for feeling and time, Pieper writes:

“Music articulates the inner dynamism of man’s existential self, which is music’s “prime matter” (so to speak), and both share a particular characteristic — both move in time.”

Much as the great Russian film director Andrei Tarkovsky would argue decades later that cinema is the art of “sculpting in time,” Pieper argues that this temporal element of music gives us a vital tool with which to sculpt our personhood:

“Since music articulates the immediacy of man’s basic existential dynamism in an immediate way, the listener as well is addressed and challenged on that profound level where man’s self-realization takes place. In this existential depth of the listener, far below the level of expressible judgments, there echoes — in identical immediacy — the same vibration articulated in the audible music.”

We now realize why and to what extent music plays a role in man’s formation and perfection… beyond any conscious efforts toward formation, teaching, or education.

In a passage of even more jarring pertinence to our own era of formulaic mass-produced mediocrity marketed as popular music, Pieper writes:

“If we now look at our society … we observe how much the most trivial and “light” music, the “happy sound,” has become the most common and pervasive phenomenon. By its sheer banality, this music expresses quite accurately the cheap self-deception that on the inner existential level all is fine… We observe how much attention is demanded by — and willingly given to — the rhythmic beat of a certain crude and orgiastic music… Both kinds of music, the “happy sound” as well as the numbing beat, claim legitimacy as “entertainment,” as means, that is, of satisfying, without success, the boredom and existential void that are caused and increased by each other and that equally have become a common and pervasive phenomenon. We further observe how music … is frequently selected and consumed as a means of personal enchantment, of escapism, of a certain pseudo-deliverance, and as a means to achieve delight that remains merely “skin-deep” (von aussen her, as Rilke said)… We observe all this with great alarm, aware that music lays bare man’s inner existential condition, removing veil and façade (and it cannot be otherwise), while this same inner condition receives from music the most discreet impulses, for better or for worse.”

(Hier kan mens jou voorstel dat Pieper, tot sy skande en skade blootgetsel was aan hedendaagse Afrikaanse musiek met sy dodelike, siellose gedoef-doef-doef wat mens teen die mure uit dryf!)

Pieper returns to the subject of his speech, extolling Bach as a timeless counterpoint to this debasement of the soul in music — a supreme example of the kind of music that ennobles our personhood by inviting existential contemplation:

“We observe and ponder all this and then are moved to rejoice as we become aware again and acknowledge anew that among all the various kinds of music today there still exists, also and especially, the music of Johann Sebastian Bach!”

Obviously, this implies a challenge to ourselves, a challenge not easily nor “automatically” satisfied. That we are willing to listen attentively to the essential message of this music and that we let this message find an echo, as if on reverberating strings, within the immediacy of our soul is decisive. This will lead to new and rekindled clarity, authenticity, and vigor of our inward existence; to the dissatisfaction with entertaining but hollow achievements; and to a sober and perceptive alertness that is not distracted from the realities of actual life by the promise of easy pleasure proffered in superficial harmonies. Above all, this will guide us to turn with resolve, constancy, courage, and hope toward the one and only Good by whose grace our inner existential yearning finds fulfilment; the one Good praised and exalted particularly in Bach’s music with such ever-present “wordless jubilation.”

Complement this particular portion of the wholly jubilant Only the Lover Sings with Franz Kafka on the power of music and the point of making art and Aldous Huxley on why music speaks to our souls, then revisit Pieper on the neglected seedbed of creative culture.

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Love me, so that I can love myself: A Western identity crisis.

In a previous post I mentioned that the need to be loved is, according to Maslow, a deficiency need and not a growth need. If your prime motivation in life stems from a deficiency need, you are automatically in deep trouble.

When Yann defines love as; “the desire to be desired”, he is actually describing, not love but the egocentric behaviour of modern man, the drive to be idolized, to be worshiped as a successful person. I do not need your love, I want your adolation and admiration. You are less than I am. I am what I have, and that is what you must desire. This is actually an immature narcissim, the bane of our modern society.

Anja van Kralingen’s response.
Anja se antwoord.

How this talk spoke to me

I thought that Yann expressed his theory succinctly and convincingly. I think he is onto something. And it doesn’t look good for the future of Western civilization. I recognize that seduction capital is what drives media, movies, TV, advertising and it certainly provides the impetus behind most sales strategies.

Schooling systems are designed to create productive, successful human beings with triple A personalities. There is no place for the creative, non-conformist child and to find an environment in which such a child is valued often comes at great cost to the parents. Many of these children are medicated to fit in because the parents feel pressured into having a “normal” child.

This resonates with Erich Fromm’s “Pathology of normalcy”. Says Fromm: “The fact that millions of people share the same form of mental pathology does not make these people sane.” And to medicate children so that they can conform to society’s pathological way of thinking, makes for a special kind of madness!

There is increasing urgency for people to improve themselves and a great desire to become perfect. Facebook is a means of assessing how others perceive us; it is important that we appear happy; as though we are constantly having fun.

We are driven to succeed and set goals. Modern focus in the therapy industry has moved from the depth psychological approach to behavioral and cognitive therapy. The goal is to become a functioning and productive member of society. For those who are already functioning and productive, the next step is coaching. You must set and achieve personal goals. There is always some aspect of you that needs improvement or “tweaking” to make you more successful, more acceptable and more lovable. Not only do you want to belong and be accepted; you also need to be better than anyone else at this game.

This drive towards “more” has nothing to do with love. As Yann said: “seduction value is preferable to being in an actual relationship.” It is in fact ego driven, the ego’s desire to be admired. Ken Wilber calls today’s young people the me-me-me generation, and this drive towards self improvement must not be confused with the individuation process described by Jung. It is purely self-agrandising. To equate this process with the self-actualization drive, is what Wilber calls a classic pre-trans fallacy, in other words to regard modern ego driven “successful” individuals as highly developed individuated, world-centric people.

So, you play this game. But nobody seems to know exactly what the game is or what the rules are. We just know we need to be better, cooler, more together, happier and on top of ourselves.

We live in a society that is focused on your value as a commodity. It does not matter which sub culture you belong to, your value in that environment is based on how well you fit in so that the other can accept you and love you. (Wilber’s Level 4 or “Amber” stage of development.)

At the Centre, we see firsthand what it is like for students to feel isolated, unloved, frustrated or lonely. Most people start on the Jungian journey because they are experiencing deep sadness. They feel lost and unhappy and disconnected from themselves and others.

A Jungian Solution

Yann has a romantic idea of tenderness and acceptance and is even willing to ridicule himself to achieve this. But to shift the whole of society to adopt this attitude would be quite an achievement; especially in a reality where failure is not an option.

Perhaps there is another way – Jung provides us with a unique solution to this challenge.  The key to the problem lies in changing our focus to become inherently and intrinsically valuable to ourselves; not to improve ourselves to impress others; not to pursue goals and standards that are set by society; not to pursue perfection; not to outdo our neighbour.

Although this is as idealistic as Yann’s solution, it can be accomplished. This is the focus and the work we do at the Centre for Applied Jungian Studies. I believe that the work we do affects, and profoundly changes, the orientation our clients and students have towards their lives and the world. Each one of these individuals in turn influences and teaches his/her friends, family and peers.

I think we all dumb down our own individuality in order to belong to a group. Even the fringe sub-cultures fall into this category. The moment you are sacrificing your interests, thoughts, feelings and needs in order to belong to a group, you fall into a trap; the trap of selling yourself out. The psychological truth is that your relationship with yourself is reflected in how you feel in your life. Are you feeling lost? Then you have lost yourself. Are you feeling lonely? Then you do not know yourself.

Every person should be encouraged and guided to individuate; to develop their inherent talents, their own interests and what makes them happy; to be individuals who are mindful of themselves and self-reflective; to who know who they are, what they are good at and what they are not good at; to have an internal compass to guide them; to be individuals who find meaning and purpose in expressing themselves uniquely. (To become world-centric, and even cosmo-centric instead of staying at the egocentric or ethnocentric stage of development.)

I believe, as did Jung, that this is of the utmost importance for the evolution of our society. It is no surprise that our society projects all that is unacceptable, undesirable and threatening onto the other. In this pursuit of perfection, all that is less than perfect will have to be carried by another so that we can feel okay about ourselves. No wonder there is so much genocide, hate, bullying, rape and oppression.

As Jung said, our ability to accept and accommodate each other lies in our ability to accept and accommodate ourselves. Inner strife and conflict is projected onto the other and I do believe that by pursuing individuation, we will achieve a love and respect for diversity, a tolerance for the other and the ability to accept and admire that which we are not. Self-acceptance is key to feeling content with oneself. Being at peace with and accepting yourself removes the barriers to being good enough and lovable enough. And this in turn brings about an acceptance of the other.

The Jungian Approach

Jung’s teachings are about finding out who you are. The focus is on the process of individuation, which is a journey towards becoming more (and more) yourself. This is not an outcome; it is journey. There are no rules that you need to obey or follow. It is a system, of tools and skills that teach consciousness – self-awareness and self-reflection. It is a movement inwards, towards yourself.

You are not born a tabula rasa (blank slate). The complexes, archetypes and unconscious parts of yourself comprise who you are. In a world in which we are pushed and molded to be like everyone else, the authentic self is suppressed and oppressed. But feelings of dissatisfaction and restlessness cannot be ignored; they seep out of us no matter what we do to silence the inner voice that is our true self.

There is an idea from Jungian psychology, that we become whole and congruent when we align ourselves with our complexes and archetypes. The mis-alignment is what causes neurosis, a condition in which you keep repeating a way of being or behavior that causes you to become stuck.

The Jungian approach is not exclusive. It does not expect you to break away from your current structures or religion. It is a process of making conscious what your world offers you. It can help you align yourself with your world and extract meaning from it.

Jung has left us a model; an approach to finding out who this essential being is beneath all that conditioning. The Jungian system will allow you to embrace who you are with a deep understanding and connection. Knowing who you are and understanding what is going on within yourself brings acceptance of self. Only once you have reconnected and aligned yourself with who you really are is it possible to uncover your true purpose.

The Conclusion

Last year we wrote a blog about the focus of the Jungian concept of transformation and I think this article expands on that. I do not believe that Jung’s approach is the only approach to achieving this goal, but it has worked for me and all the individuals who have been privileged to encounter this body of knowledge.

I want to encourage you as you read this, to reflect for yourself; what do you think your value is that makes you desirable; and what have you sacrificed to achieve it and keep it?

Can you say that you love yourself for who you are?

These are profoundly difficult questions to ask yourself since it requires total honesty and we, as human beings, have an uncanny knack of deceiving ourselves and justifying our own behavior. But the signs will be there if you are not living your authentic life; depression, anxiety, listlessness, sadness and feeling lost and unhappy. If these feelings keep cropping up, it is time to re-evaluate who you are and redefine yourself.

The path to authenticity is through developing a relationship with yourself. Find out who you are at the core; your essence. Learn how to speak the language of your soul and to engage your unconscious. Make friends with those parts of you which you don’t like. Learn to listen to your body, emotions and feelings, since this is the way to understanding what is really going on for you.

This is a beautiful response to Yann’s theory. I do not believe that his “light-hearted self-mockery” will get you anywhere. We have to grow up, wake up and show up (and fast) by transcending the ego by the process of individuation if we want to avert the catastrophy awaiting us by the hands of a fiew mad men posing as world leaders today.

I would like to leave you with a quote from Jung:

“… but, in so far as society is itself composed of de-individualized human beings, it is completely at the mercy of ruthless individualists. Let it band together into groups and organizations as much as it likes – it is just this banding together and the resultant extinction of the individual personality that makes it succumb so readily to a dictator. A million zeros joined together do not, unfortunately, add up to one. Ultimately everything depends on the quality of the individual, but our fatally short-sighted age thinks only in terms of large numbers and mass organizations, though one would think that the world had seen more than enough of what a well-disciplined mob can do in the hand of a single madman.

 … People go on blithely organizing and believing in the sovereign remedy of mass action, without the least consciousness of the fact that the most powerful organizations in the world can be maintained only by the greatest ruthlessness of their leaders and the cheapest of slogans.”

Carl Gustav Jung – The Undiscovered Self


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Ek plaas hierdie artikel gedeeltelik hier vir bespreking. Anja se antwoord sal ek later plaas.

Lees en lewer komentaar

Please read this thought provoking article and share your ideas with us.

Love me, so that I can love myself: A Western identity crisis


I recently watched a thought provoking TED Talk by Yann Dall’Aglio, a French philosopher. His talk was about the current Western approach to love. There is no doubt that we all want to be loved, not only romantically, but also by family, friends and peers.

Yann makes compelling observations about the way this “desire to be loved” has impacted on modern Western society, and that it is not necessarily in a positive way; in fact he reveals a rather disturbing and disillusioning reality.

Yann Dall’Aglio’s theory

Yann examines Western consumerism, its cause and the effect it has on our approach to relationships.

He posits that we all need to feel valued and desirable within our relationships. He explains that love is the desire to be desired, and that we will go above and beyond to figure out how to become – and remain – desirable.

Yann further describes how current Western consumerist society is the result of this basic drive to make ourselves valuable and desirable. Unlike older societies where family and social structures have remained in place for hundreds of years, Western traditional family and social structures have disintegrated. Prior to the 13th century, family and social structures were governed by a clear set of social rules. Depending upon one’s age, sex and social status there were well defined expectations and principles of behaviour, thus, to the degree that you played your part in this structure, you were loved and valued.

The Renaissance contributed to new cultural movements resulting in a mass identity crisis, as modernity ushered in the era of scientific research, political democratisation and the industrial revolution. As a result, reason is now the ruling attitude, individual rights are paramount and trade has been liberalised. These three movements have annihilated traditional Western bearings, giving rise to a society of individuals who are free to value or disvalue any choice, attitude or object. The problem for Western citizens is that we, in turn, have each become subject to this same devaluation by others. We are no longer valued for our roles, our age or the positions we occupy within our social structures, and therefore experience the driving compulsion to renegotiate our value in society on a daily basis.

This obsession is a constant source of contemporary anxiety.

The solution for most individuals is to hysterically collect symbols of desirability. Yann coins this act of collecting as “seduction capital”, which he affirms is the drive behind our modern, Western, consumerist society. He claims that the idea of Western consumption being materialistically motivated is wholly untrue. It is Yann’s theory that our individual drive to improve our value capital is what promotes our excessive consumerism. He describes our motivation towards consumerism as being sentimental and unmaterialistic, by referring to a teenage boy who buys a brand new pair of jeans and then tears them at the knees just so that ‘Jennifer’ will notice him.

Yann postulates that there are two likely future outcomes of this view of contemporary love or “seduction capital”.

He foresees that this narcissistic capitalisation will intensify. Perhaps in the future your value will be defined by your height/weight ratio, your professional degree, your income or your popularity as indicated by the number of “likes” on your dating profile. Using the example of current day loyalty points Yann refers to “seduction capital points”.   He postulates a future in which a chemical treatment for breakups would lessen any residual feelings of attachment. Yann envisages a reality in which the state of permanent seduction value is preferable to being in an actual relationship, and he refers to an existing MTV programme in which “pickup artists” view falling in love as, a disease; an infection; a “squandering of seduction capital”. Heartache is referred to as “one-nitis”; an affliction during which you are infected by the “one”. He imagines a scenario in which we would be able to present our romantic genomic credentials as we would a business card, in order to establish seduction viability.

Inevitably such a relentless pursuit for seduction value has a shadow side; the huge disparity in seduction satisfaction is bound to leave many people with feelings of loneliness and frustration, calling in to question modernity itself, which is the origin of seduction capital, thus playing to the agendas of neo-fascist and/or religious communities who oppose and reject the modern capitalist approach.

Yann’s solution

What is the solution? How does one renounce this “hysterical” need to be valued? Yann proposes that we all need to accept that we are basically useless. This is demonstrated by our inability to perceive ourselves as having any intrinsic or inherent value, unless it is through the desire from another.

Ultimately, “I want to be perfect to gain the approval and love from another, and I want my partner to be perfect so that it justifies the value I attribute to them”.

In contrast Yann calls for tenderness – “love” as tenderness -, which allows us to accept the loved one’s weaknesses. He believes that there is much charm and happiness (joy) in a tender relationship that can be demonstrated by a greatly underrated form of humour comprised of deliberate frankness and light-hearted self-mockery.

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George Monbiot on Jeremy Lent’s ‘The Patterning Instinct’, published on his website http://www.monbiot.com, 31st January 2018

George: “We know where we’re going. For many years, scientists have warned that we are crashing through the Earth’s ecological limits. We know we are in the midst of climate breakdown and ecological collapse. Yet we seem constitutionally incapable of acting on this knowledge.”

LvS: To my mind, the keyword here is “constitutionally” incapable of acting on this knowledge. In other words, governments all over the world are incapable of acting on this knowledge. And there are a variety of reasons why that is so. Most of them has to do with money, big money. Oil is money, coal is money, cutting down trees in the Amazon is money, and no government can, or because of complicity, will stand up against big corporations to stop them from plundering the earth to the point of disaster. (To this, Donald Trump is a prime example.)

Individually and collectively we are capable of and have effected dramatic changes in perceptions and actions regarding our disastrous ecological predicament.

George: “Jeremy Lent’s ‘The Patterning Instinct’ was published a few months ago, but it has taken me this long to process, as almost every page caused me to rethink what I held to be true. Bringing together cultural history with neuroscience, Lent develops a new discipline he calls cognitive history.

“From infancy, our minds are shaped by the culture we grow into, which lays trails we learn to follow, like paths through a field of tall grass. Helping us to construct these patterns of meaning are powerful root metaphors embedded in our language. Without our conscious knowledge, they guide the choices we make.

“Lent argues that the peculiar character of Western religious and scientific thought, that has come to dominate the rest of the world, has pushed both human civilisation and the rest of the living world to the brink of collapse. But he also shows how, through comprehending its metaphors and patterns, we can step off our path and develop new trails through the field of grass, leading us away from the precipice at its edge.

“There are many points at which we could begin, but perhaps a crucial one is to understand the influence of Plato’s thought on early Christian theology. He proposed an ideal world perceived by the soul, existing in a separate sphere from the material world experienced by the body. To arrive at pure knowledge, which exists above the material world, the soul must be detached from the body’s senses and desires. (This is the quest of most true spiritual traditions like Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Taoism, and not only Christianity, and is deemed a prerequisite for spiritual development?) He helped to establish a deep frame in Western cognition, associating the capacity for abstract thought with the soul, the soul with truth, and truth with immortality.”

LvS: Plato lived in pre-modern times when world-centric thought has not entered the stage of human cognitive development yet, but even so, his “forms” were for him, like all “forms” universally valid concepts, and thus his idea of morality was also a universal morality, applicable to everyone everywhere. As can be seen below, Plato saw the Universe (and the world) as orderly and beautiful. The world is not to be exploited or subjected, but worthy to emulate and so to restore human excellence, as can be seen from the quotation below: (meer…)

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Conversations with a famous Red Cap.
Nisargadatta Maharaj
“Listen to this,” I say into the darkness of my wardrobe. ‘When you open yourself to the continually changing, impermanent, dynamic nature of your own being and of reality, you increase your capacity to love and care about other people and your capacity to not be afraid. You’re able to keep your eyes open, your heart open, and your mind open. And you notice when you get caught up in prejudice, bias, and aggression. You develop enthusiasm for no longer watering those negative seeds, from now until the day you die. And you begin to think of your life as offering endless opportunities to start to do things differently.’
“You wake me from hibernation on a cold morning like this to tell me something so obvious, a damn mule can understand it. What is your problem? You going mad or something?” replies a grumbling voice from the darkness.
I suppose I should have anticipated a reaction like this from The Cap. He has been sleeping in a dark corner of my wardrobe since the beginning of the winter.
“Are you just telling me this great, earth shattering truth for the hell of it, or is there a question in there somewhere?” glowers the Red Cap from the darkness of his lair.
“Sorry,” I say into the darkness. “I need to talk to you. This is a quotation from ‘The Pocket Pema Chödrön’, that old Buddhist Master from Tibet.
“I know,” scowls The Cap from the comfort of his dark, warm hiding place. “Why are we bothered by old Master Pema and her wisdom so early on a bloody cold morning like this? And by the way, she is not a Tibetan Master from Tibet, she is an American Tibetan Buddhist, born as Deirdre Bromfield-Brown in 1936 in New York City, USA. Her religion is Vajrayana Buddhism from the Shambhala Lineage and her current title is that of Bhikkhuni. She is the Director and principal teacher at Gumpo Abby in Nova Scotia Canada. Anything else you want to know about Pema Chödrön?” (meer…)

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The last leg of the journey. A desperate race against time.

As usual, TZ is up early. Early means 4.30 in the morning. Normally he spends an hour in meditation before going for a brisk walk which is yet another exercise in mindfulness. But this morning there is an unusual urgency about him. Unlike his usual calm demeanour, he seems to be in a hurry to get going.

He hurriedly goes off to wake the moron up but finds the bed empty. He searches the rest of the apartment but there is no sign of the-seeker-after-eternal-truth. Going outside he finds us in the garden. The moron is sitting in the full lotus position under a tree with his backpack at his side … he is stark naked. Except for me, the famous Red Cap sitting on his balding scalp, he has no clothes on at all, not even shoes.

“What in the world is going on here?” asks TZ perplexed. “Why are you sitting here completely naked?”

I am so ashamed of this foolish companion of mine that I turn crimson red under the bright full moon.

“Did you not say yourself sir,” he retorts, “that if we want to go to God we must go completely naked or not go at all?”

“O Lord,” TZ moans softly. “Figuratively, I meant it figuratively as in empty, as in without any preconceived ideas, as in like an innocent child. Not without clothes! Please go and get dressed, and make sure you put on your hiking boots or else you will not make it even half way up the mountain. Hurry up, I’ll wait for you.” And as a sort of afterthought he adds, “and keep that Red Cap on your head, I think it stirs something good in you, something sensible.” (meer…)

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I found this article by Maria Popova and thought it shares a lot with what Adyashanti has to say regarding the self. Reading this might shed some light on my previous Red Cap “In the shade of the mountain” and other posts as a quest after eternal truth. As Jacob Needleman says: “Out of the inquiry itself arises an immensely hope-giving offering — a sort of secular sacrament illuminating what lies at the heart of the most profound experiences we’re capable of having: joy, love, hope, wonder, astonishment, transcendence.”

I enjoyed reading this. I hope you will too.

Real freedom begins with obedience to a higher influence — a higher, finer energy within oneself. –Jacob Needleman

I Am Not I: Jacob Needleman on How We Become Who We Are

–by Maria Popova, syndicated from brainpickings.org, Dec 24, 2016

“This is the entire essence of life: Who are you? What are you?” So proclaimed Leo Tolstoy in the diaries of his youth“I: how firm a letter; how reassuring the three strokes: one vertical, proud and assertive, and then the two short horizontal lines in quick, smug succession,” eighteen-year-old Sylvia Plath marveled in her own diary a century after Tolstoy as she contemplated free will and what makes us who we are. Indeed, these three smug lines slice through the core of our experience as human beings, and yet when we begin to dismantle them, we begin to lose sight of that core, of the essence of life. What, then, are we made of? What, then, makes us?

In I Am Not I (public library), philosopher Jacob Needleman picks up where Tolstoy and Plath left off, and enlists more of humanity’s most wakeful minds — from Nietzsche and Kierkegaard to William James to D.T. Suzuki — in finding embrocation for, if not an answer to, these most restless-making questions of existence. Out of the inquiry itself arises an immensely hope-giving offering — a sort of secular sacrament illuminating what lies at the heart of the most profound experiences we’re capable of having: joy, love, hope, wonder, astonishment, transcendence.

Needleman writes:

Among the great questions of the human heart, none is more central than the question, “Who am I?” And among the great answers of the human spirit, none is more central than the experience of “I Am.” In fact, in the course of an intensely lived human life — a normal human life filled with the search for Truth — this question and this answer eventually run parallel to each other, coming closer and closer together until the question becomes the answer and the answer becomes the question.

Needleman first confronted this question when he was eleven years old, thanks to a neighborhood boy named Elias Barkhordian, who became his dearest childhood friend and most indefatigable comrade in intellectual inquiry. The two would sit together after school for hours on end, discussing astronomy and spirituality with equal rigor of openhearted curiosity. But it was Elias’s untimely death, as much as his short life, that catapulted Needleman’s existential puzzlements into new heights of understanding. More than half a century later, he writes:

Elias died from leukemia, at that time incurable, just before his fourteenth birthday. In the months that followed the onset of his illness, I would meet with him in the quiet music room at the back of his house, facing a large, carefully tended, sunshine-filled garden. As his illness progressed and he grew weaker, my feeling about his mind deepened. He spoke openly about what awaited him and regretted only that he would not live long enough to understand everything that he wished to understand about the universe. But somehow, doubtless because of the more frequent appearance in us of shared conscious presence, his death eventually, in the years that followed, brought me more hope than grief, the hope that arises from the “sound” of a truly sacred consciousness calling to us from within ourselves.

I see now that it is the intimation of this quality of hope that I have all along been trying to bring both to myself and to my students and readers in the face of the illusory hopes and inevitable pessimism so characteristic of our era.

To explore these questions, Needleman structures the book in the classic style of a Socratic dialogue, but modernizes and enlivens the form with the imaginative twist of staging a conversation between his childhood self, Jerry, and his present 80-year-old self, Jacob. I am reminded here of Joan Didion’s memorable quip that “we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not” — advice often difficult to implement as we wince at the petulance, foolishness, and hubris of our former selves, yet something Needleman accomplishes with tremendous grace, warmth, and generosity of spirit toward the imperfect, impatient boy he once was.

Jacob Needleman (Photograph: David Ulrich)

In one of these exchanges, Jacob articulates to Jerry the central premise of the book itself:

The struggle to exist, to not disappear in this moment, is the advancing root of the struggle to exist throughout the whole passage of time. We need to help each other in this struggle. You by asking, I by struggling to respond. This is the law of love, which rules the universe.

In another, reminiscent of Alfred Kazin’s beautiful case for embracing contradiction, Jacob exhorts Jerry:

Stay with the contradiction. If you stay, you will see that there is always something more than two opposing truths. The whole truth always includes a third part, which is the reconciliation.

The willingness to sit with contradiction, Needleman argues, is the beginning of true self-knowledge and of the deepest kind of truthfulness. Echoing André Gide’s assertion that sincerity is the most difficult feat of all, Jacob tells Jerry:

This is the beginning of sincerity.

Because you are struggling, your question begins to deepen… What you will discover, always for the first time, always new, in the fleeting moment of wonder — before that moment is captured by the ambitions of personality. You, I, in that moment, will discover the need to serve the energy, uniquely human and also sacred, that starts as the pure awareness of one’s own existence. And even as this idea — this beginning idea — of what is human, even as this idea of what is man, begins to appear — even in that fleeting moment of the pure awareness of my existence given now by a great idea — in that moment in front of a living idea, an awakening idea, a glimpse appears of the uniquely human yearning to serve; the need appears, the need to obey that energy, the need to attend to it, to be nourished by it, to receive the help that comes then and only then, when you are objectively obliged to give, to serve, to manifest that energy in action and understanding. It is only that energy of conscious existence that gives you, a human being, real strength. The energy that is the total awareness of one’s own existence is — or can become, can be — the strongest energy in human life.

In another exchange, Jacob steers Jerry toward the idea that acknowledging the illusoriness of free will liberates us rather than taking away our freedom. Pointing out how impossible it is to understand freedom without understanding the influences acting upon us, the laws of the universe, and the nature of reality, he considers the source of real freedom:

Ask yourself what is your understanding of the influences acting upon us — of the universal laws in nature? What are your thoughts about that? And the teachings of religion — the idea of faith, obedience to the higher, responsibility for others and oneself, the deceptions and revelations of sleep and dreaming, the very idea of man’s place in the living, breathing, sentient cosmos, our place on our planet, the demand for morality, the nature of animal instinct and intuition within us and around us, the function and the meaning of pain and pleasure, the idea and the experience of consciousness and conscience, the subtle nourishment in the air we breathe, the food we eat, the genuine and the fabricated needs and desires of the body, the powerful influences of symbols, the cosmic and intimate force of sex, the inevitability of death, the illusion and the reality of time.

Working like this, and maintaining the fundamental attitude of sincerity about yourself and your discoveries, you will become disillusioned not only with your certainties, but with the structure of your mind itself. You will realize that what you need is not new beliefs, new information, new theories, but an entirely new mind.

Such dissolution of certainty, Needleman argues, is the gateway to real freedom:

Real ideas open the mind to the heart, to the heart of the mind, to another level of reality within ourselves… This is the taste, the beginning, of inner freedom. Only fools imagine that freedom means getting what one happens to desire. Real freedom begins with obedience to a higher influence — a higher, finer energy within oneself.

What is higher in yourself? That way of thinking about the question is the beginning of the answer — because it involves a real idea which has been handed down to humanity over thousands of years… At such a point you yourself will find the answer — not as a thought, but as an experience.

You will for a moment become the answer! You will not only have a taste of real freedom; you will for a moment be freedom.

How to cultivate such a capacity for self-erasure in the service of self-transcendence and self-liberation is what Needleman goes on to explore in the remainder of the thoroughly elevating and illuminating I Am Not I. Complement it with Aldous Huxley on the divine within, astrophysicist Marcelo Gleiser on how to live with mystery in the age of knowledge, and philosopher Amelie Rorty on the seven layers of identity in literature and life, then revisit Plato and the perplexity of free will.



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 In the shade of the mighty Mountain

“And the fire and the rose are one”

T.S. Eliot

Swellendam was founded by the Dutch East India Company in 1747 and named after the governor Hendrik Swellengrebel and his wife Helena Ten Damme. The townspeople were not happy with the way they were governed and soon they rebelled against the Dutch oppressors and declared themselves a Republic, indeed the smallest republic in the world at the time. But alas, they soon lost their brief independence when the English conquered the Cape and sent the Dutch packing. And naturally, being from rebellious Dutch and French stock (and being human, all too bloody human, obstinate and quarrelsome), they eventually rebelled against the English too.

We book into a guest house for the night to rest up before our final assault on the summit of our own Mount Sinai.

In this beautiful town the dear wife of our seeker after eternal truth joins us briefly. Mrs M is a level headed, strong woman who calls a spade a spade, and some ghosts by their first name.

It is still early in the day, so we set off to explore the historical sights of the town. We have lunch in a restaurant which used to be the Old Post Office, which was also the house of the postmaster, who was also the gaoler in yonder times. Next we visit the museum where you can see a lot of old tools used by the craftsmen of old, but TZ declines the invitation to join us on our little historical excursion. “There is no time,” he says. “Even history is an illusion,” and he wonders off to a secluded spot in the lush garden to sit in the shade of a majestic old oak tree to meditate.

“There is time, lots of it,” queries my deluded master. “We have all day to do whatever we please.”

TZ just shakes his head and smiles benevolently at his reluctant student and then wanders off.

Across the road is the old Drostdy, home of the first magistrate of the Swellendam district. This is an impressive building in the old Cape Dutch style, now also a museum open to the public. The receptionist/tour guide is a stern lady bent on the detailed transmission of historical facts to the unsuspecting tourist. “Interesting but too much information,” says Mrs M ever so sternly. “There is someone in the kitchen, it’s a man, do you know that?” Our talking bundle of historic information is taken aback and the incessant flow of information stutters to a halt.

“I … I, what … I mean who … yes I know. How do you know?” she asks incredulously. Suddenly she is a transformed woman. No more the formal by-the-book tour guide on auto-pilot, but a human being curiously interacting with another human being.

“I can see him, that’s how,” Mrs M replies dryly. “I don’t think he is very friendly, in fact he seems to be rather hostile?”

“Yes, you are right, there is something in the kitchen and it is not friendly, I am scared of it, but fortunately he never comes to this reception area and I do not go into the kitchen. I cannot see what it is, but I know it is there,” says our miraculously transmuted tour guide still in shock after the revelation that someone else could also see what she sees, or think she sees, or see what she suspects she sees. “But I don’t talk to other people about it, they will think I am mad and I will lose my job. I don’t want that,” she adds meekly, wringing her handkerchief and nervously wipe perspiration from her forehead.

“There is a picture of an old man against the wall opposite the kitchen. That is a picture of the man in the kitchen,” says Mrs M.

“Oh dear, oh dear,” says our psychic tour guide. “That is a picture of a former owner of the house long after it was used as a Drostdy, but long before it was turned into a museum.”

“Interesting,” murmurs Mrs M to herself. “I wonder why he is still hanging around. But tell me; while we were walking towards the Drostdy just now, you came down the steps from the buildings in the back. There was a boy with you, a boy with a hat. Who was it?”

“Oh boy,” our tour guide almost shrieks. “That one I can see. He is always in that building, it used to be a workshop in the time of the magistrate, the one the Drostdy was built for. The boy comes to me and walks with me when I am there, but he never comes with me to this building. He is rather carefree and seems to be busy all the time. What do you make of him?”

“He is about ten years old I’d say. He is dressed in Khaki shirt and short pants,” Mrs M replies. “I get the name Willem, yes it is definitely Willem, but nothing else. Curious, why would he hang around for more than two hundred years? They always amaze me, and sometimes even scare me.”

Me, the world famous Red Cap, is always amazed by these strange human beings. They are forever saying things that either don’t mean a damn thing, or that does not mean what you think they are saying, and then they habitually and vehemently deny that the things they said, that did not mean what they said, was what they meant in the first place. And THAT is scary! (meer…)

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The Red Cap and the Seeker After Eternal Truth Descends into the Low Country

WK 029 (1)

We leave the wilderness behind and travel west down the coast towards the Cape of Storms, not our final destination, but perhaps an apt description of things to come in our quest after truth.

We travel fast on the highway winding downwards towards a place called Little Brakriver, a lesser destination on our arduous, questing way to transcendence. It seems that we must first descend into the low country of sensual existence, before we can move into the high country, there perhaps first to meet Jung’s “burning one and growing one” before entering the void.

“Most of spirituality is a construction project. But enlightenment,” says Adyashanti, “is a demolition project.” This deconstruction project is nothing like Dirida’s deconstruction philosophy where he took things apart piece by piece to examine them and then tried to put them together again (He did it with Philosophy and couldn’t put it together again. He did it with religion and the church embraced him with vigour, and now, after the devastation, they are still trying to put it all together again). No, Adyashanti’s demolition is a deliberate breaking down of structures of knowledge and thinking, to rebuild it from scratch into something completely new, something that has always been there, even before time began.

Little Brakriver is not much of a town, but it is quiet and right next to the sea with a beautiful, unspoiled beach and not many people around. Being a town consisting mainly of holiday homes of rich upper-middleclass people, most of the houses stand empty for most of the year, which is of course a terrible waste, but regarded as normal in our abnormal society. The result is you have to drive to the next town (Great Brakriver) to get supplies, which is a bit of a bother. Our accommodation is a small flat called “The Beach Cottage”, which is quite a misnomer; it should have been called “The Cottage far from the beach”, because it is situated next to the railway line more than halve a mile from the beach. But we are not complaining, it is nice and clean and the owner is a friendly, helpful old lady, quiet and graceful in a country sort of way.

We unpack and then we walk down to the beach for a refreshing swim (says my moron); for our seeker after wisdom’s first serious session of meditation while the sun is setting in the west (says TZ).

We get to the beach and sit down on the sand, catching our breath after the brisk walk. After a moment my moron jumps up excitedly, pointing to a young girl coming out of the sea. “Just look at that,” he says. “Have you ever seen such beauty, such gracefulness in a girl in such a small bikini in your whole life? I think I will walk down there and talk to her, maybe I’ll get lucky,” he says smiling from ear to ear and start walking in her direction. “You stay here, I’ll be back shortly,” he says to me and chucks me down in the sand with his other belongings. Me, the famous Red Cap in the sand, on the beach! What utter disgrace!

“Don’t be stupid,” I shout after him. “She is young, she could have been your daughter. Come back here you moron and start acting your age!” I shout furiously after him, but he walks on, ignoring me. The desires of the flesh are a burning fire, and it drives the fool to his final humiliation, and onwards toward the inevitable dark night of his soul.

The fool struts down to the beach, tucking in his protruding middle age belly in a futile effort to look young again. He walks up to the young lady and start talking to her, no doubt flattering her and making a fool of himself. She smiles shyly, laugh at his stupid witticisms and then they start walking off down the beach and disappear behind some big rocks, still chatting and laughing. (meer…)

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