So my friend and I took to talking philosophy, as we regularly do, till the wee hours of the morning. Last night we were especially transfixed on Stoicism, and dare I say, meditation, which is right up his alley since this is what he does for a living. Knowing my rather contoured figure which has made allies with existential thought, he’s offered patient counsel that I might benefit from inserting meditative practices into my daily routine. Of course, Stoicism is no stranger to what I take to be the basic meditative tenet – a process of defragmentation where the toils, distractions, inhibitions, fetishisms, and labours of everyday life recede to the oblivion and a deep state of peace is gathered (I’ll admit to being infected by a Parmenidean view of this which is referred to as incubation, a common practice amongst the Phoceans). And just as we begin our assent ( 😉 ) into the much contested debate over ataraxia, his voice is interrupted by the sound of incoming mail. A disquieting email left me quite ill-at heart and my friend expressly annoyed! Timely you say!? HA! So did we!!! “Breathe Elly,” he told me, and I watched as he took slow, deliberate breaths. My heart rate slowed, the irritability past, and pangs of despair levelled off. “Okay so this is meditation!!!”, he announced gleefully. “You did it!” And just like that trance over! The implicit cognitive dissonance pervading his thought was unsettling and I took to addressing the problem (well it was a problem to me, damn it!!! Screw composure and quietude, my mind is overturning, and rightly so! 🙂 )
See though I have a great deal of respect for ancient Greek thought, and a special appreciation for all aretic works, I don’t agree with the underlying metaphysics of Stoicism. Now some might say that that really doesn’t matter. That indeed the allure of Stoicism is its implicit cosmopolitanism. So whether you take a more religious or secular stance on the rational order of the universe and our unique and natural propensity for rational thought, it of no consequent. But you do still have to endorse the premise that the world – Nature – is made up a network of causal relations which is why they can argue that the good life is a life that is lived in agreement with nature, itself uncovered via rational deliberation. There is quite a bit of wiggle room to interpret the precise meaning of nature but there is no question that the world is understood to be a rational order and that we can live a eudaimonic life when we appeal to “how things are” “objectively” (though not absolute in reasoned assessment). Now this may be hard for some of you to understand – you may not relate – but the good life for the Stoic is understood in terms of ataraxia or the absence of pretty much anything that unhinges you, and I am all for what unhinges me!
sequel shall follow tomorrow…I promise!
Take away from an old time client about life & love. So much talk about learning to accept what you cannot change; or to live according to the rational laws of the universe; or still to design a life of quietude – seek not then anything that may potentially cause ataraxia. However one wishes to construct the backdrop to these narratives, the point that persists is that things, circumstance, people are all incidentals. That ultimately it is a matter for the mind to fashion a life of happiness, and so nothing falls apart unless the seams of mental perception are to give way. So we go to the narrative, spilt hairs over the conscripted concepts, renegotiate these so as to realign, and restructure the manner in which the factical sometimes sneaks in to disrupt and destroy one’s peace of mind.
Though there is great favour to be found with such strategies, my client, despite his longing to free himself from the anguish of love lost, felt slighted, perturbed; robbed, I think was the term he used. I think he felt gypped, emotionally, existentially, I mean. He spoke to me of poetry, of song, of art and asked me where the haunting, annihilating, consuming yearning for life had gone? And it came to me that meraki, a Greek word, meaning “to do something with soul creativity or love”, speaks to his orientation in life. (FYI I have employed this term in numerous blog posts) I don’t know that the existential undertow (in my mind) can easily rehabilitate one to mental stability, but I do know that something gets lost in translation when everything is thought to neatly, cooly, with composure and calm, fit and make sense. Perhaps my client wasn’t looking to move on, but only to love heartily in absentia. And no, maybe it doesn’t make sense, but then what heroic gestures calling from oceanic depths of spirit ever really do? So onwards and upwards my dear “friend”. Eunoia: a beautiful way of thinking.
Unsettle, disrupt, disturb, interrupt, disenchant, deconstruct, disjoint. These were the words spoken in my head when suddenly at University and 6th I came tumbling down; CRASH! All I could think as I literally bounced back horizontal was: How appropriate! Suddenly I was transported to the last time I fell. Escorting me was my son who with the amusement befitting a 5-year old boy was accosted by laughter quite out of his control which lasted a good half hour. No exaggeration. Making my way to Bobst Library (okay so I’m really at Starbuck’s across from the library!) I laughed as if Louis C.K were reciting one of his memorable skits only I was privy to the grossly hilarious image of myself seen through the eyes of my son! What fun to be a boy of 5!
As we age it becomes an ever more palpable realization that few, very few people, in this world will touch our life, and be an enduring bond of love, support and abiding faith. My mind literally floods with memories of my father. He’d be the one to put me to bed each night as a little girl. He’d created his own storyline with Little Boy Boop, Bad Finger, and Elephant Joe! His stories were always animate involving Little Boy Boop often running across my belly with great force, and Elephant Joe pounding his way to rescue him from some terrible trouble he’d managed to bring on himself! Younger still dad would tirelessly (and he worked long hours) feed me math problems he’d encourage me to solve (I have no idea what happened to those math skills!!! Yikes!). And every Sunday he was the one to take me to advance ballet (yes, I was actually a successful ballerina! HA!) , which was always followed up by a Laura Secord ice-cream at Fairview. During the week dad was always sure to be home to take us to my brother’s practices (soccer, football, rugby…though I remember football the most!), and weekends we’d never miss a game. He was always there! For as long as I can remember come midnight on New Year’s Eve we’d have a father-daughter dance to Jose Feliciano’s Light My Fire. Dad also escorted me to London and Canterbury when I was first accepted for post-graduate studies. My Lord did we walk!!!! He’s also the one that was there to pick up the pieces when my marriage ended. And though he is not perfect (who is?!), and upheavals are part of any home-life, he was right about one thing: we always knew we were loved! Maybe you don’t think that’s such a notable life lesson, but it has marked my life in the most remarkable way, for it is dad that taught me to love. It is dad that taught me the unconditionality of loving. Through all adversity, destitute of circumstance, emotional exhaustion, and despair my father has always been there and I know he always will. He has taught me this: the unconditionality of love is oblivious to the factical. This gift has not always found a safe-haven of reciprocity, but it is a life-compass that I pray my own children will cherish and look back upon our shared life with the tenderness that I now do.
I love you dad!
Constant retrieval and upheaval. Landmines are everywhere. Why must they be invisible, though? Sometimes it’s as if immobilized standing before this incredulous land field of death; other times it’s as if I’m surrounded crouched small in the middle of it all. As I survey the spot adjacent to me I pivot looking to uncover, as if by some miracle, the least invasive terrain. Nothing stands out for attention and so I pivot on the axis of my being hoping I might just launch myself into the stratosphere without ever setting foot on the ground. If you’re looking for clearness stick to Descartes in servitude to that ailing cogito, but it shall be with a chuckle from the universe! I’ve made my bed with Faith, and though seemingly unkind, her existential nobility allows for streams of light to penetrate the darkness which gives her voice.
*Photo from ArtofAmerica site by Angie Bechanan