I decided to rename my blog Philosophical Confessions in light of new formalized sensibilities informed by both experience and my philosophical propensities. My original motivation for this blog has not changed.
It is still:
Home to philosophical reflections on life issues. These will vary from philosophically dense scholarly-type papers, to quibbles, annotations, critiques, self-help guides, and problematics. It was the university, first as a student and later as a Professor of Philosophy, that was once home to my philosophical engagement with life issues. Initially this was an ideal forum for an interactive, passionate exchange of commonly entrenched concerns but as education came to suffer the ills of institutionalization more and more, and standardized policies replaced the creative, and biophilous dialectical flux that characterized the inter and intra-human exchange amongst practitioners of philosophy, this became an ever alienating experience. Yet the yearning for meaningful reflection has not waned and the practical application dating back to the Greeks has finally found new footing in Philosophical Counselling. Putting philosophy back on the streets and employing philosophical methods as a form of counselling constitute the two-tier structure of this blog. Negotiating the “truth” in all facets of life and living will be the driving force that both defines the parameters and implications of all philosophical reflections.
I am now enriched from years of ‘agitation’ that has both deepened and contoured my philosophical preoccupations. Not unlike Socrates, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Simone de Beauvoir and even might I daringly add, Veronica Franco (16th-century Venetian courtesan and poet), seeking the truth, the mainstay of all philosophical ventures, is sought not somewhere aloof, rigidly outside, beyond, over-and-against, or cast off from its visceral incarnation. For it is in how one lives one’s life that the truth is revealed. Writing brings truth to bear in a social domain which often goes amiss, creating havoc wherever misunderstanding perturbs interpretation. Confessionals add context; they are personalized moments in which the truth is disclosed or dislodged from the abundance that purveys life. Not then to be read like a map plotting life denotatively, but more like music rich in notational instructions which only properly comes to life when played …symphonically. I like to think of these confessionals as a symphony of sorts – however badly written, for I am no musician.
I have made no secret of how motherhood has given valour to those hegemonic values which with mutant offspring have shaped my orientation in life. No relationship has impressed such a keen sense of responsibility within that ever-so fragile context of love. I probably started out as a Kantian of sorts, and with dips and pulls into the aretic tradition, have made my way to a more existential-type predilection. Perhaps not unlike most mothers overburdened by a hyperbolic acceptance of psycho-sensitive paradigms, I was initially confounded by the depths and intense love I felt for my first born (and then as if anew, for my second born, Kalianna) which only made the sense of awe and wonder regarding my role as his mother all the more daunting! I could do irreparable damage despite the best intentions! OMG!!!! Breast-feeding? Yes!!! 10 points for doing that for 9 months! Sleeping through the night!?No number of hail Marys can compensate for the number of times exhausted and desperate Thomas would be welcomed to sleep in cozy comfort with mommy! Talking, engaging, reading to him/with him? Too much and he’ll never learn to be alone! Too little and stifle any chance for cultivating a love of learning! Crap! How much is too much? Did I spend too much time with my kids? My (ex) husband certainly thought I did! (he’s an ex after all!!! 😉 Actually, in truth he’s a wonderful father to those two!) He’d call my children “τα αυτοκολλητάκια μου” (loosely translates: my little stickers) to suggest how clingy he thought our relationship to be! Friends? School? Shy was he! So much strategizing to cultivate social skills, and self-confidence! And yet he never seemed to lack in self-esteem, but as teachers would say of him from as early as preschool, “Thomas is ultra-sensitive to his surroundings!” It wasn’t that he was hyper-sensitive, but very viscerally in tune with his surroundings, especially other people. Who knows, maybe this is what so early on in his development can explain his remarkable sense of justice and fair-play. His concern for the underdog, and the unfair, discriminatory treatment of others did not go unnoticed. Thomas has always been described as “a good kid”. For me, he was “the boy with a golden heart”. But what were we to say to him when the world, life experiences, didn’t quite match up with his moral ideals? Shrug our shoulders and say: “Suck it up kid, this is the real world!” or “The good guys finish last!” or “Be your own person and you shall shine!” or “Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing; you just be a good kid!” As he matured and these quandaries grew in complexity, life experiences seemed to take over and he became less and less inclined to discuss things as we’d been accustom to. Indeed, only Twitter seemed to match his intolerance of a word count exceeding 140 characters! OMG! We’ve failed him! But despite, or maybe in spite, of this and so much more, Thomas now 18 (well almost), is still in so many ways that shy, hyper-sensitive, caring, good and (from what we are told by professionals) exceptionally intelligent little boy! But he’s not just that either! His shyness, initially addressed as an “issue”, made him aware of the conditions of the human psyche that has in so many ways been the benchpress for some hard-won battles for the socially awkward and marginalized. Did sleeping in my bed, apparently that HUGE, unspeakable, no, no, warp his development? Did he become dependent? A mommy’s boy? Lacking in confidence? Nope! Actually, his versatility and strength has never ceased to amaze me! No, I mean it! Amazed me! Just when I thought he’d crumbled, he always seemed to become a little bit stronger, and little more confident. Indeed, Thomas is especially socially adept, and eager to get out there a claim a place in this world, and he doesn’t seem to want or enjoy it when it is too easily won! My existential entrapping? Perhaps?
So what of all of this, Pirocacos? The Landmark: Thomas got into university! This seems somehow a rite of passage. In an obvious way, it is his! The accomplishment speaks to a course of maturity where the last year demanded the cultivation of temperance, fortitude, and agility, and all in submission to or for a future quite uncertain, and one which he only vaguely even desired! This landmark, however, is my own! A time of reckoning symbolically tied up in his. It’s not so much that my work is done! Motherhood is for a life-time, and it is so in a way that no other relationship is. I think the words of Kahlil Gibran speak more loudly to me now than ever:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
(The Prophet, Children)
Such is to learn to love without expectation and without possession. For though parental narcissism seems to play a pivotal role in those first moments where we look to recognize ourselves in his teeny smile, demeanour, and idiosyncrasies that make him a little more my own, a little more endearing, a little more loved, it is unreconcilable with unconditional love and acceptance. For it is in learning to admire Thomas for the manner in which he uniquely delved into the awkward moments of life, frustrated efforts, and various crises of character and trauma sometimes caused by me, that I have ever so slowly (ya, I ain’t that smart! Meh…) learned to love authentically. It means to love with risk, risk of loss: for indeed our children must take some giant steps that may leave them existentially adrift from us. It means loving when he, in stark defiance, really is his own person, bearing no markings that speak of home. It means hoping that he look beyond you, for a sense of grounding, and meaningful fulfillment. It means to love from a distance when he no longer needs you.
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’s 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!
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.
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.
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.
“Parting is such sweet sorrow” has been the mainstay of my life for over 7 years now. Trapped – in what seems an eternity (again the Greeks are nothing if not dramatic!) – in the undertow of life events, saying “good bye” comes more often than hello. And yet, there is truth in this quote, for with each salutary gesture more assured are we in our primordial attachment.
Romeo and Juliet, Act 2, Scene 2
‘Tis almost morning, I would have thee gone—
And yet no farther than a wanton’s bird,
That lets it hop a little from his hand,
Like a poor prisoner in his twisted gyves,
And with a silken thread plucks it back again,
So loving-jealous of his liberty.
I would I were thy bird.
Sweet, so would I,
Yet I should kill thee with much cherishing.
Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow
That I shall say good night till it be morrow.
Preceding this passage is this passage:
A thousand times good night!
A thousand times the worse, to want thy light.
Love goes toward love as schoolboys from their books,
But love from love, toward school with heavy looks.
“He who does not know how to encircle a girl so that she loses sight of everything he does not want her to see, he who does not know how to poetize himself into a girl so that it is from her that everything proceeds as he wants it-he is and remains a bungler.” Kierkegaard
So where would Kierkegaard’s aesthetic lover find himself…even more interesting, where would one find Regine Olsen who spent her whole life loving Kierkegaard.