A Way of Seeing (Part 2)

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Must we discuss heavy topics such as truth, reality and the best way to live? Isn’t it enough to spend time doing interesting and pleasant things? Shouldn’t we be like young children, free of heavy thoughts and therefore lighthearted?

Isn’t it better to not know certain things? Like, isn’t it better to not know the feeling of cancer?

When we’re young,  death is something that happens to others—the old and infirm and/or unlucky—but then, one day (if it hasn’t happened already), a simple truth suddenly hits: Death happens to everyone—including you.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

cheat deathAs hard as it is to imagine, one day, there won’t be another. One day, nothing will happen and you won’t know what happened. You will be gone like those who have gone before you.

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You will join the non-existent and leave only remains but this reality need not cause anguish. There’s nothing you can do. Fuhgeddaboudit. Some people see death as an opportunity to “live every moment.” To them we say, “What! Are you crazy!”

“Just look!
Even the blossoms that are destined to fall tomorrow
Are blooming now in their life’s glory.” ~Takeko Kujo

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“Where does your face go after death? I do not know. Only the peach blossoms blow in the spring wind, This year just as last” ~ an  āgama sutra.

Maybe when you die it will be like before your parents were born. Maybe there’s a trick to this death truth.

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The difference between reality and truth is: “Reality has been existent ever since the beginning of the universe. On the other hand truth is something that you have proved ” (source). Reality is multidimensional. Things appear as they do to you based upon from ‘where’ you are looking. 

The “world” is a felt experience but like Wittgenstein said, “The world of the happy man is a different one from that of the unhappy man” (Tractatus Logico-philosophicus).

In answer to “What is the meaning of life?” Eckhart von Hochheim—aka Meister Eckhart (1260-1328)— said, “Whoever were to ask life for a thousand years: ‘Why do you live?’—if life could answer, it would say nothing but: ‘I live in order that I live’” (source).

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Caspar David Friedrich, Moonrise Over the Sea, 1822.

People have versions of reality that conceal certain aspects but to make the world a better place, it takes acceptance of all of reality and not just the bits we accept.

How a person responds to ethical principles determines that person’s character. For billions of people life means surviving. Life means eating, sleeping and eventually dying.

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The problem seems to be one of money: how to get, spend and save. It’s economics—oil prices, real estate, stocks, debt, GDP, jobs etc.. The purpose of life for billions of people is to get money.

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Then again, some people don’t care too much for money.

Some people see being creative as their life purpose but regardless of what you think your purpose is (if you have one), you probably don’t mind feeling happy.

As Kurt Vonnegut wrote in A Man Without a Country, “And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’”
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Positive psychologists Seligman and Royzman (2003) identified three types of theories of happiness: Hedonism, Desire, Objective List and Authentic Happiness. Which theory you subscribe to (knowingly or not) has implications for how you live your life.

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Hedonism theory mantra: “Go for it! What the hell!”

Hedonism theory is about maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain. It’s a popular theory. It’s all the rage. Seligman and Royzman (2003) object to it however. They say it can’t handle someone like philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein who lived in misery but died saying, “Tell them it was wonderful!” (source).

Desire theory counters Hedonism by saying that it isn’t about pleasure: it’s about the fulfilment of desire that makes us happy. But again Seligman and Royzman object, saying, if one’s desire is to collect dolls, no matter how satisfying it is to have a big little doll collection, it doesn’t add up to a happy life.

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Desire theory mantra: “I want that!” Image: Celebrity collections.

Countering Hedonism and Desire theories is the Objective List theory. It focuses on “happiness outside of feeling and onto a list of “truly valuable” things in the real world” such as career, relationships, service to community etc., but again Seligman and Royzman object, saying, a happy life must take feelings and desires into account.

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Oxford philosopher Derek Parfit’s “Objective List” Lecture

Seligman and Royzman point to Authentic Happiness theory saying, “there are three distinct kinds of happiness: the Pleasant Life (pleasures), the Good Life (engagement), and the Meaningful Life”  (Authentic Happiness). It’s positive psychology. It’s all the rage. But even if Authentic Happiness covers all bases theoretically, there’s a more deeply rooted problem.

Cross section of soil showing a tree with its roots.

Any quest for happiness through positive psychology is one-sided and self-centred. It’s essentially an unrewarding vision of a full human life because it’s still about another “me” feeling better.

Cue music: Primal Scream “Loaded”.

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Sorry! And the Nature of Suffering,” Existential Comics.

Look at a candle burning. It gives light and heat as long as it burns wax. It lives on wax. It dies as wax wanes. Humans are like candles. We are chemicals. We die as our time wanes and each generation carries our species one step further in time.

how a person is like a candle
A person is like a candle.

sunflowerEach moment must pass away for us to live another. Death is a continuous process.

Living things die as they live but we prefer not to notice.

We’d rather not focus on those who die before us but on the days and nights left to us (see: The Light of Enjoyment and/or Death Clock). But then, maybe being greedy for the pleasure of living isn’t good either.

In Human Minds Margaret Donaldson writes of a man who could put one hundred rattlesnakes into a bag in twenty-eight seconds. The act illustrates something fundamental about humans: We form unique purposes that we pursue with tenacity. If strong feelings are attached, we’ll even die or kill or perhaps maim in pursuit of our purpose.

We share with other animals certain urges—hunger, sexual desire and musicality—but as Margaret Donaldson writes in Human Minds, “it is characteristic of us that we are capable of transcending these urges, though not easily” (p. 8).

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When something that was interesting suddenly isn’t, people get bored. People get angry and argue with others and themselves. The trouble with arguments of self-wanting is that, not only are they self-centred, they’re self-sustaining.

Donaldson says that coming up with a purpose for our lives is easy “because we have brains that are good at thinking of possible future states,” (p. 9) but it is in self-focused single-mindedness that we’re apt to misinterpret reality.

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We feel satisfied when we dispel an illusion but if the illusion serves a purpose, we don’t  want it dispelled. Consider the world of Walter White in the TV show Breaking Bad.

walterwhitesaymyname.gifAt the prospect of death Walter corrupts his morals for money. He thinks ‘ends justify means,’ and finds himself enjoying money and power. Money and power become his purpose.

He becomes poster child for materialism and ego. The Double Whammo. “Say my name.”

Materialism is either a preoccupation with the material world—as opposed to intellectual and/or spiritual—or it’s the theory that everything in the universe is matter. We’re surrounded by matter so it seems only natural that we should be distracted from spiritual and/or intellectual pursuits, but what if problems are caused by materialism and/or ego?

What then?

 

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Knowledge, Wisdom, Insight and Enjoyment

Knowledge, wisdom, insight and enjoyment relate to the mind but differ in kind. Knowledge is information, wisdom is the application of knowledge, insight is awareness of an essential truth, and enjoyment is, as writer Paul Goodman (1911-1972) observed,  “not a goal, it is a feeling that accompanies important ongoing activity.” 

Knowledge is, “Nothing but the facts ma’am.” If you’re a carpenter, you have knowledge of carpentry. If you play guitar, you have knowledge of guitars. If you’re an astronomer, you have knowledge of stars. Knowledge requires research, study and experience.

knowledge is power

Knowledge is the foundation for wisdom. Wisdom is knowing why something is. Wisdom is the application of knowledge for making sound decisions because one can’t act wisely without knowing the potential consequences of a choice.

Wisdom requires reflection and contemplation of what you know and don’t know so as to understand and use that knowledge in an intelligent way.

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Wisdom is necessary if you are to have insight. Insight is a personal realization. Insight is an experience. It is the deepest level of knowing. It is understanding a specific cause and effect within a specific context.

Insight is a clearer perception of knowledge and wisdom as it pertains to your life. Whereas knowledge and wisdom are based on rationality, insight is based on intuitive understanding. calvin and hobbes i have to do this

The application of wisdom enables a person to gain insight into the essence of an underlying truth. To enjoy insight you not only need to acquire knowledge and take that knowledge and contemplate it—look at all sides with care and attention—and deliberate it—weigh facts and arguments with a view to a choice and consequences—so as to gain wisdom, but you need to make an intuitive connection which is hard to explainlet alone impart to another person.

If you have insight, explanations are meaningless to another person. Like enjoyment, insight is an individual experience that can be described and analyzed but not transmitted or shared. When discussing knowledge, wisdom, insight and enjoyment, we are digging into two incompatible types of thought: rational and intuitive.

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Rationality employs language, logic and reason. Think of rationality as a machine. Rationality can be taught but intuition cannot. Think of intuition as a flower. Intuition is embedded in your consciousness but it is often repressed by self-consiousness.

rational-emotional.jpgRational knowledge is knowing what people, things, practices and pleasures make you happy, but wisdom is knowing that things you enjoy do not actually make you happy; happiness comes from within. Insight is feeling that whether or not you believe something isn’t the right question because the answer is what you know through experience.

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Intuition is beyond words. You can’t manipulate intuitive consciousness with rational thinking. Rational thinking is a veil through which we think we see reality, but we’re really only perceiving a shallow portion filtered through our constructed perspective.

To see reality directly as reality is to be in reality with acceptance as it is (see also: The Art of Love And Enjoyment Incarnate).

Rationality constrains one’s mind and intuition releases it.

Intuition is a key to what might be called, “higher consciousness” which is, “the part of the human being that is capable of transcending animal instincts” (Wikipedia). Higher consciousness has been described as a feeling of oneness where the world is seen directly and not analytically. The world feels like an extension of your consciousness and there is a sudden sense of freedom from a bondage to the way you think about things.

An insight of higher consciousness is a highly enjoyable direct experience with reality in the present. It is knowing that the happiness you feel is a temporary emotion just like any other temporary emotion that you experience. Happiness is one emotion in a spectrum. If you give yourself permission and relax with acceptance, if you let your face go slack and see from the sides, if you hear without hearing, if you do all this without trying, you will enjoy the intuitive realization or insight that there’s nothing to realize.

The world is there. It is unchanged regardless of how you perceive it. Now is the time to give birth to an awareness of all the love and care you have in your body for everything that is, was, and shall be.

This is not a matter of believing or not believing. That’s the wrong way to look at it. This is about knowing from direct experience. It’s when a feeling of awareness dawns in you. It’s when you stop interpreting what you see, hear, smell and feel. That’s when you realize that you and the world around you are one and the same. Like a cell in a body you are. But wait, before you make a decision as to whether or not this is nonsense, try it yourself—then you’ll know. The trick is to try and not try without effort.

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