My Dearest E. Plurb;
I got your most recent papyrus, and in reading between the lines it seems to be that, due to the current state of the republic (as you see it), you’re feeling depressed, aggravated, enraged, and even a little bit sad. Perhaps you’re not as disgruntled as the time you got your tunic caught in your chariot wheels on race day, but in your most recent writings you definitely came across as if you were experiencing, in the words of the old poets, Σλιπ με μια συστροφή (or, as the Phoenicians preferred, “Sounds like you have a bad case of the Mondays”).
You know I don’t come from the school of “is the kylix half-full or half-empty?” so-called philosophizers, but if you’ll pour me another cup of ouzo, I’ll let you in on a little secret.
Remember, since the dawn of time, or at least since the 2500 BCE election cycle, people have been troubled by the manifest imperfections of this world, and have made many distinctions between higher and lower forms of humans, especially at noon on Tuesday when you found out that somebody stole your lunch from the break-room fridge. Back in the good ol’ days of my own youth, things were easier, there were pretty much just us civilized and enlightened Greeks and everybody else, the barbarians, those people of the north who uttered amorphous sentences similar to the gibberish of a howler monkey.
Now, if your goal is to be more than an ad-sponsored conduit for somebody else’s half-digested mental pablum, then you, my stoic friend, would do well to practice a more consciously dignified system of virtue, one that develops elegance in one’s own behavior, and maximizes one’s ability to separate actual results from imagined efforts (and also not fool yourself at the same time).
I propose that if you want to experiment with possible steps to a higher form of consciousness, then it may be worthwhile to “de-narrate.” That is:
- Shut down the television set
- Minimize time spent reading newspapers, whatever the format
- Read your favorite books. Re-read your favorite books. If you start reading a book that was your favorite and you start wondering why it was your favorite, feel free to put it down and pick up another favorite book. See what favorite books remain your favorites.
- If you’re stuck for books to read, try starting with the classics. What books are the “classics”? Any book that passes the Lindy Effect is a good place to start.
- Train your reasoning abilities to control your decisions, i.e. don’t let yourself get your knickers in a twist because other people are (in your current highly developed estimation) stupid. People have always been stupid. Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to get yourself smarter, not to get others to be less stupid.
- Train yourself to spot the difference between the sensational (e.g. 99.9% of the media) and the empirical.
- Remember: The definition of Truth at the intellectual level is what can be made to sound reasonable based on the words you use. Intellectual reason can find some truth and some falsity in every statement, depending upon how it is interpreted.The definition of Truth at the action level is what works when you actually try it in reality, i.e., what the universe reinforces.
- We need to make action decisions each second. We need to make intellectual statements a few times a day. The two are usually unrelated.
- In the usual unscientific approach to personal Life, if someone gives you a piece of advice, or shares a “fact” that they “know,” you either believe it or disbelieve it. In the scientific approach to personal Life, you neither believe it nor disbelieve what people say. What you might do is test what people say.
- This also covers advice from “your own thoughts”. It even covers “advice” from “your own feelings”. In other words, your own feelings might steer you right, might steer you wrong — you can’t assume one or the other because there have always been instances of both.
- You can only “test” a particular thought/feeling by seeing its results:
- First in a simulation run in your head of what could happen if you were to “run with” this thought/feeling;
- Then, possibly, by “going with” the thought/feeling in real Life and seeing what the consequences are.
- So it ALL boils down to:
Whose advice to follow?
There is the advice of the mind
the advice of the heart
the advice of the gut
the advice from others
the advice from books, memories, etc., etc.
The only way to know is to try experiments.
- Be sure you remember which advice you are testing at the moment,
so you know why you are getting certain results (there is a tendency to forget).
- And very importantly, don’t seek to “resolve” matters, but rather seek to add to the solution process. The longer you restrain yourself from some final “answer,” while continuing to add relevant and maximally objective observations, the higher you raise the probability of right decisions.
- Caveat: This is just the beginning.
The above maxims have gone a long to help me to gain a deeper understanding of things around me, and also keeps my blood pressure down on a daily basis. But if you’re going
“What the f*** do you mean that I should turn off the f***ing news and not keep the f*** up on what the f***’s happening out there?! That’s what got our f***ing world into this f***ing problem in the first f***ing place!!! Dagnabbit!”
then here’s a story about a poor dumb f***, not unlike yourself, in a similar situation, way way back in the days when you were just a tyro smartypants, stealing your dad’s chariot for dragging the Via Pythia on Σάββατο night …
Syphilis, the favorite student of the great philosopher Feta, came to take leave of his master.
“Where are you going?” asked Feta.
“I am going to Olympus.”
“And what for?”
“I have heard that the new ruler, Trumpus Orange-Julius, is a lusty full-blooded fellow and is entirely self-willed. He takes no care of his people and refuses to see any fault in himself. He pays no attention to the fact that his subjects are dying right and left. Corpses lie all over the country like used condoms at a Steely Dan concert. The people are desperate. But I have heard you, Master Feta, say that one should leave the state that is well governed and go to that which is in disorder. At the door of the physician there are plenty of sick people. I want to take this opportunity to put into practice what I have learned from you and see if I can bring about some improvement in conditions there.”
“Plbbbbbttt!” said Feta, “you do not realize what you are doing. You will bring disaster upon yourself. Chaos, which is everything that was before you were born and everything that still is after you’re gone from this mortal plane, has no need of your eagerness, and you will only waste your energy in your misguided efforts. Wasting your energy you will become confused and then anxious. Once anxious, you will no longer be able to help yourself. The sages of old first sought to experience Chaos in themselves, then looked to see if there was anything in others that corresponded with Chaos as they knew it. But if you do not have Chaos yourself, what business have you spending your time in vain efforts to bring corrupt politicians into the right path? Okay, okay, I see you’re just clucking at me and you’re desperate to say something — I suppose you must have some basis for your hope of success. How do you propose to go about it?”
Syphilis replied: “I intend to present myself as a humble, disinterested man, seeking only to do what is right and nothing else: a completely simple and honest approach. Will this win his confidence?”
“Plbbbbtttttt!!” Feta replied. “This man is convinced that he alone is right. He may pretend outwardly to take an interest in an objective standard of justice, but do not be deceived by his expression. He is not accustomed to being opposed by anyone. His way is to reassure himself that he is right by trampling on other people. If he does this with mediocre men, he will all the more certainly do it to one who presents a threat by claiming to be a man of high qualities. He will cling stubbornly to his own way. He may pretend to be interested in your talk about what is objectively right, but interiorly he will not hear you, and there will be no change whatever. You will get nowhere with this.”
Syphilis then said: “Very well. Instead of directly opposing him, I will maintain my own standards interiorly, but outwardly I will appear to yield. I will appeal to the authority of tradition and to the examples of the past. He who is interiorly uncompromising is a son of heaven just as much as any ruler. I will not rely on any teaching of my own, and will consequently have no concern about whether I am approved or not. I will eventually be recognized as perfectly disinterested and sincere. They will all come to appreciate my candor, and thus I will be an instrument of heaven in their midst.”
“In this way, yielding in obedience to Trumpus as other men do, bowing, kneeling, prostrating myself as a servant should, I shall be accepted without blame. Then others will have confidence in me, and gradually they will make use of me, seeing that I desire only to make myself useful and to work for the good of all. Thus I will be an instrument of men.”
“Meanwhile, all I have to say will be expressed in terms of ancient tradition. I will be working with the sacred tradition of the ancient sages. Though what I say may be objectively a condemnation of Trumpus’s conduct, it will not be I who say it, but tradition itself. In this way, I will be perfectly honest, and yet not give offense. Thus I will be an instrument of tradition. Do you think I have the right approach?”
“Plbbbbtttt!!’ said Feta. “You have too many different plans of action, when you have not even got to know Trumpus and observed his character! At best, you might get away with it and save your skin, but you will not change anything whatever. He might perhaps superficially conform to your words, but there will be no real change of heart.”
Syphilis then said: “Well, that is the best I have to offer. Will you, Master, tell me what you suggest?”
“You must fast!” said Feta. “Do you know what I mean by fasting? It is not easy. But easy ways do not come from the Heavens.”
“Oh,” said Syphilis, “I am used to fasting! At home we were poor. We went for months without wine or meat or Pop Tarts. That is fasting, is it not?”
“Well, you can call it ‘observing a fast’ if you like,” said Feta, “but it is not the fasting of the heart.”
“Tell me,” said Syphilis, “what is fasting of the heart?”
Feta replied: “The goal of fasting is inner unity. This means hearing, but not with the ear; hearing, but not with the understanding; hearing with the spirit, with your whole being. The hearing that is only in the ears is one thing. The hearing of the understanding is another. But the hearing of the spirit is not limited to any one faculty, to the ear, or to the mind. Hence it demands the emptiness of all the faculties. And when the faculties are empty, then the whole being listens. There is then a direct grasp of what is right there before you that can never be heard with the ear or understood with the mind. Fasting of the heart empties the faculties, frees you from limitation and from preoccupation. Fasting of the heart begets unity and freedom.”
“Huh,” said Syphilis. “I think I get it. What was standing in my way was my own self-awareness. If I can begin this fasting of the heart, self-awareness will vanish. Then I will be free from limitation and preoccupation. Is that what you mean?”
“Eureka!” said Feta, “You got it! Now, if you can do this, you will be able to go among men in their world without upsetting them. You will not enter into conflict with their ideal image of themselves. If they will listen, sing them a song. If not, keep silent. Don’t try to break down their door. Don’t try out new medicines on them. Just be there among them, because there is nothing else for you to be but one of them. Then you may have success!”
“It is easy to stand still and leave no trace, but it is hard to walk without touching the ground. If you follow human methods, you can get away with deception. In the way of Chaos, no deception is possible.”
“You know that man can fly with wings: you have not yet learned about flying without wings. You are familiar with the wisdom of those who know, but you have not yet learned the wisdom of those who know not.”
“Look at this window: it is nothing but a hole in the wall, but because of it the whole room is full of light. So when the faculties are empty, the heart is full of light. Being full of light it becomes an influence by which others are secretly transformed.”
“Now get out of here and go get me Gyro sandwich, all this talk of fasting made me hungry.”
And wear a clean tunic in case you have an accident,