Essays of Interest!

Hello, world!

I’m taking an English composition class right now, and I thought it might be a good idea to share an essay that I had just written for class. I’m not sure if I’ll continue to post essays from this class on here, but I feel as if this one is relevant to HSP. Here it is:

A Path Was Illuminated

“Simply because you can breathe doesn’t mean you’re alive,” once said a song writer of my generation. I believe that his observation was entirely astute, in that he brought to focus, again, the age old idea of “knowing one’s self.” Socrates issues this dictum, and said to his students, “the unexamined life is not worth living.” However, I think he expressed himself most clearly on his death bed by accepting the punishment of suicide over the punishment of exile. Not only is an unexamined life not worth living, but an unexpressed examination can be more deeply crushing.

As confronting life, one is faced with a few absolute certainties. Pleasure, pain, and death. As the essay “Chatterbox” dealt with a character coming to grips with time and mortality, my essay will, too. While the character Catherine from the essay dealt with her fears and her disability by volunteering at a nursing home, my story also starts with an elderly man; my great-grandfather, Joseph Abate. In dealing with his mortality, I had to deal with my own.

In order to give some background to the story, I’d like to say a bit about his life and how it related to my own. Joseph Abate was born close to a century ago, to a Sicilian family. They had moved to America to discover “the land of opportunity,” only to come face-to-face with the harsh realities of being a laborer in America, as well as the Great Depression. His pursuit of success, in many hundreds of ways, defined his character. He was the kind of man that kept tissues up his sleeve. He was the kind of man who took the jelly packets from a diner for his toast at home. Some people would have called him “cheap,” but I would call him “thrifty.” He was never cheap when it came to family.

Having eight children; six boys and two girls, he was constantly bustling about, trying to earn money, and teach the children a thing or two about life. His familial bonds were what kept his will from withering. He survived financial uncertainty of every kind, early 20th century factory conditions, and six heart attacks. Being the second great-grandchild in the family(my older brother, Kyle, being the first, at a year and a half older than myself), I had grown up with a very strong bond to him. While my mother was working two to three jobs at any given time in my early childhood, he and his wife watched my brother and I. He taught us countless things, from mathematics, to gardening, to songs about pepperoni.

At the time of his death, I was a few months from my eighteenth birthday. Having experienced the break-up of my first long term relationship a week earlier, I was a bit disheartened at the lack of permanence in things, to say the least. I remember, very clearly, the day of his funeral. As I watched the twenty-one gun salute, I became wholly aware of how easily life could be taken from us.

As the next few days went on, I tried to keep myself very busy, to keep from dwelling on things that hurt me. On the Saturday of that week, my best friend gave me a call, letting me know that there would be a small get-together at his house that evening. A few of my close friends would be there, and we would take a walk around the town of Beacon Falls.
During that walk, I saw the most startling thing in my life. This moment changed my perception of life as I knew it, and has stuck out as my most vivid memory since then. I saw the human form and fragility displayed as something not horrible, but beautiful. This was something that I had to learn to value. The method of transmission of this thought was as simple as it was sublime.

Seeing as how it was night time, we were carrying a flash light. We stopped at a playground to sit and talk about what we had all been up to in the past few days. My best friend pulled me aside and said he wanted to show me something amazing. Without hesitation, he grabbed my hand and put the flash light under the palm of it. With the top of my right hand facing me, and the flash light turning on, I instantly saw the pieces that made up my hand. My bones and blood vessels were very clear to me. The soft tissue was finally displayed for me to see. This was not only a thing that quickly brought my mind to focus on the present moment, but something that made me think about the consequences of my actions in a very profound sense. While I realized that I am not permanent, I instantly embraced the idea that I could have an impact.

Six years past that event, I find myself tracing back many of my ideas to it. I believe that this recognition of human fragility is what led me to want to be a doctor. I saw this fragility as a human condition to be embraced and to be learned from. It showed me that it is not all that difficult to rip the life from another person, and that I had to protect that life in myself, and others as well. My path was finally illuminated, by nothing more than a household flashlight.

What’s The Big Idea?

What IS the big idea?

Or, more appropriately, what ARE big ideas?

Big ideas, as I will be discussing them in this post, are reflections of virtues and emotional qualities. Compassion, anger, fear, faith, pain…these are states of being. They are big ideas, which we can use as a mirror to view our lives in. When we are in a funk, we can turn to these big ideas and try to see how we can match up to them.

For the sake of continuing my use of Stoicism as a great philosophy to live by and work from when addressing people, I will use the four classical virtues, or “big ideas,” of the Stoic philosophy. These are wisdom, moderation, justice, and courage. The one I will start with is the “big kahuna” of all big ideas – wisdom. Socrates was said to have it, Solomon was said to pray for it..it is a HUGE idea.

To truly understand and appreciate philosophy and virtue, we must have an understanding of what wisdom is. Philosophy, when looked at through its root words, means “the love of wisdom” or “philo sophia,” in ancient Greek. Philosophy is none other than a love of wisdom..and while its academic form may be entirely different from where it started, I think anyone in the field of philosophy will have an appreciation for wisdom.

“Wisdom is a deep understanding and realizing of people, things, events or situations, resulting in the ability to choose or act or inspire to consistently produce the optimum results with a minimum of time, energy or thought.” – Wikipedia

This, being a conventional understanding of wisdom, is a great way to approach the topic. What does it mean to produce optimum results? To understand that, we need to look at what we do and how it effects people. Similar to the overarching political process, so to do our “personal politics,” effect everything around us. From what we eat to our habits in exercise and our mannerisms of speech, from our appearance and attitudes at work all the way to our ability to think in act in times of crisis, these all reflect our own personal wisdom and our ability to produce optimal results.

What are the best results? Most people take the utilitarian philosophy’s idea of this, nowadays, in that we want what is best for the greatest amount of people. Politics hold this definition to be true, in that it is the ordering of a society. It would be foolish to order a society on what is best for only a few people, or best for no one. However, the definition of what is best varies from person to person. This is one of many reasons that wisdom is important.

Socrates, in his day, and all through to today, has been considered someone who had wisdom. It was not just his status as being a famous philosopher, but the fact that many of his ideas reflect so well upon humanity as a whole that make him wise. One of his most famous quotations reflected the idea that he ‘knew that he knew nothing.’ Now, of course this is not taken as complete nihilism, or the idea would make no sense. If one knew nothing, how could they act towards optimum results? This was a realization of fallibility, which is key to wisdom, and, unfortunately, rare in today’s philosophical community.

His quote, more accurately described, would say that Socrates knew that he didn’t know what he didn’t know. As Samuel Jackson would say, “There are known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns.” The are things we know we know, things we know we don’t know(i.e. I have no idea how a toaster works, entirely), and things we don’t know we don’t know(many things that happen behind our backs, so to speak, we have no knowledge of, except for the knowledge that we don’t know them). Socrates was one of the first to recognize this, or at least to admit it, and in that, admit that a finite brain can only process so much information about an incredibly large, expansive, and wild universe.

This “deep understanding” allows us to be open in our search for what the optimal results may be, and gives us the courage(another virtue, or big idea) to ask questions of those who may know more. Whether my problem is wanting to understand how my toaster works, or finding a cure for cancer, I certainly don’t know the answers to either, on my own. However, finding the answer, in both cases, can lead to optimal results… cures for cancer, and better pieces of toast. Whatever your path may be, asking questions and seeking good answers will lead to the optimal results. This, in essence, will bring you wisdom, and is an act of wisdom itself.

That’s all for today, I’m off to enjoy some toast!

A Few Orders of Business

Hello, world!

Today, I’d like to talk about a few things.

First thing’s first: I’m happy to be writing again. I had, once again, been in a bit of a funk, as people can sometimes be. I really needed to review my Stoic literature and to meditate, but I had been hesitant and very moody lately. However, this nice weather is definitely giving me pleasant feelings about the days ahead! I’m looking to plan a few events on meditation in the near future, probably in New Haven and Waterbury, CT. I’d like to see what the demand would be like for it first, of course, and then go from there. If you’re interested in taking some meditation classes from me, let me know via e-mail, facebook, or a comment on here. I’d like to do group sessions, but one-on-ones are fine, too.

I’d really like this to be the first “no b.s.” meditation school to exist in a long time. There won’t be any focus on advanced philosophical/theological concepts. It will be about centering yourself and living better in the present. In this way, it can be accessible to people of all ages, races, religions and backgrounds, which is key to the Stoic concept of cosmopolitanism and the goals of HSP itself.

Also, I’d really like to start connecting with people of all different backgrounds across the state and start working with them to create and promote some free programs in meditation, exercise, martial arts, and parkour. If anyone is interested, please let me know.

Next order of business – HSP will soon be running a small “documentary-ish” series on DIU TV online. They’ve been extremely supportive of me so far, and I’d like to take it a few steps further. I’ll be interviewing people that offer free services to all kinds of people, as well as martial artists, fellow stoics, and other people who show that the goals of this program are more than just a pipe dream of mine. If you offer a free service in CT, NY, or MA, and are interested in being interviewed and maybe demonstrating some skills you have, or showing off some of your greatest accomplishments, let me know.

Now for the meat of this post: promoting tranquility. To understand this, we need to talk about open-mindedness.

A lot of society is in what I would like to call an echo chamber. They surround themselves with people who are similar to them in thought, and succumb to what’s called confirmation bias. It’s the process by which many people sort out information to confirm what they already know and believe. Rather than accept evidence to the contrary, these people shut out outside influences. This makes it VERY hard to have any kind of real dialogue between different kinds of people.

A big problem with this is, also, the emotional quality to much of the information we come into contact with. Rather than a headline reading “Senator wants to raise taxes” or “Senator wants to lower taxes,” we see “Rogue senator screws over the elderly,” or “Socialist takes more money and hands it out to undeserving people.” Fact base reporting in the press and on the internet is disturbingly rare, nowadays, and the biases are very prevalent. The problem not only reflects on a poor state of the press and the community of journalists world wide, but because of the rampant consumption, it shows that people actually love this stuff. That, to me, is alarming.

In order to truly connect with other people, we have to hear them out, no matter how misguided we believe they are. The arts of diplomacy and peace are not of insults and cuss words, but built upon the foundation of listening with an open mind to new ideas.


“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” – Epictetus

We also must be firmly aware of our own fallibility. Nobody’s perfect..and I mean that. It’s part of the reason I post of my shortcomings in here, regularly, and show how I find solutions. Being too stubborn with information is just as bad as being gullible, because it cuts a person off from the wider community of the world. No one’s right all the time..and yes, all of you Dr. Houses, I know it’s hard to operate on the assumption that you’re not right, but it’s also not impossible. I find it very calming to say, at least once a day, “I was wrong,” especially if I have some tension between myself and another person.

“If you hear that someone is speaking ill of you, instead of trying to defend yourself you should say: “He obviously does not know me very well, since there are so many other faults he could have mentioned” – Epictetus

The quote above is one of my favorites shows of humor in the Stoic philosophy. In order to be truly open, I think people may have to develop a good sense of humor about themselves. Recognizing our shortcomings and being able to laugh at them and realize how ridiculous they are can keep our attitude positive towards changing, rather than negative towards staying the same way. In life, the only way to move is forward, and looking in the mirror all day, staring at one blemish on our faces or in our personalities will keep us standing in the same spot. Of course, I say this with serious experience of stagnation, especially in the past days. I have not been up to my own standards! Ha ha!

I hope this helps you all, and that you’re all having fun. Remember to contact me if you can help with anything.

Peace be with you all!

On Repression

Hello, world!

I’m here, tonight, with a message from your inner child.

Play more.

Did you ever see the movie American Beauty? A “white-collar worker” decides to blackmail his boss, work at McDonald’s, smoke marijuana, and find a love interest in his daughter’s high school senior best friend. It’s a great movie, really, and it has a lot of deep messages, but the most important one is repression of desires.

While desire is usually taboo to Stoic authors, it’s also not entirely outlawed by the philosophy. One can have desires for things that are not of high moral importance and still be a great Stoic. The key is knowing when too many desires are put up, or the desires are too strong, or they are for self-destructive things. Stoics, in general, had a little bit of fun, but also worked their butts off. It’s also no shame, especially in today’s world, where we have a strong division of labor, to make work fun.

As adults, sometimes we forget about how genuinely good life is. I do it all the time. However, the real ticket to happiness is to keep this in mind..plain and simple, that life is good. This is what the many Stoic authors of the past and present have meant by “living according to Nature.” Nature was not just trees and birds and squirrels, but the entire universe acting as one force. Whether you believe the universe is conscious or unconscious, or created or accidental, there’s no real drawback to living. Yes, you die. However, if you were never born, you would have no conception of death, nor of anything. If you never had pain, you would never understand or appreciate pleasure. Everything would be kind of “meh,” as my brother says.

No one likes “bland” or “indifferent,” and the same was true of the Stoics. They were taught to put little importance on things that were indifferent(out of their control). The same goes for modern Stoics..we prefer to focus on things that we can work with and enjoy. Now, this doesn’t mean to shirk one’s responsibilities, and do what happened in American Beauty. Not at all. The lesson to be learned from the movie is that, sometimes, a person takes on a life that is not built for them, and it makes them suffer. They are not living according to THEIR nature. We all have certain things we like and are good at..if we do not pursue these things, we don’t make good use of our natural talents. If we don’t make use of those gifts, and try to enjoy life, playfully, we may find ourselves burnt out, and end up shirking responsibilities, for fear of a repeat of that cycle.

No one is untalented..we are all, truly, unique and equal, in that we all have a gift.

This is why one of the HSP missions to build an adult-sized playground. I notice people at the gym watching TV and listening to music while they’re on the treadmill. Rather than a fun run through the park, or a soccer game, we run on machines. Rather than climb trees and throw baseballs, we’re lifting simple weights. Of course it’s good for us, but are we really enjoying ourselves? “Work”ing-out is even a stressful term. We need to “play” out more, enjoy more sports, and ultimately have more fun as adults. There’s no shame in enjoying life, and the health benefits of happiness are no secret to us.

Well, it’s time for me to go to bed. I hope this article helps and inspires you all in the future. If you’d like to help me with any HSP missions, let me know.

-Richard

And I’m Back Again

HELLO, WORLD!

Sorry about the lack of recent activity, I’d been sick for a while, got into a bit of a slump, and had been not feeling “myself,” so to speak. However, I’m doing much better, and would like to share some of the insights I’ve had.

First off, being right in an argument isn’t everything. In fact, it’s next to nothing, lest the argument be of dire importance to someone’s or something’s life or well-being. I’ve been a philosopher for a long time, and have always had a soft spot for debating. However, in recent days, I’ve found myself losing interest in debates, and getting frustrated when I have them. The reason for this is that I’ve discovered that debates often don’t accomplish much, unless you’re trying to sway someone for an important reason. Taking a lesson from Marcus Aurelius, I would like to only act as a good man should, and talk not much of the topic.

Secondly, I had a daydream today of society as a large machine. It’s a concept I’ve dwelt upon for years, and while I was on the bus today, I pictured all people and things as turning gears, as well as little machines of their own. Each gear had a choice to diminish or increase sections of itself and its own work output, and increase the speed and efficiency with which the machine worked. I used this idea as a way to illustrate to myself, in my journal, the ways in which virtues make us effective, powerful, and ultimately, good. The four cardinal virtues of the Stoic path are wisdom, justice, courage, and moderation. At the center of the each gear-machine was the mind, using will-power to power(not will-to-power a la Nietzsche) itself. Wisdom, I found was the foundation of the other three virtues..it allowed the mind to discover the virtues, and to enact them. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again…

Wisdom is knowledge in action.

Next, justice acted as a lubricant between the gears, and allowed them to move faster and more in tune with each other. While in reflection upon what justice was, today, I decided that the clearest way for me to describe real justice was with the idea of fairness. Fairness may appeal to different people in different ways, but I think that humans generally have a good feel for what is fair and what is not. As time has progressed, humans have worked towards becoming equal and interconnected as a whole. I found this realization of our history to be interesting, because Stoics often spoke of being “world citizens” or cosmopolitans, and talking about a universal city of brotherly love, or the cosmopolis.(Brotherhood applies to sisters and those who are of different genders of any kind as well.)

Courage worked as a couple with justice, and gave justice more power. Courage is not just the lack of fear, but the strength to do what is right. What is right is not always easy, and what is easy is not always right. It takes guts to make good decisions. I’ve always heard that hate is easy, and that love is difficult, and this is true. Forgiveness and compassion are NOT easy things to enact in our lives, but they are extremely important. We all screw up..no one’s perfect. However, if we use courage to be fair, and wisdom gained from our experiences to understand other people, we can make life very close to being perfect.

Last, but never least, moderation gave each machine more longevity. Nothing lasts long in an extreme. Starvation leads to death, but so does gluttony. Running from a challenge or a fear destroys courage, but running headfirst into something can often knock us onto our rear-ends. The truth is often in the middle of two polar extremes.

My last realization of the day was that in trying to kill a bad habit, especially in the realm of a drug habit, one can desire a “high of sobriety” that may not exist. I’ve found that this thwarts many people from giving up bad habits, and even halted me from giving up cigarettes. I always depended on an idea of being perfectly happy when I gave them up, and every time I tried, I didn’t find that perfect happiness, so I gave up on giving them up. Unless you’re replacing cigarettes with marathons, you probably won’t find a “natural high” right away…however, that doesn’t mean that a long life isn’t the best kind of thing you can have. Longer life means enjoying life for a longer time, even if it’s not as intense as a high.

That’s all for the night!

I Cah’t Breave Tru By Dose

Hello, world!

I am sick. Flu season got me, even though I made it almost all the way through winter. I might be a bit late on this, but I figured I’d put some tips on being happy while being sick on the page.

First is the most important one..if you have to mix work, don’t stress it. It sucks to lose money, as anyone can attest to, but it sucks even worse to get your friends and coworkers sick and make them have to do it, too.

Second, make sure you have a good “Sitting down” kind of hobby. Whether it’s playing guitar, crocheting, or video games, as long as you can rest and do something easy on your body and mind, you’ll heal better.

Third, laugh and smile. Grab a comedy movie, and enjoy it. Comedy movies generally, at least older ones, have a great message. Even a lot of newer ones carry over a message of the main character becoming more kind or more courageous by the end of it. The message is great, and laughter is truly the best medicine. If you don’t bog your body down with stress over being sick, you’ll heal more quickly.

I’m gonna keep this short and sweet and get back to my hot water and orange juice by the gallon.

Peace be with you all!

Walking A Million Carved Paths

Hello, world!

Today, I want to talk about organized philosophies and religions, and the benefits and negative consequences of them. For many years, I researched and “tried out” many philosophies. I allowed my beliefs to be swayed in different directions and felt out many different ways of life. I did this to find what gave me the most peace of mind, and to find what inspired me to do the things that I knew were right.

I find that a large problem in the philosophical and religious communities is an inherent belief that our world is not good. Yes, we have many problems. Suffering, death, disease, war, chaos of all kinds..but are these things so awful as to make life itself such a burden for people to hold?

While growing up, I was raised with somewhat traditional Christian values. A lot of them were great values..I’ve never heard anyone say anything bad about the guy who would “give you the shirt off his back.” However, I felt that some of them did some serious damage to my psychological well-being. I know not all Christians believe this way, but within my particular denomination, the world was perceived as a kingdom of all kinds of evils. The only hope of escape was ascent into a paradise, after life. Of course, killing yourself or being self-destructive was, more or less, outlawed, and excluded you from that paradise. I can see the virtues of these things, and do, myself, not approve of suicide or self-destruction, but I also don’t feel that one needs a reward for behaving well, such as an eternity in heaven, or otherwise.

This isn’t to say that their ideas are wrong at all, but that it may create a poor kind of motivation that leads people to only do good out of a self-serving interest in paradise. Rather than enjoying good acts, many folks I’ve met did them out of fear of punishment or even just fear of lack of a reward. This is not a way that I’d approve of living, myself, as it takes much of the meaning out of the acts we perform while living.

I was, at a time, and for a few years, practicing Buddhism. I still click a lot with Buddhists and a lot of their ideas, but their first noble truth was that the world was suffering. I felt that it was either poorly worded, or ignored a large part of life that did not include suffering. I always enjoyed my life, despite any trouble I might’ve gotten myself in, and while I may have felt bad for my actions, or been bothered by the actions of others, that idea still made me feel somewhat perplexed. Life cannot be boiled down, simply, to suffering.

Oddly, while I am at odds with most of his moral ideas, I found something comforting in the philosophy of Nietzsche and similar to my own chosen philosophy of Stoicism. There was this idea he gave, of enjoying what life gave to us, rather than rejecting it. This idea occurs in many philosophies and religions, such as Taoism and Islam, as well. It does not mean being completely in agreement with what other people do, or walking into danger for no reason, but it does mean becoming involved with- and in love with the lives that we live.

Determining that this world is wicked, abhorrent, or completely tied up in suffering is to ignore the very thing that makes us humans..that is to overcome our past conditions by using strength and intellect, and create new things. Our minds and bodies are quite literally built to deal with odd situations and come out on top. If we had not had these abilities, we would not be the towering example of evolutionary processes that we are today. Our largest buildings would not stand, our culinary treasures would not be tasted, our music unheard of, and all of these things would go entirely unmade.

Now, the missing link here is simple. Not only must we overcome poor conditions, but we must learn to smile while doing so. The destination is great, but the journey itself is what allows us to practice virtue. It is a chance to make the destination greater than what we originally had planned, and it allows us to show that it is truly more than we perceive. Each journey we make allows us to excel past it; to dream larger. This, in my opinion, cannot be a product of wickedness or corruption, but quite the opposite. It allows us to be compassionate, strong, just, and wise, which are not wicked qualities. If we learn to enjoy the ride and ride along virtuously, we will blossom further as a species, to places I do not know or understand.

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