Character & Calling (Part 3)

My winter reading: James Hillman’s classic The Soul’s Code – In Search of Character and Calling (Random House, New York, 1996).

Daimon often comes to us as we are children with an unexplained fascination or unusual ways of play. I was taken very early with writing short storeys about my friends in my imagined exploits we would solve mysteries like Nancy Drew and her chums. Later I went on to become a lawyer in international tax com of all things. But as retirement loomed, I started writing fiction again with all the enthusiasm I once had as a child. In this, I was lucky. Others are not.

The point Hillman makes is not to squeeze this enthusiasm out of children using the excuse that they need to be socialised in order to perform from an early age as their parents and teachers would want. Just give kids enough room to experiment and grow into that oak tree that their individual acorns had laid out for their lives and not surprisingly, to accomplish this they need to put down some very strong roots in order to support future growth into their potential. 

But as Hillman points out, allowing this is difficult for us in the West, because we cling so strongly to what calls the ascensionist model – in other words – up is good and down is bad. Yet this is not the way of Damon or soul. As the Zohar, the main Kabbalist book, makes clear, zimzum, or the self-emptying aspect of the God, known as Ain Soph, traverses downwards through the darkness in a series of ten concentric circles called Sephiroth, collectively known as The Tree of Life. 

Likewise, Plato and his Myth of Er emphasizes this downward assent. Having arrived from previous lives, all the souls mill about in a mythical world awaiting their new lot, or portion of fate. For example, the soul of a mighty warrior chooses the life of a lion whilst that of a young woman runner, choose a lot of an athlete. When each of the souls have chosen their new lives according to their lots, they are assigned a daimon and without looking back, descend to earth to enact their lot. 

It should come as no surprise that in keeping with the Myth of Er, Hellenistic astrologers devised clever ways to delineate one’s lot using his or her natal chart. Some of these techniques have come down to modern astrologers, notably, the Lot of Fortune (or the Moon) and the Lot of Spirit (or the Sun). The former pertains to the natural flow of events in our lives whilst the latter describes change that occurs because of our intention. So, for example, if the Lot of Fortune describes how much money we are likely to make, the Lot of Spirit describes how we will choose our vocation and answer our calling. 

Hillman reminds us that the decent down into earth for soul is painful and costly and riches and fame never seem to really compensate. He uses Judy Garland as a case to illustrate his point. Judy was born into a showbiz family and at age 2 1/2 years of old, she had her first successful performance singing Jingle Bells. The immediate rapport she garnered from her audience cemented her calling, which she herself said “was inherited”. As Hillman also reminds us, it was the superlatives that betrayed her. According to one and all, during the height of her success, Garland was the best of everything. Even Garland herself said “I’ve done everything to excess.”

Yet as Hillman also points out, Judy Garland may have grown up but she didn’t grow down, as is required for soul. Always, she held on to America’s most treasured drug – the myth of innocence – the psychology of denial. Hillman tells us Garland’s acorn belonged “over the rainbow” and it was little wonder that her real life of drugs and chronic loneliness ended on a toilet the night of 21-22 June, the apogee of the solar year, the brightest light and the shortest night. 

Looking briefly at Garland’s natal chart, we see that her Lot of Fortune is at 21 Capricorn 15, and is thus very strong. Not only is in angular (7th house) but its ruler, Saturn, is very strong (angular, exalted, and in rulership by triplicity and term). Saturn also benefits from the rays (by sign) of three of the four benefics (Sun, Moon, and Jupiter). It is however, out of sect (Saturn is a diurnal planet and is in the nocturnal part of this chart). This suggests that in the natural flow of events, such as making money, Garland would do very, very well – which of course, she did  – but with Saturn being out of sect, this success would also be out-of-balance tending toward harmful excess, which of course was the case. Her Lot of Spirit, at 0 Capricorn is likewise strong also being ruled by Saturn. 

Perhaps it is only when we look at her daimon, which because Cancer is rising is the Moon, that we can understand fully why her life took such a tragic course. At 29 Sagittarius, Garland’s Moon (or daimon) is in an anaretic degree. Planets in the anaretic degree are known as ‘destroying’ planets, often causing difficulties, crisis, overcompensation, and poor choices. Perhaps this is an example of what Hillman has already promised to discuss, a situation where daimon is not good but instead bad?

I wonder why it happens to some and not others – definitely worth investigating further, don’t you think?

(to be continued)

Character & Calling (Part 2)

My winter reading: James Hillman’s classic The Soul’s Code – In Search of Character and Calling (Random House, New York, 1996). 

Hillman reminds us that according to Plato and his Myth of Er, the soul of each of us is allocated a daimon, or soul guide, before we are born. This this comes part and parcel with extras: our physical bodies, our parents, and the place and circumstances into which we are born. Although this was our soul’s choice, upon birth we have forgotten it. And so during our lifetimes, we are driven by daimon to reconnect with our choices and reawaken to our calling. This can come to us in any number of ways. Although it may be possible to temporarily defer our calling, or even to only partially live it out, it’s never possible to completely avoid it for if there is one of which we can be certain, daimon can never successfully be ignored.

That’s just the point.

In modern western medical circles, soul – or destiny – or daimon – is ignored.  It doesn’t fit nicely into existing personality and psychological theories. Although Hillman doesn’t say explicitly why this might be the case, he seems to suggest fear plays a large part. Is it not frightening to a civilisation such as our own, a civilisation that has lost touch with its own divinity, to suggest there is something driving us that is beyond our intellectual, physical, and/or scientific grasp? 

Hillman is quick to remind us this doesn’t mean we’ll find the fix to this conundrum by going to church. Instead, we need to go back to Aristotle, Plato, and Plotinus. Least you think that our western civilisation has grown beyond these ancient Hellenistic foundations, take a philosophy course or two and think again. For the reality as presented by these ancients is that we each are here on earth for a reason and until that reason is fulfilled, here on earth is where we will remain. Have you ever had a close call with death – maybe inattentively ready to step off the kerb and be hit by a passing taxi-cab – only to have a complete stranger pop out from nowhere and pull you back from the brink? I have and I now know why. 

This does not mean that demon is always ‘good’. As Hillman points out, there can be an ‘evil’ or less fortunate aspect to daimon. More on this later, but for the time being consider how other societies and cultures have viewed the concept of daimon –  i.e. Guardian Angel (Christian), Lady Luck or Fortuna (ancient Roman), genie or jinn (Middle Eastern), ka or ba (Egypt) and animal and totem spirits (American Indian).

But for the most part, daimon is here to look out for us, to ensure that we are OK. Imagine how much more satisfying would be our lives if we could think of ourselves as fundamentally being cared for like this rather than standing alone up against the cold, harsh world? If we were to accept this point of view, we would necessarily need to jettison one  of our of our most treasured western motifs – that of the self-made hero. What a trade-off, right? Well, according to Hillman, we can still be heroes – albeit of a different type – at least we can be if we listen to daimon. This will be a lot easier if we are both curious about ourselves in our world and unwilling to succumb to being wedged into the statistically convenient psychological slot.

One by one, Hillman debunks a variety of well-known psychological theories demonstrating how much more beneficially daimon would operate instead. He uses a variety of fascinating case studies including that of Eleanor Roosevelt. Well-worth reading but sadly, I’ve got neither time nor space to relate them all to you here and now.

 (to be continued)

Character & Calling (Part 1)

My winter reading: James Hillman’s classic The Soul’s Code – In Search of Character and Calling (Random House, New York, 1996). 

Hillman reminds us that theories don’t do our lives justice. Statistics don’t either. Each of us has a unique calling – something that calls us – a call which we will or will not take.

Do you believe in fate?

Wrong place at the wrong time or the right place at the right time kind of thing?

Is this accident, synchronicity, or something else altogether? That’s what this book is about and yet when you try to use its wisdom going forward in time, it seems to stall. So can we only use it in reverse to make sense of our lives in retrospect? I think maybe – but Hillman says not. This is because he believes our entire lives are about our character and had we not ought to be able to suss that out in advance? Not sure, are you?

Nonetheless Hillman reminds us that we are more than our memories – more than people have told us that we are (or aren’t). So how is it that we can take our own measure and profit by it? Stay tuned and maybe together, we’ll find out!

First step is to forget everything you’ve been told about psychological theories. After all they’re only made up from man-made observations rather than any kind of cosmic road map. We’re looking for a unique personal narrative here – not a standardised genre or traditional 3-Act story plot. Okay, sure – an oak tree does come from an acorn – I mean, how else could it be? But the acorn doesn’t tell how that oak will or will not actually develop or even where it takes root.

Try to think of this less prosaically – more poetically.

Because they have so little, children must rely on imagination rather than experience.   

Eleanor Roosevelt, You Learn by Living

If I hadn’t made a left hand turn – if you hadn’t made a right – if I’d waited just a moment more – if you missed the light…

Dory Previn, Children of Coincidence 

But OK, back to that acorn carrying the genetic code of that oak – in each of our individual acorns, we will find own genetic code in the form of our character which, according to the old stories, was given to us as gift from the gods at our birth.

This is good stuff, Plato, The Myth of Er – daimons and soul guides and no, Hillman wasn’t some kind of new age nutter – he was a Jungian analyst and a scholar and he taught at Yale, Syracuse University, as well as the University of Chicago and the University of Dallas.

 (to be continued)

Beliefs and Propositions

Last night on my weekly Master Your Mindset ZOOM call with Jo Naughton and her excellent Tribe, I articulated the following belief that I felt served me well – ‘I am a clever and ambitious writer’.

But then something prompted me to add – ‘but no one notices or cares’. 

There are many reasons why I might have added that negative qualifier and although I believe that negative qualifier must also serve me well, the reason why must be less than obvious. On the surface, it would seem that such limiting belief can only hold me back from achieving my writerly goals. 

Jo suggested that such qualifying beliefs unconsciously protect us from something which we fear – and that something we fear is more powerful than that which we desire. If that isn’t insidious enough, get this!  The more evidence we gather to bolster such qualifying beliefs, the more they increase their stranglehold. 

This brings us solidly to the interesting question of differentiating a ‘belief’ from a ‘fact’ because if we are being honest with ourselves, only ‘facts’ can produce that evidence. Yet as Jo rightly points out, both ‘facts’ and ‘beliefs’ are mental constructs and so when we say this is a ‘fact’, we are only saying ‘this is what I believe’. 

Jo didn’t go into details, but I ‘believe’ that I get what she means, having recently taken a philosophy course called ‘What is Truth’ at the University of Oxford.

The takeaway point here is that ‘truth values’ (i.e. something either is true – yes or no – there is no in-between) naturally attach to beliefs and propositions; a sentence expresses a belief that XYZ is ‘true or not’ – such as when someone says, ‘it will rain this afternoon’. The only truth involved here is  ‘that’ someone believes the proposition ‘that’ it will rain. Interestingly, whatever comes after ‘that’ doesn’t matter – i.e. rain or not. If you are tempted to argue this isn’t true (or doesn’t make sense) consider further that ‘rain’ is also a belief – I may believe  that the word ‘rain’ includes an icy drizzle but someone else may believe that ‘rain’ requires more, like a heavy downpour. 

The plot thickens when we consider negative statements such as there are no eggs in the refrigerator. How can something be true if it has no truth value (yes or no)? In other words, there are no eggs here to talk about. To make matters worse, a ‘truth’ or ‘fact’ can change over time. For example, when my mother went to high school in the 1930’s, it was a ‘fact’ or ‘truth’ that the atom could not be split, end point. However by the middle of the next decade, that ‘fact’ had not only been negated, but its negation had created nearly a quarter of a million casualties when the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 

I could go on but I won’t – the takeaway point is that if something is objectively true, it must be mind-independent – and unable to change over time – and oh, by the way, that ‘truth’ or ‘fact’ must also be 100% independent of societal views and norms – the suggestion being that as Jo rightly points out, very (very) little of what we choose to believe is ‘fact’ is actually nothing other than a ‘belief’.

If I wish to get rid of my qualifying belief (i.e.  although I am a clever and ambitious writer, no one notices or cares), I need to re-programme my mind to allow for change in my thoughts and belief. Unfortunately, given that I’m not yet certain what that qualifying belief is protecting me from, I’ll need to do this in stages, and I’m guessing that I could use some help with that. 

I’ll report back when I figure this out.

A Study in Existentialist Philosophy (Part 12)

My summer ( morphed into winter)  reading: Willem Barrett’s 1959 classic, Irrational Man, A Study in Existential Philosophy.

In his final chapter, The Place of the Furies, Barrett suggests that before we start talking politics we ought to have first undertaken some serious philosophical contemplation about the true nature of man. 

Although Barrett was writing in the middle of the 20th century, the concerns he’s expressing are still valid today. Barrett points out that as children of the Enlightenment, we in the Western world are accustomed to looking at man ‘almost exclusively as an epistemological subject’, an ‘intellect that registers sense data, makes propositions, reasons, and seeks certainty’. 

As children of the Enlightenment, we are also more or less programmed to look to the past and the future to discern what went wrong and plot and plan how we can make it all ‘better’. With such focus, we skip over the realities of today – not the warm, fuzzy ‘today’ for which we are told we ought to express gratitude, but the cold, hard ‘today’, which we are encouraged to at best overlook or at worst fix and fast. But as the Existentialists have tried to point out, both sides of this equation are the necessary lot of the embodied man.

Naturally it does no more good to focus solely on what’s wrong than it does to focus solely on what’s right. Likewise it does little good to put in Herculean effort to fix that which can’t be fixed. But it would do us a world of good to accept that the ‘idol of progress’ (see both Marx an Nietzsche) is just that – a utopian ideal that we may worship but never achieve.

You see, reminds Barrett, the human condition is one of (1) birth, (2) life (a period punctuated by both intense joy and sorrow), and (3) death. The glue holding that all together is anxiety, guilt, and fear. But as Barrett also reminds us, we in the West have become accustomed to label realists like the Existentialists as naysayers and psychotics, for whom a daily dose of the latest happiness drug is a necessary fix. But it won’t fix anything.

That’s just the point.

The ‘whole man’ or ‘well-rounded individual’ is, according to Barrett and the Existentialists, not one who takes endless courses for self-improvement but one who comes to accept that the power of man is nothing in comparison to that of the gods. This is a lesson that both the ancient Greeks (i.e. the great Oresteia  trilogy of Aeschylus) and modern psychologists have gone to great effort to point out.

The gods have become diseases; Zeus no longer rules Olympus but rather the solar plexus and produces curious specimens for the doctor’s consulting room.

Carl Jung

To find the gods in psychology we ought to look first at the genres of our case-history writing. Our reflection needs to turn to psychoanalytic literature as literature. I am suggesting that literary reflection is a primary mode of grasping where one is ignorant, unconscious, blind in regard to the case because one has not differentiated the subjective factor, the gods in one’s work.

James Hillman

Take away:

We ignore the gods (an integral part of our embodied reality) at our peril and not everything can be fixed.

What About My Rights?

One reason for studying politics is to understand the processes surrounding ‘who gets what, when, and how’(Peters, 23). These processes are inextricably bound to the relationship that states forge with their citizens and are primarily accomplished through formalised organisational state structures (Peters, 25).[1] 

I suggest the concept of ‘rights’ is central to the study of politics because the role of that concept has played in the actual practice of Western politics has often not turned out as expected.[2]

From the 17th century, many Western states have focused on ensuring they do not unjustifiably infringe upon certain ‘indefeasible’ and ‘hereditary’ rights of their citizens (Paine, 472).[3] Hobbes held that even when infringement is justifiable, rulers ought first to obtain consent (legitimate authority) from their citizens (Tuck, 78). Rousseau ups the ante;  he says the goal of all state legislation should be to ensure ‘liberty’ and ‘equality’ for all citizens (Wokler, 17).

No longer must states simply refrain from infringing on the rights of their citizens, but they now must take positive steps to ensure them. For example, Hobbes, keen to avoid the ‘nasty’ and ‘brutish’ life of man living in a political vacuum (i.e. anarchy), declared rulers had a duty to ‘ensure a safe space’ for everyday life (Miller, 22). Bentham (Course materials 3.3) said the states should secure the greatest happiness of the greatest number of citizens which included removing obstacles to education. In 1960’s America, military force was used by the state to guarantee the constitutional ‘rights’ of Negroes to have  equal access to higher education (Kennedy, “Civil Rights Message”). 

It is arguable that instead of making citizens safer, freer, and/or happier the concept of ‘rights’ has often achieved the opposite. McKelvey (2020) reports that during the current Covid-19 pandemic, many Americans cite constitutionally enshrined liberties to deny laws requiring facial coverings to protect not only their own health but also that of fellow citizens. Delton (2017) suggests the alt-right, dedicated to destroying ‘liberal cultural hegemony’, have been deliberately weaponizing the right of free speech at universities by promoting unsavoury spectacles and instigating violence. However authorities choose to react, their ‘legitimacy’ is undermined. 

Have we in the 21st century come full circle back to Hobbes’s initial 17th century concerns? 

If so, I suggest that is because we have put more effort ensuring those ‘indefeasible’ and ‘hereditary’ are enforced rather than understanding the real role they play in the actual practice of Western politics. 

  


Bibliography

Black, Henry Campbell. (1979). Black’s Law Dictionary. St. Paul: West Publishing. 

Butler, Christopher (2002). Postmodernism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

Callinicos, Alex. (2004). ‘Marxism and Politics’, in Leftwich, A. (ed). What is Politics? Malden: Polity Press, pp. 53-66.

“Communism”. (2020). Martin Luther King, Jr. – Political and Social Views;  Stanford. https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/communism. Accessed 25 October 2020. 

Delton, Jennifer. (2017). “When ‘free speech’ becomes a political weapon”. The Washington Post; 22 August 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/made-by-history/wp/2017/08/22/when-free-speech-becomes-a-political-weapon/. Accessed 25 October 2020.

Grosby, Steven (2005). Nationalism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Israel, Jonathan. (2012). Democratic Enlightenment: Philosophy, Revolution, and Human rights 1750-1790. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kenney, John F. “Civil Rights Message”. SoJust: Speeches on Social Justice, 2006-2018, www.sojust.net/speeches/jfk_civil_rights.html.

Martin, Michel. (2010). “How Communism Brought Racial Equality to the South’. NPR News, 22 August 2017. https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=123771194. Accessed 25 October 2020. 

McKelvey, Tara. (2020). “Coronavirus: Why are Americans so angry about masks?” BBC News, 20 July 2020; https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-53477121. Accessed 25 October 2020.

Miller, David. (2003). Political Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Paine, Thomas. (1995). ‘The Rights of Man’, in Kramnick, I. (ed). The Portable Enlightenment Reader. London: Penguin, pp 469-472. Black, Henry Campbell. (1979). Black’s Law Dictionary. St. Paul: West Publishing. 

Peters, B Guy. (2004). ‘Politics is About Governing’, in Leftwich, A. (ed). What is Politics? Malden: Polity Press, pp. 23-40.

Squires, Judith. (2004). “Politics Beyond Boundaries: A Feminist Perspective’, in Leftwich, A. (ed). What is Politics? Malden: Polity Press, pp. 119-134.

Tuck, Richard.  (2008). Hobbes: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wokler, Robert. (2001). Rousseau: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.



[1] Squires (119-121) suggests politics should be defined broader to include the discourse of power whenever and wherever social relations are ordered. This essay adopts the more restricted definition of politics suggested by Squires (132) although I agree that especially regarding feminism, such a narrow definition is not only unhelpful but harmful. 

[2] I define ‘rights’ as (1) ‘natural’, in the sense that they ‘grow from the nature of men and depend upon his personality’ and (2) created by ‘positive laws unacted by a duly constitutional government’ to create ‘an orderly civilized society’ (Black, 925).

[3] I define ‘state’ as a ‘structure’ that exercises territorial ‘sovereignty’ through laws regulating the relationship of individuals within that territory (Grosby, 22).

Life, Liberty, and the Avoidance of Tyranny

Try it: Google ‘democracy in USA is finished’. If, like me, you get 28.3 million hits in 0.49 seconds, are you really surprised?

Let’s face it: as a democracy, America is on the verge of collapse and it is only the less astute citizen who fails to acknowledge that this proverbial writing has been on the proverbial wall for more than two millennia.

In his famous political essay The Republic, Plato (circa 424-348 BC) teaches that as surely as Democracy evolves from Oligarchy (a system of government where the rich rule the poor) that Democracy evolves into Tyranny. While the first transition results from an excess of wealth as with the English monarchy from whom the American colonists won freedom in 1776,  the later results from an excess of freedom. Plato provides some startlingly scary examples of the warning signs, should you care to read them. 

Plato also teaches that bloated with desire to do whatever we wish – whenever we wish, (i.e. the American obsession with unlimited free speech and unmitigated gun control), the citizens of democracy will at last become so sensitive that we no longer can endure ‘the yoke of laws’. Consider why recent laws requiring Americans to wear face masks to save their lives in the face of the pandemic killer, Covid-19, have become such an intense, hotly debated political issue.

This is the beginning of the end.

“… for there is a law of contraries: the excess of freedom passes into the excess of slavery, and the greater the freedom the greater the slavery.”

It happens like this: because law and order have vanished, the disgruntled citizenry elect a champion to seize control.  All goes well until inevitably the champion oversteps his bounds. When the citizenry try to remove him, they discover their champion turned tyrant is even more lawless than they. 

Plato teaches the champion turned tyrant is one of ‘false and braggart words and opinions’ who calls impudence ‘good breeding’, lawlessness ‘liberty’, wasteful extravagance ‘magnificence’, and self-control ‘want of manhood’. Not to cast aspersions, but am I right in guessing this might sound familiar?

As an American, I lament that so many of my fellow countrypersons have not read Plato nor are they likely do so prior to this November. But then again, ought I to be surprised? Recently media analyst, Mark Dice, asked Californian beachgoers why they celebrate the 4th of July and far too many of the replies were shocking.

I mean, how could any American who actually believes that America obtained its independence from China want to read Plato?

Has such ignorance, as Plato has plainly predicted, truly sealed the fate of the country of my birth? I hope not. Not only has America survived a good many serious challenges to date but so have other democracies like the United Kingdom. That America survives this epic challenge, remains up to each and every citizen to do his or her civic duty and remember that at all times individual freedom must be balanced with individual responsibility. 

If this democracy known as the United States of America is not to topple into the abyss of perpetual tyranny, this balance point must be found and respected.

Let’s face it: Tyranny is unlikely to bring the citizens of the United States of America anything close to which, more than two hundred years ago, they had promised themselves; ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’

Some may say this is not true; it is their democratic right to do so. But is it wiser to believe them or Plato?

A Study in Existentialist Philosophy (Part 11)

My summer reading: Willem Barrett’s 1959 classic, Irrational Man, A Study in Existential Philosophy.

Describing human existence is different from describing a table. For sure, we are looking for ‘truth’ in both cases. But in philosophy, there are many different definitions of ‘truth’ and it’s important in each situation to pick the one most appropriate.

For Heidegger, when it comes to describing human existence, ‘truth’ has nothing to do with correspondence to observable facts, as it might with the table. When discovering truth about the table, we had only to look at it with new eyes and start describing what we see. By contrast, Heidegger was convinced that discovering truth about humanity requires uncovering something that is hidden from view.

Descartes

In this endeavour, Heidegger believed that modern philosophy was not helpful. With Descartes, said Heidegger, western philosophy had come off the rails. With the belief ‘I think therefore I am’, western man has become ‘locked up in his own ego’; in other words, the Cartesian man is the subject (‘I’) that manipulates objects (‘the world’) and that’s not at all how it works.

Dasein

Heidegger saw human existence as more dynamic, more inclusive than Descartes. He summed this up as Dasein – ‘being there’ – ‘being here’  or Being (in the world). With Dasein, man is too embedded in the world of subjects/objects for the ‘truth’ to be mere subject- object manipulation. For Heidegger, the world in which men are embedded has its own ‘truth’. Further, this ‘truth’ is imposed upon us from outside and not the other way around. It is this external ‘truth’ (with or without God) with which we must grapple.

Imagine the world in which we are embedded as a ‘ field’ – scene and setting – in which we must live, work, and play. Heidegger labelled the driving energy behind this living and working and playing as our ‘care and concern’. To me, this sounds similar as to how I understand the interaction of (1) dharma (our calling, vocation, or destined path in the world) with (2) karma or fate; in turn, this interaction is called soul. 

Soul

Think of that ‘field’ (scene and setting) as karma and the man living and playing and working in it as a character. If we subscribe to Descartes, this character is pretty much in charge of how all this plays out. But that is not how the ancient Greeks saw it. After digging into the entomology of the word phenomenology, Heidegger did warn that to get to the bottom of all this we would need to jettison 2500 years of Western thought and philosophy and that includes Descartes.

Conveniently, this brings us to Heraclitus who taught that a man’s character is his fate. The idea is that when man – i.e. through his character – aligns himself to soul , then his karma becomes one with his dharma, or calling/vocation. To me, dharma defined in this way seems to be similar to what Heidegger calls ‘care and concern’.

Heidegger also said phenomenology (description) is about setting aside obfuscating preconceptions and letting the ‘thing’ reveal itself to us. This is not to be accomplished, as Nietzsche might suggest, by pushing, prodding, and/or exercising ‘power over’ the ‘thing’. That is too Cartesian.

When it comes to looking at ‘care and concern’ or what I call dharma, Heidegger believed that the ‘truth’ about human existence would reveal itself not through pushing and prodding or even intellectual speculation but instead through thoughtful observation of our everyday, lives – i.e. our embedded existence.

Dharma

Dharma is the most personal way that each of us (in our guise as character)  can be in the here and now. To get in touch with dharma, we need an open line of communication with soul.

Imagine soul sleepwalking through the universe looking for ‘love’ (a complex mix of truth, beauty, good, and justice). To find ‘love’, soul must ‘yoke’ (think yoga) itself to character and work through the dharma of character.

The only way to determine how well this partnership or yoking is working, is to measure one’s emotional response or moods (Angst or anxiety) to Being (in the world). In other words, if you’re happy, all is well and if you’re not, best to understand what’s wrong and why. For Heidegger, moods are not temporary fleeting fancies but modes of Being. Remember the game plan here was to allow Being to reveal itself from its hidden depths rather than to push or prod it as would the Cartesians.

If, as Heidegger suggests, truth is Being and our moods are modes of Being, then by attending to our moods perhaps in the same way one comes to trust his or her intuition, truth is revealed. Perhaps more importantly, when we allow ourselves to be at one with this truth (rather than trying to escape it by intellectualising it away as would Cartesians), we are fully embedded in our world and this is good.

Returning to dharma and karma and soul, I suggest that for Heidegger, rather than being more useless navel gazing, attending to our moods is soul making/connection or getting back to the source and that source is truth. It only makes sense that we are better off when living our truth then when denying it. Implications of this, I suggest, is that we do ourselves no favours when feeling uncomfortable (Angst or anxiety) we race off to find some drug or other practice to ease or escape our existential pain. This line of thinking, I suspect, will be more fully developed by Sartre, who comes next. Let’s wait and see, yes?

Final Thoughts

If all this seems unbearably complex, it is. This is why Heidegger is one of the most difficult philosophers to read. Nonetheless, efforts to understand Heidegger are generously rewarded. His ideas have exerted an immeasurable influence not just on existentialist thought but on all of European philosophy.

But it doesn’t stop there. As the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy notes, the work of Martin Heidegger has influenced such widely flung disciplines such as architectural theory, literary criticism, theology, psychotherapy and cognitive science. 

Warning: Brick Wall Ahead

July 2020 is tough going. It was always meant to be. It started with a challenging lunar eclipse on the 4th of July, the last of a long series of eclipses across the Cancer/Capricorn axis. It ends with a bang when Mercury (in emotionally focused Cancer) comes up against Mars (in militant Aries) by a nasty square aspect.

Themes

The themes here are both Lunar and Saturnine with a heavy dose of Martian-fuelled desire – (‘I want what I want and I want it now’). Mix in some bullies, tyrants, and similar social miscreants and we walk straight into arms of the ancient philosophy of Stoicism.

Stoicism is about getting in touch with our emotions and befriending their physiological root causes. If we are successful in this endeavour, we can redirect our emotions for good purpose. If we aren’t, we give ourselves over to unfortunate snap reactions. Think Michael Lofthouse, here – that British entrepreneur in Silicon Valley whose racially abusive rant at an Asian-American family in a restaurant recently went viral.

Stoicism is also about getting honest about how the world really works.  Abandon wishful thinking. That eclipse back on 4th July was meant to deliver some stunning insight about something big, something which is not working in our lives. We have reached a turning point. Time for a serious change of direction. 

Questions

I ask myself the all-important question here (which you might try asking yourself) – where I do feel ‘dried up’ – how have I given my all and not received enough in return? The answer is to be found where Mars is currently transiting in my natal or birth chart and that is the 10th house – my career and vocation. I’ll be honest. For the last two years, I’ve spent enormous time and energy trying to get this astrological coaching practice off the ground. Despite a few promising moments, it never did take off. This leads me to the next question – what now?

Stoicism is not all gloom and doom. That would be worse than wishful thinking. Instead, Stoicism is about finding a way to live a life that is worth living. Key to this is accepting that there are some things over which I have choices and others over which I have not.

I work through this by exercising basic logic – in other words, A+B = C – whether I like it or not. I also can work with meditation, mindfulness, and other similar practices of self-reflection. One such practice is engaging in writing an evening philosophical diary meant to prompt me to learn from my experience as well as to forgive myself for my mistakes. In this way, we can prepare for a better tomorrow without any carrying an heavy emotional baggage around.

Answers

Enjoying a better tomorrow requires us to muster enough courage to do the ‘right’ thing for everyone involved – not simply that which will make us (momentarily) happy.

For me, this means thinking long and hard about walking away from my attempts to build an astrology-coaching practice. There are, after all, some things over which I have a control and others over which I do not; the conclusion might well be that what I’m offering is not – and never will be – what others are wanting. This is not a condemnation of either me or them. It just is what is.

Having reached this point, I’m free to set my sights in another direction. Tomorrow, Mercury turns direct so it’s time to integrate the lessons I’ve learned during the last couple weeks and formulate them into a workable plan.

Stoics are fond of pithy phrases to help them navigate the difficult seas of life. One phrase which seems useful right now is ‘the obstacle is the way’. Brick walls happen; we all confront them from time to time. The Stoics remind me that charging at that brick wall, as if I were a bull responding to the waving red flag, may not be the best strategy. Instead, I could try climbing that wall or maybe going around it; others may not change their wants but I can change what I offer and so with open arms, I welcome tomorrow – when Mercury turns direct!

A Study in Existential Philosophy (Part 10)

My summer reading: Willem Barrett’s 1959 classic, Irrational Man, A Study in Existential Philosophy.

Like Kierkegaard and Nietzsche before him, Heidegger struggled with the damage that too much navel gazing a la Plato and Descartes inflicted on men. Whilst Kierkegaard saw this as insult to his Christian faith, Nietzsche saw it as a desperate (yet doomed) attempt to fill the gap left by the ‘Death of God’, which he’d taken upon himself to so scandalously pronounce.

But Heidegger saw this navel gazing – with or without God – as an affront to the reality of man; to wit – men are, have always been, and will always be not of heaven, but of earth – the earth upon which we live and upon which we must toil for our existence. Heidegger figured that it was about time that we started ‘thinking’ rather than navel gazing and, in this regard, ‘thinking’ had nothing to do with Platonic ideas but instead everything to do with the practicalities of Being.

What exactly is Being?

To get to the bottom of this, says Heidegger, we need to jettison 2500 years of Western thought and philosophy which has focused solely on what it means ‘to be’ rather than what it means ‘to be of something’. 

Navel gazing again, you say? 

Well, not exactly, says Barrett. This distinction is more than a ‘piece of scholarly pettifoggery’. For example, saying ‘this is a table’ is an empty abstraction leaving each of us to fill in the details with our own preconception of tables. Worse, in doing so we do not even realise – much less question – what it is that we are actually doing. This, Heidegger warns, is the slippery slope to navel gazing and the only antidote is Phenomenology, a concept he borrows from his old teacher, Husserl.

Phenomenology is about setting aside obfuscating preconceptions and letting the ‘thing’ reveal itself to us. This is not to be accomplished, as Nietzsche might suggest, by pushing, prodding, and/or exercising ‘power over’ the ‘thing’. Instead, we must look at the thing with virgin eyes.

Our table might well be made of oak or pine or plywood and it may smell of resin or paint or glue. It is perhaps one metre by one metre square or even rectangular or oblong. It might be pink or blue or red or yellow, all important details to note. Assuming it is yellow, flush this out more – is it mustard yellow, canary yellow, daffodil yellow or a combination of all three? The point is that this table isn’t any old table, it is this table and that is extremely important, whatever that means.

This is all very well and good when dealing with tables, but the plot thickens when we come to describing human existence. Yet this is exactly what Heidegger says we must do and to do this, he sets out.

(to be continued)