Truth and lies – do you know the difference?

“That won’t do.”  Lord James Barksdale, better known as Jack, stood beside her.  He shook his carefully cropped head of jet-black hair and looked her straight in the eye.  By the thin shaft of the crescent moon, his craggy face looked cold as steel.  “Talk like that will set tongues wagging.   Believe me, Miss Adams, you do not want that.”

“I said nothing untrue.”

“Truth and lies.  Such a fine line.  Might you know the diference, cousin?  I am most certain that I do not.”

“Lies are never justified, my lord.  Herr Kant, a highly respected gentleman from Königsberg,says we have a moral obligation to our fellow men to tell the truth.”

“Does he?”  Lord James grinned.  “Does Herr Kant also suggest the truth is always justified whatever the consequences?”

______

Something is either true or not – right?

At least that’s how we behave.  We even have machines to tell us when someone is telling a lie.  That’s assuming that telling a lie is other than not telling the truth.

Semantics you say?

I’m not so sure.  While researching for my new novel – Lords and Lies – (excerpt above), I discovered that contrary to popular belief, there’s no agreement on what is truth – indeed finding one is a central aim of  philosophy.

As you can imagine, there’s quite a bit on the subject.  Luckily, Lord James and his cousin, Miss Adams, live in the 18th century.   So they only have to worry about ‘truth’ as it was conceived of then.

Before Herr Kant of Königsberg, there were two routes to an 18th century truth (both inspired by Descartes):

(1)          Rationalism – finding truth by rational deduction – in other words truth is determined solely through reason (Leibniz).

(2)          Empiricism – finding truth by observation and experience – in other words what you see is what you get (Hume).

Kant believed both Leibniz and Hume were wrong.  Thus he  articulated a third approach – a sort of middle ground.

For Kant, truth came in two varieties (1) those which were a priori true (i.e.  all bachelors are unmarried) and (2) those which required  empirical testing  (i.e. all bachelors are unfulfilled).

Not so easy –  but Kant believed that once you had determined that which was true from that which was not  – then as my heroine points out – one has a categorical  impertative (i.e. moral obligation) to tell the truth.

Now comes the really tricky bit – as  Lord James points out.

For example, assume that a Nazi demands to know if you are hiding Jews in your cellar   If you tell the truth, everyone knows what will happen and it won’t be pretty.  But if you don’t tell the truth, then you’ll have failed to meet your moral obligation.

So what if you decide (poker-faced) to refuse to respond?

Truth or lie?

That’s what Lord James and Miss Adams will have to decide.

The Unexpected Benefits of Shame

In his highly readable book, A Blissful Journey,  Geshe Kelsand Gyatos suggests that instead of being a punishment, shame  restrains us from doing that which the person that we wish (or ought to wish) ourselves to be ought not to do.

In this context shame is not a painful conclusion, but a joyous opportunity.

For Buddhists, shame is the frontline defence against inappropriate actions.  Such actions not only produce negative karma (locking you into the painful cycle of rebirth) but also lead to difficult rebirths.

But even non-Buddhists find inappropriate actions to be trouble.  Folks tend to get annoyed when one steals, murders, and cheats.   Likewise, they shy away from those who frequently lose their temper and fail to honour their commitments.  Indeed, during the course of a single day, you are confronted with a whole host of activities that someone considers inappropriate. If you wished to comply with all of them, you might as well just stay home.

The reality of life is that we cannot always abide by an external set of rules when deciding what we should or should not do.

Yet assuming that you want to be ethical, what standard might you use?

I suggest using your own ‘sense of shame’.

Assume that you wished to use your mobile phone in a place where it was prohibited.  You might be tempted to do it anyway – especially if you were (1) in a hurry, (2) pretty sure it wouldn’t harm anyone , and (3) fairly certain you wouldn’t be caught.  If – prior to giving way to temptation – you considered how you’d feel if you were caught, you’d have your answer.

If you’d feel embarrassed or guilty, then deep down you know that you ought not do it.  This is regardless of the logical arguments you might make to the contrary.

However, if you truly wouldn’t be fussed, then you might as well give it a try.

The Astro-Art of Wisdom

Regardless of what the dictionary says, I believe that ‘wisdom’ requires more than knowledge and understanding.  Wisdom requires using your imagination to literally push knowledge and understanding beyond itself into the realm of experience.

This can be accomplished through looking at life through the eyes of an artist.  Artists communicate through symbols.  Artists evoke moods and emotions using pictures and words.  Artists connect us with’something’ that breathes fresh air into otherwise stale lives.

Neptune may very well represent that ‘something’.  Neptune is the astrological symbol of the deep unity with all things into which artists tap.  It’s rumoured that great sculptors connect with the imprisoned energy of a stone.  With their tools and skills, they free that energy for all to enjoy.

The artist’s tools and skills are represented by the Saturn function as that symbolises one’s ability to plan and achieve.

Thus Neptune and Saturn might well be the two most important astrological signposts toward your attainment of wisdom.   By putting Saturn and Neptune together you can make manifest something that jumpstarts your innermost Self to life.

If, like me, you have close Saturn/Neptune contacts, you can work with them through the energies they represent.  For example, I have a Mercury/Saturn/Neptune conjunction in Libra.  Libran outlets through which I might gain wisdom are relationships (all types), law (I am a lawyer), social connections, and artistic endeavours (I’m pursuing a degree in creative writing at Oxford University).

Even if you have no Saturn/Neptune contacts in your natal chart, at some point they’ll come by transit.   Prepare for this golden opportunity by learning how to best exploit what you already have.

Oslo & a sense of community vs. me

Travel is a big eye-opener.

It’s a lifesaver too.

If we sit in one place too long, just like jelly in a mould we congeal and harden. We get to thinking that the world we see out of our window is all there is to see. This is the way things are. This is the way things have to be.

Of course that’s not true and at some level, we know it. But it takes something like a trip abroad to jolt us out of our purple haze.

My recent weekend in Oslo did just that. It not only was great fun, but it reconfirmed the world does not revolve around Oxford. Indeed, it got me thinking again that life might be a whole lot more interesting someplace else.

During an hour spent dawdling over a beer in an outdoor café, I watched a variety of people stroll by. Although their manner and dress wasn’t drastically different from that found on the streets of Oxford, there was something as fresh about them as the breeze off the fjord. Perhaps it was the way they regarded their companions – not as recipients of their own wisdom, but as individuals in their own right with something worthwhile to say.

This got me thinking about the way life used to be here (in both the US and the UK) even just twenty years ago. In those bad old days, while strolling the city streets, we used actually converse directly with our friends & acquaintances rather than remotely via a shiny gadget glued to our ear. What we took away from such personal interchange was much more than just  information. It was a sense of belonging to a community – i.e. something bigger – and perhaps even more important – than me!

This then got me thinking (and I bet I’m not the only one), that while progress may be necessary (and perhaps even welcome), it does have its drawbacks. Yet when like flies caught in a spider’s web, we’re enmeshed in the thick of it, that’s pretty hard to see.

The solution?  Peel yourself out of your mould and take a trip abroad. The open your ears and eyes and enjoy.

Lightness of Being/ Nietzsche’s idea of ‘eternal return’

The Ouroboros, a dragon that bites its tail, i...

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Milan Kundera opens his celebrated novel, “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” by examining Nietzsche’s idea of ‘eternal return’.

What, asks Kundera, might it mean if everything we do, think, and say recurs ad infinitum – ad nauseum – throughout the eternal black holes of time and space?

What if, contrary to the dogma of most religions, life weren’t a dress rehearsal?  What if the mistakes we make in the here and now were never going to be made ‘right’ on some dim, distant redemption day?

Would the knowledge that you had no second chance weigh you down like a butterfly pinned to a collector’s board?  Or would it make you savor life, like Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche believed, as if it were a precious, precocious art form?

I’m a firm believer that what one says about something (especially if it’s controversial in any way) tells more about them than about that which they have commented upon.

Keeping that in mind, on the question of ‘eternal return’ I throw in my towel with Existentialism.   I accept that the question Kundera and Nietzsche have raised is not whether God (in whatever shape or form) really exists, but why it is that one chooses to believe either way.

To me, the need for any form of escapism from the joys and sorrows of life as experienced is rooted in fear, resentment, and bad conscience.  Be honest.  How far wrong can anyone go if he or she is prepared to live with the result of his or her choices throughout eternity?  In my view, to take action as if you’ve anything less than total commitment to life as experienced is a cop-out to the fullest degree.

Kundera reminds us that Nietzsche believed the idea of ‘eternal return’ to be the heaviest of burdens.  If we can’t or won’t carry that burden, then it only makes sense we’ll invent some way to cast off the significance of our lives leaving us light as a bird, free to fly straight to heaven.  Do not pass ‘Go’ – do not collect $200.  Who cares?  It’s only a game…

“The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become.  Conversely, the absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into the heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant.”

Isn’t the real question then not as Hamlet suggests ‘to be or not to be’, but instead ‘when and where are we committed to being’?

Kundera frames our dilemma nicely.

“What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?  Parmenides posed this very question in the sixth century before Christ.  He saw the world divided into pairs of opposites: light/darkness, fineness/coarseness, warmth/cold, being/non-being.  One half of the opposition he called positive (light, fineness, warmth, being), the other negative.  We might find this division into positive and negative poles childishly simple except for one difficulty: which one is positive, weight or lightness?”

I choose weight.  Which do you choose and more revealing – why?

Today is a Two of Swords Day – Prepare to see things as they really are.

With the sun in Gemini (where we learn that dichotomies like dark/light and good/bad – are but two sides of the same coin) and (2) the moon in Libra (where we often find ourselves in a stalemate) today is a Two of Swords day.

On a divinatory level, the Two of Swords suggests we’re trying to preserve the status quo at all costs.  But if only we’d look close enough, we’d see we’re clutching at straws – for the sands beneath our feet are shifting as surely as day slips into night and back again into day.

For the Kabbalist, today’s energy is grounded in the second sephira, Chokmah otherwise known as Wisdom.  Each phase of evolution commences with an unstable force proceeding through organisation to find equilibrium.  Yet once this balance is achieved, no further progress is possible without first overturning the apple cart to make room for change.

That for which we strive on a Two of Swords day is no less earth-shattering than the knowledge acquired by Adam and Eve upon taking that fateful bite from the apple.  Without knowing dark we how can we know light?  Without knowing bad how can we know good?

Try describing black without mentioning white.  It’s pretty hard, if not impossible, to do.  Yet unless you’re to live in the stalemate of the Two of Swords this is precisely what you must do.

On a Two of Swords day you have an opportunity to take off your blindfold and read the writing on the wall.  Maybe everyone but you knows your job is at risk, your partner is unfaithful, or your best friend is spreading lies.  Someplace in your life, something isn’t working and you’ve chosen not to know.

Today you can take the first step toward fixing that something so that it does.

Making the Most of Meaningful Coincidence

JUNG & SYNCHRONICITY – Making the Most of Meaningful Coincidence

© 2007

by Debra Moolenaar

The more Barbara reflected on a 12th century saint’s words – ‘being a feather on the breath of God’ – the more real feathers she’d find.  One day while walking a labyrinth and grappling with whether to take her vows in a religious order, Barbara found a special feather, – a dark curved one with wispy white fronds.  When she picked it up, a small voice inside told her to ‘be a feather’.   Barbara left the order and moved to New Mexico, where her connection between feathers and spiritual inspiration grew ever stronger.

Although there’s no apparent cause and effect link between Barbara’s finding feathers and receiving spiritual guidance, we sense it’s more than an inconsequential coincidence.  Caught up in the meaningful collision of apparently unconnected events, we feel something otherworldly at work – the God-like hand of fate.  So what are we to make of it?

The Swiss psychologist Carl Jung believed that certain coincidences carry meaning.  He coined the term Synchronicity to refer to a series of thoughts and external experiences that, although isolated in time and space, appear to be connected in a ‘meaningful way’.  Not all coincidences are synchronistic.  Some – like the book you need jumping off the shelf and landing at your feet – are just fun to relate.  But real synchronistic experiences hold your attention much longer.  Their significance can take years to play out.

Jung believed synchronistic experiences mirror deep psychological processes that further ‘individuation’ – the process by which we gain understanding of our place in the world.  In Jungian thought, society’s mass-mindedness creates a ‘collective’ repository of emotionally loaded wish-fantasies that are hard to resist.  Consider the steadily growing number of worldwide reports of Mary (‘Mother Mary’ or ‘Blessed Virgin Mary’) apparitions.  Jung wouldn’t be surprised.   Increasingly complex technological advances threaten to annihilate our spiritual heritage.   Yet according to Jung, our spirituality is the very thing that makes us individuals.

Statistically, synchronicity shouldn’t happen.  Although modern society encourages us to be ‘normal’ or ‘average’, we can use our synchronistic experiences to assert our individuality.  Jung believed real life to be made of individuals – not averages.  He also said that it’s by thinking outside the box that we’ll find our personal worth.

Like dreams, synchronistic experiences naturally occur when our unconscious is trying to tell us something.  Archetypes – the building blocks of the unconscious – are the key to understanding the message.  Jung described archetypes as concentrations of psychic energy that manifest as particular themes and motifs – like the spiral found in seashells.  Such motifs appear widely across history and cultures.   The unconscious connects us with the archetypes, and the archetypes trigger synchronistic experiences.

Synchronistic experiences always involve an archetype.  Consider the case of the golden beetle.  While Jung’s client was relating a dream in which she’d received a gift of a golden scarab (a large dung beetle held sacred in ancient Egypt), Jung heard a gentle tapping on the window.  He opened it and caught a beetle whose gold-green color was the same as that of the golden scarab his client had described.   When Jung related that the scarab was a classic rebirth symbol depicting the archetype of self-transformation – exactly the issue with which she’d been struggling, the client was shocked enough to break down her resistance to therapy.

Archetypes often depict universal life events such as birth, puberty, marriage, parenthood, and death.  They also depict the classic character types associated with those events.  Confronting archetypes through synchronistic experience alerts us to personal issues of which we might not otherwise have been aware.

Archetypes have been with us forever.  They speak to our hearts, and we intuitively understand.  As the result, archetypal themes underlie most myth, literature, and cinema classics like the box-office hit ‘Star Wars’, which was based on the archetype of the Hero’s journey.  Myth is a great starting point when looking for the meaning behind a synchronistic experience.

We can also extract meaning from synchronistic experiences through Jung’s technique of ‘amplification’.  For example, with Barbara’s experience, we’d  examine the associations others have had with feathers.  Throughout history, feathers have been used by shamans and priests.  They’ve long symbolized the sacred power of the archetype of the healer.  Feathers are also believed to be mystical signs,  carrying messages and opportunities.  As scraps of synchronicity in the flow of universal meaning, feathers have comforted us and renew our hope for the future.

The more in touch we are with our unconscious, the more likely that we’ll notice synchronistic events and be spiritually and psychologically transformed by them.  This certainly seems to have been Barbara’s experience.

On a bright summer’s morning a year ago, Barbara crossed the border into New Mexico and pulled into the first rest stop.   She was exhausted.  When upon opening the car door she found a raven’s feather, at last she was certain she’d made the right decision.