The Coach's Notes #58
why philosophy, prison for your mind, no compromise, and the imagination machine
“Life’s wisdom is manifested in our habits and choices, our passion and reflection.”
This week, I’ve been zeroing in on philosophy and spirituality. The philosophical line of inquiry embedded in the question, “how to live?” has led me to re-examine some of my core values, and to explore the nature of the “true self” that sits outside of the mind-prisons that we’ve co-created with society at large.
Spirituality as I am coming to understand it is about simply finding ways to transcend self by breaking through the walls that enclose our minds, obscuring our view of the true nature of existence.
I believe each person’s journey is unique because we’ve built different prisons for ourselves and the minefields we’ve laid inside our heads are uniquely configured to our experiences of the world, which of course is influenced by a great many things - our heritage, our culture, our education, our relationships, our place of birth and origin.
So while there exist common practices and tools to help us tear down the walls and clear the minefields you’ll have to determine how you apply the practices and use the tools to free yourself from the prison of your mind.
And it is designing a practice and picking the right tools that I want to focus on as we move into December en route to the end of the year and the start of a fresh one in 2021.
Grab a cup of coffee and pop this into your music player as you read.
On the Wisdom Experience Radio Show this week, we explored the question ‘why philosophy?’
Thoreau expressed it best for me:
There are nowadays professors of philosophy, but not philosophers. Yet it is admirable to profess because it was once admirable to live. To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but to so love wisdom as to live according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust. It is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically.
That’s the crux of it for me. Answering the question of “how to live?” In Thoreau’s case:
Magnanimity (generous of spirit)
I would echo Thoreau’s list and add Freedom to my list to make it complete for me.
I am drawn to philosophy in much the same way as I am drawn to coaching. My true desire is to help people to live fully by freeing their minds of the demons that haunt them and hold them back from being all they can be (as the U.S. Army would say).
In fact, if I unpick that, philosophy is the way for me. I use coaching merely as a stand-in word for philosophy for the reasons Thoreau outlines above about the state of modern philosophy and its academic and theoretical focus versus philosophy’s ancient roots that emphasized the art of living.
Here’s another one for you, the art of living. When I think about philosophy, I think about the art of living well. As James Michener writes:
The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his laborvand his leisure, his mind and his body, his information and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him, he's always doing both.
I should tattoo that across my chest. It is my raison d'être - my reason for being.
Every time you compromise you die a little
Do you ever wonder who your true self really is?
What are we aiming for when we say our “true” self? With so many different voices in your head, so many different personas, how can you tell which one is the true you? Apparently becoming your true self is a process of a lifetime. I’m wondering what’s at the end of that life? Is it to be able to say that you have lived well? And by what measure are you measuring a well-lived life?
My answer to that would be that if you lived life according to your values and beliefs, that you didn’t compromise on your values even when living to those values made you make hard choices that resulted in suffering and loss for others, or that you didn’t look the other way when one of your core values was being compromised but attacked the issue or situation head-on knowing that there would be consequences afterward, then you will have lived well.
I think half the battle for most of us is confidently knowing what our core values are. We know the words that resonate with us when we hear them - words like trust or honesty or compassion or duty or honor - but do we really know what it means to live the values we profess to have as our core values?
Take honesty for instance. It appears in many people’s top five core values. If I asked you to define honesty without looking it up in the dictionary, how would you define it? You probably said honesty is being truthful or free of deceit, which is cool.
Now ask yourself, throughout the course of any given day are you 100% honest with others and with yourself? How many shades of grey do you let slip by your honesty filter? Some people call them “white lies’” which for all intents and purposes is lying, but we justify the lie with the idea that it saves someone else’s feelings or the “white lie” serves a greater purpose whose overall goal is good (the end justifies the means).
If honesty is one of your core values, how honest are you? And if you compromise your honesty with “white lies” where do you draw the line? Is your “white lie” to spare the other person(s) or is it to save you from having to deal with the consequences of your honesty?
I value honesty, but it is not one of my core values. My utilitarian nature (for the greater good) makes honesty too much of a moveable feast for me to have it as a core value.
A brief word on utilitarianism
It’s an ethical and moral philosophical tradition associated with Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill - two British philosophers. Basically, utilitarianism states that an action is right if it tends to promote happiness and wrong if it tends to produce sadness, or unhappiness and not just the happiness of the person who commits the action, but also the happiness or unhappiness of everyone affected by the person’s actions.
The three generally accepted axioms of utilitarianism are:
Pleasure, or happiness, is the only thing that has intrinsic value.
Actions are right if they promote happiness, and wrong if they promote unhappiness.
Everyone’s happiness counts equally.
“The greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people.”
So back to true self. If my life is to be spent moving towards my true self, then what is that? If my true self is contingent upon my core values, then what are they? And how do I ensure that I live them every day or aspire to live them every day (because nobody is perfect)? These are the questions I will be dealing with through December in preparation for recalibrating my life-goals, come 2021.
If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. - Thoreau
The imagination machine
Maybe the highest good is creativity. Your mind is an imagination machine and all forms of media cater to your mind’s thirst for information and entertainment. Your mind is in a never-ending process of creating and repairing a world that it wants to be in.
We are mind and mind is us.
As John Milton said, your “mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell a heaven.”
This powerful machine that we have at our disposal is largely underutilized. It has been distracted and weaponised against you with your complicit consent.
I want to unlock the power of the mind, but I don’t want to take years of practicing meditation to do it. I need a more direct route. Some say psychedelics are good.
What are you paying attention to?
Spiritual life consists of overcoming the illusion of self by paying attention to your experiences in the present moment.
Pay attention to:
The flow of your thoughts
The nature of consciousness itself
And remember IT IS ALWAYS NOW!
This was an interesting conversation between Russell Brand and Ricky Gervais on God and Atheism.
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