Posted by: lmcg1 | August 4, 2014

Always something new to learn

I have come to realize that, although I had thought of myself as a reasonably educated person, there are areas where I am really lacking in knowledge and understanding. Sure, I have a general overview like I imagine most people do, from reading this and that, some articles, watching some programs. For a variety of reasons, the shallowness of my knowledge has become very apparent, and has led me to wonder, if I had had some level of education in these areas, might I have made better decisions and choices over the course of my life. Of course, hindsight is always 20-20, but one can’t help but wonder.

The areas that I want to learn more about now are philosophy, psychology, mindfulness, and something about Buddhism too. My educational background was all in the sciences, and back in the day, there was little space to take electives as every class had a lab. I managed a couple of arts appreciation classes, and that’s about it. I think that missing out on more of the liberal arts ended up being a real deficit.

So I am in the process of trying to remedy this, hoping that it is never to late to learn. To that end, I began this summer to start on a self-education venture. Here are a few of the things I have found so far.

Not too long ago, I came across a site, based in the UK, called The Philosophers’ Mail. It has a great many essays on all kinds of subjects, and I really enjoy the well-written and direct take on these various topics. Many that I have read so far are quite thought provoking and give a different perspective on the usual approach one sees.

A couple of my current favourites:

Why you are (probably) not a good communicator – a real favourite, as it hits very close to the target.

“Good communication means the capacity to give another person an accurate picture of what is happening in your emotional and psychological life – and in particular, the capacity to describe its very darkest, trickiest and most awkward sides in such a way that others can understand, and even sympathise with them.” “But most of us are, of course, appalling communicators – and that is because there is so much inside of us that we can’t face up to, feel ashamed of or can’t quite understand – and we are therefore in no position to present our depths sanely to an observer, whose affections we want to maintain.”

That about nails it.

The Philosophers’ guide to gratitude – gets to the concept of gratitude in a way that makes sense to me, thinking more deeply about what the expression of gratitude.

“It is equally important to know that the advocates of gratitude aren’t merely being naïve when they tell us to stop and appreciate flowers or a pretty sky; they know about suffering and darkness and are speaking up only because they have been to hell and back and concluded that in the end, what makes the journey worth it are a few outwardly humble but deeply significant things.”

Wisdom – something I am often short of. Here, wisdom is shown to be made up of several elements, and I know there a several of these where I need to do some study and work: realism, gratitude, folly, politeness, self-acceptance, forgiveness, resilience, envy, regrets, and calm.

Why you should clean up, not empty your mind – western, or Philosophical Meditation vs eastern meditation. I didn’t know there was a difference. Something else to explore. There is a link in this piece to a guide to Philosophical Meditation, and at the end of that piece, a free pdf. (I keep typing medication, interesting Freudian slip).

There are lots more interesting topics on this site to peruse.

As far as the Buddhism goes, I have so far read one of Pema Chodron’s books, ‘Start Where You Are’. She has a pretty clear way of writing, so I can sort of understand, but I think I will have to reread it again to get a better understanding of all the words and terms and their meaning and implications. It is certainly interesting. I have started on another of her more recent books, ‘When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times.’ It is in the same vein, but more about being kind to oneself when you have made many mistakes so that one can become empathetic and compassionate towards others.

I am trying some mindfulness meditation, just beginning this process, and will see how it goes. I’ll have to try the philosophical version too and see if there are pros and cons, or maybe they will both be useful. Even though I am a real newbie at this, it is noticeably helping when my mind starts to spin down into the negative drain.

One of the things that has struck me, very recently, from the various readings, the above as well as others, is the place of fear in one’s life and how recognizing it, understanding it, and then finding ways to come to terms with it, is very important. I can say with a great deal of certainty that I have not recognized the role of fear in my life. Therefore, I haven’t recognized it in others either. How often do we say “I’m afraid I can’t go out tomorrow” or some such? It is such a superficial,  easily, and commonly used phrase. Maybe this offhand way glosses over what might be the real fear underlying all kinds of actions and behaviours, both my own and others. It is something that bears further examination, for me at least. This is not fear of spiders or heights, but the fear that we might be judged, or dismissed, or discarded among other negative reactions. If I can understand it better for myself, I hope that I can become more empathetic towards others, in recognizing that they also have fears that come out as actions and behaviours that overlay what is really going on underneath.

There is all kind of material about dealing with one’s fears in the various literatures, so it now becomes a matter of getting to work and reading it first, then deciding how to deal with it all. I wish I had known about some of this many years ago. It would have been a different journey.




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