Oceanside Philosophical Musings

Confession Time: I have trouble consuming information by listening. I am, as my late friend Ted used to say, a Reader. My spouse, on the other hand, is a listener. He listens to many, many podcasts. On our drive over to the beach, he played podcasts, because that’s how he’s been learning these days.

It’s always good to think about philosophy under a moody seaside sky.

He listens to a lot of news, science, and astronomy podcasts, but he also listens to philosophy podcasts. I was happy to learn that he listens to some that aren’t The Daily Stoic, because while that one’s good and it IS his chosen way of life, it is so full of commercials for Ryan Holliday’s various enterprises that it’s hard to find the actual philosophy content. Hint for podcasters: have more content than commercials.

He has good shirts, too.

One he listens to is Philosophize This!, by Stephen West. Folx, if you ever want to learn about philosophy and also be entertained, head on over to this podcase. West is not only a great thinker, but he can make a pile of rocks interesting (ya know, Sisyphus). I was glad to hit this podcast in the rotation. Then I got very, very glad.

We happened to stumble across a series of podcasts on the American philosopher Ernest Becker. I, having studied philosophy right after Becker passed away, had not heard of him. My estranged son was a philosophy major, but he concentrated on European Communists, so I didn’t proofread any papers about Becker. Zizek? Yes. Anyhow, these podcasts introduced me to someone whose ideas and ways of looking at life were so similar to my own, that they really helped me put into words ideas that just float around in my head when I’m gazing at birds and plants and such.

Episode 162: The Creation of Meaning The Denial of Death

Episode 163: The Creation of Meaning – Escape from Evil

What rang true the most for me was how Becker maintained that religion, culture, and other systems of “meaning” that people come up with are all illusions that we use to deal with the fact that we basically just live our lives and then die. He says people are terrified of death and want a way to live on. Religion and culture are among the things people come up with to cope with our mortality and enjoy life.

BOTH religion AND culture serve as an elaborate mechanism, purposefully constructed to help people quell this otherwise CONSTANT state of terror that comes along with the fact that we are a type of creature, that carries with it a conscious awareness of its death…

S. West, Philosophize This! Episode 163

I listened along to both episodes thinking how much Becker’s ideas reminded me of the way I have always viewed life, based on the absurdist thought of my philosophical guide, Albert Camus. Yeah, I’m a closet existentialist, but I manage to live a fine life, anyway. And good ole Ernest Becker finally put into words how I have always looked at the way humans are driven to find meaning in coincidence and purpose in random happenings.

Sunset over Myrtle Beach from last night.

Naturally, I ordered me some Ernest Becker books (including The Denial of Death) as soon as I got to the condo place. I am just so excited that the random event of playing a recent podcast introduced me to someone who explains why if I weren’t me, I’d have said that a deity brought me this philosophy just when I needed it. I’ll chalk it up to synchronicity, instead.

Philosophical musings brought to you from way up in the sky

Anyhow, you can go read the transcript (yay, there’s a transcript for us readers) or listen to the podcasts, but I wanted to give you a taste of why I found West’s way of introducing ideas so entertaining. Here, he’s talking about how us humans crave to know “the meaning of life”:

…why…do you even CARE…about creating a system of meaning in the first place? 

Why do you care? Where does that desire even come from? Why…is OUR internal experience…not like OTHER animals…where, they don’t SEEM to sit around…and agonize over whether or not their life has meaning…A squirrel doesn’t sit around and agonize…over what kind of squirrel they want to be this week? You see a Koala at the zoo…do you really think that Koala…wants to be the Sir Isaac Newton of Koalas one day? No. It doesn’t CARE. Human beings… SEEM to CARE…there seems to be a piece of whatever this Homo Sapien thing is…that CARES that their actions in this life counted at LEAST for something. But why?

S. West, Philosophize This! Episode 162

See, even written out, this is fun stuff. So, if you, too, want to have fun with philosophy or learn how I look at life, check these podcasts out. On the other hand, if you’re one of my Unitarian Universalist friends (I was one of these until it hit me that even the most inclusive of organized religions had too many rules and regulations for me), you might enjoy his current set of podcasts, which are on Ralph Waldo Emerson, a UU philosophy hero.

Reminder: Enjoy the Moment

When I see tragedies happening around the world that are caused by some frightening person’s lust for power or sense of entitlement (I want it, so I’ll take it), I have no illusions that the same thing can’t happen here or anywhere else. People let it happen.

Tonight’s moon that I missed because I was in the hot tub. Glad I was sent a photo!

They are starting to talk about the other “n” work, the one Pres. Bush had trouble pronouncing. I’ve always thought that’s how I’d die. I’m ready for it. I’ve made me peace, eliminated most of the negativity around me, and am fine disappearing.

I’d miss my buddy for the past decade, though.

I don’t want to lose Gaia or all the young folks with things to contribute to the betterment of humanity. Of course, I also struggle to keep to my illusion that better things are possible, no matter how we try.

This one gives me hope, the cheeky adolescent that he is.

I know folks who have evacuated due to fires northwest of here. But their prize horses are safe. That’s good. Two other friends who’ve dealt with fires and flooding are recovering. That’s resilient. Some people I care about have recently lost loved ones, quite young. Their families show such grace and humor, as do those I know struggling with “long COVID,” which is so unfair. There are glimmers of goodness and hope, even amid despair and destruction. Our job is to see it and cling to it. It may be all we get.

What I affirm that I can do is try to be kind, try to help others, and enjoy every single day I have on this planet. I’m soaking up the beauty and peace as hard as I can, and I’m savoring any good moments that pop up, like my ring.

My dragonfly ring popped up! After three years, it still feels good on my hand, dry skin and all.

Sigh. Lots going on today, I guess. I’m beginning to sound more and more like a convert to Stoicism, even though I still claim to be an existentialist in my less woo woo moments.

Book Report: Greenlights

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Did you think I wasn’t reading anymore? Not the case; I’m reading a long-ass book about working equitation and a book in my color series, on green. But, this green-themed book showed up yesterday, so I diverted to read it on a very rare rainy July day.

I didn’t jump to read Greenlights, by Matthew McConaughey, the moment it came out last year, because I was busy reading other stuff. But, my love of memoirs by quirky people got the best of me, and when I was ordering another book, I stuck this one in my order. I’m glad I did, because this book is a fun adventure to read and a nice break from some of the “celebrity” books I’ve seen.

My favorite thing is that MM (as I’ll call him, to keep from having to type his surname over and over) is unabashedly honest about himself, which makes reading about his personal and spiritual journey am unexpected joy. As you probably know, one of my favorite pastimes is learning how different people “tick,” and MM gives you a lot of insight into how he got to be the way he is today. His morality is very consistent, and when he sees himself deviating, he goes off and works on it, by gosh. It’s no wonder one of the reviews on the back of the book is by Lee’s hero Ryan Holliday, the modern Stoic guy.

And, yes, it’s a philosophy book as well as a memoir. I’ll admit that some of the stuff seemed to be a bit simplistic, but I didn’t disagree with any of it, either. And I certainly enjoyed how he presented his ideas in photos of sticky notes, bumper stickers, and images of his hand-written notes from various stages of his life. Seeing someone else’s unedited thoughts is quite insightful, and I admire MM for sharing them!

A sample of the book’s layout.

About the Book Itself

Something else I liked about this memoir is the book itself. I like it when a publisher takes a chance and makes a book’s design a feast for the eyes. The physical book itself is even different in a good way. The book jacket is not the size of the book, and is on lovely paper. Then, when you open the book, you’re greeted with all sorts of photos and words inside the cover. This part contributes a lot to the story of MM, and is a delightful surprise.

The book itself has a theme, and by gosh, it sticks to it. MM talks about “greenlights” in his life, which are signals he’s on the right path. The color green appears in the section dividers, in the Venn diagram used to mark sections within chapters, and every time he says “greenlight.” The use of a typewriter-style monospaced font in any content that’s a poem or a philosophical break helps you keep track of what’s in the narrative and what’s an aside. Plus, the bits in MM’s handwriting show what isn’t edited at all.

Section head.

The Content

The other thing I want to say about this book is that it does what I like best in an introspective book, and that’s to NOT go on and on about every famous person the author encounters, every fancy thing the author ever did, etc. Instead, MM focuses on his own thought processes and introduces only people who let him toward his greenlights, most of whom aren’t all that famous (though a few are). His humility seems genuine, not a put-on, and you end the book not thinking how great it was to get to know a movie star, but rather how great it was to follow a man and learn from his insights as he grows and changes. (I also enjoyed reading about his times in Austin, which brought back memories.)

Why I sat and read all day yesterday.

Nope, MM is not much like me at all, but he earns my respect for being true to his ideals, for learning from his mistakes, and for focusing on what he learns from all his experiences. Well, in that way, he IS like what I’d hope to be!

By the way, I read the book by first reading through the narrative part (the “regular book” bits) so that I could keep track of the passage of time, then I went back and read all the inserts and philosophical asides. Those parts are timeless, though it’s cool to figure out where MM was on his journey when he wrote his notes.

So, if you like modern philosophy, spiritual growth, or funny stories about wrestling on other continents, playing bongos naked, or any combination of the above, you’ll like Greenlights. You might even start looking at your life’s challenges in a more positive way.

Let’s Practice What We Preach

This is a note to myself. Maybe if I write it out, then read it, then listen to myself reading it in the podcast, I can have a reasonable weekend.

So, Suna, ponder this:

Stressing over something you can’t do anything about helps nothing.

Me

Hypothetically, if someone sends a message at the end of the work day on Friday that completely changes work you’re supposed to start at 8 am Monday, but won’t explain what’s going on until 7 am Monday…you might be inclined to spend all weekend guessing what might be going on. That could ruin your weekend, right?

But, I’ve been doing my damnedest to not get myself all worked up over things I can’t control. I can’t change whatever decision happened that my input wasn’t wanted on. I don’t even know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing, because I don’t know the details. I’m just gonna have to deal with the consequences. Monday.

Worry doesn’t change a situation other than to make you feel bad the entire time you’re worrying.

I do have a hint that I’ve figured out through this situation, that might lead to happier relationships, whether with family, friends, or colleagues. Nah. I don’t. Hints you share for people who will never actually read or hear your words are sorta passive aggressive. Give that up, Suna.

Look, pretty flowers.

I’m guessing that, being human and fallible, I’m going to remain annoyed from time to time this weekend. But then I’ll remind myself that I wrote these messages to myself to remember to be way more philosophically consistent, more Zen, and kinder to myself.

You can only change your reactions, not the actions of others. Deal with it.

Suna

End of advice to self. You’re welcome, if you also needed to hear this. C’mon, we can practice what we preach! Let’s start now.

Unconscious Bias? Just Ask Marcus Aurelius

My spouse, Lee, has been studying Stoicism for the past year or two. He really enjoys The Daily Stoic podcast, by Ryan Holiday, who happens to be my boss’s best friend. Small world! Who knew? Holiday has a new book of meditations out, with new translations of the Stoics into modern English by Stephen Hanselman. Of course, Lee’s enjoying it greatly. He even got a special journal to record his own thoughts. That man LOVES to journal almost as much as I love to blog!

So, the passage for yesterday was:

Do away with the opinion I am harmed, and the harm is cast away, too. Do away with being harmed, and harm disappears.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 4.7, as quoted in The Daily Stoic, p. 119.

This is one of those topics we linguists love, especially those of us, like me, who are enamored of pragmatics. Not only do words have different meanings in different contexts, but tone of voice and intention can also change meanings. PLUS, the person hearing the words will interpret what is said through their filters. The same sentence with the same intonation can engender a hearty laugh or a world of hurt, depending on how it’s taken.

You have to like a guy who was a good horseman. From Britannica.

Assuming good intent is what it boils down to, right? It’s just like with the Little Free Library story yesterday! Susan could have interpreted the stolen books as an act of aggression or malice, but she instead chose to interpret it as a cry for help. I often find myself interpreting comments that could be taken as mean or passive aggressive as being the result of some issue I have no clue about. Thus, I do away with the harm, and it’s gone. Easier said than done sometimes, I must admit.

Continue reading “Unconscious Bias? Just Ask Marcus Aurelius”

Why Am I Here?

sunsetToday my husband and I were talking about our long-term personal goals. I said that my most important one right now is to remember to live in the moment. It’s becoming more and more of a habit over the past few years, and while my meditation practice has helped, I honestly give most of the credit to spending time at the Hermits’ Rest.

Being away from all the traffic, people, and noise in Austin is a real balm for my soul. And while there are things I must do, like feed the animals, water the plants, and such, even those chores provide me the opportunity to just enjoy what I have here. To me, nothing smells better than my horse on a hot day, and it’s hard to be all involved with outside issues when you are looking for beautiful eggs in the hen house.

Plus, the darned dogs make us smile all the time.

Part of what I like about this place is that it isn’t all fancy or full of spectacular beauty (I was comparing it to a friend’s hike in the Blue Ridge Mountains, where my dad came from and where the natural beauty is so thick it is almost overwhelming). You have to look for the amazing natural wonders in central Texas. And that looking makes you slow down and really SEE what’s around you.

That’s been a real gift for me. I’ve always been an observer, but the years spent on this ranch have helped me hone it to where I just can’t help but stop and really look at what’s going on around me every day. I think my mental health improvements alone have made the purchase of this land and construction of our house worth it! After all:

sign
I like the sign, even though it refers to “wild Apaches,” but since it’s humor, I forgive it. And actually a lot of the people who lived here before weren’t Apaches. They showed up later.

By the way, if you look at the limestone on the house, you’ll see it is full of fossil shells. This layer of the limestone is called the “rattlesnake” layer, because the fossil shells look like rattlesnake rattles. This limestone came from a quarry near Georgetown, Texas, which is not too far from us. I love being surrounded by fossils. I’ll post more on them another time.

This informally Zen-like goal of taking the time to enjoy where I am and who I am at any moment is why I am so fervent about protecting our natural areas, our plants, our wildlife, and all who live here. People need to connect to the earth. I think it’s a basic need.

What about where you live?  Is it easy to live in the moment? Can you find the beauty wherever you are? I hope so, because it’s everywhere (including the Bobcat Lair, our Austin house).

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