Return to Philosophy
I have written this post before, but it remains a common theme. The busier we get, the more we work, and learn and read, the further we drift. We get in a rhythm. We’re making money, being creative, we’re stimulated and busy. It seems like everything is going well. But we drift further and further from Philosophy.
So we must catch ourselves and return to it. Pick up Meditations, Seneca, Plutarch, Hadot, our notecards of quotes and reminders or, anything from the shelf of “Life” books. Stop and evaluate. Read something that challenges, instead of informs.
No matter how much learning or work or thinking we do, none of it matters unless it happens against the backstop of exhortative analysis. The kind rooted in the deep study of the mind and emotion, and demands that we hold ourselves to certain standards. We must turn to the practical, to the spiritual exercises of great men and actively use them. It’s the only way we’ll get anything out of the rest of our efforts. It’s simple: stop learning (or “working”) for a second and refine.
Put aside all the momentum and the moment. Tap the brakes. Return to philosophy.
I noticed this in my daily life as well. My solution has been to make sure to read a passage from a “life” book every morning before leaving the home. The writings of the Roman Stoics are great for this, since their writings are broken up into short lessons usually no more than 4-5 pages in length. It requires a certain amount of discipline, and it’s a great agnostic alternative to reading a passage of the Bible every day.
I agree, Roman.
It’s also great complimentary reading with the Bible for the non-agnostics out there.
Great post, Ryan.
This is commonplace for the majority of the populace – hell it’s easier. The price you pay? emptiness.
Good reminder ryan.
P.S: Waiting for the book release — speaking of which, are you planning on a audiobook version?
It’s up to the publisher–but I hope so.
Hey Ryan, a not exactly post related question (or maybe it is):
Is there some time (scheduled or not) for play in your life? (and by play, i mean what M.Adler talks about in this essay*, essentialy when your are not working, sleeping, or doing somethig intrinsically good like improving your “liberal education”, helping someone, learning something important, i think you know what i mean). And if so, which are le limits, how much time?
I’m suffering a lot with this issue in my life lately.
Thanks, and here you have another guy expecting that book.
Have you considered that you’re suffering because the essay is based on faulty premises? His conclusion hangs on the premise that labor in itself is bad. This is inconsistent with the empirical evidence. Research shows that the unemployed (both rich housewives and jobless poor) are much more unhappy than the employed. During recessions joblessness is a leading cause of depression. Work gives structure, human contact, discovery and self actualization to people. It is empirically the path to happiness.
Ever pulled an two all nighters in a row? If you had, when you finally lie down to sleep, it’s the most incredible feeling of euphoria. That’s a big part of Fight Club, how throughout the book he is suffering from endless insomnia and in the end he finally gets to rest. Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment runs around the same premise, how Raskolnikov is at peace only at the end when he is at the hospital, finally getting some sleep. Now insomnia is the wrong path to achieve this rest, since it is inherently destructive, an organism can’t survive for long like that. But lying down to sleep after a day of focused hard work is the same exact feeling. Even more so if it has been physical labor, with the release of endorphins. By definition of endorphins, it’s a state of happiness, eudaimonia.
Now, he is right to argue that it’s wrong to work for material wealth, that road will inevitably lead to unhappiness by focusing on indifferents. Empirically, research shows that you dont get any happiness from money beyond $35,000 per year. However, it is false to say that because work makes money and focusing on money is bad that focusing on work is bad. You should work for reasons beyond money, in a way your work should be your liberal leisure time. Don’t work for money, work to discover and improve. Some people will have to switch jobs to find that satisfaction, but I believe it’s possible to find any type of work valuable as long as you focus and try to find the elegant details in your craft.
In your first paragraph you seem to imply that if something makes you happy it’s good per se. Feeling happy about something says nothing about the truth or nature of the whole thing. Flow without meaning its pleaurable, but empty in the end.
Personally, i’m with Adler qhen he says that most work is a “prerequisite” to liberal education (which is NOT play either to him, as you will see if read the whole text).
everything’s empty in the end
Too true. The flip side is that having a successful creative season of work is not possible without seasons taken to refine. Concomitantly there is nothing to refine if one has not been working and learning.
I have a copy of Letters from a Stoic on order now; can’t wait.
From your linked post: “I made myself busy so that I would have no chance to feel better. I knew that philosophy requires work and self-criticism and one inevitable conclusion – that my problems were almost entirely my own fault. Their resolution requires an active process that only I can initiate.” Definitely something we should all come back to when we feel things are spiraling out of control.
I was just thinking about that first paragraph right before I read this. Definitely what I needed to hear.
Real philosophy IS harder than work–thanks for reminding us. It seems like these reminders are always timely.
Agreed. I’ve a two-page collection of Aurelius quotes that I read every morning. Most important sheet of paper in my life.
Although, I’m partial to Rorty and use philosophy with a little p, not Philosophy.
Ryan – quick email.
I took a piece of advice from your site about a year ago that shook my life up in so many ways. You wrote, “Pretend that everyone else is hemmed in by predetermination but that you, and you alone, have free will…etc…”, ending with, “You will move faster than everyone else. When your surroundings are predictable, they are essentially moving in slow motion.”
Believe me, after thinking these words through and applying these thoughts into my actions, my career, bank balance, and relationships moved forward at an incredible pace.
Book recommendations for you. These three guys have a world of preconceived bullshit stacked against them, but try to ignore that and once you can pay close attention, you’ll find many of the thoughts in this blog contained in them too. They will take you to places that may take you years to get to if you go without a guide.
Man and his Symbols, Jung
Understanding Human Nature, Adler
Group Psychology and the analysis of the ego, Freud.
Once you start seeing the world through their eyes, everything changes. Everything.
Thanks again for the earlier advice.
To be fair, I think the predetermination quote was from Bertrand Russell. But yes, I think about it often too and it changed my life.
Thanks for the recommendations.
Wouldn’t this limit our ability to have empathy for others?
Uhhh, in what way?
If I treat others as if they have no free will, while I treat myself as though I do, then it becomes more difficult for me to see myself in the position of another than if I considered their condition the same as my own.
“I would never be in that position; my situation is different.”
No, it means you accept full responsibility for your own actions, but allow for a compassionate mitigation of circumstances when you consider other people’s actions. That is the definition of empathy.
Can’t we allow for a compassionate mitigation of the circumstances for ourselves while still recognizing our own responsibility for our actions, though?
And for others, lay responsibility for their actions at their feet, as well as allowing for a compassionate mitigation of circumstances for their actions?
I sometimes wonder if it isn’t important for people to hold themselves accountable, and also be forgiving and understanding of external factors? For ourselves (self-compassion) and for others (empathy)?
Why treat others differently than we treat ourselves?
Because we can control ourselves but we have no control over other people.
It does seem that way most of the time, but lately my experience working with people in the field of mental health suggests more and more that both of those assumptions might deserve some pretty heavy modifiers.
I would love to see that post. Anybody have a link?
i have notice a lot of thing that like this in my life to. i just cant get throught with it.
Empathy is to a Stoic what dandruff is to Captian Piccard
The funny thing is that most of the youth is concerned with the choice of “Work or school” that they forget to fill the trinity of it all, and rise above to non-duality.
I would just ask that everyone reads Osho, Living Dangerously.
“If you just sit silently and listen to your mind, you will find so many voices.” (p.53)
Freedom comes when we stop looking and just be. The moment is all we have. The future: is not yet made and who know what will happen? The past: it corrupts. We should drop becoming. And just be.
I totally agree about wanting to be challenged. Have you seen either of these movies: “A Serious Man” from the Coen Bros and “Leaves of Grass” directed by Tim Blake Nelson? They’re both really thought provoking (and challenging). I had to watch “A Serious Man” 4 times before it really sunk in. “Leaves of Grass” is an absolute masterpiece until the last 3rd of the movie. The first 2/3rds make it worth it. Edward Norton plays twins: a stoic twin is challenged by his impulsive, gut-driven twin. Definitely some movies that make you go “Huhm.”