Saturday, July 5, 2014

Benjamin Franklin's 13 virtues

I was hoping to have this written up yesterday, so that people could enjoy this bit of reading on Independence Day. Unfortunately, I've spent the whole week sick with a cold, so when I realized that I was to have a three day weekend this week, I couldn't pass up the chance to get some rest yesterday. Rather than work on this, I played a lot of Skyrim and drank a lot of Dr. Pepper, something I've been denying myself for months. It was a kind of epic cheat day on my healthy eating project too. I had nachos. But, I'm back to it now that I am starting to feel better. I'm drinking some water right now and don't plan on having any junk food again for a considerable time.

In remembrance of one of my favorite thinkers of the American Enlightenment, Ben Franklin, I wanted to share with everyone his 13 virtues as outlined in his autobiography. Many will already be familiar with these, and my memory is quite fuzzy on whether or not I've already written on them. If I have talked about his virtues before, then I am at least comforted by knowing that they are so good that they are worth sharing again. As I understand it, and as wikipedia reminds me, Franklin came up with these virtues when he was only 20, which I find incredibly impressive.

Anyway, the virtues are:

  1. "Temperance. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation."
  2. "Silence. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation."
  3. "Order. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time."
  4. "Resolution. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve."
  5. "Frugality. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing."
  6. "Industry. Lose no time; be always employ'd in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions."
  7. "Sincerity. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly."
  8. "Justice. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty."
  9. "Moderation. Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve."
  10. "Cleanliness. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation."
  11. "Tranquility. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable."
  12. "Chastity. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another's peace or reputation."
  13. "Humility. Imitate Jesus and Socrates." 
 When one compares these 13 to what many ancient Greek philosophers found to be virtuous, one can see how Franklin is in line with their thoughts. Of course, one can also see such ideas in more than just the Greeks. I'm also reminded of many Eastern philosophies as I read these.

What is more impressive to me than the list itself is that Franklin thought to do it in the first place. It speaks to his own desire to be the best version of himself that he could be. He openly admitted that he fell short many times, and never lived any of the virtues to perfection, but that having them in mind as he lived his life made him a better person overall. For someone like me, who wants to be so much better than I am, his endeavor is inspiring and worth emulating. But not emulation in the sense of adopting his virtues for myself. That would change them into something they were not meant to be, more like commandments or laws, to be obeyed blindly. Rather, I wish to emulate his sense of self improvement and his desire to define for himself what makes a virtuous life. So, in the spirit of Franklin's virtues, I plan to define for myself what it means to live virtuously and then do my best to live in that way.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Silence/Simplicity

This will be my 83rd post on this blog. I'm steadily reaching 100! Over the course of this blog's history, my philosophical, spiritual, and mystical beliefs have been tracked. Considering where I am now, it is very funny to me to think back to the creation of this blog when I was a bright eyed Buddhist that dedicated most of the entries here to the virtues of mindfulness meditation. And it is isn't funny to me because meditation is funny. It isn't. And I will still tell people today just how useful vipassana is and how it saved me during a very dark part of my life. But it was the only thing I could write about at the time because I had no room in my mind for anything else. It was a time of great doubt in myself and in everything else. Meditation was the only thing holding me together.

It was an important tool of mine that I began to need less and less, at least not in the desperate way I needed it in the beginning. So, as I started to realize who I wanted to be, and made efforts to be that man, I stopped making time for meditation. I was too busy being a philosopher! There were too many things to think about, lectures to attend, papers to write, and books to read. And I don't regret a moment of it! I love being an intellectual, an academic... But I've come to realize in my studies that being a philosopher is more than being an academic, at least for me, and at least for the Classical and Hellenistic philosophers I have been studying. I am more certain than ever that philosophy should not just be thought about, it should be lived. And that might seem so obvious to not even warrant being written down... but you'd be surprised by the philosophers that swim in abstract ideas and mind games, but do not look to philosophy as a way to enrich one's life.

I admire the old philosophers that encourage not just debate and argumentation (the focus of the modern Analytical school of philosophy), but solitary contemplation, simplicity in life, and a healthy body. In the old Greek schools I found similar ideas to the ones that attracted me to the Eastern schools in the first place. So, I find myself once again embracing silence and simplicity. I am not a Buddhist, and I no longer practice vipassana, but that doesn't mean that I no longer make time for stillness, for simply being and observing, for witnessing life and my own mind. But I see now how the need I have for stillness and for simplicity is a universal need and not one that belongs to any school or people or culture. In the end, no one group has a monopoly on wisdom and insight. We simply take the path that is ours. I know mine and I've embraced it completely.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Creating lasting and meaningful changes

I have taken an unplanned, but apparently much needed break from philosophy. I have spent the last few weeks not doing the research I had intended to be doing, but I would say that I have been making good use of my time by making changes in other aspects of my life. I shared with my friends on Facebook that I purchased a gym membership so that I can have a place to workout when and how I like working out. I like to think that I am the kind of guy that would spent all of his time outdoors working out, but the truth is that nature for me is much more of a spiritual thing, a place of tranquility, and using it to bust my ass working out detracts from that aspect. That isn't to say that I won't be making use of the outdoors, because I certainly will, but I think I will use the excursions outdoors as a treat to myself for my soul, and spend the rigorous workouts in the gym. And, so far, I am seeing progress in the gym. I can feel my energy increasing and my body changing. But it isn't quick enough for my liking, and I realize that I must make much more effort.

I recently saw some pictures of myself from an event I was at over the weekend, and while there are noticeable changes to my body- I'm wearing a size of shirt that I wouldn't have fit into a couple months ago, for example- I am still so very far from how I want to look and feel. Summer always brings out a certain restlessness in me, and I think that I will use that energy to push myself further than ever before. I can feel a determination, perhaps a frenzy, that I have not had before. As always, my friends are my inspiration. I've seen them excel in ways that I too want to excel. They have been capable of pushing their bodies in ways that I have only ever dreamed of pushing mine. My prompt to make the changes I am making now was how tired I became of simply being envious of them and not making more effort to be like them.

My strength has always been my mind, and that's great. I am very fortunate to be an intelligent person, but I know full well that has very little to do with anything I've done, and the source of my humility has been the insight that my intelligence counts for very little if I don't do anything with it. I think that is why I chose to become a philosopher. My love of wisdom, which is innate in me, finally has an outlet, a use, and a way to be honed to something useful and of benefit to myself and others. My body, however, has been misused and disused by me for most of my life. I am now in a process of making up for that and equalizing this disproportion I see between my mind and body. I take the wisdom of Plato to heart, and truly believe that a healthy body will make me a better philosopher. So, here I am, gritting my teeth and doing what I should have been doing all along.

It is all a part of my plan that I started setting into motion this year of living a more complete life, doing what needs to be done for a healthy mind, body, and soul. I hope that continuing to share my aspirations and motivations with the handful of people who read my blog will keep me accountable and focused on my goals.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Mind and Body

So, I'm here drinking coffee and decompressing after a couple weeks of finals. I say a couple weeks because not only did most of my classes have final exams, we also had final papers to write the week after. That means that I have had a rough two weeks. In fact, the tail end of the semester has seen me more burnt out that I can remember being in a long time. Even though it is over, it doesn't feel over yet. The reality that the classes are done hasn't quite sunk in fully, and I still feel myself waiting for the next assignment, the next project.

But, no, it is done, and I have the summer to rest. Except I don't really feel like resting. I have been joking among my friends that I'm calling this summer the "Summer of Fitness," but I'm not actually joking. I've been feeling restlessness in my soul, a kind of impatience for change. But I've been so single-minded in my schoolwork that I haven't really had the time or energy both mentally and physically to enact as many of the changes as I had hoped I would this year. Luckily there's a lot of the year left and I can still turn things around.

I've written before on Stoic discipline because I very much admire people that are highly disciplined. I've always wanted to be one of those people. I've been fortunate in the sense that I have a natural strength of mind, but I've never really pushed it to its limits. I've never seen what I could be capable of if I really put my all into my work. I've also always been naturally big and strong, but that is something I haven't tried to develop in a long time. I'm woefully out of shape, and I'm sick of it. Basically, I see in myself mental and physical lethargy. I know I can be better and I want to be. That means that the time for talking about how I want to change is over. It's time to act!

That isn't to say that I haven't been taking action at all since I last wrote about changing things. I've made small, manageable changes. I've been eating better and less, like I said I would. I've been taking more opportunities to be physically active and getting out into nature. For me, that is essential. I am a creature of the outdoors, a nature lover, and I intend to drink it all in this summer. While people have been complaining about the sun, I've been taking the opportunity to be outside and soak it up. And I want more. My need for the outdoors will never be satiated. When I'm inside for too long, I feel it like an ache in my bones. I would say that most of my restlessness is from being cooped up inside.

Alongside all of this is that I have not met my spiritual needs in the last couple months either. I've simply been too preoccupied to do more that light some incense every once in awhile. I have this new statue of Pan on my altar that has been thoroughly neglected since I purchased it. It's still the best purchase I've made all year, but I should really get around to having more of that energy in my life. All the more reason to be out in nature, of course. It seems that most of the things I want could be met by just being in the woods more.

In terms of strengthening my mind, I intend to do some of the reading that I have been neglecting. I want to buy a better translation of Meditations by Marcus Aurelius because the one I have is really bad. I also want to read more of the complete works of Plato since my reading of him up to now has been a little lopsided. The same can be said of Aristotle. Most importantly, I will finally get to tackle Ennead 1 by Plotinus. There are also some contemporary works discussing Forms that I'd like to get through as well.

To say more on what I intend to do physically, I've decided that gyms are just not for me. I've tried three different gyms and I can say that I don't like all the equipment, the smell, or all the people. I have been intrigued by older forms of working out that make more use of the body and resistance and the use of weights like the kettlebell, which I can thankfully do outside.

These aren't new subjects for me to talk about. I probably have two posts like this a year. I could maybe find even more than that if I really wanted to look through my blog's archives. But when I wrote about this stuff in the past, it was simply a want, but not something wanted strongly enough, more akin to daydreaming than aspiration. But the kind of burn out I felt at the end of this semester is not something I want to feel again. And the only way I can ensure that I don't is by becoming stronger both mentally and physically. That means pushing myself in ways I only ever idly said I would before, and actually sacrificing my comfort for real and necessary change. When I measure myself against my heroes, I find myself lacking. And that is simply not acceptable to me anymore.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Stoic Willpower

There is a certain irony in how relaxing and enjoyable I find blog writing after all the writing I've already done this week. I just finished last night, and made some small alterations today to a paper on Thomas Hobbes that I will hopefully be presenting a week from today. I can easily say that I'm not very proud of this paper. Some of the things I have to say about Hobbes and his state of nature are interesting, but I'm not covering any new ground, or bringing up criticisms that haven't been brought up against him before. In fact, my paper is not nearly as damning of Hobbes as I initially thought it would be. I suppose that if it were that easy to attack him, more would have done so already. I hope it at least will be food for thought, and garner some interesting commentary by the panel.

Even with all the work I've been doing, this has been a small vacation of sorts. It just worked out that the week I had to work on my conference paper also happened to be my university's Spring break. I haven't had to focus on anything else, so I can say that I have spent more time on this one paper than I usually spend on any paper, even ones that have been around this length! Not having to rush through this has been very nice, but having so much time with a philosophical theory I find repugnant has not been easy for me. I feel as though I need to cleanse myself of a miasma, and can't wait until this paper and the presentation on it are behind me.

But all this free time has made me realize how little I actually like free time now. I never knew that I would like being a busy person, but spending so much time at home has made me realize how much I like my projects. It isn't as though I am now a fan of stress or chaos, rather, I like having things that demand my attention and concentration. When my mind has time to wander, I realize just how much of an obsessive personality I have. Giving myself projects keeps me productive, and gives me a way of channeling my mind in a useful and healthy way.

One of the projects that has currently been on my mind concerns the transformation of my body. Anyone who has seen me lately might notice I have lost some weight. I haven't lost a life changing amount, or even an amount all that noticeable, but it is noticeable to me. And I like that I have been losing weight. The truth is, though, that the weight loss has been entirely accidental, and not much to do with my own efforts. I've simply been too busy, and too careful with my money, to eat the way I have done in the past, and the lessening of calories has translated to a little bit of weight loss. Seeing this change, though, has made me desirous of even more drastic change. I have decided that I now want to take this little bit of accidental weight loss and spring board into a more purposeful weight loss.

To this end, I plan on being more active, and also changing the kinds of things I eat and drink. I also want to treat this as an exercise to strengthen my will, thus the title, Stoic willpower. I will also keep in mind other philosophical virtues, like moderation, so I'm not talking about deprivation or subsistence... But there are changes that I must make not only for appearances- I would like to be better looking- but also for health. I can't keep pretending that there are not serious consequences to living the way I have.

So, some of the changes I plan to make might seem drastic to those that think we should eat whatever we want. I understand what people like that are trying to say; No need to deprive yourself, just watch your portions. That would be fine if I was actually capable of such restraint. I have long suspected that I may suffer from some type of addictive behavior regarding food. I am a binge eater who uses food as a way to handle difficult emotions. My ability to recognize this in myself means that the usual kind of moderation will not work for me. I have to be even more restrictive.

That means for me a few ideas:

No soda or fruit juices. The reasons for this should be obvious. Calories, sodium, sugar...
No desserts other than fruit. Let's face it, my favorite desserts are the bready kinds that are extremely unhealthy.
No eating after 9pm. I have a terrible habit of eating late and then going straight to bed. While the old myth of not being able to digest food while sleeping has been debunked, I can save myself the snacks before bed.
No fast food. I generally don't like fast food anyway, but it doesn't hurt emphasizing that it is a bad idea to eat that crap.

More exercise. For awhile there I had a great habit of working out everyday. It would be great to have that kind of dedication again. I have this nifty Adventure Pass that lets me park for free at a lot of nearby nature trails. Time to stop letting that thing acquire dust. Plus, a chance to connect with my inner Pan. lol

Less or little TV. I've decided that after this season of TV shows is over, which is soon, I'm pretty much going to ignore my TV except for my favorite TV show. It isn't that I think there is anything especially bad about TV, but when I look at the kind of people I respect and wish to emulate, I see very little sitting around watching TV. If I really feel like sitting around, I'll read a book. Time to stop paying so much damn attention to screens in general, really. That's including my phone.

Those are some of my ideas for now. I'm sure that I'll add to the list as time goes by. I hope that my friends will support me in making these necessary changes.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Philosophical growing pains

I knew that this semester would be a tough one. It is certainly turning out to be exactly the case. I am so grateful for that. I have a professor that is so demanding, yet also so compassionate. The result, for me at least, is a strong desire to gain this man's respect and to succeed. Comparatively, I am doing well in his classes. The only ones doing better than me are those that have been students of his before in similar classes, reading similar philosophers. There is a spirit of competition, but my hope is that it will remain a friendly one. I know that some of my fellow classmates feel the need to compete against me. Seeing their satisfaction when they do better than me makes me feel twinges of competitiveness myself. I must always remain mindful that the only person whom I should compete with is myself. In fact, my feeling of disappointment over my last tests was not that I did not do better than everyone else, but that I did not do my best. I was flippant and did not adequately prepare, or even go through the assigned reading as thoroughly as I know I could and should have.

I am still not pushing myself hard enough. I am still not working or dedicating myself fully enough to face the challenges I have put before me. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I am acting as if these higher level classes will be as easy as the philosophy classes I have taken in the past. The effortlessness of previous classes has made me complacent.

The understanding of the kind of person I must be to become an excellent philosopher has been clear to me for a long time, yet I have not done what needs to be done. I have never been a very disciplined person. I talk a lot about self-discipline, but I have not done much to change my behavior. Sometimes it is all too easy for me to become overwhelmed and ignore my responsibilities until the last minute. I am a procrastinator. I am a high functioning procrastinator, since I always get everything done, but I now wonder about the quality of such work. In the past, I have told myself that I need procrastination to fuel my creativity, that the urgency improves my writing and my studying. I think now that I was simply searching for justification of my bad habits. And now, at this stage of my academic career, I am suffering the consequences of my bad behavior.

I have been acting as if I can become the man I want to be, as opposed to the man I am now, without sacrifice. I can no longer be that naive. So, I see the stumbles of the last few weeks as growing pains, necessary for me to finally make the push. I am fortunate to have great role models in my life of what that kind of transformation demands. I know what I have to do and now is the time to do it. I have to push through these struggles and I must grow as a philosopher and as a human being.

So, I have a game plan in mind. I have ideas of the kinds of changes I need to make in my life, the things that must be cut out. There will need to be sacrifices. And I need to be willing to make those sacrifices. I need to accept that as talented as I might think I am, not everything will be easy, and the things I want of this life will demand my struggle. They will demand my blood, sweat, and tears as payment. I need to offer them up gladly.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Things make more sense now

So, I tried writing this before, but I'm writing this on my phone and it ate it. I'll try to convey the same information, but I think that some of the soul will be gone. Oh well.

Essentially, school has kept me very busy, but also very happy. Being a philosopher that spends all day with other philosophers has been so amazing. The conversations we get into, the exchange of ideas, have made me love philosophy more. We're a family of sorts, and even the philosophical disagreements are handled in such a polite and respectful manner. My interactions with them have been examples of what debate is supposed to be. And being around such brilliant people has awakened in me a desire to better myself. I want to be a better philosopher and a better human being. I've decided that I want to live a life of greater discipline and moderation. I want a simpler life conducive to philosophical work, a life with less distraction. I want the focus I need to excel at my work at CSUN and the years of graduate school that will follow.

My spiritual life has become more focused as well. For a long time, I knew something was missing. Even though I came up with a lot of theories and approximations, the real answer eluded me. It wasn't until a joking conversation with friends prompted an investigation into the God, Pan, that things began to make sense. It sank in that I was misreading signs and that Pan was trying to reach out to me this whole time. Now that I look at things, the signs were there for years. The moment I made this discovery a restlessness, a kind of anxiety, a feeling of dread or panic went away. And as someone who knows a bit about the origins of words, I totally pick up on why panic was there. It was another way for Pan to reach out to me. Now there is a peace, a quiet in my soul. I now recognize Pan's presence in my life, my patron diety that had to show up in my life in multiple ways over the course of several years because I wasn't ready to see him. I feel more balanced than I have in years, and it feels really good.