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Member Monday 8/27: Get Over Thyself
A sign over the doorway to the club library entrance features the well-known Socratic dictum: "Know Thyself." Our next Member Monday (8/27) session is dedicated to the proposition: "Get Over Thyself." Maybe a corresponding sign to that effect will someday be posted over the library exit.
For discussion purposes, let's introduce the concept of Thyself through the most elementary of thought experiments: It's a pre-dawn morning and you're lying quietly in bed. There's virtually no sensory input, no sound. The mind is clearer in that darkness than it ever is during the day. You survey your universe in the manner and scope of your choosing. Then the perspective changes. You are now on the outside looking in and you realize that this survey of infinite vastness is nothing more than an illusion produced by three pounds of wetware. Is there any doubt you are, at that point, lord of your skull-sized kingdom?
And so it continues with realization that this is the default setting throughout your waking, walking, talking, interacting, hating, loving, working, playing, acquiring and hard-wired existence -- essentially a deep, unconscious, and literal self-centeredness. But you have a choice. Per our focus piece (This Is Water, Pdf link below) the care and feeding of your kingdom is a matter of what you choose as the object of your attention, of what you worship. If it's to money and things, you will never have enough. If it's to body and beauty and sexual allure, you will die a million deaths as you age. If it's to power, you will feel weak and afraid. If it's to intellect, you will end up feeling a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. For discussion: at the most basic level, the determination of one's state of mind -- of Thyself -- comes down to what one decides to pay attention to.
And then, perhaps, we'll address the ultimate i.e. "getting over" discursive thinking altogether and simply paying attention to present consciousness and the illusion of Self. Spirituality from a neuroscience perspective is the subject of Sam Harris' "Waking Up." Here by their respective five sections: i Spirituality (happiness, religion, mindfulness, suffering, enlightenment); ii Mystery of Consciousness; iii Riddle of the Self; iv Meditation; and v Gurus, Death, and Drugs. (For those tight on time, (skimming) section one, (reading all) of sections two and three, (reading initial part, then skimming) section four would seem optimal.) Armed with this perspective, we are bound to revisit many of our favorite past Member Monday topics such as Pleasure, Empathy, Religion, the Brain, Awesomeness, (fear of) Death, and Truth. One possible truth is that there is no transcendence of (Thy)Self as there is no Self to transcend.
P.S. Was not able to link the referenced Waking Up sections so you'll need to access a hard copy; but, for an ingenious, entertaining, and relevant short story on the conjured Self, see Tobias Wolff's "Bullet In the Brain" Pdf link below.
The Highland City Club is a safe space, nowhere safer than the valuable Members Monday luncheons. This week’s topic Atheism And The Philosophy Of Religion was potentially explosive. Thank you Steve Smith for moderating a wonderful conversation
Two difficult and personal questions remain with me after our luncheon. Both require more time than we had and maybe more courage and faith in safe space than I could muster at the time. After talking with Steve, I offer these comments.
Who sees value in organized religion?
For me, organized religion is a powerful net positive in our world. I think of Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Theresa and Desmond Tutu. I also think of tribalism, religious wars and violence and the Holocaust.
Religion has no monopoly on stupidity, oppression and violence. All human institutions are flawed even those with noble aims. Consider the defects in our own beloved country and city. Think slavery, needless wars, congressional deadlock and the Boulder City Council deliberations. Organized religion is a mess and democracy is a mess. None the less, both advance the ideal of dignity and equality for all, however imperfectly.
Who has had a powerful religious experience?
I am hyper-rational by virtue of my technical training and career. The language of rationality is logic and mathematics. I also am intuitive and romantic. I need the language of powerful stories and images, especially as expressed in poetry. Some of those I find in religion.
The great turning points of my life were not based on logic or mathematics. For example, my recent decision to commit to City Club was driven by the poetry of City Club as crystalized in the motto “Safe Space.” I did not do a cost-benefit analysis.
The major turning points in my life have been illuminated by meditation. We lack the words to describe what the Quakers refer to as “The way becomes clear.” You may have experienced that which is beyond rational if you have ever fallen head over heals in love.
I value most the stories, rituals and mutual support of my religion. My life is richer because of them. They also lead me haltingly towards greater understanding and compassion.
I don’t believe religion is essential to an individual. If you find satisfaction in a more secular view, my hat is off to you.
I do ask for mutual respect for our differing experiences and perhaps a recognition
that religion per se deserves as much respect as the Boulder City Council or the United States Senate.
I welcome conversation on these musing. I may not have expressed what is truly in my heart.
- Bud Wonsiewicz
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