Philosophy, My Old Friend

I have loved Philosophy since I was a young University Student. Actually, it was a few years later that I became truly interested. What caught my fancy early on was a Philosophy Student I met. He was a friend of a friend and I met him at a party that I attended when I was twenty. I was taken but this guy was incredibly cool. Not my type physically because he was long and lean and I liked beefy athletic guys. But he was beautiful both inside and out. Think a young Antonio Banderas. So pretty. We started talking music (He had an original Yardbirds album) and our conversations soon drifted into what our Majors were and morphed into Philosophy and Religion. I spent two years in a Christian Boarding school where Religious study classes were a required yearly thing although that is where I learned to drink alcohol. He was taking a combined degree of Philosophy and Religion.

For the life of me I can’t even remember the young fellows name but he did leave a mark on my life. We ran into each other now and again, had some coffees and chatted, but nothing compared to that first evening where we spent hours talking. Perhaps it was his physical beauty. It may have been the low lights or the music. Maybe it was the air that was thick with Marijuana. But honestly he made Philosophy come alive for me. There was a gentleness to his explanations and I felt like I was in the presence of someone with a higher power. A spiritual calmness. Something not often seen in a young person. An old soul I guess.

In time Philosophy played a bigger role in my life. I began to explore the teachings of some of the Ancient Philosophers. I was fascinated with Ancient Greece since studying it in grade six and it was normal to search beyond the history of the Gods. The Religious College I attended had its roots in Norwegian and Lutheranism and of course the Norse Gods played prominently in our extracurricular events. My dorm was Ronning Hall, named for Chester Ronning but our house name was Thor. Every dorm had a Norse house name. Odin. Loki. It was fun. We made T-shirts and had silly competitions with other dorms. But, it also had me looking to learn more about the history of the Gods. I was already well versed in my own history as a Lutheran and as a Dane. I think I found the whole idea of Philosophy as a field of study more as a romantic discipline. Again that maybe went back to the young man from the University days. I loved to read Epicurus but I also found I out grew his thoughts of living a life of pleasure. Truly a shallow form of life in my opinion although it seems to be gaining ground these days. Hedonism. There was a time I considered myself an existentialist but only because my initial exposure to Philosophy was in High School when an English teacher brought Soren Kierkegaard into my life. As a young woman raised in the Church, existentialism was in many ways a contrast to my Christian teachings. In the absurd, the only meaning to life is that which we give it. Not in keeping with God’s plan as I was taught. Existence before essence. I became what I am because I first existed. I chose to be who I am. Not a soul waiting to be born. One that was preordained in some way. Obviously an exciting counter argument for a young girl seeking her way.

My youngest brother told me once that he in fact identified more with the Stoics which is an ancient form of Philosophy as opposed to Existentialism which is in the last couple of hundred years. At least the title. Stoics believe everything comes from the laws of nature. If they live in accordance with those rules nothing can hurt them. They strive to live life almost virtuously. Being good is basically being happy. Emotions cause discord. Unhappiness. The Stoics use reason and logic to learn about the world and believed we are all one. It is quite in tune with the modern “spiritual” movement of today. Nothing can hurt the stoics as they try and live lives without attachment to feelings and things. I am paraphrasing but it can be a beautiful way to live a life of contentment.

My son Sam was fascinated with Buddism at the age of seven. He was quite young when he started to explain the contrasts and similarities between his chosen religion and the one we taught him. I have always called him my deep thinker. In time he began his own life of reading about the old masters. When he was about to enter University he wanted to study Philosophy but felt it wouldn’t help get him a job so he majored in Economics, which is just as mystical in some ways. Go ahead. Try and define it. He did however, minor in Philosophy. He is a fountain of information and I find that he is very similar to the young man from my youth. There is a strange calm and yet an almost low grade angst in both individuals. Is it because they are young? Perhaps it is the fact that they are over thinkers. In fact I believe they are constantly trying to understand the world. That my friends causes a great deal of stress and confusion.

The word Philosophy means Love of Wisdom. That sums up the core of it all. But when you start to dig deep and see Philosophy from a historical outlook the information is immeasurable and mind-blowing. Whether it is Ethics, our moral dilemma’s, or logic, the whys and how’s of our reasoning, Philosophy branches down and out like a tree of knowledge. Metaphysics, what is real in the world. Epistemology, what do we know? How do we know it. And then, through time so many people have developed more and more ideas and arguments building and creating new ways to see the old. It is no wonder that when you start to study Philosophy you can get overwhelmed and almost depressed. Thinking about thinking. The quest for more and more answers often leads to more and more questions. We try to organize it all in our minds because humans like to compartmentalize. Everything. Then which road do we chose? Each path leads to yet another fork. It is a never ending journey fraught with numerous twists and turns.

In the end how to we know where to turn for answers in our search for knowledge? The Ancients? Aristotle, Plato. The Orient? Confucius, Lao Tzu. The Mathematicians? Pythagoras, Descartes, Pascal. Even today the self help books are often a form of Philosophical teachings. Well, just between us, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel so to speak. While all of the Philosophers from the past I have read and loved have taught me so much, I often found wisdom much closer to home. My Grandmother paid me to memorize Bible verses. I read a lot of the Bible because of her. My Father had a very strict moral code. My Mother was quietly brilliant stemming from her love of reading. My sister showed me unconditional sibling love and kindness. While I was pregnant with a handicapped child, my older brother shared his own experiences. How he navigated through those early days and ultimately saw the blessings. Through the years so many people have touched my life in strange and wonderful ways. I realize now that they were holding the knowledge I sought and all I did was talk to them. Face to face conversations with people often bring out such a depth of information if we let them share with us their journeys. While we like to see Philosophy and wisdom as peaceful and calm we do also learn from the negative. Those intent on being cruel or vicious. My son shared recently an experience which initially shocked him but then in time he saw the lesson. He lives in Canada and works for an American company. During an on-line meeting some anti-Canadian comments were made by quite a few individuals including the manager. My son felt somewhat attacked but realized it was an opportunity. He kept silent. This is how stereotypes are formed. The world see’s Canadians as polite. He aligned himself with that stereotype. Unfortunately, another stereotype was reinforced in his own mind.

Every day gives us an opportunity to find wisdom through just the common ordinary guy on the street. Although we all fail in so many ways, if we are lucky we recognize the growth we experience through the failures. Reading the wise words of others can only help us if we put their words into action. The cute phrases are just that. Cute. We read them and smile. We think to ourselves, “That is very deep and profound” and then we go about our day. The reality is that even if we were to gain all the knowledge in the world, we would not seek the peace and happiness we desire. Because it is hard. Being a good person is hard. Living life ethically and morally is hard. Meditating is hard. Being still and being silent is hard. Knowledge is one thing but wisdom is something altogether different. My husband always said I was intelligent but that I wasn’t very smart. Both of these concepts have something in common. Knowledge is gained through study, learning and education whereas wisdom is gained as we apply that knowledge. We learn from it as we apply it to life. You can have knowledge without wisdom but you cannot become wise without knowledge. I am intelligent because i was born that way. Higher IQ which I did nothing to acquire. I struggled to apply that intelligence as a young woman. I admit I wasn’t very smart. However, in time I became smarter as I learned to apply concepts to real life. You don’t have to be intelligent to be smart either. Ultimately none of it matters if we do nothing.

When I was young I often removed myself from situations where I felt uncomfortable. I often felt I didn’t belong. As I aged I soon learned to avoid those situations before they occurred. I hid from people and cut myself off from crowds or cliques. The energy people give off can be very disturbing to someone like myself. While I loved the thrill of a football game I often cried on the drive home as the energy from the crowd gave me anxiety. I love rock concerts but again when they end I find the crowds cause me angst. Now in my senior years, which I can’t believe I am, I do put myself out there. Partly because my husband died but also because I realize without exposing myself to the world I will never meet those people I so long to know. The ones who are modern day philosophers. The deep thinkers. Those who sit back and watch the world as they try and understand it and all its foibles. They bring me joy and peace as I once again am reminded I am not alone. I can sit for hours with a total stranger and feel their goodness circle around us. I absorb it to heal me. To protect myself from those who cause sadness and anger to enter my world.

Yes the world is full of ordinary everyday philosophers. They are the watchers in life who try to make sense of it all. They don’t quote the words and ideas of those long dead. Nor do they seek to gain wisdom through the words of the masses. They look beyond. They dig deep. They ask why. They find their own knowledge. They apply it quietly to their own lives and try to live within the rules they make for themselves alone. They seek no likes or pats on the back. Rather, they allow their actions to speak. They set an example to others by living their own authenticity. They don’t need to brag nor do they try and foist their opinions on others. They just live. And in time their actions are sometimes noticed and others wish to emulate them. And that is when they enter our lives. When we open our hearts and minds to strangers and we listen or watch. Sure you’ll meet a lot of people who may rub you the wrong way, but if you close yourself off you will miss that soul who you may just need in your life. A that right moment. When things are in turmoil and you aren’t sure where to turn.

I have heard it said that you should chose a person you admire and then write down the traits that you admire about them. Practicing those traits can help you be more like that person. But that isn’t reasonable because we are all so unique. We all are born with incredible potential. Hopefully we are nurtured through our early years in a way that helps us become the best us possible. Sadly that isn’t always the case. Then it is up to us to become our own philosopher. Watch and learn. This isn’t about fitting in. Being a clone. It is about choosing what works best for you. For life. We can learn plenty from those who make us uncomfortable. All we need to do is examine why we are uncomfortable. It is more about soul searching. The answers are within if we have the guts to look there. It is hard to see our own faults. The goal isn’t to be the best, or to be famous. It isn’t about having more money or more physical goods. It isn’t about being liked or fitting in. It is about living a life that brings us peace. Contentment. Loving and accepting yourself as the perfect being God created. It is about learning from those who preceded and also from those around us each day. While I still love to read the words of the famous philosophers old and new, my greatest education comes from those around me. I have learned to trust the Philosopher inside of me as I navigate my time on this earth. I don’t have any cute sayings. I have no wise words to live by. What I do have is belief in myself. I don’t know the meaning of life. I am but a mere speck in the cosmos. But I believe I must be important to someone, somewhere or I wouldn’t be here. My grandmother always said God had great plans for me. So I guess I am just trying to figure out what she meant by that. Maybe its yet to some. Maybe I already did it. Who knows? While I try to figure it out I’ll still scroll the instagram posts and smile. I will still read my old faithful favourite Philosophers. I will put myself out there and seek some knowledge from those around me. But in the end, I will search my heart and soul and hopefully when I die it will be without fear, angst or regret. But rather with peace in my soul.

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