Monday, August 24, 2009

Living Philosophies

For those of us who work in the schools, summer break provides an opportunity to fixate on some esoteric ideal and actually read a book or two about it. This is usually in lieu of staining the fence, painting the porch, or dividing the sweet pea plant that is in mortal combat with the pumpkin vines. Last summer it was reading about transcendentalism which is defined as a spiritual ideal that transcends just the scientific or empirical and is knowable through intuition. The thing that struck me, in an overwhelming way, was that Ralph Waldo Emerson was a professional reader more than anything else. He read Goethe in German and the early philosophers in Greek and Latin. He did not want to miss the nuances of what they were saying in their original languages. He then built his own living philosophy based on studying what had come before and applying it to his own unique time in history. I think we all have an obligation to craft our own living philosophy: Where did we come from, why are we here, and what is sacred?

This summer (just in the nick of time as school starts next week) I finished reading a lovely book entitled Living Philosophies: The Reflections of some eminent men and women of our time. The book was originally published in 1931 and Albert Einstein was the lead essayist:

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art
and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.

Each essayist ponders the meaning of life and many talk about the increasing threat of global warming, the inexplicable horrors of wars and holocausts, and the gulf between science and religion. John Hersey, author and war journalist, says this:

From such frigid immensities I come home to my heart. My deepest conviction is that one's love for a very small circle of family and friends is what matters most in life. Far beyond the satisfaction of work is that intimacy, one with one, face to face.

I could quote at length from each remarkable essay but I will end with this one from Daniel Boorstin:

Probably no one of us has the True Religion. But all of us together-if we are allowed to be free
are discovering ways of conversing about the great mysteries. The pretense to know all the answers to the deepest mysteries, is, of course, the greatest fraud....I see religion as only a way of asking unanswerable questions, of sharing the joy of a community of quest, and solacing one another in our ignorance.

My own living philosophy, at this moment in time, is to stand in awe of the mysteries of the universe, explore what I can through the foundation of Buddhist beliefs and shout with joy that I have the love of a few good people. As summer winds down, take a moment to ask a few unanswerable questions. It puts getting school supplies in complete perspective:)

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