Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Listening to Socrates

Socrates was a smart guy. If you doubt that you should check out some of his thinking in the dialogues of Plato. He spent most of his time hanging out on the streets with his friends discussing the MAPOL (meaning and purpose of life). It's valuable, in my opinion, to explore some of his conclusions after years of conversations and study. One of his most famous quotes is "The Unexamined Life is not Worth Living". Another famous one is "Know Thyself:" It's worth spending a little time considering these statements.

We need to start any quest for learning about ourselves with the realization that we don't really know ourselves. We ascribe certain abilities and traits to ourselves and imagine that we are one way or another. We live our lives under many illusions. The main one is that we believe that we already do know ourselves. We believe that we have made choices in the past and that we can make choices in the future, when in fact most of the things that happen to us are a result of accident. We believe that we are consistent in our thinking and that we are the same person each day. In fact we are very inconsistent and we have many different personalities, each of which believes that it is who we really are.

The view that we don't know ourselves and that before we can progress in our lives and reach any level of happiness or contentment we need to get to know ourselves is one of the consistent threads of thought that runs through the thinking of all religions and philosophies. All the problems in the world can be traced to this simple and undeniable fact. We don't know ourselves and because we act without any real knowledge of who we are and what we need we are capable of any action, even the most irrational and self-destructive.

When you really begin to understand this about the human condition, you can begin to appreciate the "Terror of the Situation". We are living in a world that for the most part consists of people who are out of control. Under the right conditions they are capable of doing anything, and justifying their actions with some belief system that has them hypnotized into believing that they really do know who they are and what are the right things to do.

I don't want to paint too negative a picture. Matter of fact what I am describing here is usually hidden information. Most people are not ready or willing to hear it or understand it. There is actually the possibility that we can escape from this situation and create a world that enables us to achieve a level of peace and happiness. It all begins with self-knowledge.

Socrates spoke about accomplishing this through his student Plato in "The Republic". P.D Ouspensky spoke about the possibility of creating a new man and a better world in "In Search of the Miraculous." Jesus in "The Sermon on the Mount" points the way towards the possibility of creating a new life and turning our exisiting world topsy turvy.

Socrates, though, more than anything was a realist and gave this advice to those who don't want to think about any of this stuff which I imagine is most of us. What he said was, "Enjoy yourself, it's later than you think."


  1. I have come to believe, as you do, that the most important thing we can accomplish in this life is understanding who we are. My views on who I am are influenced by both my experience and my beliefs as a Christian. These together, help comprise my worldview and influence my life in a variety of ways. Some examples of this may be; how do i view myself and how do i view myself in relation to others? What is most important in life? I then attempt to organize all these perspectives together to give purpose to my life, my actions and interactions with others. Unfortunately, I beleive that the church tends to hinder this growth and distort purpose rather than provide clarity. I say this because, like most people (being human), Christians don't know who they are. The focus continues to be on our deficit & our needs (Christ) rather than who we have already become through Christ's intervention on our behalf. We lack sufficient role models who exmplify this mindset and its tranformative potential in our lives. Fortunately, if we come to recognize that we don't know who we are, we can atleast be given a genuine starting point from which to grow- no matter what religion or philosophy we ascribe to.

  2. From my understanding of Christianity, if Christ is the messiah then all that matters is that we love him and love each other. This though, is not so simple.

  3. In a basic, yet profound way Jesus told his followers to love God with all their heart and love their neighbors as they love themself. But what if I saw, in my own life that this was an impossible task?
    While I paraphrase the "greatest commandment," what if we realize, as you said "is not so simple" or maybe that it is quite impossible to achieve? It is my intention that there is something deeper here and that these deeper meanings, told through the stories of the Judeo-Christian traditions have profound implications.
    Trying to be concise, I believe what the Bible shows us we don't really know who we are. The whole of the Bible is filled with people who just don't get it. Moses- a murder, Solomon- a great king with deep lamentations, David - an adulterer & killer and the disciples- quick to deny, flee and argue among themselves who was the greatest. The crux of Jesus message was most challenging to those who thought they knew it all already.
    I believe the Bible then serves two purposes. The first shows us we think we know who we are but don't and the other shows us aspects of who and what we actually are-- we aren't just 1 or two things either.
    It is with this knowledge, I would suppose, we should be able to achieve what Martin Luther called "the Freedom of a Christian." However, as my first comment alluded, we don't see Christians readily achieving that freedom. Rather, we see a lot of self-righteous people who only understood half the message. The majority of Christians have yet to understand who we are. I would submit that who we are, in our most full sense, is determined by Christ's work on the cross; This should be the source of our freedom. Even still, we (myself, included) don't comprehend the profound implicatons this can have on our lives. For example, if Christ's work is complete- forgivenss of sins/bridge to God and if Jesus said, "that all things are possible to him that believes," why are we stuck in a cycle of ingnorance? We never truly, mindfully, embrace who we are. We get stuck on our shortcomings (which we can never fully alleviate) rather than moving forward. We get stuck asking over and over for forgivenss and strength to change rather than believing our forgiveness is complete and the power for change is already within us, instead of perpetually waiting for a mystical encounter or feeling which confirms this through personal experience.
    The question this leads me to ask myself is; how than if I beleive this, can I live proactively in my circumstance rather than having it dictated to me through reactionary means?

  4. Josh, this is a well thought out comment. The more you express your ideas the clearer they will become. There are definitely deeper meanings in Jesus' teachings. There are those who say they can be understood on seven levels. the first being the literal the deepest being the universal transcendent. The more you study, meditate, explore, observe, and discipline yourself the clearer these ideas become. Whether we can in fact influence our lives or whether we are just vehicles through which the Absolute or God expresses his will is a mystery.
    I have spoken to wise men who have pondered this question for fifty or more years and are still not sure. We must act though as if we can influence our lives. I personally believe that we do have the possibility for free will but in our present stae we are mostly mechanical. Read, "New Man" by Maurice Nicoll. It addresses some of your concerns.

  5. Yeah, there's always more in there (my thoughts). I am going to check out "New Man."
    I agree, we always need to encounter life as if free will exists. Even in the Christian tradition this is quite a mystifying and paradoxical question. The Bible speaks of both free will and of God's providence. How this plays out......?
    I think in some regards there is a dual potential, meaning we can live life mechanically but that isn't necessarily our destiny. We have the "herd mentality" as C. Jung suggests and the "we become what we think about" phenomenon as discussed by E. Nightingale in his Strangest Secret commentary-- which I still recommend listening to, if you have yet to do in full.
    This is such a meaty topic! I beleive we will have further opportunity to discuss more in your subsequent posts!

  6. I did listen to the Nightingale talk. I enjoyed it, thanks. His voice alone is powerful.