Learning for ourselves to be pragmatic – as we then teach that nature and history tell us that what comes to the middle has lasting endurance.
How did we get here with thoughts of Plato, Tolstoy, Emerson, Gandhi and others defining our thoughts, actions, and future? That in order to find we must first give. All echoing the mantra expressed best by Emerson that we are to step into the flow and “know thyself”. That it is when we can see ourselves through the eyes of others that we begin to see ourselves in eternity. It is in this moment that we realize who we are… as they did and that we must ultimately agree on a basic set of facts. Something we might call the laws of nature.
What does it mean to be pragmatic and move our thoughts and actions to the middle for all concerned as we begin to mirror our authentic selves? I especially like what the flow of history can teach us. Thinking of how one thing tells us what the next thing should be. What having patience means to the outcome. Four people in Western culture and history are examples of the importance of aligning with this flow of energy. Beginning with simply knowing ourselves first.
Emblematic of this flow are Plato from ancient Greece, Emerson and his thoughts and words on man’s role in nature – the unique transcendence we each possess, Tolstoy of literary fame, and Gandhi, who taught us the importance of common good and holding out for the interests of all verses that of a few.
Many others have tapped into this for their own growth and transcendence with an eye towards others. I think of the recently deceased civil rights icon John Lewis and “good trouble” and those who guided him in the struggle for equality to be heard through non-violence and looking to those who preceded him. Often, it’s simply nurturing tranquility within ourselves as our thoughts and actions define us. Learning from mistakes of the past, both our own and those of others.
I could easily move into Eastern philosophy and thought with the I Ching and need for complimentary opposites to reconcile, (especially with Watt and Ram Doss), but for this discussion it’s important to stay in tune with how we, in western ways of thinking, come to how we define who we are. How is it we find our authentic selves? How do we find comfort in staying there, but as a way of clarifying past events when what we consider as progress means getting closer to who we are yet to become? With the caveat being that we must first see beyond our own self-interest to a higher purpose… to get there.
How do people change themselves to connect to this universality that calls us to our highest endeavor? How do we become the voice of healing tied to the expression of our spirit? How do we take the next step? How do we reconcile the past with our own actions we tie to virtue alone not solely self-interest? To live in a world of diversity of perspective and find the status quo and stability ready to change. Who are we really when we are here to simply do nature’s bidding?
Plato examined and expressed this in ways easily understood that could be followed by others. He lived in what I like to call the golden age of ancient Greece. It’s what we latch onto from the past and enter the flow of universal thought that has always had the final say for ourselves and others. Entering and moving forward with this flow of universal thought through our actions. Plato understood this. Carrying thought forward was always key. Ancient Greek philosopher Plato was a student of Socrates and a teacher of Aristotle. His writings explored justice, beauty and equality, and also contained discussions in aesthetics, political philosophy, theology, cosmology, epistemology and the philosophy of language. Plato founded the Academy in Athens, one of the first institutions of higher learning in the Western world. It was this study of language, of linguistics, that Leo Tolstoy would use to update as the flow of energy and bring together what it all meant. Tolstoy’s work inspired Gandhi to understand the power of non-violence in achieving rightful ends. Creating the benchmark for others to follow.
You may not think this is all that important, but what is it that defines your thoughts? How do you reconcile fact from fiction, what’s true and false, right from wrong – even what’s fair and balanced? Where does virtue lie in our thinking that define our actions? Where can what’s called fair and balanced exist without virtue, when what is considered as truth lies? How do we live in a moral and virtuous way that defines both ourselves, our community, and the world in which we live? Amazingly, at about the same time in history when Plato was pondering the universe over two thousand years ago,
Confucius’ teachings were following the same flow of universal thought that spoke to benevolence and virtue.
What Plato did was set forth the benchmark for those who would follow. What we must know is that we don’t live in a vacuum. That given an opportunity, all things found in nature are here to reach out to their highest endeavor. He taught us the value of having a good teacher. That we affect everything we touch as everything that touches us affects us as well. That attaching ourselves to the universal flow of our own divine nature is what ultimately defines us. Remaining open to this flow is the key aspect of meditation and becoming one with it.
I am reminded of Rumi and whirling dervishes whose goal is to reach out into the unknown to the sky and become one with the divine, with it all. With this we learn to be pragmatic – what comes to the surface of things will always come again. We are then given the chance to correct our mistakes and move on. To as he would say to become like stardust undoing the past… in order that we may brighten the future with this primordial knowing recognizing that everything is suffused by the same true nature.
Ralph Waldo Emerson would take the next step connecting thoughts and ideas with what was to become known as transcendentalism that suggested that God does not have to reveal the truth, but that the truth could be intuitively experienced directly through our innate nature. That connecting with this flow could/would lead to our own sense of enlightenment indicating and conveying that all things are universal and connected and therefore themselves divine. This idea is consistent with Indigenous peoples throughout the globe (everywhere), and ancient Chinese philosophy defined as man simply being “one of the ten thousand things”.
Emerson’s take and writings on man’s relationship with nature and that we are universal changed our view. He did not come to this in a vacuum. He read and studied history and philosophies thoroughly that preceded him. How our relationship with our divinity evolved so that seeing beyond ourselves became the door to understanding universality – that we are all transcendent as the spirit that already exists within us. Once understood, we can enter this flow ourselves as our own divine endeavor. Most importantly, there is a divine law governing our actions that corresponds to universal well-being tied to nature that we as individuals cannot possess alone. The idea that we affect all we touch, as everything that touches us affects us as well. What Taoists refer to, or call, cause and effect. He believed that everything in our world – even a drop of dew – is a microcosm of the universe. I think he was further intrigued by the four Buddhist traditions, or qualities, that expand our capacity for experience that define our nature 1) the ease of equanimity, 2) the full-heartedness of love, 3) the tenderness of compassion, and 4) the radiance of joy. All powered by our intention.
“Trust thyself,” Emerson’s motto, became the code of Margaret Fuller, Bronson Alcott, Henry David Thoreau (pictured to the left), and W. E. Channing.
Emerson and other Transcendentalists edited the The Dial, a journal founded in 1840 that was named for a sundial, created to shine a light on the best contemporary ideas of the day. It became a springboard for what was later to be called New Thought in America.
It would be Emerson and a few years later Tolstoy, who would remind us of our responsibility to our own divine nature, and how it is to relate to the outer world we find in our environment following the footsteps of Plato and experiences of those who had followed him. That we learn from the experiences of others and following the flow of universal thought that is available to all who look both from within and to the sky when we are ready. Just as the I Ching and Lao Tzu (they had studied), had taught for millennia that our innate divine nature and cause and effect are the central elements of determining all that follows. I like to compare the two (Emerson and Tolstoy) because of their places in both the new and old worlds of western thought and philosophy.
It is not seeing beyond our own self-interest that eludes our own personal development and clouds the way for ourselves and others. Studying history is what tells us what the future will bring. Moving ahead from ancient Greece and Plato, Plato’s birth was around 428 B.C., to Leo Tolstoy, in the 1860’s and 70’s, in the interim, it would be the great universities of Europe that maintained order. Tolstoy’s greatest contribution in my opinion was as a linguist, skilled in language and ability to update the written word and text to their original meaning. His literal interpretation of the ethical teachings of Jesus, centering on the Sermon on the Mount, caused him to become a fervent Christian anarchist and pacifist.
Tolstoy’s ideas on nonviolent resistance, expressed in such works as The Kingdom of God is within You (1894), had a profound impact on such pivotal 20th-century figures as Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Lewis.
It is the continuing of the flow of universal thought that is important to note here. Carrying forth what was to come of universal thought that guides the future that maintains humanity to its highest endeavor. It becomes what we ourselves are to latch onto that carries the day. Notable for me is the writings and thoughts of Joseph Campbell and “following our bliss”, and Alan Watt and Ram Doss who taught and furthered the concept that we are all one with nature and that it begins with our understanding of becoming pragmatic, seeing things beyond ourselves. And to what Emerson found in the four Buddhist traditions, or qualities, that expand our capacity for experience that define our nature as the ease of equanimity, the full-heartedness of love, the tenderness of compassion, and the radiance of joy. That equanimity toward others comes from recognizing that everyone seeks happiness. All powered by our intention.
Doing what is necessary taking all things under consideration prior to making a decision. Taking nature into account as the central core (Confucius would tell us – our mutual virtue), as what’s good for one must be good for all as the determining factor in our decision-making. To simply become one with the flow as nothing but what defines our own eternal essence. Nothing more and nothing less with our presence in line with the universal divine order found in all things. Finding and staying within our own eternal energies and vibrational flow that takes us further on our own journey.
This brings us to the center of things, butting up against the status quo, and to pragmatism. Back to the beginning, keeping to the open road, or what Lewis so well defined as “good trouble”. That it is in giving of ourselves we receive and finding the middle, our comfort, our passion there, we can define our bliss. That in order to find, we must first give beyond what can be defined solely as self-interest and aggrandizement. The world wasn’t meant just for us, but it was meant for us too. The suchness, the oneness Plato and others tells us that defines us. How do we want to be remembered and does it matter? It is said we die three times. First when we stop breathing, second when we are put to rest (buried or created), and third, when our names are forgotten.
The idea of impermanence seems to serve to guide us back to the middle of things and moderation. As if saying that our eternal spirit isn’t done yet… Often hearing the expression to “stay within ourselves”. Which begs the question – who are we?
A question the above people attempted to answer some would say for eternity’s sake. Not simply for themselves, but once encountering this eternal flow of divine energy, to do their best for all who would follow. Finding and staying in the middle of things. Avoiding extremes. While shaping an unknowable future as nature intended as Emerson would tell us to learn to know and “trust thyself”. That as the freedom and ease in our daily life expands, we also gain access to the wisdom of our true nature.