Tag Archives: philosophical

Encountering truth

Truth can seem like a very abstract subject – the kind of thing you can only explore with language and thinking. Take away language, and what you have is experience, and what you learn from the experience. Whether that’s right or not can be tested by whether you survive future experiences.

We go all too easily from the idea of truth, to the idea of some sort of fixed and ultimate truth. Then we argue with each other about what this might be, and it all gets messy. How we make sense of things depends on who we are and where we were standing when it all happened. The truth for a fox is very different from the rabbit’s truth when they find themselves in the same situation. My truth is not your truth.

Of course if truth is in the moment, in the perspective and the individual, then we aren’t going to be able to agree on it. If there is such a thing as ultimate truth, then persuading people of it becomes a thing. Ultimate truth has implications of power and control. The person who has the ultimate truth has the right to dictate and control, and so there’s a lot of people out there claiming that they have the one true way, the only truth, the rightyist bit of rightness.

The idea of ultimate truth – be that philosophical, spiritual, lifestyle, political, economic – offers the tantalising possibility of right answers. The scope to take the one true way and apply it – maybe only once – and then have everything be absolutely excellent and reliable and all the things.

What if the truth is that life does not work this way? What if everything is specific, and what works this week may not work the same way next week? What if most of existence cannot be tidied into predictable numbers in the style of the sort of physics they teach you in your teens? What if there is no magic solution to tell us exactly how to get everything right?

What if the people peddling ultimate truths, definite salvation and foolproof solutions are, for the greater part, wrong? What if the truth is that we have to make it up as we go along, based on the best information we’ve got right now? What if the truth is that there are no ultimate answers whatsoever?


Stories in a picture

Nimue and BooksA picture can tell a huge story, but sometimes it helps to tell the story as well….

So, this is me, a copy of graphic novel Hopeless Maine vol 2, Inheritance in one hand, and the new religious/ philosophical meandering, “Spirituality without Structure” in the other.

 

I’ve been told that the tree behind me is a Dawn Redwood.

The brown dress I’m wearing was a skirt, a few weeks prior to the photo, picked up second hand at a Green Party jumble sale, and re-worked, to be a knee length pinafore dress. Something I can wear over leggings and a jumper to be passably warm, a bit fem, and wholly practical. That flash of blue jumper, is a handmade item, knitted by an incredibly talented cousin. She was a genius at all forms of needlecraft, and died in old age more than fifteen years ago. Her decision to leave half of her house to me has been a major contribution to my being able to follow this career path. It takes a lot of years to get established as an author, and without Louise Chandler it would have taken me a lot longer and been a lot harder. It’s a really snuggly jumper, too.

You can’t easily see the pentacles on my scarf, but I’ve had it for years, as useful Pagan bait. “I see you’ve got pentacles” is such an easy conversation opener, and I’m old enough to remember when we had to be a bit more careful about that sort of thing, when you could lose your job for being Pagan, and it wasn’t always safe to be out.

The colourful jacket came from Intrigue of Stroud (my favourite clothes shop). I’ve been getting into wearing colours in combination more in the last six months. I had years of being told I didn’t know how to put colours together, and it really dented my confidence. I also used to hear a lot that I had no idea what clothes shapes to pick or what looked good on me. I had no faith in my ability to dress myself, and that’s a big thing to lose. Now, I’m getting more into wearing things I like. The process of forming my own preferences, and learning to be comfortable in just liking a thing because I do and not having to justify it, has been an important journey for me. I am happier now in my clothes choices than I’ve been since my teens. I feel no pressure to dress to be sexually attractive to anyone, and I wear colours I like.

I’m thinner around the face in this picture than I’ve ever been before in my life. It’s not the product of weight loss, but of improving my iodine intake. It looks increasingly like insufficiency of iodine in my diet has, for my entire life, been compromising my thyroid gland, hence the chubby face that has been a source of misery since childhood. I’ve had a lifetime of feeling guilty over being fat, when what I had was a flaw in my diet. I look back and realise my life would have been really different if there hadn’t been an assumption that my chubbiness was my fault. I didn’t have a fat body just a fat face. I now know it wasn’t because I was greedy and overeating, and that’s a big thing in terms of sense of self, and how I feel about my childhood self. A kind woman at Druid camp last summer took me aside, and said I looked like I might have these issues, and she knew because her daughter did. I didn’t get her name, but my gratitude for the difference made is vast.

An image from a moment on the journey. Published author. Passably comfortable in my own skin for the first time ever. Living in a place that I love and where I feel a keen sense of belonging. And in the background, a tree that was thought extinct, and turned out not to be.


The big hairy work conundrum

How many hours do you work? It’s a staple question of forms, and I imagine for the regularly employed, it’s a fairly simple thing to answer. People who are on salary and not paid by the hour tend to know roughly how many hours they are expected to put in, I believe. And then there’s self employment. How do you explain to the tax office that they’ve just asked a most ponderous, philosophical question? You can’t, you just put down a best guess, safe in the knowledge that no one else has any clue what hours you work either.

What to count? I put in maybe fifty hours last year on a project that in the end I had to shelve. No one paid me. Was I working those hours? If I stand at a stall all morning and no one buys anything, was I working? If half the day was dead, and in the last hour a lot of people buy art, when, exactly, was I working? And if I wander off to listen to a talk, still technically responsible for the stall… working, or not working?

A frequent conundrum for me is that I read books for pleasure, get some distance in and see the research application. Radio programs the same and daytrips out. What of that time is really downtime? I plan work while on the school run. I think up plot lines whilst doing the dishes. Some of this leads very directly to me getting paid. And again every so often I put in a lot of hours on a book that I then either don’t finish, don’t like, or can’t figure out how to pitch. Do I count those hours as work?

Selling books is a weird sort of business. You have to spend a lot of time chatting to people, being shamelessly interesting in public places and so forth. Networking: It’s strangely like having a social life sometimes. Want to be a professional Druid? You need to spend time hanging round moots, conferences maybe doing some volunteer work, otherwise no one will have heard of you, no one will know what you do and no one will book you. This blog is very openly part of my cunning plan to sell you books. (see my complex reverse psychology at work here) I write blogs every day. But no one pays. It is part of the marketing plan, (my gods, what do I sound like?) but is it work?

Go on, define work.

Because I’ve got this nasty suspicion that really speaking, if I’m awake, I am at least to some degree, working, and I think this is probably true of most, if not all self employed folk. And I still don’t know what to put on the forms.


Angels on a pinhead, and other philosophical games

It’s good to ask questions, to ponder, imagine, daydream, reinvent. Most human achievement comes out of thinking, while acts born of stupidity and ignorance are frequently not a good thing. But does this make all questions equally valid or useful? How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

Asking questions will not make you into a wise old philosopher of the future, unless the questions you throw yourself into have some capacity to foster wisdom within you. Any question about some facet of your life, will have some use. Why do I do this? Could I do differently? Better? Less? More? What makes me happy? Is this working for me? You can poke around such issues at length to good effect. And subjects like politics where you have scope to contribute to a process makes sense as well. Many other potential examples spring to mind but the commonality is that seeking answers engages us with life in a meaningful way. Even when we can’t hope to find answers – what happens after death, is there a god? In the process of asking we consider the implications and explore how we want to live.

There are some questions that do not give us this. Imagine, for example, spending hours of dedicated thought creating what you imagine to be the perfect educational system. Now imagine that you do not work in education, are childless, and are not a politician. You have no intention of sharing your vision with anyone. It was an intellectual exercise. It may indeed have given your mind a workout. However, untested as it is, never offered up for criticism, never explored in practice, it sits inside your mind as ‘proof’ of an intellectual superiority that could be sadly lacking. It’s noticeable that ivory tower academics at least tend to talk to each other, and argue with each other. The issue of the angels on the pinhead was one people debated. At the very least that gives it an interesting social component.

Then there are the questions that cannot be answered well because they are loaded. “Why is my product better than anyone else’s?” “Why are you losers worshipping hedges and fields?” A question based on misunderstanding is not one that can lead directly to good answers. Asking good questions is a skill in its own right. Are you shutting down the options, or enabling genuine feedback? Is the question reinforcing an assumption? If we ask why children who drink cola do better at school we haven’t actually established that children who drink cola do better at school. It’s a crude example. In our own heads, we may be asking “Why am I such a failure?” “Why am I always wrong?” “Why does nobody love me?” without questioning the premise of the question.

There are questions that serve to divide and irritate and which cannot give us much that is productive. The vast majority of exchanges I have ever seen between atheists and theists would fall straight into this category. When the point of asking questions is not to share knowledge but to establish superiority, you’re never going to find good answers. The only good answer in that scenario is to escape from it.

Abstract thought can be interesting, and can lead to concrete consequences. However, I think it’s important to question how much time we pour into intangibles, hypothticals and imaginaries as opposed to real life. Who would win in a fight between Batman and Superman? What on earth difference does that make? Yet people will debate such questions for hours. If we had no big questions needed brain time, then the intellectual exercise would be justification enough. While we have disease, hunger, crime and extinctions, Superman and Batman need to shuffle their overly muscled arses down to the back end of the queue.

What we think about matters. The inner worlds we create inform who we are and help shape our life choices. If you pour hours into working out how best to lead your imaginary army across the Roman Empire, again, that is part of who you are. If you poured just a little bit of that time into contemplating how to get on better with the people around you, how to reduce your consumption levels, or help a local charity, you’d be an entirely different sort of person. Making the hypotheticals important while the real is allowed to suffer, is not, I think, a very good life choice.

Some lines of questioning will bring you insight, soul and a richer life. Some will enable you to twiddle your brain cells. The latter may make you feel clever (you did conquer Rome, after all!) and important (your design for a new education system would surely have solved everything!) but they don’t make you real. Ask how much good you can get out of today, and let the angels on the pinheads take care of themselves.


Two druids, three theories

Put a group of druids together, or any kind of pagans for that matter, and there tend to be more ideas floating about than there are individuals to attach them to. I’m one of those people who often has a number of theories about everything, and while I like testing them against other people’s views, and refining them, running into full on dogma frustrates the hell out of me.

One of the aspects of druidry to first attract me was the philosophical element. I’ve heard plenty of people describe druidry as being a philosophy, but once you start poking around, that turns out to be different to say, stoicism or existentialism. I’ve come to the conclusion that by usual definitions, druidry is not a philosophy. Rather, it is a spiritual path that inspires people towards being philosophical. That’s a huge distinction. A philosophy is something you can take on board and live by, a coherent system you may be able to learn in its entirety from an external source. Being philosophical is an ongoing dedication to asking ‘why?’ amongst other things, a continual process of wondering, seeking, trying to make sense. This, for me, is far more exciting than finding a way of doing things and adopting it.

There are dogmatic druids out there. Some of them make their homes in forums, where they wait to pounce on the unsuspecting and beat them over the head with a certain interpretation. I spent a while experiencing that, and moved on out of boredom. Now, I really like hearing other people’s theories, but what I don’t enjoy so much is people who get funny when you try and ask good questions about the whys and wherefores of a stance. “Because I feel it, or believe it” is a good enough answer for me, I don’t need hard evidence, but an understanding of why someone has adopted a position makes it easier to see in context and contemplate.

My favourite kind of philosophical debating is precisely not like some kind of bear baiting arena. I enjoy most, the company of thinkers who do not seem to have it all figured out either and enjoy batting ideas about to see how they bounce of others. You can get at ideas by bashing two opposing thought forms together until a third one appears. It’s not the only way. You can even sit down with someone who sees things totally differently and have that same sharing, exploring process, so long as those involved are not excessively confident that they have all the right answers already. You can’t have a real discussion with someone who knows it all. You can be lectured by them, but nothing else. I lived for some time with someone who lectured, and it did little to enhance my understanding of the world. It was frustrating, inhibiting and ultimately pointless. Argument for the sake of it is a way of passing the time, but little else. I‘m more interested in the kind of dialogue that gives me insight, helps me learn how to do a better job of being both a human, and a druid.

I’ve come to the conclusion that there are no ultimate answers to the questions of life, the universe, and everything (aside from 42!). The experience of learning something always (as far as I can tell) opens up more uncertainties than it answers. For each answer, there are yet more questions about why it is this way and not another, whether it could change, how it works, and what to do with it. There is no available end point of total knowledge. I think the same is true of spirituality, that there is no point of total enlightenment out there, there is an infinity of awareness to explore and there will always be new layers to work through, new levels of consciousness. It’s a thought that I worked up to over a long period of deliberately thinking and discussing the subject. I rather like it. I have no idea if it’s true or not, but that doesn’t matter, because it works as a thing I can live with. I have come to the conclusion that I don’t really want reality to be tidy, like a puzzle to be solved. I like the uncertainties and the feeling that there will always be more questions than answers. I also like the idea that there are an infinite number of infinities, all of different sizes, which is curious, because as a child the notion of infinity scared me witless.

I think it works better not to take druidry as ‘a philosophy’ and imagine that we have been given the ideas to live by. Life is so much more interesting when you start from a position of uncertainty, with an intention to explore. We play and poke reality. We talk to it, listen to it, ask it questions it is unable, or unwilling to answer for us, and construct ever changing ideas about what it’s all for and how best to engage with it. It’s like being in a conversation with everything. With every passing day I see relationship as being somehow even more intrinsic to my druidry than it was before. I think this kind of approach keeps that relationship with everything alive and keen, in ways that I assume I will need to keep exploring for the rest of my life. And possibly afterwards as well. Who knows?