We've had an exciting six months at Curious Soul Philosophy. I am so thankful for the kindred spirits out there who have come together and shown great enthusiasm for our programs. In two local workshops, a college alternative spring break retreat, and five community-building "meet-up sessions," I've met a whole host of curious souls ready to think critically and creatively about their lives, about political crises, the state of the environment, social injustice, personal approaches to suffering, and many other pressing issues. Even more wonderful, in my mind, has been the willingness to develop and "try out" in practice new habits that correspond with the insights reached in our philosophical conversations. These experiments have been creative, personal, at times hilarious, and truly inspiring for me. They have taken the examined life and made it spring into action!
What We've Been Up To!
Over spring break I led a thoughtful, sharp, and exuberant group of Lewis & Clark College students on a philosophy retreat along the McKenzie River, in which we critically discussed the Western tradition's approach to nature (as an entity ultimately separate from and inferior to human beings) and considered how this belief plays out in our own lives. We then considered alternative approaches to nature, found in Deep Ecology and literary nature writers Henry David Thoreau and Annie Dillard, to inspire our own philosophical experiments with living simply, listening to and learning from nature, and expanding our sense of self to include other living beings.
In February, our workshop on Ethics and Nature yielded an array of philosophical experiments. As we read about and discussed our ethical obligations to animals, some of us experimented with vegetarianism, others with becoming more sensitive to the interconnection between ourselves and animals, others -- with funny stories to tell -- tried to better understand the experience of insects. Experiments are always quite personal -- they arise out of an individual's own questions or confusions about their habits. Some ask: "Why do I care about dogs being euthanized, but not about squashing an insect?" Others ask: "Why do I continue to eat meat, though I cannot justify it and feel intense guilt about it?" The variety of concerns and commitments to change that arise in our conversations has been one of the most interesting parts of taking philosophy beyond the text (or scholarship about the text), and relating it to our own experiences and goals.
In April, our workshop on Alienation picked up on a theme from our prior workshop (our sense of estrangement from nature) and looked at some broader experiences of alienation, using Rousseau, Marx, and Nietzsche as our guides. Again, the relevance for our everyday lives was palpable. Inspired by Rousseau, we questioned which so-called "conveniences" had, instead of improving our lives, actually weakened us, made us dependent, or cut us off from earlier, healthier states. Following Marx, we asked what examples of exploitation were alive and well in our work-lives, and what we might do to decrease alienated labor? Listening to Nietzsche, we wondered in what ways society is a kind of "straight jacket" that keeps us from our wild selves? All of these questions resulted in an array of answers and experiments to remedy alienation, from giving up certain pieces of technology (at least for certain hours of the day), to attempting greater autonomy and creativity at work, to finding out what it would be like to "break" with civilization for a little while.
Each month, in an attempt to build community around philosophical questions, I've been leading a meet-up group that has focused on philosophy as a way of life (see our page here on meet-up.com). For each session, I post a short reading to give us all a taste of a particular thinker's ideas, which we discuss critically and apply to our lives. Our most lively discussions have been about Socrates' notion, in Plato's Phaedo, that philosophy is a way of practicing for death; the Stoic insight that we should not care for what we cannot control; and the Epicurean goal of pursuing pleasure . . . but wisely with an understanding of which pleasures bring about long-term serenity, and which cause more trouble than they are worth. All of these thinkers saw philosophy as a way of learning how to cope with the difficulties of life. They saw philosophy as offering a kind of therapy for the soul. These ancient thinkers have been especially helpful in developing an understanding of how philosophy can be relevant to life's struggles, and not just a host of intellectual puzzles.
We've got great programs coming up this summer!
I am leading a 25-hour Philosophy of Nature retreat at TreeSong Nature Awareness and Retreat Center in Washougal, WA -- which will be like a mini-version of the spring break retreat I did with Lewis & Clark Students. Learn more on TreeSong's website here.
Beginning July 12th, our next workshop is entitled Alienation 2, on Racism and Sexism, in which we will tackle (in 4 Tuesday nights) these pervasive forms of alienation that plague today's society. Learn more here.
And our next meet-up will be on July 14th, where we will discuss Nietzsche's famous distinction between noble and slave morality, along with his deep psychological analysis of resentment and reactive behaviors. We will work to understand these notions and consider how they manifest in our own lives. See our meet-up site for more info.
I hope to see you at one of our events soon!
Monica Vilhauer, founder of Curious Soul Philosophy, designs and leads workshops and retreats that approach philosophy as a way of life.