Dear Curious Souls,
We're gearing up for our final workshop in our How to Live Philosophically series. We've traced the spirit of philosophy back to Socrates and his unrelenting examination of popular values, his enthusiastic effort to discuss what the good life really is, and his attempt to overcome mere opinion and seek truth. We then followed the thread of what the philosophical life means in Plato's ultimate dialogue on love -- the Symposium -- where we discovered how the examined life has everything to do with learning how to love genuinely, learning which objects are most worthy of our desire, and how to approach them in the ways that will bring about happiness.
Now we turn to the Stoics, who pick up on a particular line of Socratic thinking and develop it into a holistic life-practice. The Socratic inspiration behind Stoic philosophy is that the only thing that can really harm you is yourself -- that is, your own bad deeds. We should focus not on what others do to us, nor the accidents that befall us, but on our own actions, reactions, and character.
In our workshop on the Stoics we will read the Enchiridion (or "manual") by Epictetus, which works through questions of what is in our control, what we should care most about, and what we should learn to let go of. The goal for the Stoics is to overcome the anxiety produced by many of our strongest passions (fear, anger, attachment, loss, grief) and to bring about a healthy tranquility in the soul. We will also read selections from a book by William Irvine, a contemporary scholar of the Stoics, who focuses on the kinds of everyday exercises we should practice to bring about tranquility. The book is called "A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy" and it is a very friendly read for a broad audience.
I hope to see you at the next workshop!
Join us to:
3 Saturdays: August 26, Sept, 2, 9, 2:30-4:30 p.m. at Palio Espresso and Dessert House in SE Portland.
Learn more and register here.
Demystifying Demons: Rethinking Who And What We Are
By Clayton Morgareidge
Review by Monica Vilhauer
Demystifying Demons, by Clayton Morgareidge, introduces itself as a book for troubled souls. (I’m in!) With a philosophical and psychoanalytic orientation, but without the usual impenetrable language of texts in those disciplines (sigh of relief), it approaches the study of the soul in a refreshingly accessible and personal manner, drawing on struggles recognizable to us from movies, novels, song-lyrics, and even the author’s own life. As the author proclaims: “This is one troubled soul talking to another” and, from my experience, reading it was much like a conversation with a wise and compassionate friend.
The author takes a secular approach to the topic of the soul and its demons. The soul is less of a religious or metaphysical concept for him, and more of a name that describes our inner life, or our “interior weather,” which is always in flux but not in total chaos. There are repeating patterns that most of us will recognize. Likewise, the mysterious “demons” we struggle with are not little children of Satan, but rather the storms and droughts of our interior weather, which keep returning in our lives, disturbing us, and challenging us.
By outlining the territory of the soul and its interior weather patterns, and by articulating the ways in which these patterns develop, the book offers insight into the origins of our most common types of soul-suffering, including guilt, anxiety, self-loathing, feeling like one is an imposter, and rage. The goal of the book is to shine a light on these dark, mysterious “demons” that torment us, in an attempt to make them a little less frightening, less tyrannical, and less debilitating (much like, as the author says, the effect of a nightlight on the monster under the bed). Illumination and clarification, then, are expected to have a therapeutic function in this work.
The book shines a helpful light on the following mysterious aspects of the life of the soul:
With this final insight, the book inspires compassion for others and for ourselves, as we wrestle with the basic facts of our human condition. It also opens up new questions about what we can do for our healing. In the book, we discovered both the potential and the limitations of clarifying thought and talk-therapy for our healing. At a certain point, should we shift gears from books and counselors to art?! And finally, if compassion is an important element in our healing, what might a compassionate society look like? The author mentions the problems that a competitive capitalist society poses for the cultivation of compassion, love, solidarity, trust, cooperation, and mercy. Further, there is the voice of “the big Other,” which seems inevitable as long as we live in any kind of society, and which has a tendency to shout louder than compassion. How can we overcome the immense pressure of these two forces? Perhaps part of the answer (toward which I sense the author gestures), is to realize that they (these forces, these institutions, these norms) are our creations, and we as a culture can reform them.
The book is ideal as a companion to therapy. It is also a lovely invitation into philosophy and psychoanalysis for those who would like to understand their relevance for everyday life. It would work well in an introductory general studies course. For me, one of the most wonderful aspects of the book is the way it picks up on a very old tradition of philosophy, often forgotten in the modern version of the discipline, which aims to diminish suffering by way of clarifying the understanding, and by shifting our basic approach to the world, ourselves, and others for the better. I place the book in the tradition of philosophy as therapy, and not the self-help tradition, for several reasons. As the author admits (with a bit of a laugh, I imagine), it is “not relentlessly upbeat,” nor does it offer a quick-fix for our soul-struggles. It also does not try to conceal the “awesome complexity” of the soul, the ultimately tragic elements of human life, or the fact that we can never become fully transparent to ourselves. Yet, it is optimistic that we can make some progress in our understanding, we can ease some suffering, and it’s worth the effort to do both.
Find the book here.
We’ve had a terrific first workshop in our “How to Live Philosophically” series on the Ancient Greeks!
Focusing on the figure of Socrates, we've unpacked some key features of living a philosophical life. We learned what it means to genuinely dialogue with others, and how to examine popular values to find out for ourselves what the good life is really all about. We learned the importance of pursuing truth in the face of those who aim to manipulate and distract us, and we started to see how the very process of philosophizing is a transformation of the soul – an enlightenment for the mind, a liberation from the chains of conformity, and a therapy for the suffering brought on by pursuing false goods or self-destructive paths. In our three weeks together in workshop one, we jumped right into the very practice of the philosophical dialogue that sparks such transformations.
Now we're gearing up for our second workshop that focuses on Plato's philosophy of love, as it emerges in his Symposium and Phaedrus. In this workshop we will discover how living the philosophical life has everything to do with the way we handle desire. Plato will invite us to examine which sorts of objects we love most, the ways in which we relate to those objects, the sorts of partnerships we create in our journey of love, and what sorts of creativity love yields. We will consider whether we are obsessing about low level love-objects while missing out on a higher kind of love, whether we are attaching ourselves to our beloved in problematic ways, and how we can harness desire to develop the most genuine forms of love.
We hope you will join us for the next round! It is not necessary to have taken workshop one in order to jump in with us for workshop two. We will meet for three Thursday evenings, July 20th, 27th, and August 3rd, 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Palio Dessert and Espresso House in SE Portland.
Learn more and register for workshop two called "Plato: Harnessing Desire" here.
When I founded Curious Soul in 2015, it was to rejuvenate the ancient tradition of philosophy as a way of life. It seemed to me that philosophy had become strangely contained to college classrooms, reserved for 18-21 year old students paying top dollar for a degree, and frankly had become overly theoretical and jargony. It had lost its connection to everyday life. It had lost its character as a life-long journey of questioning and experimentation. It had become, instead, a special science, a major, a career for the few. To tell the truth, philosophy seemed more important to me than that. I still wanted to figure out how to live. That's what philosophy was for!
It is with great anticipation that I look forward to Curious Soul's ultimate introduction to philosophy as a way of life. This is the place to start your philosophical journey! And if you've already started, this is the place to revitalize your philosophical purpose! Beginning in April, we will embark on a four-workshop series that takes us back to the beginning of the Western philosophical tradition to study the ancient Greeks, who aimed not just to think philosophically, but to live philosophically. Join us to learn how founders of the philosophical tradition -- Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics -- lived the examined life, endeavored to limit human suffering, and sought to develop happiness. Our workshops will not only focus on reading and discussing classic texts, but also the application of ancient wisdom for modern life. Learn the key practices of the philosophical life, such as questioning values, engaging in fruitful dialogue, coordinating reason and passion, developing healthy habits, and overcoming anxiety.
Each workshop is three consecutive Saturday afternoons, from 2-4 pm, in Southeast Portland, Oregon. Our first workshop on "Socrates: Living the Examined Life" begins April 15th, 2017. See our workshop webpage to learn more and to register!
Dear Curious Souls,
I’m excited to introduce our winter workshop on Charles Taylor’s The Ethics of Authenticity! In the fall we gave our brains a good workout as we read and discussed an inspiring (and sometimes cryptic) text by philosopher of dialogue, Martin Buber. As we ease into the new year, I’ve picked out an accessible text that speaks directly to contemporary cultural challenges, and performs the sort of “bridge-building” thinking that many of us are wishing to do amidst the cultural divisions we face today.
In The Ethics of Authenticity, Charles Taylor articulates three “malaises of modernity,” as he calls them: (1) Hyper-individualism that too often becomes narcissism and a loss of meaning; (2) a primacy of instrumental reason that serves goals of efficiency and profit, but forgets critical thinking about which “ends” are worth pursuing; and (3) a political disengagement that threatens the undoing of democracy.
Taylor urges us to see that at the bottom of these problematic developments in modern culture, there are important moral ideals struggling to be expressed. He helps us to see, in particular, what the goal of personal authenticity really means, and how we might overcome its self-centered version and pursue one that is connected to social-political life.
Greetings Curious Souls!
I'm excited to announce our upcoming fall workshop!
After our spring and summer work on alienation, and our efforts to recognize and diagnose estrangement and oppression in its various forms, we are switching gears and taking a look at a text that just might offer us some solutions: Martin Buber's I and Thou.
I and Thou is a uniquely spiritual, poetic, and inspiring work that encourages us to consider the different attitudes with which we approach other beings in the world, and the consequences of such approaches. On the one hand, we may approach other beings as fragmented objects or things to examine, predict, or use. On the other hand we may approach them as whole beings that address us and that we address, that shape us as we shape them, and that interact and experience mutual recognition with us. In Buber's words, we might approach other beings as "It" or as "You." We might create monological "I-It" experiences with other beings, or dialogical "I-Thou" encounters. Come discover how the different relations forged by these approaches are central in defining who we are and how we live. Increase your awareness of your own practices, and consider strategies for change.
I'm excited for our first workshop in which we will work carefully through an entire text together, and I think we've picked the perfect "food for the soul" to help us stay grounded and make it through the election season. Our workshop will be four Saturday afternoons -- Oct. 29, Nov. 5, 12, 19. See our workshop webpage to learn more and to register.
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. She also offers one-on-one philosophical counseling for adults.