Wednesday, April 23, 2014

‘The Wisdom Within’

Friday night was my first class at the School of Practical Philosophy. Located in a gorgeous townhouse on the Upper East Side, clearly it was a private home generations ago, just a stone’s throw from Central Park. We assembled in what had to have been the family library, replete with mahogany walls adorned with Victorian carvings and with glass-enclosed bookshelves. It is an impressive neighborhood; just a few doors up is the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America headquarters, and directly across the street is the first Waldorf School established in North America. I’m impressed with our teacher (they’re all unsalaried, doing what they love), with the course syllabus, and with the group—about 25 people who were engaged through more than two hours of discussion. In introducing himself and the course, our Mr. Primiano made it clear that there are no “right” answers to the questions that typically arise during philosophical discussions, and that the only difference between him and us is the simple circumstance that he stands before the group leading the discussion. (This is how you know you’re in capable hands for this kind of thing.)

A placard, large enough to read from the back of the room, stood at the front with this printed:

To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust. It is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically.

Henry David Thoreau

Athena in bronze relief
greets you at the school.
It was a pretty wonderful meeting, an introduction to practical philosophy. The emphasis is on practical, meaning how to make philosophy part of one’s lifestyle, and not just something to talk about. Unsurprisingly, the class adheres to the Socratic Method: Discussion commences with a question. (The following is a summarized paraphrasing of the group discussion.)

What is philosophy? Literally—from the Greek—it is love and wisdom. Or love of wisdom. It raises awareness to enable us to see things as they are by training our capacities to discern certainty, direction, and clarity, thus leading to the satisfaction of our desire for truth.

Why study philosophy? It encourages us to step out and see the big picture and ask the big questions, but philosophy is not just about the mind. It also is a question of being, to help bring about a greater depth of experience. Plato teaches that wisdom, a Cardinal Virtue, is innate, but that the other Cardinal Virtues are learned. We know mental exercises are needed to awaken and sharpen our abilities.

Introduction to two very practical exercises in awareness.

1.  When facing a quandary, ask “What would a wise person do now?” This is an exercise. Practice this twice for two minutes every day.

Neither accept nor reject what you hear, but instead test the truth of it. If it works, trust what you have found.

2.  In addition, a mindfulness exercise was imparted. I was very pleasantly surprised by this as it fits with my Rosicrucian work and with the overall reason for being of the Mindfulness Project at NYU, which I try to visit when able. Its steps are summarized here:

The Exercise

(Take time to experience and enjoy each element of the practice. Resist the urge to move ahead.)

Find a balanced, upright and comfortable posture from which you need not move.

Become aware of where you are right now.

Feel the weight of your feet on the ground.

Feel the weight of the body on the chair.

And the play in the air on the face and hands.

Feel the gentle pressure of the clothes on the skin.

Without looking around, welcome color and form; light and shadow.



Observe the breath as it enters and leaves the body.

Now open the listening.

Receive all sounds as they rise and fall without comment or judgment of any kind.

Let the listening run right out to the furthest and gentlest sounds, embracing all.

Now simply rest in this greater awareness for a few moments.

I think the time and place of your exercise is important, but do your best.

Class 2 on Friday night is titled “Levels of Awareness,” and we will discuss, among other topics, how wise people lead lives governed by principle.

Click to enlarge.

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