O Darken Mirror on the Wall

“O darken mirror on the wall, who is the most deceitful of them all: a black smoke rose up from Nietzsche’s coffin; an odour that lingers upon the earth abroad. All who breathe it are disillusioned, and claim to be their own god.”

In the image above we see an aspect of our human nature; a perspective largely formed through the cauldron of Christianity. Some are probably repulsed by the emotion it stirs within, not to mention the denial that immediately veils our intellect at the thought of identifying with such a monster. How convenient though, to project our shadow upon a public figure, rather than acknowledge our own duplicity. Then again ‘convenient’ may not be as fitting a term as would let’s say contradictory or conflicting. The poem to follow may help to illustrate this struggle. In particular it will highlight an event from my childhood of a religious picture that deeply disturbed me. On the contrary this piece of art was probably meant to give the contemplator some peace of mind, or to serve as a reminder to act piously, but in my case it yanked me out of my wits.

My fear of the dark was overwhelming as a child. The night filled my mind with foreboding. Irrational thought coloured appalling scenarios, which set my imagination adrift without anchor. Madness covered the horizon with a purple haze, and all of life became distant and out of touch. From this churning womb a poet emerged both sensitive and awkward. He speaks to you now through mystery…

That strange picture of a boy staring into my eyes
Oh poignant demon who art in shadow and disguise

My body still as a corpse concealing its clammy trepidation
While layers of silence press heavy upon my agitation

The object of my fear hung upon the wall 6 feet away from view
Of a solitary child poised upon one knee in prayerful déjà vu

Lips fixed as marble stone yearning to spit upon my face
Except for an imagination that has no boundaries to trace

No one hears such anguish, a ghost tethered with an artist’s brush
My soul seeks to blur every stroke into an unintelligible mush

Hellish creature upon my wall, your memory ceases not its call
Unrelenting madness stealing my shallow breath with a hiss

My mirror twin – binding me to sin, in the name – of a godless shame
Our threads never to come undone for we are one and the same

It too is made in my image from the dusty ground of some demiurge
Who battles with me night and day until water shall make us purge

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Face Difficulty with Grit

“A path along Mount Scio remains pressed during winter. This is where my ideas for writing is born. These trees hear my song and are glad.”

My morning walks are more challenging this time of year. There is plenty of snow on the ground, forcing drivers and pedestrians to share roads. There is also freezing temperatures to contend with, as well as slippery ice. Daylight is shortened, reducing visibility, not to mention regular snow squalls and flurries. Some of you reading this might think to yourself: ‘Why doesn’t he just take it easy and stay at home on a treadmill instead.’ As though my reason for physical exercise is strictly for keeping my body fit.

There is a tendency in my culture to gravitate towards what is comfy; to take a pill rather than change one’s lifestyle; to sit on a cushion rather than labour. This inclination to pull away from exercising virtue – such as strength conditioning, perseverance, courage and self-discipline – is nothing new or out of the ordinary. However it’s not life-affirming; i.e., it doesn’t contribute towards human flourishing or personal well-being. No matter how well-off we are or secluded from the harshness of reality, we need to exercise grit. Regardless of how fortified our ivory tower, things fall apart all the time, and there are unforeseen circumstances beyond our control. Thankfully grit is our backbone. Like a cat that jumps from a burning building, grit is what enables us to land on our feet. Should a thousand people lay slain in the fields, grit is what allows us to dig their graves, to raise ourselves up in the name of dignity.

So do we do grit to prepare for a rainy day, or do we embrace grit for its own sake; one or the other, neither or both, a blending of two and the same. Are we to liken grit to the tedious effort of rolling a boulder up a hill just to watch it fall back down, or is it within our power to transform the mundane so that we might transcend? Think of it this way: All around the world people come together to sing in choirs. They raise our spirits and their soothing melodies linger on with us even when life fades in old age. But how often do we think of the grunt work required to refine such art; imagine the dissonance if nobody was willing to face difficulty with grit. Too seldom do we give mind to what grounds us so that our souls might know beauty, harmony & splendour.

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Beauty draws all souls

Beauty draws all souls into itself
Filling the heart with her rarefied light
Bending the knee of king & beggar alike
None can resist such ardent love
Which flowereth through earthenware
In every movement by the stars above
No dilettante can know her inner court
Nor approach her throne untouched
Less pressed under the grapes of wrath
Beauty resides not in the eye of the beholder
For it retains its majesty with or without
And colours the world with a splendid dream
By her all songs have their melody
A swirling dance under the night sky
Solemn hope for a distant cry
So close your eyes to look deep within
Embrace her as though she were fully kin
Then the work shall truly begin
By Jason Youngman
Winter of 2020

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Behold Oneness of Mind

“Your apprehension carries the impression from a real object and displays it inside you so that it makes the mind turns turn towards it. And if, when turned, the mind bends towards it, that bending is love.” – Dante

To follow is an introspective exercise in platonic thought. Though highly imaginative in scope, it may nevertheless grant us a glimpse into the intricacies of mind. Therein our intellect moves and breathes into existence a splendour of undying colour by which we can know love and light. Inhere as do the stars a centre by which all things circle and have its being. To enter more fully into this psychic activity it may help to first compose oneself through meditation or a few minutes of deep breathing. Then click on the image above to access the video. Probably best to use earphones in order to enhance the experience.

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Teach in order to learn

One of the best ways to learn about something is to approach it in view to sharing it with others. This additional layer of mental activity can help us process information all the more. Just think of an occasion when your desire to report on a current event was overly strong because you wanted to make an impression on a significant other? Somehow your brain selected & connected data together in a way that would not have been possible if you causally observed the source of information for its own sake. There is good reason to believe that the more we engage the entirety of our mind, that learning not only becomes optimized, but we also experience a corresponding level of personal well-being.

How we go about assessing and evaluating knowledge is largely shaped by the intellectual virtues we have cultivated and refined over the years. You may agree that the vital powers of mind reside in our ability to avail of 1) imagination, 2) perception, 3) reason, 4) desire, 5) memory and 6) concentration. Remove but one aspect of mind from this delicate equilibrium and we may suffer the consequence of partial comprehension. For instance, should we lack desire or will, and if our imagination is weak or working from false memory, namely, if the various components of our mind are not working together cohesively, then our comprehension of things will remain limited.

To teach in order to learn, we must consider how best to think, so that we might fully grasp the object of our thinking, and not impede on another’s learning due to our own lack of intellectual rigour. Because imagination, reason, perception and all the other components of mind are required for intellection, it may be to our advantage to explore additional ways of connecting these parts so that we might better understand and communicate ideas to others.

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Enable noble desires to surface

We could say that every human desire – no matter how narcissistic or indulging – has some trace of goodness to it; some small intent to attain what is beneficial. This would imply that there are desires more advantageous than others, as in less harmful or egotistically bent; desires that extend the individual and include the well-being of others. Perhaps we could agree to call these altruistic propensities ‘noble desires’, at least until we find a more fitting name to distinguish these types of desires from the more base ones.

So how might we enable noble desires to surface? First of all it may be difficult for such desires to rise up into the light of consciousness if we are tangled up in lower ones. Should our appetites, impulses and dislikes go unchecked, we may find our behaviour being largely determined by these forces. In other words, if we allow our cravings and aversions to shape our lives, it may be impossible to foster noble desires into its full potential.

So what can you do in particular to help loosen your fixation with unnecessary desires? What is an effective way to emancipate oneself from routinized behaviour, addiction or compulsion? How can you break free from ignoble desires in a natural way, so that you might give space to noble desires? Depending on where one is coming from in life, there can be a number of ways to answer this question; I would love to receive your response in the comment section below.

For those inclined to participate in virtue ethics, we may wish to first pinpoint which vice is thwarting our progress to living a good life. Let us say that we often fail to apply courage in an effective manner. Then we will want to determine in what way we are off centre when it comes to exercising this virtue. Because courage resides between two vices – cowardice and rashness – we will need to know what side of the extreme we are tilted towards.

Should we be overly coward like while carrying on with other men, then it could be to our advantage to learn martial arts to help bolster confidence in our ability to handle ourselves while under duress. As for those of us who are overly aggressive or rash in our behaviour, then we may find the playing of a musical instrument to be a useful measure to soften one’s irascible nature, so as to bring about equilibrium, thus enable one to apply courage in an appropriate way.

Because our desires or aversions can so easily and seductively take us off course and into the thorns & thistles of deficiency & excess, by nature we are obligated to keep them in check if we want to take a higher road; i.e. to tread the path with care, so as not to go down dead end pathways.

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Grow in Love and Wisdom

What does it mean to grow in love and wisdom? Can we have one and not the other? A beautiful horse gallops across the grassy fields on a warm summer’s day; the swiftness of its beating hooves a delicate sound of thunder. Unharnessed and alone it is free to roam the country at whim. Yet how long can it run unchecked with the dangers that surround.

Unbounded love without direction can be likened to an innocent child with a heart warm and wide as the ocean; bold and fearless, though completely vulnerable to the wilds that abound. But when love goes hand in hand with wisdom, people connect and care for one another. It is a give and take, and yet it is better to give, for it widens the channel for giving, thus love is magnified and made abundant. Together we grow in love and wisdom.

It could be said that kindness is the first child of love & wisdom, for she can be likened onto a gentle rain that falleth from heaven, nurturing and sustaining the balance of all that is good and wholesome. Her touch softens the rigidity of an old tree that yearns to father the creatures that take shelter under its noble branch.

Yet if you over-water a plant with kindness, its capacity to stand tall on its own will falter and its stem will bend under the slightest pressure. On the contrary, an insufficient amount of water will cause it to wither away. It is through the golden mean – a balance between extremes – that the plant is able to flower and thrive. Therefore in order for kindness to be kindness it must draw its sustenance from both love and wisdom.

But what is wisdom and how does it interact with love? Wisdom is the chord that unites the people, and is the bases for sound reasoning, and if we follow that harmonious chord back to its source, through love, which is the integration of all the virtues, then we shall see face to face an ineffable beauty, a silent logos, and what the poets echo as sublime.

So in what way is Love the integration of all the virtues? It is as a hen who gathers her chicks under her wings. For love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking… It is in this way that Love manifests her unconditional nature, holding together as one the many without separation, filling the human heart with her essence.

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Rediscover your Kindred Star

“Aim for the brightest star to know who you truly are!” My personal mission statement can also be treated as an allegory by which to reveal more subtle layers of being. It is a reminder to reach for what is good, harmonious and true so as to be the best version of one-self. Stars are known to give order and stability to the planetary systems that come into play. They also move in alignment with one another – like a great dance – indicating that they too are an offshoot of something just as majestic as our solar system. Though our telescopes may never capture this illuminating source as existing out there – shrouded in grey matter – I feel we can experience it directly in the here and now. In truth our connection with it may be more apparent than we think. In some respects it is our habitual manner of thinking that stirs the muddy waters, preventing us from detecting that which is clearly visible, immediate, inviting, uplifting, and personally experienced by the wise. How easily we get caught up in our cerebral chatter, our mental concoctions, it’s a wonder we ever get the time to experience such solitude. In his own way of understanding this phenomenon, Plotinus says that ‘our glance is not always fixed on the One; but when we contemplate it, we attain the purpose of our desires, and enjoy the rest taught by Heraclitus.’ In other words, as we enter into this non-reactive space of being, our impulses & urges no longer distract or divide us; it is as if we fully arrive, and are no longer waiting for the next thrill to happen. Even though this subtle form of mind may have no addictive quality to it, all our desires, once turned & aligned, becomes love for this oneness of being.

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Turn problems into solutions

“This is the mark of perfection of character—to spend each day as if it were your last, without frenzy, laziness, or any pretending.” – Marcus Aurelius

The manner in which we turn problems into solutions will largely reflect on our capacity to think creatively. There is an endless array of problems if you think about it. Some of which are better left alone, others that are unsolvable or have yet to become known or created, and there are even those which require years of teamwork in order to make heads and tails of. For an individual to address all the kinds of problems and/or fallacies that exist in the world would be rather problematic and time consuming to say the least. Therefore it may be practical to initially deal with the things that are within our control.

Perhaps some of you have heard of the 80/20 rule, which has to do with focusing more on the solution rather than the problem. This can be a great method for situations in which it is useful, but it can’t be applied in all circumstances. Neither can we apply universal principles to all particular events and have everything work out for the best. In other words, acknowledging the limitations of our knowledge could very well be the first step to transforming our problems into solutions.

Perhaps if we stop to reflect upon what we don’t know before we jump at the goal to eradicate a problem, then we may be able to better orient ourselves. What we perceive to be the problem may not actually be a problem. For instance, many of us would agree that suffering is difficult to bear, and that we should work to alleviate it, but what if suffering is as necessary as the air we breathe; what might happen if we started to embrace suffering instead of trying to avoid it.

Another example of how we might be misdiagnosing a problem: What if the increase of natural disasters is actually a solution to our global crises. This kind of thinking may help us stretch our imagination to reveal possibilities that may not otherwise appear should we hold tightly to its contrary view. Turning problems into solutions is not just an attitude adjustment, but may very well open our minds to a paradigm shift, one in which is beneficial and necessary, if we are to effectively deal with life’s ongoing challenges.

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Know what’s within your control

“Above all, it is necessary for a person to have a true self-estimate, for we commonly think we can do more than we really can.” — Seneca, On Tranquility of Mind, 5.2

It may be cute to see a young person sing on stage, even if they lack musical talent, but maybe not so much when they are mature adults. Perhaps you know someone who didn’t quite make it into the music scene but were somehow convinced that others have failed to recognize their greatness. You might say they are like those who try to rigorously take down a large tree with a blunt hand saw, not stopping to reflect that it might be to their advantage to sharpen the blade.

Let us remain in the affirmative for the time being and consider the benefits of having a solid understanding of our capacity, aptitude, natural strength, intelligence, or in short, our overall ability to make good decisions and draw sound conclusions. From this position we could know what doors might open to us beforehand and what hallways to avoid. Assuming the right environment is in place we might say the world is our oyster and every outcome of action on our part a degree of success. If only providence could turn for us with such ease and predictability.

The truth of the matter is that there is a lot of grey to the choices we make in life. In fact there is a great deal of content that we can’t possibly know before it happens. But that shouldn’t stop us from giving our best or attempting to navigate our way through life’s challenges. Because there are so many facets to living together in a community, and there is not enough time in the world to become good at everything, we are obliged to deal effectively with others for various services and goods. Therefore we need to be selective, so that we might focus on what is important, and avoid spinning our tires. And in order to do this with proficiency, it is prudent to know what is within our control, that we might remain honest about our abilities and preserve trust in our relationships with others.

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