Category Archives: Philosophy

Names of the Wind — Nick Hunt

 

ELSEWHERE – A JOURNAL OF PLACE recently featured a piece by Nick Hunt who’s book “Where the Wild Winds Are” (Nicholas Brealey Publishing) was published in September 2017.

 

PHOTO: THE BORA IN FULL SPATE ON THE SLOPES OF MOUNT MOSOR, NEAR SPLIT, CROATIA, BY NICK HUNT

 

Nick “set out to follow four, which seemed an appropriate number for winds, drawn by the romance of their names but also intrigued by their effects; Europe’s great aeolian forces are said to influence everything from architecture to mythology to psychology.”

It’s fascinating to discover just how much mythology and folklore is attached to the wind, and how Nick found some of these stories to contain truth, and was a witness to their effects.

The Helm – Britain’s only named wind – blows down the western slopes of Cross Fell, the highest point of the Pennines, with enough force to destroy stone barns in the nearby Eden Valley. According to local legend the summit was formerly known as Fiends Fell, until the air-dwelling demons – whose howling caused such terror in the parishes below – were exorcised by a wandering holy man.

The Helm itself takes its name from a long white cloud called the Helm Bar (a helmet for the mountain’s head) which acts as a harbinger of this freezing north-easterly. I camped for four days and nights up there, scanning the desolate moorland and waiting for the cloud to form; when it did, the demons returned to haunt me with a vengeance.

My second wind was the Bora, which led me down the Adriatic coast from Trieste in north-east Italy through Slovenia and Croatia. Fierce enough to sink ships and hurl fish from the sea, the Bora is also credited with helping defeat the last major pagan army to oppose the Christianisation of Rome – turning the arrows of the troops back towards them in the air – despite the fact that it takes its name from the pagan god Boreas, ancient Greek avatar of the cold north wind.

It is celebrated for bringing good health, in stark opposition to the southerly Jugo, which muddies the sky with a yellow haze (taking its name from the Slavic word for ‘south’, this is the local variant of the many-named Sirocco, whose other appellations include the Khamsin, the Ghibli, the Sharav, the Marin, the Leveche and the Xaloc).

During my three-week walk I found myself in a tug-of-war between Jugo and Bora, north and south, clear skies and humid haze. At last I met my quarry on a snow-covered mountainside above the Croatian city of Split; appropriately enough for a god, Boreas froze the blood in my veins and knocked me off my feet.

The etymology of the Foehn, which I chased across the Swiss Alps, perhaps also stems from the divine – it may derive from Favonius, the Roman god of the west wind – but locally it has earthier names: Schneefresser, ‘Snow-eater’, Maisvergolder, ‘Corn-goldener’, and Traubenkocher, ‘Grape-cooker’, in tribute to its warming effects. Associated with clear skies, sunshine and the coming of spring, it is also blamed for causing headaches, nosebleeds, insomnia, anxiety, depression and a host of other ailments; antique maps depict the Foehn as a puff-cheeked face blowing out not air, but showers of human skulls.

I tracked this ill-omened force for a fortnight from one deep valley to another, acting on meteorological tip-offs and snatches of local lore, until eventually catching it in the heart of Haslital. After experiencing three days of relentless roaring heat – incongrously thundering from snow-capped summits and glaciers – I woke one morning so depressed that I could hardly move. It felt as if everything in my life had gone disastrously wrong, and it took me most of the day to understand the cause and effect. The legends and old wives’ tales were true: I had fallen victim to Föhnkrankheit, the notorious Foehn-sickness. As soon as I escaped that valley, the symptoms disappeared.

My final wind was perhaps the best-known, being something of a household name far beyond its native range: the bitter breath of the Mistral, which blows, according to superstition, for three, five, seven or nine days southwards down the Rhone Valley from Valence to the Gulf of Lion. Its name comes from the Latin magistralis, which means ‘masterly’, and it certainly dominates the land; the farmhouses in its path are built with windowless north-facing walls to protect against its blast, and lines of closely-packed cypress trees are planted as living windbreaks from east to west.

Like the Bora and the Foehn, the Mistral makes a clean sweep of the sky and helps create the vibrant light that has attracted generations of painters to the south of France. But there is a price to beauty; this ‘wind of madness’ is notorious for driving people crazy. Vincent Van Gogh, who lived in its path for two years in the town of Arles – during which time he cut off his ear and committed himself to the local asylum – referred to it in his letters as ‘a nagging malice’, ‘pestering’, ‘merciless’ and ‘the devil’, even as the conditions it brought inspired some of his greatest works.

I followed its trail for ten days down an ancient pilgrims’ path on the western bank of the Rhone, ending my travels on the Plain of Crau, a little-known and desolate region classified as western Europe’s only steppe. Two thousand years ago the geographer Strabo travelled there, describing ‘an impetuous and terrible wind which displaces rocks, hurls men from their chariots, breaks their limbs and strips them of their clothes.

Source: Names of the Wind — Elsewhere: A Journal of Place

Nick’s website can be found here

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Nietzsche on How to Find Yourself – Brain Pickings

How can man know himself?

It is a dark, mysterious business: if a hare has seven skins, a man may skin himself seventy times seven times without being able to say, “Now that is truly you; that is no longer your outside.” It is also an agonizing, hazardous undertaking thus to dig into oneself, to climb down toughly and directly into the tunnels of one’s being. How easy it is thereby to give oneself such injuries as no doctor can heal.

Moreover, why should it even be necessary given that everything bears witness to our being — our friendships and animosities, our glances and handshakes, our memories and all that we forget, our books as well as our pens.

For the most important inquiry, however, there is a method.

Let the young soul survey its own life with a view of the following question: “What have you truly loved thus far? What has ever uplifted your soul, what has dominated and delighted it at the same time?”

Assemble these revered objects in a row before you and perhaps they will reveal a law by their nature and their order: the fundamental law of your very self. Compare these objects, see how they complement, enlarge, outdo, transfigure one another; how they form a ladder on whose steps you have been climbing up to yourself so far; for your true self does not lie buried deep within you, but rather rises immeasurably high above you, or at least above what you commonly take to be your “I”.

Source: Nietzsche on How to Find Yourself and the True Value of Education – Brain Pickings

Encountering the Teachings of Gurdjieff: A Young Man’s Search, by David Ulrich | Parabola

“What Gurdjieff calls the magnetic center represents an inner formation that helps orient us in the right direction, toward what can serve our individual evolution and inner development. Our search is often born from contact with certain kinds of influences—books that may help show the way, other people that touch us in a deeper fashion, inspiring works of art, and one’s own intuition—that, upon reaching a certain force, will attract help to the seeker. Influences that derive from a conscious origin have a different quality, a unique flavor, that resonates with the seeds of consciousness within oneself.

I think of it as a magnetizing force that attracts us to what we genuinely need—and draws what we need to us. It is a reciprocal movement. But, especially in these times, there are dangers at every step of the way. Is this teacher authentic and truly connected to a source of knowledge? Has he or she sufficiently traveled the inner journey, enough to really help us, and not distort or injure our search? Discrimination is essential. And rigorously following the dictates of one’s intuition, and listening to the still voice of our inner senses, is a central challenge in our search. The smorgasbord of spiritual teachings today allows for all manner of distortions and dilutions of great knowledge.

The magnetic center must work with a finer quality of energy than is found in our usual fragmented states of being. The word magnet is very accurate here. We find a resonance with a teaching, a book, a teacher, a work of art that corresponds to something finer in ourselves that we wish to know better and to develop. However, the danger of our search being usurped by our ego is not only ever-present but is prevalent in contemporary times. There is much evidence of a wrongly formed magnetic center or the type of seeking that endeavors simply to become a better, more effective person. Ken Wilber knows this type of spiritual seeking as the “ego in drag.”

The desire for mere self-improvement on an ordinary level, the hypnotic seduction with trance-like states found in shamanism and other exotic rituals, the dangerous work of prematurely opening the “chakras,” the new-age impulse towards abundance and the belief that everything is “divinely perfect,” and that no part of us could possibly be out of step with the divine plan—these are all common manifestations of Chögyam Trungpa’s famous phrase: “spiritual materialism.”

American materialism has affected the spiritual path deeply—manifesting in seeking magical states, instant gratification, and a shallow, results-driven spirituality.

Genuine search places us in the eye of the tiger. It is raw and an anathema to our ego. It demands rigor and discipline, and the striving towards impartial self-observation which brings in its train a certain kind of suffering and discomfort.

Genuine spiritual growth is fundamentally transformative, not merely a rearrangement of our personalities or an increased ability to meet the demands of life. It is learning to serve a different master, our search for higher consciousness and for the awakening of conscience, and placing our ego or our conditioned personality in a secondary, not primary, role.

Awakening exacts a price, and we pay in different ways at different times, at different stages along our path.  The first payment is to follow the dictates of our genuine search, to accept the inevitable struggle and discomfort of turning towards our inner life. We are asked to place our ego and conditioned personality in question, not to blithely follow its insistent voices, but to open ourselves to the deeper impulses that lead us towards the influences that we need, whether in the form of books, people, or a wisdom teaching.

A certain leap of faith is required here, one that we can only resolve from looking deep within.

The seeker in us is authentic; we know by the “taste” of certain influences what it needs, and we must open to those influences and begin to allow them to act on us, like a young plant seeking water and air. And we must stay in touch with the “inner taste” of the influences that we allow into our being. Impressions are food, and to some degree, we are what we eat. Where rigor and discipline is required, is to maintain this discriminating faculty that knows from within what our nascent real selves need for their growth and evolution.” – David Ulrich

Source: Encountering the Teachings of Gurdjieff: A Young Man’s Search, by David Ulrich | Parabola

Ralph Waldo Emerson | The Book of Life

“This leaves open a vital question: what is your nature once you have rid yourself of history, tradition and religion? What can be said is that it is not self-indulgence, it is not hedonism, it is not narcissism – rather it is the surrender to that force which Emerson recognised back in the Jardin des Plantes: it is obedience to nature itself.

By nature Emerson seemed to mean the natural world – plants, animals, rocks and sky – but what he really meant was God. For Emerson was a Pantheist, someone who believed that God exists in every part of creation, from the smallest grain of sand to a star – but also, crucially, that the divine spark is in each of us. In following ourselves we are not being merely fickle and selfish, but rather releasing a Divine Will that history, society and organised religion have hidden from us.

The individual, as he writes, ‘is a god in ruins’ (CW1 42); but we have it within us, by casting off all custom, to rebuild ourselves. He makes this Pantheist connection explicit in his most famous lines: Crossing a bare common, in snow puddles, at twilight, under a clouded sky, without having in my thoughts any occurrence of special good fortune, I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration. I am glad to the brink of fear. […] Standing on the bare ground, — my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, — all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God.”

Source: Ralph Waldo Emerson | The Book of Life

The Fables of Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci was an artist, inventor, engineer and scientist, but he also found time to write little fables for himself. In the margins of his notes he would pen short tales of how pride and envy would bring down a moth, tree or even a stone.

wolf-and-eagle-650x374The Wolf and the Eagle

Ever since Aesop’s Fables was written in ancient Greece, people have been sharing these short stories that illustrate a moral truth. They were popular in medieval times as well, with many writers explaining how misfortune stuck men, animals, insects and even plants and rocks.

These fables are found in Leonardo’s notebooks from the years 1487 to 1494, when he was working in the service of Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan.  They were written in the margins, perhaps as little notes to amuse or remind himself while he worked on bigger projects. Leonardo seems to have been interested in nature and finding examples of how various creatures would cause their own doom. –  via Medievalists.net

For examples of these fables, more images and link to all of Leonardo da Vinci’s fables, and those of other Italian writers in Renaissance Fables, translated by David Birch – see http://www.medievalists.net/2014/03/30/fables-leonardo-da-vinci/

and  Arizona Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.

 

The Perennial Philosophy of Aldous Huxley

220px-PerennialPhilsophy“Knowledge is a function of being.” – Aldous Huxley

“Based upon the direct experience of those who have fulfilled the necessary conditions of such knowledge, this teaching is expressed most succinctly in the Sanskrit formula, tat tvam asi (“That art thou”); the Atman, or immanent eternal Self, is one with Brahman, the Absolute Principle of all existence; and the last end of every human being is to discover the fact for himself, to find out Who he really is.” – Aldous Huxley

“Mr. Huxley quotes from the Chinese Taoist philosophers, from followers of Buddha and Mohammed, from the Brahmin scriptures and from Christian mystics ranging from St John of the Cross to William Law, giving preference to those whose writings, often illuminated by genius, are unfamiliar to the modern reader.”

The final paragraph of the cover text:

“In this profoundly important work, Mr. Huxley … provides us with an absolute standard of faith by which we can judge both our moral depravity as individuals and the insane and often criminal behaviour of the national societies we have created.”

Free download or read online from Archive.org https://archive.org/details/perennialphilosp035505mbp

The Opposite of Love Is Power… Not Hatred – C.G. Jung | Dr. Peter Milhado

By Peter Milhado PHD on March 9, 2014

 

There are two kinds of suffering.  Suffering imposed on us by the outside and suffering created by ourselves.  All we can do with suffering imposed by the outside is share it in the human family and show compassion, love and empathy for those who’ve been hurt.  Suffering created by ourselves is referred to as neurotic suffering i.e. ‘inauthentic suffering’.  At bottom, neurosis is a moral and ethical problem.

In other words symptoms like neurotic anxiety, depression, compulsions, ulcers, headaches etc. occur primarily because we try to manipulate others.

We do this in a variety of ways…i.e. blaming, withholding feelings and affection, using guilt to have others do our bidding, temper tantrums and primarily abusing power.  The opposite of love is power, not hatred.

[ … ]A calling may be postponed, avoided, or intermittently missed. It may also possess one completely. Eventually it wins out and makes its claim either in a soulful life, or if ignored, in meaninglessness, cynicism, hoarding, loneliness and alienation.

The dragon we must slay is no more that the monster of everyday expectations about how we “ought” to live our lives. If we realize this, we will be back in the world, but “no longer of it”. We will be able to interact with others without submitting to their definition of who we are supposed to be! This precious pearl that is one’s individual worth can only be found when we are willing to stand alone. By consciously choosing to pursue the inner journey, we transform impersonal fate into our own personal destiny.

Franz MatschFranz Matsch

via The Opposite of Love Is Power… Not Hatred – C.G. Jung | Dr. Peter Milhado.

The Vessels of Hermes – an Alchemical Album (ca.1700)

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The contents of Box 14 from the Manly Palmer Hall Collection of Alchemical Manuscripts, a huge collection of esoteric works amassed by Manly Palmer Hall, a Canadian-born author and mystic, perhaps most famous for his The Secret Teachings of All Ages (1928). Most of the material in the collection was acquired from Sotheby’s auctioneers on a trip he made in the 1930s to England and France – bought very cheaply due to the economic conditions of the time. The material in Hall’s collection dates from 1500 to 1825, and includes works from the likes of Jakob Böhme, Sigismond Bacstrom, Alessandro Cagliostro, George Ripley and Michael Maier. The creator of these particular watercolours featured below is unknown. A typewritten note in the back, in French, translates as follows:

ALCHEMICAL ALBUM – The Vessels of Hermes – quarto atlas containing five beautiful colour plates very artistically executed and with explanatory caption. Vol. half vellum.

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For more images and full article, see The Public Domain Review: http://publicdomainreview.org/collections/the-vessels-of-hermes-an-alchemical-album-ca-1700/

On Knowing: Essays for the Left Hand

lefthand1969 edition cover design by Alfred Zalon

I picked up a copy of this book some years back, in a charity shop.  I wanted it for the content, but if I had found a copy of the 1969 edition that I came across online recently, with the cover design by Alfred Zalon, I would probably have bought it for the cover alone – alas, my copy has the rather more boring predominantly pastel blue cover.

“The left hand has traditionally represented the powers of intuition, feeling, and spontaneity. In this classic book, Jerome Bruner inquires into the part these qualities play in determining how we know what we do know; how we can help others to know-that is, to teach; and how our conception of reality affects our actions and is modified by them.

The striking and subtle discussions contained in On Knowing take on the core issues concerning man’s sense of self: creativity, the search for identity, the nature of aesthetic knowledge, myth, the learning process, and modem-day attitudes toward social controls, Freud, and fate. In this revised, expanded edition, Bruner comments on his personal efforts to maintain an intuitively and rationally balanced understanding of human nature, taking into account the odd historical circumstances which have hindered academic psychology’s attempts in the past to know man.

Writing with wit, imagination, and deep sympathy for the human condition, Jerome Bruner speaks here to the part of man’s mind that can never be completely satisfied by the right-handed virtues of order, rationality, and discipline.”

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Biography of Jerome Bruner http://www.gutenberg.us/articles/Jerome_Bruner

 

The Guest House: Mewlana Jalaluddin Rumi

The Guest House

This human being is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Mewlana Jalaluddin Rumi