Optimism reposted: Rather light a candle than complain about darkness

I love this expression, it has been important to my optimism in life.  On a simple level it helped me to stop complaining about problems and instead to do something about it, obvious really?

Well, not quite for me.  You see, there has been a few points in my life where I have felt quite depressed with life and the world that we live in. During these times I knew it was really important to take actions against my own stupor. However, I just saw no solution to the problems in my life and my place in the world. After all, lighting a single candle is not going to dispel the darkness.  Many people will still be selfish, greedy, unfair and hurtful. Society will still be making demands that I feel are wrong. The rich will still have all the wealth while people die of hunger.

The problem with my thinking was that I was focusing too much on the big problems  all on my own; problems that can’t be solved individually or quickly.  It took some understanding of non-duality to realise that I won’t resolve any big problem alone.  I can light a candle myself and make my world brighter. In doing so I might also brighten those around me. I can make it easier for me to dwell in my environment by making positive changes to my life. Without effort, these changes then cast light for others, and perhaps they too might light a candle.

For example, I don’t eat meat. That’s one candle lit. This does not change the world and nor does it save many animals but it brightens my existence.  It also provides some light for others to see and perhaps they too, one day, follow.

So I used to look at the big scale, the macro changes in the world and I would feel down.  Now I focus on myself, make myself brighter and better, shine for myself and then sometimes others. If we all lit candles instead of complaining then together all those little lights would be quite bright. After all, tiny rain drops can cause a flood just as tiny snowflakes can cover a landscape.

So please light a candle and be happier

This was first published 9 months ago and has been resurrected to spread further light.

What do you do that spreads light?

Peace and love!

Freud’s requiem and the joy of transience

This writing is a translation of an original short essay written by Sigmund Freud in November 1915. It’s often referred to as his ‘Requiem’ (an act or token of remembrance) and is quite a positive outlook on the true nature of our existence.

I came across this writing during one of the darkest moments of my life and I offer it as a crutch to everyone else.


On Transience, By Sigmund Freud (Novemeber, 1915)
Translation by James Strachey

Not long ago I went on a summer walk through a smiling countryside in the company of a taciturn friend and of a young but already famous poet. The poet admired the beauty of the scene around us but felt no joy in it. He was disturbed by the thought that all this beauty was fated to extinction, that it would vanish when winter came, like all human beauty and all the beauty and splendour that men have created or may create. All that he would otherwise have loved and admired seemed to him to be shorn of its worth by the transience which was its doom.

The proneness to decay of all that is beautiful and perfect can, as we know, give rise to two different impulses in the mind. The one leads to the aching despondency felt by the young poet, while the other leads to rebellion against the fact asserted. No! it is impossible that all this loveliness of Nature and Art, of the world of our sensations and of the world outside, will really fade away into nothing. It would be too senseless and too presumptuous to believe it. Somehow or other this loveliness must be able to persist and to escape all the powers of destruction.

But this demand for immortality is a product of our wishes too unmistakable to lay claim to reality: what is painful may none the less be true. I could not see my way to dispute the transience of all things, nor could I insist upon an exception in favour of what is beautiful and perfect. But I did dispute the pessimistic poet’s view that the transience of what is beautiful involves any loss in its worth.

On the contrary, an increase! Transience value is scarcity value in time. Limitation in the possibility of an enjoyment raises the value of the enjoyment. It was incomprehensible, I declared, that the thought of the transience of beauty should interfere with our joy in it. As regards the beauty of Nature, each time it is destroyed by winter it comes again next year, so that in relation to the length of our lives it can in fact be regarded as eternal. The beauty of the human form and face vanish for ever in the course of our own lives, but their evanescence only lends them a fresh charm. A flower that blossoms only for a single night does not seem to us on that account less lovely. Nor can I understand any better why the beauty and perfection of a work of art or of an intellectual achievement should lose its worth because of its temporal limitation. A time may indeed come when the pictures and statues which we admire to-day will crumble to dust, or a race of men may follow us who no longer understand the works of our poets and thinkers, or a geological epoch may even arrive when all animate life upon the earth ceases; but since the value of all this beauty and perfection is determined only by its significance for our own emotional lives, it has no need to survive us and is therefore independent of absolute duration.

These considerations appeared to me incontestable; but I noticed that I had made no impression either upon the poet or upon my friend. My failure led me to infer that some powerful emotional factor was at work which was disturbing their judgement, and I believed later that I had discovered what it was. What spoilt their enjoyment of beauty must have been a revolt in their minds against mourning. The idea that all this beauty was transient was giving these two sensitive minds a foretaste of mourning over its decease; and, since the mind instinctively recoils from anything that is painful, they felt their enjoyment of beauty interfered with by thoughts of its transience.

Mourning over the loss of something that we have loved or admired seems so natural to the layman that he regards it as self-evident. But to psychologists mourning is a great riddle, one of those phenomena which cannot themselves be explained but to which other obscurities can be traced back. We possess, as it seems, a certain amount of capacity for love—what we call libido—which in the earliest stages of development is directed towards our own ego. Later, though still at a very early time, this libido is diverted from the ego on to objects, which are thus in a sense taken into our ego. If the objects are destroyed or if they are lost to us, our capacity for love (our libido) is once more liberated; and it can then either take other objects instead or can temporarily return to the ego. But why it is that this detachment of libido from its objects should be such a painful process is a mystery to us and we have not hitherto been able to frame any hypothesis to account for it. We only see that libido clings to its objects and will not renounce those that are lost even when a substitute lies ready to hand. Such then is mourning.

My conversation with the poet took place in the summer before the war. A year later the war broke out and robbed the world of its beauties. It destroyed not only the beauty of the countrysides through which it passed and the works of art which it met with on its path but it also shattered our pride in the achievements of our civilization, our admiration for many philosophers and artists and our hopes of a final triumph over the differences between nations and races. It tarnished the lofty impartiality of our science, it revealed our instincts in all their nakedness and let loose the evil spirits within us which we thought had been tamed for ever by centuries of continuous education by the noblest minds. It made our country small again and made the rest of the world far remote. It robbed us of very much that we had loved, and showed us how ephemeral were many things that we had regarded as changeless.

We cannot be surprised that our libido, thus bereft of so many of its objects, has clung with all the greater intensity to what is left to us, that our love of our country, our affection for those nearest us and our pride in what is common to us have suddenly grown stronger. But have those other possessions, which we have now lost, really ceased to have any worth for us because they have proved so perishable and so unresistant? To many of us this seems to be so, but once more wrongly, in my view. I believe that those who think thus, and seem ready to make a permanent renunciation because what was precious has proved not to be lasting, are simply in a state of mourning for what is Lost. Mourning, as we know, however painful it may be comes to a spontaneous end. When it has renounced everything that has been lost, then it has consumed itself, and our libido is once more free (in so far as we are still young and active) to replace the lost objects by fresh ones equally or still more precious. It is to be hoped that the same will be true of the losses caused by this war. When once the mourning is over, it will be found that our high opinion of the riches of civilization has lost nothing from our discovery of their fragility. We shall build up again all that war has destroyed, and perhaps on firmer ground and more lastingly than before.

Mindfulness and overthinking abstraction

Abstraction is a fundamental part of human thought and conscious, something we use throughout our work, our studies and our daily life. Most people exist in a world of abstraction, so what is it? and why do we do it?

Abstraction is a fundamental part of human thought and consciousness, something we use throughout our work, our studies and our daily life.  Most people exist in a world of abstraction, so what is it? and why do we do it?

Essentially abstraction is a reductionist approach as it looks to take away aspects of the object of consideration, specifically to take away their uniqueness. Unique things are concrete and specific. Abstractions are general and non-unique.  This is a central part of Buddhism and modern mindfulness practices.

over abstraction and how to be mindful - from the AnAccidentalAnarchist.com

Abstraction seeks commonalities between things so that things can be operated upon within our minds. As mind entities abstractions do not have a physical manifestation. In contrast concrete things have a physical manifestation. For example, the concept of a brick is abstract, whereas the realisation of an actual brick is unique and concrete.

over abstraction and how to be mindful - from the AnAccidentalAnarchist.com over abstraction and how to be mindful - from the AnAccidentalAnarchist.com

Concepts are real in the mind, but not real in the physical world. Many spiritual practices such as meditation and mindfulness attempt to pull consciousness back from the abstract concepts, which they often claim is not alive since it only exists in the mind. Instead such practices try to bring conscious back to the uniqueness of the concrete things. If abstractions are reductionist then an opposite approach, mindfulness,  is expansive as it encompasses all of the thing in its entirety. Mindfulness encourages anti-abstraction, so that when we meet an object in the world, we do not see the abstraction but rather see the thing in its fullness. In doing so we move from a mode of thinking and unreality and back into a mode of open full perception and reality.

A real brick has a uniqueness that if I try to describe now I will unavoidably reduce. The only true way to know a concrete thing is to experience it, it’s unique texture arrangement, colour, flaws etc. however my ‘words’ already reduce the experience and are an abstraction.

Indeed, part of the problem with excessive abstraction stems from the need for communication. If every experience is unique, ‘how to we communicate this to each other?’  We have to abstract to speak and speaking and writing is always an abstraction of some level. Another part of over abstraction is that we perceive far too much for our brains to process everything individually.  Abstraction allows us to deal with things that we encounter in the world without having to really see them or think about them. We can pick up a pen and write without really thinking, in doing so we don’t need to focus on the pen or the paper but rather the words. This can be extended to the desk, the chair, the light, etc. Abstraction allows us to ignore the non-essential, it thus save us time and thought. It is perhaps for these reasons that human society has evolved massive repositories of abstractions, from language, semantics to domain concepts.

This is problematic though, as the abstract mode of existence becomes the only mode of existing for many people and as such they see a reduced world. When we go to the park, we see the abstract forms, labelled, compartmentalised and therefore reduced. When we stop and really look at the uniqueness of things, which takes more time, we see the world more fully, more clearly, more alive. Our world and our existence becomes alive. This however takes time, it also takes a conscious effort. The practice of mindfulness is about making this reconnection with real things and therefore a reconnection with reality

over abstraction and how to be mindful - from the AnAccidentalAnarchist.com

You can’t have the sunset

The sublime

I like watching the sunset, I do it quite often. I am lucky enough to live near Greenwich park and admire its serene glide into the London cityscape.

People gather there, all sorts of people, from all places, young and old, couples and individuals, goths, meditators and prayers, tourists – even the odd urban ‘gansta’ is forced to dismount their bike and acquiesce to the moment.

And there we all stand, together, in peace, watching the sunset and we are all touched.

So what’s beautiful for me?

Beyond the obvious colours, for me the beauty of a sunset runs deep, its something we cannot have – we can only witness.  It brings delight and wonder, just watching as we cannot control it. It changes constantly and the world changes with it. It reveals an ungraspable transience – it passes quickly, we know it is going to end – its has impermanent beauty.  Each moment different.  And every evening original.  It brings out the interconnection of all things, it touches their uniqueness – the clouds, the wind, the temperature, the people, the feeling, they combine to make the scene.  It reveals reality.  So there I stand, often, in awe at the world.

Here is one such witness account from Greenwich park.  I truly hope you can enjoy the pleasure of this place too.

Sunset over Greenwich park - from the AnAccidentalAnarchist.comSunset over Greenwich park - from the AnAccidentalAnarchist.com



The coin

Do we really have free will? - from AnAccidentalAnarchist.com

So, I was reading something today that got me thinking about determinism and the question of free will, ‘do we really have it?’ It’s a fairly big debate with strong arguments from both the deterministic position and also those in favor of  indeterminism.  Where it has got interesting is the conflict between an indeterministic quantum world and the strictly deterministic large scale physical reality that we as human beings perceive.   Reductionist might argue that quantum  world governs all, which may well be true,  and would lead to an indeterministic view – but as human beings in this world we don’t perceive that and our lives appear well grounded in classical physics.   The classic physical reductionist heads towards determinism.   Interesting musing, but, reductionism not the aim of this post.

Now, my keen interest is Buddhism and psychology – they appear to assert that we are deterministic.  We are conditioned beings, our actions, beliefs, behaviour are the result of our history.  There is a kind of inevitability about living, we see our ‘supposed’ life choices through the channel of our narrow conditioning.  Even the choice to break a conditioning is in itself merely the manifestation of a series of conditions.   We might think we are choosing but really we just following an inevitable set of causality.  The Buddhist path embraces this, Buddhism is fundamentally pragmatic in its search towards liberation and freedom.  The forth noble truth, the path, is itself an attempt at reconditioning oneself to become freer.  The idea that if we think right, act right, we become right.  We become what we are doing.

However, individual conditioning gets a bit complex in the world as other individuals interact, enter the idea of non-duality.  Our conditioned subjective experience exists in the entangled set of other conditioned subjective experiences – other beings.  What others do in the world conditions me, what I do in the world conditions others, so we are not really separate but instead we exchange our mutual conditioning and so further mutually condition each other – we become what we are doing.

Our being then is perhaps a bit like one facet of the cohesive world of being, one super consciousness of determinism.  This takes another twist when we considered the historical input of conditioning.  We are conditioned by our parents, by past belief, theories, ontology, events and so forth and this spans all past time.  So perhaps any global super conciseness is in fact a super consciousness of conditioning that spans all of human existence.

So what has all this to do with anarchy?  I have a proposal.  It’s something I used to do when backpacking to determine whether to move on or stay put.  All you need is a coin.  My idea is to introduce some anarchy into your world by choosing two different actions, perhaps even conflicting and then tossing the coin and then acting on the result.

Say, you feel inclined to say ‘yes’ to a question?  Toss the coin, maybe you then say ‘No’.  Alright, this appears to be unconditioned randomness.  But, of course the outcome of the coin could have been predetermined conditions, the wind, the temperature, my energy levels, my conditioning in tossing coins, but for all practical purposes relevant to me, the outcome certainly appears random.  The fact I am tossing the coin is a result of my past conditions too.

What about the choice itself? Where does that come from, conditions.  Are we really choosing? Where do these decisions come from anyway?  If you try this throughout your day, I bet you don’t choose something that is inherently irrational to you well being, like jumping in front of a car, kissing your boss good morning on the lips or sticking your tongue into their ear.  The creation of the choice is conditioned, so sadly the experiment won’t generate unconditioned events per se, but nonetheless could prove a really interesting way to break the habituation of life.

So sadly, I think true indeterminism is largely impossible to manifest, randomness only gets us so far.  I don’t expect miracles, sure I might stick a pin into a country map to randomly determine where to travel? Well, most of its shitty and dull – so why do that?  Nonetheless its an interesting way to step out of habituation and to expand ones experience.  It might even help to break unproductive patterns in your life.

In a difficult spot? Try doing something random!  Take away the rational a bit and see what happens, it might explode your universe.

Do we really have free will? - from AnAccidentalAnarchist.com