Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Finding Yourself in Questionable Times

 Sifting through the fascinating but intimidating task of the Western history of lifestyle attitudes regarding the comprehension of human nature, one could do worse than visit some major Hellenistic and Roman endeavors to spell out their intrusive sense of personal identity. . . or is it roles!
 A prime contender for the Greeks’ self-appreciation was the school of the Cynics. Hardly diplomatic, they were the insufferable critics of society. Their audacious flaunting of authority and disdainful manners might herald them as the prime predecessors of the Hippies of our Vietnam War era.

Are the Cynics Cynical?
Do they lambast for the sake of attention, no, they wanted politics and culture, even religion, to heed the laws of Nature. Anything less keeps one wandering in bondage to ignorance, susceptible to the duplicity of civic life and the seduction of shopkeepers. Unless you take your lead from Nature, freedom remains but an empty dream. A lesson to be learned is how the seasons succeed one another, displaying their independent bounty and versatile beauty unperturbed by the vacillating conventions of human society. For the Cynics, philosophy, the quest for intelligent living, justifies itself as a practical endeavor in order to liberate citizens from their sycophant tendencies to arbitrary laws and vacillating rulers. Like Socrates, they urged citizens to put aside their communal fears and examine themselves. With humor, learn a lifestyle that subverts the commercialization of daily life and, like Nature, follow your nature.
A famous figure, Diogenes, known popularly for his laughable, thankless venture of walking about the city holding up his lantern “peering for an authentic person,” was asked whence he came. Instead of the conventional response of naming his town or tribe, he replied: I am a kosmopolites. This reply would have sent a shudder through his neighbors. It means: I am a citizen, not of society, but of the world, the Cosmos. His stark remark foretells the breadth of his own self-understanding. He was recognized as a feisty interloper who spoke his mind and urged others likewise. One ought to have contempt for lawful conventionality, legal codes, petty aspirations, and political correctness. The Cynic ego is the anarchist who prefers a more humane path, bawdy at times, rather than expedient privileges. Rumor states that his lantern never shown upon his anticipated goal. Unverified reports has it he’s till perambulating somewhere in Northfield, MN.
For the Cynics, the privilege of existence is unhampered only when reason rules ego’s incessant ambition and thus protects freedom. People forget so easily that rationality is the mirror of the objectivity of Nature. These iconoclasts weren’t exactly popular with the temple worshippers or politicians.

Are Stoics as Stoical as They Seem
From here our investigation moves to the emerging school known as the Stoics. One could argue that this group culminated the Cynics’ ethical legacy. It is equally important to remember that the various teachers in these schools of philosophy differed with each other in the prominence of their ideas and the practical emphasis for public attention. One has to study their writings to get the exact flavor that each contributed to self-identity.
Championed by Zeno, Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, and Cicero, familiar names if you live in St. Paul, these gentlemen---the women were there, too--- preferred the willful stance that one should learn early to distinguish between those things within your control and those outside. Only pay attention to the former and be indifferent to the rest. Move over A.A. Forget about dividing life into good and bad, pleasurable and repugnant, take things simply as they unfold. Stop blaming the world for your troubles, learn to adjust, mishaps or not. As far as they are concerned, it’s really all in your attitude.
Keep your poise separate from your passions. Toe your emotions, keep no inner disturbance. Hold your ego aloof to the vicissitudes of culture. Don’t let family, affection, career success or failure, seduce or inflate you. Do what the situation calls for but the results are not part of your essential self. Melancholy, like your self-esteem, is evoked, not by the world, but by our selves. Get over it. Overcome life’s stresses by more appropriate choices in the interpretation of events. We are not meant to be strangers to feeling but only to indulging irrational passions, those regretful wrong impulses that prevent virtuous conduct and fulfillment of chosen duty. Your aspiration is not to look good in order to appear virtuous, rather, wake up, pursue the virtuous life and find out what the real McCoy tastes like.

         Hmmm, not bad for ol’ timers.
Why, even IHT students might enjoy chai with these guys and gals.

                                                                                 The Wanderer