Doug Bruns

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Sunday Repost: Foucault

In Life, Philosophy, Thinkers on January 27, 2013 at 6:00 am
Philosopher, Michel Foucault

Philosopher, Michel Foucault

Yesterday I finished James Miller’s overview of French philosopher Michel Foucault, The Passion of Michael Foucault. Miller relates the following story. It is 1975 and Foucault’s career is in full bloom. His reputation is international and he has accepted an invitation to the United States. It is proposed that he visit a Taoist commune at Mount Baldy in Southern California. It is night, there is a fire blazing. The philosopher and his hosts are sitting on the porch of a cabin. From Miller’s book:

One of the young men plaintively remarked that he felt completely lost.

“‘You have to be lost as a young man,’ Wade recalls Foucault replying.

“‘You are not really trying unless you are lost. This is a good sign. I was lost as a young man too.'”

“‘Should I take chances with my life?'” the student asked earnestly.

“‘By all means! Take risks, go out on a limb!’

“‘But I yearn for solutions.’

“‘There are no solutions,’ said the French philosopher firmly.

“Then at least some answers.’

“‘There are no answers!,'” exclaimed Foucault.

Pay Attention

In Happiness, Philosophy, The Examined Life on December 16, 2018 at 8:00 am

My experience is what I agree to attend to.” ~ William James

I’ve been spending more time that usual paying attention. Specifically paying attention to what I pay attention to. You see, like everyone, I’m feeling the acceleration of time. It comes this way to us all, that speeding train called life. It chugs along, toiling uphill, then, clearing the pass, it starts the decent. Faster and faster. But I’ve found the brakes. I’ve discovered that if you get focused and pay deep attention, time slows down. You can’t stop the train, but you can slow the descent. Time–the more attention you give it, the more of itself it reveals.

James Wilson Williams is a technology scholar. In the current issue of New Philosopher magazine he is quoted as saying that when you “pay attention,” you pay “with all the things you could have attended to but didn’t; all the possibilities you didn’t pursue…all the possible yous you could have been, had you attended to those other things. Attention is paid in possible futures foregone.” By paying attention to one thing, you have made a conscious decision to ignore something else, principally the past and the future. And that has great rewards. As Goethe said, “Happiness looks neither forward nor backward.” Indeed, the present is the only reality that belongs to us.

That is the good news, that we’re paying attention to something. The bad news is that if we aren’t careful, if we don’t pay attention, and then, zip, with a blink of an eye, it’s gone. An opportunity for happiness lost, a moment–an eternity–squandered. The train picks up speed.

When we were little the world was fresh, new, interesting. We were captivated by it, struck by simply being alive. It was a raw, cosmic happiness. But as we age, the days connect, they go rolling by, one after the other. Tedium builds. We’re on the train, just staring out the window. We’ve seen it all before. Maybe we day-dream, more likely we turn to social media. Either way, we’ve lost the discipline of attention. It is the present foregone. We’re on the train to oblivion.

I’ve discovered a way of slowing things down again, somewhat like it all was when I was a little child.

I credit my meditation practice with much of the slow freshness I feel when I move about the world. It is curious how sitting quietly and paying attention to your mind will instill in you a calm when going about the hustle and bustle of life. But there are other things I practice too to slow things down and pay attention. I am right-handed, for instance, but I frequently use my left hand for common tasks like eating or brushing my teeth. In doing this, I am turning a mundane task into something requiring my attention. Time slows down accordingly. Or, sometimes when I’m traveling a common route, a road I might drive several times a week, I pretend to have a passenger, someone from another country, often a distant relative. I point out this or that to my passenger. I try to see the route through their eyes. It makes it fresh again and new, delivering a degree of child-like happiness along with it. Try it.

In his book, Philosophy as a Way of Life, Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault, Pierre Hadot writes, “Because the sage lives within his consciousness of the world, the world is constantly present to him [or her]…the present moment takes on an infinite value: it contains with it the entire cosmos, and all the value and wealth of being.”

Pay attention. Be a sage. Therein lies happiness.

Sunday Repost: Happiness

In Family, Happiness, Memoir, The Examined Life on February 24, 2013 at 6:00 am
Your host in the land of Gross National Happiness--Bhutan.

Your host in the land of Gross National Happiness–Bhutan.

A repost from May, 2010.

_______________________________

There are lots of things I didn’t teach my kids. I didn’t teach them how to manage money or change the oil in their car or even how to cook an egg. I am hesitatingly interested in someday sitting down with them and finding out what I did, indeed, teach them.  I think their mother and I did a good job of instilling in them a thirst for life, that is, a way of looking at the world so as to render it exciting and if not exciting, at least interesting. That is, it seems to me, important. I know I failed in teaching them how to think about their life in some meaningful context, which is, I intuitively feel, part of being happy. It would have been good to teach them how to be happy. I’m not sure it’s correct to call that a “meaningful context,” as I refer to it above. But it doesn’t feel wrong either.

We live in a country that embraces the pursuit of this effervescent, ineffable thing called happiness. It is important–I guess–to have an unalienable right to chase it.* But it seems there are a lot of people who aren’t, happy that is, or even pursing it directly, there being too many other pressing issues. That is nothing more than my generalization, but I am, as I have said before, comfortable with generalizations (in general). I see a lot of people on the streets here who are struggling, a good many of them living hand to mouth. I don’t think they are happy, at least not the ones I talk to. At the other end of the spectrum, I see people on nice boats who seem happy, especially on pleasant summer days. But when I talk to boat owners they almost all express a degree of frustration about owning a boat. I am surprised how consistently the phrase, “A boat is a hole in the water you throw money into,” is used. If there is a creed for boat owners this seems to be it. People with money are worried, particularly as the markets are roiling, that they will lose it. People without money are worried that they will never get it, and the relief it grants. Don’t get me wrong, having money is better than not having it. Studies have shown that people with it, are likely happier as a result. But it’s not a sure-fire recipe for a hearty belly-filling meal of happiness.

There is a great deal of interest in happiness in physiology at present. At Harvard, in 2009, the class “Positive Psychology” by professor Tal D. Ben-Shahar was the most popular class on campus. In a phone interview with the Boston Globe, Professor Ben-Shahar said,

“When nations are wealthy and not in civil turmoil and not at war, then I think, like Florence of the 15th century, they start asking what makes life worth living, and that’s what positive psychology is about.”

It is time someone got to the bottom of this quest for happiness. One thing that troubles me, is how to go about understanding it. This is one reason I could never teach my kids anything much about it. I don’t really understand it, can’t put my finger just on it. I think we–their mother and I–showed it to them. They were raised in a household by loving parents, two adults succeeding at making a marriage work. That is a level of, a degree of happiness: a home, solid and unshifting. Such an environment is a garden in which happiness can grow. It is rich soil. Happiness doesn’t necessarily flourish as a result, but the odds are better. Perhaps it’s so simple as attending to your garden properly.

____________________

* It is no less than ironic, that in this time of Tea Parties and faith-based political initiatives, that “the pursuit of happiness” is an idea born of eighteenth century notions of European enlightenment. “I believe that humanism, at least on the levels of politics, might be defined as every attitude that considers the aim of politics to be the production of happiness.” (M. Foucault, 1967)

Sunday Repost: Moleskine Notes, May, 2010

In Creativity, Life, The Examined Life on February 10, 2013 at 6:00 am

Getting on a plane, holding my roller bag as I step in. I notice very attractive flight attendant. I look at her and smile. She smiles back. “You know,”she says, pointing to my bag, “that has wheels on it.” Well, duh, I think. “Yes, I know,” I reply. “I prefer to carry it down the aisle.” “Oh,” she says. “so does my dad.” I literally form the word “ouch” in my mind.

“There is more to life than increasing its speed” ~ Gandhi

“It is the only thing we can do, Klaus. I see no alternative. Each of us must turn inward and destroy in himself all that he thinks he ought to destroy in others.” ~ Etty Hillesum, on her way to her death, at age 29, in Auschwitz.

Dream of Life ~ Documentary on Patti Smith (see it)

Jim Harrison told Peter Phinny: concentrate on the writing. Get that right is all.

The four questions of Kant: ~ What can I know? ~What ought I to do? ~ What may I hope? ~What is man?

My project: sort according to themes? But what are the themes?

Life was a matter of opinion, according to Marcus Aurelius.

“At every moment, step by step, one must confront what one is thinking and saying with what one is doing, with what one is.” ~M. Foucault, 1983

Tuesday, August 29, Avignon, France: Got up around 9. Breakfast until 10:30, reading the International Herald Tribune, sipping coffee, pressed at table. Then we walk the streets, shopping, cafe hopping. Get caught in downpour and make way back to hotel in the afternoon, sprinting from awning to awning. Read then nap as the rain falls. Window is open. Head out at 5pm, golden light. People watch, have dinner after night falls, outside under lamps. Beers. Last night, lights out at 11:30.

Muses Nine Come Calling.

In Creativity, Mythology, The Examined Life on January 29, 2013 at 6:00 am
Apollo, to whom the Muses reported.

Apollo, to whom the Muses reported.

Apollo released the Muses this morning! What an underserving beast I am to enjoy such grace–the beautiful sprites, dancing on the frozen tundra–Calliope, Clio, Urania, Thalia, Erato, Euterpe, Polymnia, Melpomene, and Terpsichore.

We have an ancient agreement, me and these nine temptresses. “Only questions,” they demanded. “We give you the blessing-curse of questions only.” (Remember Foucault: “There are no answers!”) Eons past I agreed to their terms, hard-bargining tarts that they are.

The nine muses

The nine muses

And so, this morning, they surprised me as they occasionally will, and  accompanied me on my walk–sun rising, frozen snow crunching beneith my boots, crystalline air. It was an exercise in the sacrament. Less whisper, more choral, as befitting the dawn. And the questions–oh, the questions they ask:

  • What will be the tools of your creativity today?
  • When did you last sharpen them?
  • How, today, will you best perceive experience?
  • Can you plumb the depth before nightfall?
  • How, today, do you intend to better become yourself?
  • Do you recognize the face of satisfaction?
  • What mystery will you perform to advance your vision?
  • What can you do to help others in their advance?
  • Last night, did you note the last breath before sleep?
  • How do you seek the source of the question?

Was it the unearthing of things Zen past? Was that the triggering madeleine? More questions–an infinity of questions!

Gross domestic what? (Part 1)

In Family, Happiness, Life, Philosophy, The Examined Life on May 19, 2010 at 8:51 am

A repost from May, 2010.

_______________________________

There are lots of things I didn’t teach my kids. I didn’t teach them how to manage money or change the oil in their car or even how to cook an egg. I am hesitatingly interested in someday sitting down with them and finding out what I did, indeed, teach them.  I think their mother and I did a good job of instilling in them a thirst for life, that is, a way of looking at the world so as to render it exciting and if not exciting, at least interesting. That is, it seems to me, important. I know I failed in teaching them how to think about their life in some meaningful context, which is, I intuitively feel, part of being happy. It would have been good to teach them how to be happy. I’m not sure it’s correct to call that a “meaningful context,” as I refer to it above. But it doesn’t feel wrong either.

We live in a country that embraces the pursuit of this effervescent, ineffable thing called happiness. It is important–I guess–to have an unalienable right to chase it.* But it seems there are a lot of people who aren’t, happy that is, or even pursing it directly, there being too many other pressing issues. That is nothing more than my generalization, but I am, as I have said before, comfortable with generalizations (in general). I see a lot of people on the streets here who are struggling, a good many of them living hand to mouth. I don’t think they are happy, at least not the ones I talk to. At the other end of the spectrum, I see people on nice boats who seem happy, especially on pleasant summer days. But when I talk to boat owners they almost all express a degree of frustration about owning a boat. I am surprised how consistently the phrase, “A boat is a hole in the water you throw money into,” is used. If there is a creed for boat owners this seems to be it. People with money are worried, particularly as the markets continue to roil, that they will lose it. People without money are worried that they will never get it, money, and the relief it grants. Don’t get be wrong, having money is better than not having it. Studies have shown that people with it, are likely happier as a result. But it’s not a sure-fire recipe for a hearty belly-filling meal of happiness.

There is a great deal of interest in happiness in physiology at present. At Harvard, in 2009, the class “Positive Psychology” by professor Tal D. Ben-Shahar was the most popular class on campus. In a phone interview with the Boston Globe, Professor Ben-Shahar said, “‘When nations are wealthy and not in civil turmoil and not at war, then I think, like Florence of the 15th century, they start asking what makes life worth living, and that’s what positive psychology is about.”

It is about time someone got to the bottom of this quest for happiness.  One thing that troubles me, is how to go about understanding it. This is one reason I could never teach my kids anything much about it. I don’t really understand it, can’t put my finger just on it. I think we–their mother and I–showed it to them. They were raised in a household by loving parents, two adults succeeding at making a marriage work. That is a level, a degree of happiness: a home, solid and unshifting. Such an environment is a garden in which happiness can grow. It is rich soil. Happiness doesn’t necessarily flourish as a result, but the odds are better.

* It is no less than ironic, that in this time of Tea Parties and faith-based political initiatives, that the pursuit of happiness is an idea born of eighteenth century notions of European enlightenment. “I believe that humanism, at least on the levels of politics, might be defined as every attitude that considers the aim of politics to be the production of happiness.” (M. Foucault, 1967)

____________

This blog is, as I’ve said, is my little workshop. I hum away here, turning and twisting my project to the light, working on it, setting it aside then coming back to it. Some projects–ideas–are bigger than others and require more bench time. So, not to grow tedious, I will set them aside from time to time and return later. This narration falls into that category.

…as they used to say in the era of black and white television: Stay Tuned.