The Horizons of Meaning

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In June 2022 I took a course on Deep Philosophy (https://dphilo.org). Below is an excerpt of a text I wrote for the course. It focuses on where I find meaning in life, namely through art and creativity.


 Meaninglessness is a blank canvas. It alienates one to the world around them. The whole world looks grey. Stripped of color and dominated by routine, one mundane task after the other. One lives solely to fulfill the demands of the other, whether it is for their parents, employers or society.  Meaninglessness closes the door to the world of possibilities that life can offer. 

It is only through creativity where meaning begins to shine through the cracks. 

Meaning is the immersion in the infinite space of creativity. It enables one to view the whole world like an artist. Every moment that arises is raw materials for one’s creation. Both suffering and joy are equal opportunities to embrace and connect to the richness of life. 

It comes to a person spontaneously like a flash of insight.  One is compelled to create.

An idea that requires nurturing through actions which authentically connect to the inner depths of their being. It can be through working on a piece of art, writing a new poem or any activity which requires you to be an active participant in the world around you.  

Life is no longer governed by indifference, but a sense of aliveness that comes with being connected to one’s own creation.

Freedom emerges in the horizon.

As we follow our path, we are transformed into our authentic selves – who we truly are, and who we ought to be.


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Ralph Waldo Emerson: On Education

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In this series on education, I’ve been arguing that the education system should aim to nourish one’s unique gifts and work towards cultivating the person as a whole. Of course, it is important to develop practical and marketable skills that enable one to navigate the job market. However, viewing education merely from this narrow reductionist lens of marketability misses the broader picture.  As I’ve noted in my article on the German concept of Bildung, education is also about building moral character, and developing the virtues necessary for a well functioning society. Moreover, education can allow us to experiment with different ideas and ways of being, leading to richer more meaningful lives.

In this article, I want to look at the ideas of the philosopher, poet and naturalist Ralph Waldo Emerson. In his essay entitled ‘The American Scholar’, Emerson delivers a commencement speech to a group of young graduates reflecting on the value and objective of the life of a scholar.

Authenticity and Creation

Each age, it is found, must write its own books; or rather, each generation for the next succeeding

We are all born into a particular place and time period. For the most part, our thoughts, ideas and belief systems stem from the culture that we grew up in.

How often do we exercise our ability for self reflection and critical thinking to challenge the conventional wisdom or dominant ways of life in our society?

For Emerson, while the student must learn from the wisdom of the past, they must not be bound by it. Education must aim to inspire an individual to create. Emerson claims that the student must find their own authentic voice rather than dogmatically imitate the teachings of their predecessors. He writes,

The book, the college, the school of art, the institution of any kind, stop with some past utterance of genius. This is good, say they,—let us hold by this. They pin me down. They look backward and not forward. But genius always looks forward. ….. Man hopes. Genius creates. To create,—to create,—is the proof of a divine presence.

The greatest thinkers of the past were those who challenged the views of the masses. They were initially dismissed and scorned for their unconventional views. However, it was only in retrospect where we came to appreciate the true genius of these individuals.  

Great thinkers like Socrates provoked the uncritical views held by many of the prominent Athenians in Ancient Greece. He counselled others to make time for self-reflection, and most importantly to think for oneself.  Credited as the founder of Western philosophy, Socrates was adamant in abiding by his ideals and values even in the face of death.

A Life of Action

Emerson was critical of the scholars who hide themselves away under books in the proverbial ‘ivory tower.’ The life of a scholar is the life of action. Action enables one to put into practice what they preach.

It is easy to criticize others and the systems we live in, without taking concrete steps to change your behaviour.

Action is the conduit between intellectual theories and the inner workings of the world. Discussing the importance of living a life in accordance with one’s values, Emerson reflects on the value of engaging in meaningful action to make your mark in the world.

Without it thought can never ripen into truth. Whilst the world hangs before the eye as a cloud of beauty, we cannot even see its beauty. Inaction is cowardice, but there can be no scholar without the heroic mind. The preamble of thought, the transition through which it passes from the unconscious to the conscious, is action. Only so much do I know, as I have lived. Instantly we know whose words are loaded with life, and whose not.

It is only through leaving the sheltered world of academia, and venturing out into the world where we gain access to ample raw materials to further nourish our creativity and authentic character.

Conclusion

Emerson, known as one of proponents of the transcendentalist movement, claimed that we ought to look to Nature for insight into our proper place in the world. After all we human beings are apart of Nature, not separate. Through studying the vast intricacies of Nature, we begin to become aware of the vast connections of our world.

We see the linkages between different subjects, and begin to appreciate the role that each of the parts play in the whole. Human beings are not merely individualistic entities striving for self-interest. Rather their actions affect and are affected by the broader systems and ecosystems they are embedded in.

While it is useful for the education system to divide up knowledge into different disciplines creating different experts and specialists, we must never forget the bigger picture- that is how everything is deeply interconnected.


All quotes in this article were sourced from ‘The American Scholar’ by Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Living in the Gift

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Take a deep breath. Open your eyes and observe what is around you.

Look at the sun beaming through the blossoming trees. Listen to the birds singing ecstatically with feverous joy. Touch the different textures of plants in your garden as you await a bountiful feast upon harvest.

We didn’t earn the pleasures of the awe inspiring world that we were born into. Rather they were freely available to us upon birth. They are gifts.

Life is a gift.

We are all born as helpless infants, dependent on our parents or caregivers for our day to day survival. They’ve fed us, nourished us and did the best they could to get us to where we are today.

Our lives are shaped from the generosity of others, and sustained through the abundance and blessings of nature.

When you look at things from this vantage point, you begin to feel a sense of immense gratitude. Your heart pours out with joy. The crude individualism that is revered in our culture begins to slowly fade away. How could we, in good faith, remain in a state of arrogance and greed if we truly recognize all that we were given in this life.

As we become aware and grateful of the many gifts our world provides, we are called to give back. We give with generosity, without demanding anything in return, because we are appreciative of all that we have received.

Each of us is unique and can offer our distinct gifts to the world.

As the writer and activist Charles Eisenstein notes, we are all born into a world of abundance. We are more than separate selves viscously competing for limited resources. Rather, as we’ve become increasingly aware, all of us are deeply connected through various different systems. We all reside in a single ecosystem, and on a deeper level we all share the same fate.

Imagine the world we could aspire to, the community we could create and waste we would reduce if we all embraced this fundamental truth of connection and co-dependency. Relationships would flourish and our bond to the earth would be restored as we prioritize people over things.

So, what gift is in you to give? What do you want to do to connect with others and work towards a more beautiful world?

Let me know in the comments.


This repost from an article I submitted last week on Pointless Overthinking.

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