Philosophical Meditation – Free Ebook

Our minds give us trouble. And one of the leading ways people nowadays deal with them, is meditation. Sessions where you quieten thoughts, empty the mind, and focus on just a few things outside of you like, the rustle of leaves, or the flow of water. But, at the School of Life, we want to put forward an alternative, or, rather a complementary idea. We’ve devised a technique, based not on Eastern thought, but on ideas that come down to us from the Western philosophical tradition. We call it, a “philosophical meditation” The basic premise is that a lot of the trouble in our minds, comes from thoughts that haven’t been untangled, examined, and properly confronted. And that because life moves so fast, we accumulate a lot of un-thought thoughts on a daily basis. Insomnia, for example, is chiefly the revenge of thoughts we havent had in the day. Muddled, unfocused thoughts generate a static of anxious electricity, or else give rise to clouds of nonspecific gloom. If we’ve been out of touch with our thoughts for too long, we can get snappy or suddenly enraged. This, is what philosophical meditation is designed to help us with. It’s a tool for systematically clearing up our minds, and making sense of our disavowed feelings and ideas. The first priority, is to set aside a bit of time. Idealy some twenty minutes at least once every few days. You should sit, probably in bed, early in the morning, or late in the evening, with a pad of paper, and ancher your investigation of yourself around 3 large questions. Firstly: “What am I currently anxious about?” Secondly: “What am I upset about, and with whom?” And thirdly: “What am I currently excited and ambitious about?” At first, when asked to respond to question like these the mind tends to be inarticulate and a bit scared. Generally, something comes to mind, but often you can’t quite tell what it is yet. It might, just for now, be a word, or a mental image, or a place, or a persons name. This doesn’t matter. Grab the ideas when they’re there without thinking too much, write everything down, however minor, and don’t worry too much about it’s ultimate sense. Philosophical meditation can be compared to cleaning out a large, clogged-up cupboard. You have to take everything out and pile it up on the bed first before starting to sort it out. So, to kick off, under: “What am I anxious about?” You might accumulate a list of concerns you haven’t looked at head on, but have glimpsed in the course of the day. It’ll be nonsense to anyone else, and perhaps almost to yourself too, but keep going. With all the thoughts taken out, then past and through the sieve of a set of questions. Ask: “What is this anxiety really about?” Tell the story of the coming anxious period or challenge in great, almost tedious detail. Then, confront head on everything that could go wrong with the worrying situation or idea. Now tease out how you might still be OK, even if the worst happened. Don’t cheer yourself up with false optimism. Make yourself at home with the darkest possibilities. Realize that almost everything is ultimately rather survivable. Then, it’s time to move on to the second part of the philosophical meditation; the bit where you ask the second big question: “Who am I upset with and why?” The theory here, is that we often don’t allow ourselves to analyze the hurts that we receive from other people because we’re humiliatingly vulnerable and pretend we’re not. Yet we pay for this false stoicism dearly. For undigested hurts generate bitterness, confusion, and misdirected aggression. We might go cold on our partners, with whom we’re unknowingly furious. So, empty the cupboard of the mind of all its multiple hurts. Take all you’ve written, and pass it through the following set of questions: Retell yourself all of the upsetting incidents you’ve faced, in great detail, as if you were telling them to an extremely kind, interested and patient friend. Then ask: “How might a nice person have end up doing what this person did to you?” If they weren’t actively mean, What other explanations could there be for the hurt they have caused? Lastly, if this would happen to a friend, how would you advise them? Next, it’s time to take out of the cupboard of the mind all the thoughts that relate to ambition, and excitement. This needs a range of positive emotions, tremors of interest, tentative enthusiasm to lights and so on that are hovering on the edges of consciousness. Ask: “What recently made you feel excited, envious or desiring?” There’s then an another set of questions to sieve these feelings through. Describe your excitements as if to a sympathetic, interested friend. You need to change your life in certain ways, so, what would it be, to change your life in the light of this? This exciting thing holds clue to whats missing in your life, what might be missing? If this thing could talk, what might it tell you? If this thing could try to change your life, what changes might it advise? If other parts of your life were more like this, what might they be like? Answering all these questions starts the vital work of decoding the scrambled thoughts, that normally clog up our minds. The longer we’ve gone without doing one of these mental audits, the more there will be to go through. Philosophical meditation doesn’t magically solve problems, but it huuugely helps us, by creating an occasion where we can identify our thoughts, and get them in some kind of order. Fears, resentments, and hopes become easier to name. We get less scared of the contents of our own minds we grow calmer, less bitter and clearer about our diection in life. We start, at last on the journey to knowing ourselves properly.

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