• Tag Archives know thyself
  • The Wide World and Beyond

    Imbolc                                                  Woodpecker Moon

    A friend, who, like me, recently turned 65, said to me, “I just realized there’s so much to learn.  For example, I don’t know anything about China.”  This is an intelligent, well-read guy.  Hard to imagine someone waking up to the amount of things they don’t know at age 65, but I guess this is a true instance of better late than never.

    For some reason this makes me recall those little orange biographies that used to sit in the library, though whether the public or school, I don’t recall.  Not too long, they offered a quick glimpse into famous american’s lives.  The content has either been absorbed or long forgotten, but the world they opened up, a world of people and places I had never experienced, remains.

    I mention them because there were so many side streets on the boulevard of learning, some of which I knew well, most poorly, but they were in my consciousness from a very young age.

    Another guy, also a friend, said recently that he’d decided if he hasn’t learned it now, he doesn’t need it.  Following that thought he went on to say that he was “giving up introspection.”  In the ensuing explanation it turned out he was really throwing away self-help books, other peoples ways.

    In fact, what he was doing was allowing himself to start introspection.  Only when we go into ourselves without a guide, no training wheels, just you and the you you carry along, can we begin to make progress.  The Delphic Oracle said it best, “Know thyself.”

    I’ve read people recently who say this is a bad idea, though I forget the arguments right now, but I’ve found it a very good idea.  A project still underway here at chez Ellis.



  • Gifts and Talents

    Lughnasa                                                                            Waning Honey Extraction Moon

    Kate and I had a conversation the other day about talent.  Two of her sisters make their living playing classical violin.  They have talent.  A lot of it.  BJ went to Julliard and Sarah to Curtis, both academies for topflight talent.  They both graduated and have been able to work using their training.  BJ makes a living as a classical musician in New York City, the hotspot for classical music today in the same way Vienna was at one time in Austria.  Sarah teaches violin and does the occasional solo spot with orchestras of the second tier.

    Kate and I had/have above average intelligence and have been able to work making use of  those gifts, Kate in pediatrics and me in various religious, political and artistic positions.

    Even so, in all four of our cases, we had enough talent to peer over the transom into the gifted realm, but not enough to participate in it.  This is a ruling contradiction of life, no matter what your level of talent, wealth or status, there is always someone more talented, more gifted, wealthier and higher up the status ladder.  Always.  Even if you’re Itzhak Perlman or Bill Gates or Merrill Streep, you have to contend with Paganini, Andrew Carnegie or Sarah Bernhardt.  History can always serve up an exemplar who achieved more, acted better or accumulated more wealth than thou.

    This problem cannot be solved by saying don’t peek, don’t stand on the chair and try to see into the room where the door closed before you.  No, we all peek because we can’t help it.  We imagine, fantasize, try to pull ourselves up a little bit, maybe we can squeeze through, even if it’s only to the room where the jobs pay $15.00.  Or maybe to the room where the cool kids are.  Or the ones with enough food.  Or the Noble Prize.  Or authors with books on the NYT bestseller list.

    Here is the one and true solution.  Know thyself.  Work within yourSelf, demanding from that Self the best it has.  Not the best it wishes it had, not the best others seem to have, but the best Self you have.  In this way you offer the world that unique gift, you.

    This solution also solves the problem of transom peeking.  You will still wonder, fantasize perhaps, what might have been, but you will not be driven to either envy or despair because you have as much as work as you can handle already.  Being you.

    Neither does this mean that you settle for mediocrity, less than the person you have the Self to become.  One of the most negative aspects of envy or despair is the demotivation it produces.  The, if I can’t be like her, or him, then I just won’t bother path.

    No, your path, the ancient trail that you must walk is this:  know your Self and follow its lead, only that ancient trail can lead you to the gift only you can offer the rest of us.

    Humanity needs all the gifts of the whole species.

    We have enormous challenges today.  Climate change.  Hunger.  Religious and racial discrimination.  Wars.  Economic ups and downs.  We cannot afford to leave the talents and vision of even one woman, one ethnicity, one age to waste.

  • Listen, This New Year’s Night

    Winter                                                                       Waning Moon of the Winter Solstice

    Have you ever been touched, brushed by a faint wing as it passes?  Perhaps a brief hesitation in an other wise confident progress, or a stutter in your step as you return home?  Some of us feel the passing of these birds of pray more than others.  We’ve not yet perfected the thickness, a protection against stooping falcons of unrest, leaving our Selves out there, unprotected, waiting for the faintest grazing, perhaps seeking it, knowing the tentativeness is real, life fleeing either before us or behind us, who can tell which?  Until it fails us altogether.

    I’ve always been this way, though it got a burnishing after I entered college and studied philosophy, then anthropology.  Doubt, skepticism, questions come so naturally to me I have trouble noticing when they take me too far, leave me out there, dangling by myself, a victim of my own questing beast.  In my life there is no such thing as certainty.  Perhaps I was born post-modern, always aware of the interpreter, always aware of the Self as interpreted, subject to oceans of ideas, rivers of feeling, no life guards on this beach, the tide out, vanishing out to sea.

    It sounds, I don’t know, dark, or at least gray, but I don’t experience it that way.  Instead, I take in things anew, fresh, not as expected, but as inspected, weighed, considered, felt.  This gives life a newness, a just been seen character that, no matter how exasperating to the other, gives me a world born again with every breath, every step, every sight.

    It also means you can’t count on me to agree with you, can’t trust my perception of things since it’s so idiosyncratic, in fact, I don’t trust the things I perceived a day ago.  Perhaps this is true of everyone though I doubt it.  It is the fruit, whether rotten or delicious, of trying to know myself.

    When I set foot in Delphi, walked the sacred way up to the temple of Apollo and put myself on the ancientrail of others seeking wisdom from the oracle, I was at my holy of holies.  Here you either learned to know yourself as the sign on the door way commanded or risked losing a kingdom.  Just ask the shade of Croesus.

    Listen, this new years, for the sound of flight, air moved aside by feathers, softly.  It might be a raven who owns the sun, or an albatross who has ceased to follow the Ancient Mariner.  If you hear her, go still, watch.  Perhaps you can follow toward those caverns measureless to man.

  • Gnothi Seauton

    Lughnasa                             Waning Grandchildren Moon

    Came back home from the Black Forest tonight with the moon roof open and both windows rolled (ha), electronically pushed, down.  It was humid warm evening and it reminded me of similar nights in Indiana, nights of driving with the windows down, Radio 890 from Chicago blasting out the latest Beatles or Stones or Dave Clark Five, dust from gravel roads flowing in contrails behind our family’s 57 Ford.  A night for nostalgia, for reentering old places and memories of cows upside down in the road, corn stalks talking in whispers, a moon too big for the sky illuminating it all.

    Got on a line of thinking.  I don’t listen to much these days on the radio or lectures, I just drive and think, or just drive.  In this case the matter of religion floated to mind, as it often does for me, this time in relation to the way other Woollys are in the world.  It’s so easy for me to wonder why I don’t have the compassion of Frank or the commitment to my body that Stefan has to his, or the serious way with which Warren approaches his reporting and his care taking for his parents, or Bill’s detachment.

    How this related to religion in my thinking was this.  It dawned on me that religion depends on taking who you are already and changing it, molding it this or way that:  away from desire, toward your neighbor, making duty to family or state most important, making rituals done right critical and the list goes on and  you know the others.  Don’t sin.  Do justice.  Meditate.  Retreat.  Don’t do this or do that.

    Then, this thought crossed the frontal lobe.  I’ve had a major struggle just becoming who I am.  I want to become more of who I already am, not what another person has made themselves into over time.  The last half of this is not a new thought to me, but the first, that I want to become more of who I am rather modifying myself in some way, is new.  It’s fine that others have valuable aspects to their personality that I don’t have.  I need to have the ones I have, to be who I am, as well as I can be.  This means accepting parts of me that I would prefer to push away:  impatience, diet, elitist thinking, racist attitudes.  Please note:  accepting them doesn’t mean endorsing them or not attempting to undo their harmful effects, it just means not beating myself up over who I am.  Who I really am.

    The oracle at Delphi had “know thyself” and “nothing to excess” inscribed in the forecourt of the temple of Apollo. To know thyself means owning the strong and the weak, the pleasant and the unpleasant, the uplifting and the degrading within ourselves.  That is, I believe, enough.

  • The Stomach Has Its Desires

     22  85%  26%  0mph  NNE  bar 29.97 falls  YuleTide

              Waning Gibbous Cold Moon

     Excerpt of a poem by William Stafford, Choosing A Dog

    Your good dogs, some things that they hear
    they don’t really want you to know —
    it’s too grim or ethereal.

    And sometimes when they look in the fire
    they see time going on and someone alone,
    but they don’t say anything.

    Bill Schmidt sent this poem along from Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac.  It is a touching work, especially for those who live their lives in the company of dogs.

    A morning filled with errands.  Took packages for New Years to the Anoka Post Office.  It’s sure easier to mail stuff now than it was a week ago.  Geez.  Practically walked right up to the postal clerk.  One clerk, on the other end of the counter, bald head and heroic biker beard, helped a man set up a General Delivery account.  I looked at the man, fiftyish with black hair laid flat on his head.  His used trench coat sagged with the bow of his shoulders.  His pants looked polished from wear and the boots old.  What had happened in his life?

    At the library I donated several Teaching Company courses on audio tape.  As I walked in with the sacks, I began to think about libraries, how important they’ve been to me at each stage of my life: a refuge in an Indiana small town, a place of scholarship during college and my two post-grad degrees, sources of reading material when my funds were low and most recently a source of audio books.  There are two places in this world where I’ve always felt comfortable:  Catholic churches and libraries. 

    Donating these courses made me consider charity.  Charity always makes me think of Frank Broderick who seems to incarnate charity.  I always feel less than in the presence of his generosity to others, less than because that’s not what I do.  Then I thought, wait a minute.  I’m not Frank Broderick; I’m Charlie.  Charlie’s generosity focuses on his passions:  art, libraries, dogs, gardens and, for some reason I can’t quite define, water.  These are the places where my volunteer energy, cash and other resources go.  And that’s just fine.

    After this, groceries, where my stomach spoke to me down each aisle.  Each time I saw an old food friend like cheese or chips or Kashi cereal my stomach growled and I felt deprived.  The stomach has its desires, its attachments and communicates them; but, those are attachments learned over years of a certain kind of eating.  The process I’m in now is one I’ve gone through before, reeducation.  I’m reeducating my stomach to growl for lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes.  To speak to me of yogurt, right-sized portions and sourdough bread.

    A morning full of errands, and, of learning more about myself.  A good morning.