Mar. 11th, 2010

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Wednesday nights are pretty thin cabwise. It's a good evening, ramping up to the weekend and not many cabs on the road, so there is money to be made.

But I pull out before seven, just as the rush subsides, gas the cab up, go home, change out of my uniform, tuck Kerri into Greg the Golf (I'm Greg's driver) and have a couple of hours at Gorman House in Braddon.

School of Practical Philosophy. There's six of us attending term two. We're learning how to be happy and fully living life in the moment. I know it sounds flakey, but honestly, I've been carefully monitoring the thing for any signs of cultishness or sprituality, and there's nothing along those lines. Religion is mentioned in general terms (the Christian tradition, the Eastern tradition and so on) but we don't get into anything supernatural.

Tonight's session was on the Platonic virtues. There was a typically dense and difficult quote from Plato, which we decoded successfully. Two sets of virtues: Divine (or cardinal):
1. Wisdom
2. Temperance
3. Justice
4. Courage

Human:
1. Health
2. Beauty
3. Strength
4. Wealth.

Not wealth in the Plutonic sense, but apparently something different I couldn't quite grasp. Perhaps riches in a different sense.

The key is that by aiming for high scores in the human virtues, we miss out on the divine, whereas if we focus on the divine virtues, the human ones follow naturally. For example, temperance is not abstaining from strong drink, but rather moderation. Don't take the last biscuit. Or the first. Something I have trouble with as a night cabbie, where meals are choppy and the temptation of fast food ever-present.

Tempering the desire to indulge yields benefits in all four human virtues. Fast food costs money, for example, and dropping the burger budget channels wealth into other directions. In the Plutonic sense, I guess. I've been putting my tip money into Kiva microloans, for example, rather than Kentucky Fried.

The charm for me has been the question, "What would a wise person do?" A question phrased differently in other traditions, but still familiar.* Given that we can't always pick up the phone to ask a wise person for advice on the immediate decisions in our lives, we have to find the answer within ourselves, which means that somewhere inside us, we are our own wise person.

This is important. We ARE wise. We generally know exactly what the wise people in our lives would do in any given circumstance. Would Gandhi eat the last cupcake? No, he'd give it to a hungry person. Along with a bowl of rice and beans.

All it takes is application of the four divine virtues, of which perhaps the hardest is courage. Courage to do what is right instead of what is convenient.

Likewise, we can always be happy. Our tutor gave the example of a wise man in captivity in the most desperate circumstances. If your world is four stone walls and a bowl of rice each day, there's no point in fretting for easy freedom and beauty. Find beauty, find happiness, find wisdom in the materials to hand. Make others happy - that's an easy one.

I listen to the quotes and the discussion, and participate and think on what is being said. I can glimpse where this is leading. I can see the processes at work in myself. I'm a better, happier, wiser person than I was six months ago. A year ago. Five years ago. A long way to go, of course, but I'm getting there. BookCrossing and cabdriving have been good beginnings, but the School of Practical Philosophy has helped immensely.

I spend a lot of the session deep in thought, looking at each insight, turning things around in my mind, looking at them like pieces in a jigsaw to see where they fit, and where they don't. The missing pieces of lessons and semesters ahead are dimly discerned. I can see where this is heading and I'm not uncomfortable with it.

If it didn't feel right, I wouldn't do it. If it depended on some hidden or supernatural resource, I wouldn't touch it. But there's no priesthood or chanting, no god in the sky or voice in a box. It's just us and the wise people of the past, present and future.

Afterwards, Kerri and I talk about the points the lesson raised as I drive her home. And then, I'm feeling rather exhausted from thinking, and the prospect of spending another six hours in the cab for the dregs of the night shift is less than tempting. I can put that time to better use. By sleeping, for a start.

– Pete


*I've got to wonder about how some people perceive Jesus, given their answers to the question, "What would Jesus do?" Firebomb an abortion clinic or beat up gay people, that's how Jesus would do it. Right.

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Skyring

September 2010

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