exploring self-realization, sacred personhood, and full humanity
How To Sit Quietly
In A Room Alone
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My Word Gems writings, as stated elsewhere, constitute a kind of life-notebook, a chronicle of developing perspective, a collection of insights. Twenty years ago, as I began this project, I envisioned Word Gems as a trophy room wherein I could admire my best gold-nugget findings. This is what I thought I was doing.
However, like a moth flying too close to an alluring flame, immersing oneself in the thoughts of history’s philosophers, saints, mystics, and scientists eventually sets one ablaze in a transforming fire of existential crisis. And while the inner core-person never changes – I’m still that 17 year-old boy wondering, excited, about the mysteries of the universe – in another sense, the person who launched Word Gems no longer exists.
Twenty years ago, in the beginning, I thought I could play with ideas, count them “interesting,” take them or leave them, remain detached and distanced; like a hobbyist, setting aside the golf clubs or the weekend motorboat, I believed I could return to life as usual, same-old-same-old, any time I wanted to. But, the playing with ideas, like a kid playing with matches, proved to be dangerous. Minds catch fire, are quite flammable, and old views might suffer immolation, charring the familiar cerebral furniture beyond recognition.
My problem was, in my searchings, I discovered things I didn’t really want to know. Actually, it was much worse than that. To my great dismay and cognitive dissonance, I began to realize that almost everything – very close to everything – I’d accepted as true and solid since childhood, in fact, was quite wrong; either patently wrong on its face, or sufficiently suffused with error, bread laced with arsenic, as to render it somewhat worthless, even poisonous. I began to understand the wisdom of Descartes; that, it’s best to start over, doubting everything, gutting the paradigms, stripping the mental walls to the superstructure, rebuilding one’s intellectual and spiritual life, brick by brick.
And what is that superstructure of essence? What is the bedrock of personal reality, so substantial as to be impossible to doubt? Descartes, a student of Euclid, searched for an indisputable axiom upon which to build an edifice of total confidence. But, where to begin? What might offer such measure of certitude? Descartes believed he’d discovered his unassailable foundation of being in the reality of his own thoughts - famously expressed as, “cogito ergo sum” – “I think, therefore I am.”
Dr. Daniel Robinson of Oxford explains that “cogito ergo sum is not about ontology but epistemology.” In other words, Descartes was not doubting his own existence but was searching for the right method, a solid platform, upon which to build veridical knowledge claims. With “cogito ego sum” Descartes posited, to the effect, “I might doubt everything in the world, but there is one thing I find impossible to doubt, that is, my own thoughts;” in as much as, “the fact that I am thinking, whatever else this activity might convey, at basis, tells me that I exist. This much I know and cannot doubt.”
However, three hundred years later, another philosopher would challenge Descartes’s assertion. Mere thinking, contended Jean-Paul Sartre, is not the bedrock of one’s reality: "The consciousness that says 'I am' is not the consciousness that thinks."
There are very few who understand what Sartre is talking about. Descartes was wrong, Sartre was right. The elemental, essential underpinning of one’s reality is not mere thinking but something else, something deeper than ordinary thought.
For some time, I debated with myself whether I should burden the world with one more book. And I asked, if required to choose the most important gold-nugget principle among all the Word Gems findings, what would it be? If I found myself cast upon the uncharted shores of the next world, what single precept, knowing what I’ve been blessed to perceive, would I count as most precious in order to construct a new life? What did Descartes overlook, what constitutes the solid platform upon which one’s core-person is built?
This book was written to provide beginning answers to these questions.