I was a thoughtful and troubled kid. Weighty thoughts occurred to me before my time, around the age of 13 or 14, before I was emotionally mature enough to deal with them. I was happy to have an uncle who was interested in my speculations. No one else particularly seemed to be. Naturally, I idolized the man.
But then my idol came crashing down, as idols are wont to do. One day, I proudly showed him a short essay I had written that raised all sorts of questions about God. The questions—but not my tentative answers—were bordering on atheism or at least agnosticism. My miniature essay was important to me, because I was having conceptual difficulties with Christianity and was fishing for answers.
When my uncle handed the essay back to me, all he said was: “It is important to believe in God” or words to that effect. I was utterly deflated. I had hoped for an intelligent conversation, but I realized I had touched on a subject that he could regard only through the lens of his personal beliefs. He did not have the ability to stand back and consider, as he had done on many other occasions.
Our relationship was never the same afterward. I learned two important lessons from this experience. First, don’t erect pedestals to anyone or anything. (Of course, in the course of my life I have forgotten this lesson a few times, but my recovery rate has greatly improved.) Second, don’t expect people to always understand you or agree with you. Working through my uncle’s emotional reaction and my own, I felt at the time that I was in the process of becoming a philosopher.
Philosophers are people who have ideas with which rarely anyone else agrees. Or so I figured. What was more important was to philosophize, to reflect on life. I wholeheartedly agreed with Socrates that the uninspected life is not worth living. It took me many years, however, before I understood what that might mean. In any case, in those early days I acquired a healthy respect for philosophers and the business of philosophy. Much later on, once I encountered the Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna, I learned that my respect entailed an element of idolization, which I had to jettison.
No philosophy—not even Yoga’s various thought constructions—can be final or complete. And that’s a thought construction too! The conceptual realm is makeshift. Either you go mad realizing this, as happened to Nietzsche, or you develop a whopping sense of humor. I thought it better to go for the latter option.
More to come . . .
(pronounced Geh-org Foyer-stine)