Experiencing Ideas as Authority or Terror

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Sceptre, Orb, and Imperial Crown of Austria

You must regard your own emotionally important ideas with the respect due to proper authority. To be authentic, you must live by these defining and guiding ideas. (Photo: public domain)

Charles Williams was a British polymath combining considerable skills as a poet, novelist, theologian, and literary critic. He was also a valued member of the famed Inklings writing circle and a powerful influence on Narnia creator, C. S. Lewis. Williams’ most famous biographer is Alice Mary Hadfield who, during widely spaced periods in her life, wrote two perceptive critical biographies filled with useful insights concerning his life and work. One of her most revealing penetrations has a bearing on existentialism. Continue reading

A Magical Book About a Magical Place

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The Magic of Findhorn cover

An enchanting look at an early New Age community in Scotland.

The Magic of Findhorn is a magical book. I first read it when it came out in paperback more years ago than I care to remember. For more than a decade, I reread it now and then to savour Hawken’s sweet distillation of the spirit of the time. Those were the heady days of pot-smoking hippies, smiling flower children, and idealistic communes. Findhorn added fairies, giant cabbages, and bushes that got out of the way when you wanted to make a path through them. It was wonderful to imagine that I might run off and join the small band of romantics building a new kind of community on what was once a garbage dump. I never did, of course. Sometimes I think I missed a great chance. Findhorn still exists, although it is now a foundation and calls itself a “New Age” community. Naturally, there is a website. Continue reading

Chasing Happiness Cannot Replace Personal Growth

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Alfred North Whitehead

A. N. Whitehead said learning is impossible without the desire to learn. This matters because all personal growth requires us to learn something. (Image: public domain)

Is it enough to chase happiness in life? Numerous philosophers have argued that, for a deeply satisfying experience of life, something more is required, something founded on substantial personal growth, rather than a preference for a particular ephemeral feeling that manifests in a constant effort to spend a lot of time in the desired emotional state. Is it possible that the “pursuit of happiness,” so central to American, and indeed, much of contemporary Western values, may actually get in the way of attaining life’s greater riches?

I have already argued, in “Religious Conversion Can Block Self-Discovery,” that a desire for spiritual salvation in the religious sense can seriously impede a person’s growth process. Here I will make the case that thoughtlessly chasing happiness Continue reading

Explaining Mysticism’s Dark Night of the Soul

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Saint John of the Cross

The dark night of the soul is a lengthy period of deeply troubling doubt and hesitation. It ends when a sufficient level of acceptance has been reached to allow the final enlightenment to dawn. (Image: public domain)

In their book, Buddhism and Jungian Psychology, analysts J. Marvin Spiegelman and Mokusen Miyuki (who is also a Buddhist priest), mention the danger of “stagnation” following the integration of unconscious contents. This sounds a lot like the stage on the journey to enlightenment the mystics have famously called “the dark night of the soul.” It is the point where a seeker has seen the light, so to speak, but cannot quite believe it yet. This period of deeply troubling doubt and hesitation lasts for an indeterminate length of time until a sufficient level of acceptance has been reached to allow the final enlightenment to dawn, whereupon the ability to feel confident and to act is restored. Continue reading

Western Socialism Is Secularized Christianity

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United Nations Building

Many conservatives see the UN building in New York as the “Vatican” of the socialist movement. (Image: public domain)

I am a conservative who, from time to time, gets testy about leftists and enjoys giving them a gentle prod. Today, I am feeling especially annoyed. While watching the news on television, I learned the Ontario government plans to “invest” in solar panels for northern Metis communities so they can generate incredibly costly electricity for themselves and then sell any surplus to the provincial grid at staggering prices. Presumably, the Metis contribution to the “beneficial” project will consist in sweeping snow and ice from the panels during the six hours of feeble winter daylight. Continue reading

The Human Need for Heroism, Glory, and Renown

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Beowulf with Raised Sword

A perceived lack of meaning in life may indicate a desire for a more heroic and glorious way of living. (Image: public domain)

Many people suffer a lack of meaning in their lives, especially in the prosperous countries where the hardships of surviving on a day-by-day basis are not pressing. Decent incomes and the modern social safety net provide leisure time and security while removing the need for the incessant life-sustaining, highly significant activity demanded by dire necessity. For most people in the developed nations, only casual pastimes, meaningless entertainments, or sporadic volunteer work (which someone else could do) remain to fill the void. This situation is regarded as wonderful, yet in reality, it exposes the comfortably well-off to the serious risks of boredom and lack of purpose. It is no accident that suicide and depression rates are high in wealthy nations. Continue reading

New Writers Benefit from Identifying with Famous Authors

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H. G. Wells in Middle Age

H. G. Wells makes a good role model for the commercially inclined genre writer. (Photo: public domain)

When I first began writing seriously in the early 1990s, I took to reading literary biographies as a way of defining myself as a writer. I was thrilled to find how quickly I recognized my own struggles in the lives of famous authors. I also saw the shared personality traits that prompt certain kinds of people to explore the possibilities of living the artist’s life. Nothing strengthens and focusses an emerging identity more than the chance to identify thoroughly with others who are already there and have blazed the trail, so to speak.

While of limited use to dedicated literary writers, any would-be author who aspires to sell well and achieve wide popularity Continue reading

Only Moral Novels Achieve Longevity

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Old man reading old books under a mature tree

Moral novels attract wider critical attention and are more likely to achieve longevity. (Image: public domain)

Lovat Dickson, one of H. G. Wells’ biographers, claimed the literary world does not see Wells as a great writer, adding that the opinion-makers overlook the famous author because he did not write about morals. Dickson’s observation highlights the strong bias among literary critics that works dealing with moral issues are the most worthy of praise. As a result, only works of this kind are long-lived. Some have argued the absence of longevity for other works has more to do with lack of critical promotion and support than a dearth of literary merit. This may well be true, but in real life, human beings are always concerned with the morality of actions, events, and situations so it seems entirely reasonable, inevitable even, that the same concern should apply to fictional portrayals of life and the world. Continue reading

Should Writers Draw Characters from Life or Imagine Them?

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D. H. Lawrence

D. H. Lawrence was notorious for using lovers, friends, and acquaintances as thinly disguised characters in his sexually explicit novels. (Photo: public domain)

Many famous writers have used the people in their lives as grist for the authorial mill. The spicy roman à clef has long been a frequent visitor to bookshop shelves. Even more common are realistic novels based on the lives of actual people, but where no deliberate effort is made to link with the objects of inspiration. In other words, the real people are convenient sources of material, yet too obscure to be of interest to the reading public. The writer’s own life may also end up on the page. If his own experiences predominate, a struggle with illness, say, we call these works autobiographical novels, but in many cases, the lives of people around the writer are also included and the situation becomes less clear-cut.

Opinions vary as to the merits of drawing on real people for inspiration. The competing view Continue reading

The Concept of Liberation in Psychology

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At Eternity's Gate by Vincent van Gogh (A grieving old man)

Psychotherapy seeks to liberate the sufferer from emotional pain thus restoring greater freedom of action. (Photo: Wikipedia)

I have been in psychotherapy for a very long time and have acquired a philosophical interest in some of the ideas behind the various psychological schools of thought. Inherent in them all is the concept of “liberating” the patient or client. I am sure no professional would ever put it this way, but psychologists are like the Allies storming ashore in Normandy to liberate Europe from the tyrant’s grip and restore democracy.

No matter how one conceptualizes it, liberation implies some kind of oppressive situation from which the sufferer would like to be freed. Continue reading

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