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PhilosophyCenter | Odysseys

Posts from — September 2013

Staircases

Staircases

Ups and downs. We all have them. How we get through them—that’s another matter. It may seem a curious idea, “getting through” the ups, but it will make good sense if we take a minute to remember the ancient Chinese curse (or so it’s been described): “May you be born in an interesting time.” If we let the ups define us, if we get attached to them, if we come to depend on a particular arrangement of conditions, sooner or later we learn the lesson taught by the Buddha, that our life here is impermanent, fleeting, and that to live “outside in” is a formula for suffering. High times are great, if we can balance our enjoyment of them with the wisdom that remembers that “this, too, shall pass.” Then we can experience the ups without getting carried away, and the downs without being knocked to the mat.

Up and down are also the two directions available on a staircase. You may have noticed that the little geometric element in the PhilosophyCenter logo resembles three stairs. It seems a perfect symbol for philosophical counseling, which opens the door to higher perspectives and deeper truths—the up and down of self-work. Sometimes this work calls us to go up, to transcend, to adopt a higher vantage, see the bigger picture, overlook something, reach for something loftier, break out of an old habit, rise above, surface, take the high road. Other times, the direction is down, calling us to a new depth of self-awareness, something foundational in our being, the deeper truth about something, a delving that exposes a hidden contradiction or unexamined commitment that no longer serves or is costing us too much. In this way, the up and down of self-work work together simultaneously.

Philosophical dialogue proceeds according to the principles of “the dialectic” as practiced by Socrates. The German idealist philosopher, W.F. Hegel, offers a profoundly useful mapping of how the dialectic operates, a mapping that, interestingly, one scholar likens to a spiral staircase. The dialectic is a process of evolutionary self-movement through which a thing brings forth the contradiction inherent in a given conflict, then—when the conflict has reached the intensity of a breakthrough—resolves them in a moment of self-transcending to a new way of seeing and being. Such a process is not unlike a birthing, and in this regard, the philosophical coach is a midwife of sorts, a term that was often used to describe Socrates. This philosophical midwifery that helps us give birth to new and improved versions of ourselves goes back as least as far as Socrates, who described himself as a midwife of ideas. In the surging upswing of the dialectic, we become more than we were, leaving the old somewhere below us as we embrace a higher order of self.

Along the way, as you navigate the stairways of your life, you may come to a point where you feel stuck. The way on isn’t clear, but the old routines aren’t working anymore. You may be in a lot of pain. Perhaps you’ll be willing to consider that you’re in labor, that something wonderful, even though difficult, is moving you to rebirth.

September 9, 2013   Comments Off on Staircases