Vanaprastha: Communing with Nature

Vanaprastha is a Sanskrit term translated as “retiring to the forest.” Vana means “forest” and prastha means “going to.”

American philosopher and academic John G. Messerly notes how retreat, reflection, and nature have present an ancient and enduring fellowship:

A reader sent me a beautiful description of the tranquility he finds walking in and communing with nature. It seems my friend has become a forest dweller in the Hindu tradition! I think that if we don’t find peace in this way, we probably won’t find it anywhere, for many seers and sages have found something vastly preferable in nature and solitude.

Here on the same topic is one of my intellectual heroes, Will Durant.

We suspect that when our fires begin to burn low, we shall want the healing peace of uncrowded mountains and spacious fields. After every idea has had its day with us and we have fought for it not wisely or too well, we in our turn shall tire of the battle, and pass on to the young our thinning fascicle of ideals. Then we shall take to the woods; we shall make friends of the animals; we shall leave the world to stew in its own deviltry, and shall take no further thought of its reform.

The Wise Read a Lot

Charlie Munger at the 2004 Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting:

I don’t know anybody who is wise who doesn’t read a lot. On the other hand, that alone won’t do it. You have to have a temperament, really, which grabs the correct ideas and does something with those ideas. And I think most people who read a lot don’t have the necessary temperament, and they grab the ideas or they’re simply confused by the mass of material. And, of course, that won’t work.

Being With What Is

American clinical psychologist John Welwood writes in Ordinary Magic, Everyday Life as Spiritual Path (1992):

At any moment, whatever we are experiencing, only one of two things is ever happening: either we are being with what is, or else we are resisting what is. Being with what is means letting ourselves have and feel our experience, just as it is right now. When we choose to be actively present with what is, we radiate a powerful energy that is most compelling. This is where genuine creativity, health, and communication, as well as spiritual power, arise from.

Yet oddly enough, we rarely let ourselves simply have our experience. We are usually resisting it instead – trying to manipulate it and make it something other than it is. As children, we first learned to resist our experience as a way of coping with what seemed like overwhelming influences in the world around us. Because we were so open and sensitive to begin with, we learned to shut down, and turn away from what we were feeling, as a way to avoid feeling pain. Yet we contract ourselves against the painful aspects of our experience, we actually stop being…

Whenever we resist what is, we become tense and contracted, we’re not much fun to be around. In fact, even we don’t enjoy being around ourselves. No wonder we check out and wander off into distractions – seeking entertainment, driving ourselves to achieve, resorting to drugs and alcohol, desperately striving to be some other way than we are, living fantasies of future happiness. All these forms of distraction are ways of trying to fill up the void that is left when we don’t let ourselves be.

So the first step on any path of personal or spiritual development is to become aware of how we contract and turn away from our experience. Spiritual practice involves both becoming aware of this resistance and discovering that it is all right to open ourselves to life, that we can handle it, and that we will grow and expand by doing so.

Recognizing College-level Learning in Non-classroom Settings

McKinsey team on the significance of recognizing the learning happens outside the classroom:

Giving adult students credit for the knowledge they’ve earned outside of school can reduce the amount of time it takes to complete a degree. Governments can partner with higher-ed institutions and the private sector to encourage testing and credentialing centers that award college credit for college-level learning in non-classroom settings.

Veterans could be the biggest immediate beneficiaries of this common sense approach. Today there are medics and mechanics who acquired skills on the battlefield, but can’t land a job back home as a paramedic or mechanic because they don’t have a diploma or certificate that proves what they know. We need to develop ways for colleges to recognize the academic value of such prior work.

When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Relax

Fast Company’s Alan Webber summarizes nuggets of wisdom from his Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business Without Losing Your Self (2009.)

Rule #1: “When the going gets tough, the tough relax.” This rule came from an experience of my own, when I was about to conduct the most important interview of my career, and I realized that I was about to ruin the experience—and probably the interview—because I was afraid of failing. I had allowed my fears to jeopardize what should have been a happy, exciting, and memorable experience. My takeaway was, the enemy we all need to conquer is fear. So I’d say that each and every one of us needs to go to work in the morning without bringing along our fears and anxieties—they don’t help, they only hurt.

We Don’t Need to Allow Hate

Sereno Sky writes in Lonely Traveller (2014,)

About unconditional love: It might be that the universe or ‘God’ loves people unconditionally, always trying to give people another chance to do better or if they can’t, it knows all the circumstances that prevent them from doing so. As humans, we dislike people who hurt animals, the planet and other human beings, so we tend to have strong feelings of antipathy towards them. To say that we would still love such people would seem hypocritical and humanly impossible. In my opinion, we don’t need to allow hate, but we also aren’t being judged for not loving them.

Richard Branson’s Hits and Misses

Virgin Group mogul Richard Branson takes risks and, when his ideas don’t work out, he still relishes having fun in being willing to try new things. From his New York Times interview,

The businesses that we’ve been successful at are the ones where we have made a radical difference in people’s lives. The businesses that have not been as successful have been the ones where it was fun doing it, but we weren’t really changing anything.

When Coke came down like a ton of bricks on Virgin Cola, we had a fun brand, but they could squash us. When British Airways came down with a ton of bricks on Virgin Atlantic, we were so much better than they were. The public stuck with us and were loyal to us, despite the fact that we only had one plane against their 300 planes. Thirty-five years later, Virgin Atlantic is still going strong.

Religion, a Jumble of False Assertions

Albert Einstein said of the physisct and Nobel laureate Paul Dirac, “This balancing on the dizzying path between genius and madness is awful.”

At a October 1927 conference, Paul Dirac made acerbic comments about the purpose and meaning for religion:

If we are honest—and scientists have to be—we must admit that religion is a jumble of false assertions, with no basis in reality. The very idea of God is a product of the human imagination. It is quite understandable why primitive people, who were so much more exposed to the overpowering forces of nature than we are today, should have personified these forces in fear and trembling. But nowadays, when we understand so many natural processes, we have no need for such solutions. I can’t for the life of me see how the postulate of an Almighty God helps us in any way. What I do see is that this assumption leads to such unproductive questions as why God allows so much misery and injustice, the exploitation of the poor by the rich and all the other horrors He might have prevented. If religion is still being taught, it is by no means because its ideas still convince us, but simply because some of us want to keep the lower classes quiet. Quiet people are much easier to govern than clamorous and dissatisfied ones. They are also much easier to exploit. Religion is a kind of opium that allows a nation to lull itself into wishful dreams and so forget the injustices that are being perpetrated against the people. Hence the close alliance between those two great political forces, the State and the Church. Both need the illusion that a kindly God rewards—in heaven if not on earth—all those who have not risen up against injustice, who have done their duty quietly and uncomplainingly. That is precisely why the honest assertion that God is a mere product of the human imagination is branded as the worst of all mortal sins.

Source: German physicist Werner Heisenberg’s Physics and Beyond: Encounters and Conversations (1971)

Of Jean Racine and His Works

University of Wisconsin scholar Philip Butler studied the constantly shifting perception of playwright Jean Racine and his works. In Classicism and the Baroque in the Work of Racine, Philip Butler writes,

There is in Racine a sort of intellectual Puritanism-or Jansenism-‘Which, in the same way as moral Puritanism, distrusts everything that can cause us too much pleasure and regards a priori as suspect any proposition that flatters and suits us. … The fine gallantry, the noble fictions, and the becoming poses that have taken the place of the battle between man and woman, these he casts aside. He is unwearying in his efforts to undermine the idea of a paternal and reassuring providence, placed like a stage setting in front of the dead forces which govern the universe and the state of man. All the hallowed prejudices of the baroque, all its comforting illusions, all the themes of its resounding eloquence appear in his plays, only to be brilliantly disposed of.

Hans Bethe, the Nuclear Peacemaker

The Nobel prize-winning physicist Hans Bethe, was a key figure in the development of the nuclear energy and weaponry, including the ones dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Yet, he campaigned for nuclear power and nuclear disarmament. The Guardian notes in his obituary,

Yet, in nuclear affairs, Bethe was perhaps the most polished, vocal and convincing of establishment figures. He balanced vigorous participation in disarmament negotiations against cautious but unwavering commitment to nuclear energy, which he saw as the only available bridge to safer energy technologies in the future.

He argued persuasively that the 1986 Chernobyl disaster was a product of design, engineering and control failures that could not occur in the west. And, like many establishment physicists involved with nuclear affairs, he sought to explain to an increasingly sceptical public, the virtue and value of applying risk assessment techniques to show how safe the nuclear option would be in the future.