The Meditative Approach

by Dennis Bradford

in intellectual well-being

Philosophy is love of wisdom. The meditative approach to philosophy is one of the two classic approaches.

If life is worth living, it’s worth living well.  To live well is to be wise.

Although it’s our birthright, being wise doesn’t happen accidentally; it must be uncovered. In other words, although almost nobody realizes it, we are all inherently sages. Since most people don’t understand their purpose in life as becoming wise, they don’t pursue philosophy. Because they don’t pursue wisdom, they fail to achieve it.

That is as unnecessary as it is sad.

The purpose of formal education is to test for and develop competence. What are the most important questions each student should ask?  “How is it possible to live well? How may I become wise? How may I live well?”

Pursuing such answers seriously is being a philosopher.

Being a successful philosopher, a sage, is successfully uncovering the answers and manifesting them.

The meditative approach to philosophy is not the same as the conceptual approach to philosophy. Given the popularity of the conceptual approach, it’s understandable that even most thoughtful people typically overlook the meditative approach. Most people seem to restrict wisdom to theoretical wisdom.

It’s true that, without at least some good thinking, wisdom is impossible. However, there’s an enormous difference between thinking well and living well.

When I was a young man, I understood that, if I were ever to become wise, I would have to be able to think a lot better. I acted on the implicit assumption that mastering thinking would enable me to master life. I know better now: mastering life does not require mastering thinking.

I know that from direct experience. I became a master thinker. I obtained a doctorate in philosophy, mastered the philosophical tradition well enough to teach it formally for 32 years, and wrote a number of books and articles. If that doesn’t qualify me as a master thinker, I don’t know what would.

However, that did not entail that I had mastered life, that I was actually wise. I certainly achieve a high level of conceptual sophistication and had worked out defensible positions on all the fundamental questions. It turned out, though, that that wasn’t necessary for living well. It turned out to be a way of becoming unbalanced.

An important personal loss caused me to admit to myself that I had somehow gotten off track. I had learned about the meditative approach as an undergraduate and, after admitting that I was a spiritual zero, realized that either I would have to investigate the meditative approach seriously or stay stuck. Since it was less painful to change than to stay stuck, I seriously investigated the meditative approach.

My first effort was to take a course in tai chi. To my surprise, I actually soon felt the chi moving! Maybe there was something valuable in a moving meditation.

Why not try a stilling meditation? I discovered that there happened to be a well-known zen center near me and began to practice zazen, which is the distinctive stilling meditation of Zen Buddhism. I quickly had the feeling that I had found the path home.

The meditative approach is not, as some claim, anti-intellectual. It’s simply nonintellectual. There’s nothing wrong with good thinking; it’s how we are able to do a lot of problem solving. There’s a lot wrong, however, with attachment to thinking.

In my experience, anyone over the age of 18 readily admits, to put it in my terms, to suffering from attachment to thinking. For example, everyone seems to have suffered from racing mind insomnia. Everyone admits to suffering from unwanted thoughts such as those associated with grief, fear, anger, loneliness, or doubt.

It turns out that 80 or 90% of our thoughts are useless! They are repetitive, stale, insipid, and heavy. They weigh us down and hold us back.  Their dullness undermines the sparkling freshness of life.

The trick that sages master is to let go of useless thinking. Of course they don’t let go of all thinking! They simply free themselves from the tyranny of incessant thinking.

Anyone can do that. That is our birthright. Just because we have a marvelous ability to think does not mean that we must live attached to it! This explains why anyone may become a sage. Though it’s not easy, it’s simple.

It does require some good thinking (such as, I hope, the thinking exhibited in this post!). It does not require becoming a master thinker.

It requires mastering the meditative approach to philosophy, the meditative approach to life.

If you are not already a sage or on the way to becoming a sage, I have a suggestion for you:  I suggest that you read a short book.

It’s my The Meditative Approach to Philosophy. Just this week it became available for only $2.99 in both Kindle and Nook e-book versions. A paperback version should be available from Amazon’s CreateSpace in just a few days for $5.99.  Its front cover is below.

You could spend more than that getting your morning coffee at Starbucks.

Did I mention it’s short? Just under 20,000 words, which makes it easy to read in a single sitting.

It is, though, concentrated. You may benefit from reading it more than once.

If you want to try this approach for yourself, it contains clear, step-by-step directions for starting. Why not try it in the privacy of your own dwelling to determine if it might not work well for you?

Except for risking a small amount of money (and even that is refundable), there’s no downside.

If you do, I invite you to comment on it either at amazon.com or below this post. Your doing so may help others.

There’s nothing more worth doing than serving others by helping them find and follow the Way — yet it’s no good being attached to that, either.

AS ALWAYS, if you think someone might benefit from this post, please pass it along.

RECOMMENDED POSTS: Realize Being and An Unfettered Mind.

RECOMMENDED READING: My THE MEDITATIVE APPROACH TO PHILOSOPHY.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

BigTuna September 8, 2012 at 7:22 am

I read the Meditative Approach to Philosophy. You will not find a better value for 3 dollars. I not only enjoyed the meditative aspect of the book, but also thought the ideas on mastery and attitude in the book were outstanding. The other book by Bradford that I would highly recommend is his book How to Survive College Emotionally. This book is not just for college students. If you are serious about living the best life possible, I encourage you to consider Bradford’s ideas and test them for yourself.

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