Meditation, the cosmic egg, and Kierkegaard

Rohr

It is difficult to pinpoint when I became interested in the intersection of spirituality, philosophy, and wellbeing. I know I was curious about these issues as a teenager, so I guess it has been a lifelong pursuit, adding ingredients into the mix as I learn and mature.

In 2012, thanks to the great Dr. Mulkern, I started reading Richard Rohr. Rohr is a Franciscan friar who has written over thirty books on religion and spirituality. I have mentioned him many times in this blog. You can subscribe to his brilliant and illuminating daily email by clicking here. A couple of years later my dear friend Paco introduced me to meditating, I have not stopped since –although I am bad at it, that is ok.

Briefly and roughly: 19th C Danish philosopher Kierkegaard (also often mentioned in these pages) proposes three stages of life: An ego driven, superficial youthful stage called the Aesthetic, the more mature ethical stage in which we worry about right and wrong, and finally the Religious, where we connect with our spiritual self. These are not supposed to be linear, although it makes sense if they are. Also, there are people who stay in one stage all their lives…

The “cosmic egg” appears in many different mythological traditions giving birth to the world, and/or the universe. Richard Rohr’s interpretation is of three eggs one inside the other, like Russian Matryoshka dolls. In his theory, the smallest egg, “My Story”, is a me centered, ego-driven narrative, which revolves around my status, my things, my Instagram followers, etc. you get the idea. The next bigger egg is “Our Story” which revolves around group mentality: my country, my religion, my football team, my race. Definitely, “Our Story” is a step up from “My Story”, but there are bigger and better things out there: “The Story” is the universal story that connects all of us, it is the transcendental stage where everything makes sense, it is the place of love, forgiveness. wisdom, listening, and understanding. It is what is. You can read his explanation here.

A couple of Rohr’s books

Interestingly, these three “eggs” or stories match Kierkegaard’s stages perfectly. The trick here is that to progress from one stage to the next the only way is through pain, through breakage, through loss and vulnerability (check out my post on vulnerability here). If you do not pay your dues, you might stay in your ego centered little universe your whole life. You have to be willing to suffer and listen to the pain to come out on the other side, wiser. This never-ending effort to transcend, to enlightenment, requires a very conscious effort which is where meditation, reading, religion, community, exercise, volunteering, even diet is important –but not the only- ingredients.

The Story is not limited to any one religion or denomination, and all healthy religions and even philosophies will be tellingit on some level. For example, forgiveness is one of the patterns that is always true. It always heals, whether you are Hindu, Buddhist, Catholic, or Jewish, gay or straight, Black or white. There is no specifically Catholic or Indigenous way to feed the hungry or steward the earth. Love is love, even if the motivation and symbols might be different.

The complete cosmic egg is uniquely the work of God and healthy religion. Biblical tradition, at its best, honors and combines all three levels of story: personal journey as raw material, communal identity as school and training ground, and true transcendence as the integration and gathering place for all the parts together. We call it holiness, which is the ultimate form of wholeness.

Richard Rohr’s “Daily Meditation” 01-27-2021

Letting go of the Ego, the second half of life: Wayne Dyer and The Shift

My dear friend Felipe recommended I see The Shift and I finally had the time to see it!

It is a film by Dwane Wyer who was a motivational speaker or a Coach, really a self help guru, although marketed like a spiritual guide, since that is what sells. Although the message is strong, based on Lao Tzu, San Francis of Assisi, or Jung, he dilutes it with some of his new age, self help gibberish like the Quantum moment and things like that, which I understand as a way to explain his thinking.

To be honest, the film is not really that good: predictable, bad acting, etc. But, it is filmed in Asilomar, a wonderful location in Monterey, California, and what is really important here is not the film per se, but the message.

The Shift talks about changing your life from the first half of life to the second half of life. This is something I have written about before, what Kierkegaard called the three stages of life: aesthetic, ethical, and religious. Dyer simplifies them to two, which skips a step, but that’s okay. The gist is to lose the ego to become a spiritual being. How? you ask, well by giving, by realizing that the world is not about you and the best way to do that is by selflessly giving what you have, but preferably your time, your knowledge, your patience, your care, in short by loving. Love is the answer.

As youths and adolescents we need a lot of ego to become independent, to become who we think we are. Once you have reached that stage the ego is useless, more of a hindrance than a help. Unfortunately most people do not lose that me, me, me until sometimes just before they die (I recently mentioned this in a post about the book The Grace in Dying). A good way to work on this is to quiet the mind, to meditate, to stop and listen. This is difficult but rewarding. Give it a try!

The film begins with this quote from Carl Jung which is basically the whole precept of the film, sorry, not sorry, for the spoiler:

“Thoroughly unprepared, we take the step into the afternoon of life. Worse still, we take this step with the false presupposition that our truths and our ideals will serve us as hitherto. But we cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning, for what was great in the morning will be little at evening and what in the morning was true, at evening will have become a lie.” ― Carl Gustav Jung

 

 

Books, books, books

Some of the books I had lying around

Some of the books I had lying around

Locked up at home during the Coronavirus quarantine, I get to read a lot, which got me thinking of books This blog exists because of books. You see, I started this blog to report my Harley-Davidson trip visiting universities across the South for my PhD in Spanish Literature, that is: books. Yes, I am addicted to books. Having said that, I am a slow reader. So, while I enjoy books, I do not devour books like some folks do. Anyway let’s start at the beginning:

My first blurry memories of reading are of Enid Blyton, I guess like millions of children. Fortunately in high school, I had the privilege of being taught by Mrs. Soledad Sprackling. And my mind exploded with what she had me read: Borges, Neruda, Lorca, et al. That was it, I was hooked. In college my super cultured friend Silvia Velez introduced me to Gabriel García Márquez and my mind exploded again! It has been a series of explosions since.

Luckily I can read in Spanish, English and French and find it very frustrating when I cannot read every book in the original language it was written in. In fact, when I was twirling about with the idea of getting my PhD, I wanted to study comparative lit Spanish / Russian, but there was no way I was going to learn that level of Russian in a hurry, so that was the end of that thought. Miguel de Unamuno, one of my literary heroes actually learnt Danish so he could read Kierkegaard, bastard.

Here is a list of some of my favorite books with only number 1 in a clear position – all the rest vary according to the day you ask me:

  1. Miguel de Cervantes – Don Quixote. I have only read it three times, once with the amazing Prof. Louise Cohen. She shared with me her passion for this book, which I have written about in previous posts.
  2. Alexandre Dumas – The Count of Montecristo. Love, adventure, revenge, massive wealth, what’s not to like?
  3. Leo Tolstoy – Anna Karenina / War and Peace / Death of Ivan Ilyich. Tough call on this one…
  4. Ernest Hemingway – For Whom the Bell Tolls or The Old Man and the Sea. It takes a foreigner to describe Spain with such precision. High School is also where I got hooked on Hemingway.
  5. Gabriel García Marquez – Cien Años de Soledad (But really any by him). Of course, nowadays, I keep thinking of Love in the Times of Cholera
  6. Voltaire – Candide. Possibly the best satire ever written?
  7. Miguel de Unamuno – San Manuel Bueno, mártir. Proto-existentialism at its best!
  8. Mikhail Bulgakov – Master and Margarita. Or as the Rollings Stones interpreted it: Sympathy for the Devil
  9. Francisco de Isla – His early works. After all, I am the leading authority on the subject…

Of course, there are many, many more, but I don’t want to bore you, dear reader, any more.

Interestingly, my last read was. The Grace in Dying by Kathleen Dowling Singh which was recommended to me (like so many more) by my dear friend Patxi. It is about the spiritual journey of death, and how the best approach to death is meditation. I started reading it before the massive Covid outbreak and it has helped me digest the numbers in the news. I loved it. My next read, to celebrate the centenary of Benito Perez Galdos’ death will be Trafalgar, about the battle of the same name, not the square in London.

There you have it, some thoughts on reading and my some of my favorite books. Which are yours? What do you recommend? Tell me in the comments!!

That is not one of the editions of Quijote that I have read

That is not one of the editions of Quijote that I have read

Mind, body, and soul, meditation, exercise, and yoga and more (not in any order)

Read good books, life is too short to read trash!!

Read good books, life is too short to read trash!!

Going to church, any church will boost your soul

Going to church, any church will boost your soul

A walk in the mountains

A walk in the mountains

Last outdoor meditation of the day

Last outdoor meditation of the day

A simple cell in a monastery helps you focus

A simple cell in a monastery helps you focus

The Camino will change your life. Source: Club Renfe magazine

The Camino will change your life. Source: Club Renfe magazine

High fiving all around

High fiving all around

Practicing Yoga on the Camino, wonderful session!

Practicing Yoga on the Camino, wonderful session!

Richard Rohr's wonderful lessons

Richard Rohr’s wonderful lessons

For a few years, since 2010 to be precise, I have been actively seeking inner peace, not just talking about it with a drink in one hand and a cigar in the other, looking at the stars. It is only with breakage that one slowly lets go of the ego and matures through Kierkegaard’s three stages that we have seen before (the aesthetic, the ethic and the spiritual). I believe that all of philosophy and religion is based on understanding the existence of the ego and separating from it. We see it in the Stoics, in Jesus, Buddha, good literature, etc. etc.

With my divorce and the life changes brought about by that trauma, I started seeking solace and understanding. My knee-jerk, basically subconscious, reaction was going to church on Sunday– and have not missed a Sunday since (maybe a couple but only for reasons of force majeure). Other organic resolutions were to crank my exercise, to work with a therapist, starting with the amazing Dr. Nemser and others since, and volunteering. I started reading Scripture every night, and speaking of reading, I started seeking more profound books. Then I got hooked on Richard Rohr’s daily meditation. Then I started yoga. With time I started meditating, then came walking the pilgrimage to Santiago (I can’t wait for my fourth this Summer) eventually, back in Spain, my retreats to El Paular Monastery and starting a gratitude diary. Has it worked? All I can say is that I am happy to be on this path.

All these actions have gradually made me know myself better, which is to say my mental construct of myself: my ego. Understanding this is the first step in breaking away from that tyrant. You see, we are born ego-less, just living the moment, enjoying life. This is what Paul Tillich calls the Ground of Being, where we will return -hopefully- just before dying (if this is of interest, I recommend Kathleen Dowling Singh, The Grace in Dying). Then as we grow up we develop a strong sense of self, necessary to establish oneself as an independent being. This is one of the reasons I love teaching adolescents when this ego creation is on full blast. Once we establish ourselves we don’t really need the ego any more, but we stick with it, most of us until we die. Only through trauma, breakage, do we realize that the ego is not necessary, in which case we start to let go of it. That is where I find myself.

The church part is easy, you just go. While I do not necessarily enjoy all the dogma, I do enjoy the chance to reflect, the ceremony, the sermon if it is good and eventually the community. In fact, my church in Boston, Our Lady of Victories and here in Madrid, San Fermín de los Navarros both asked me to participate more actively by reading or being an altar helper. This tiny contribution to the community goes a long way in making one feel helpful.

I started seriously meditating in 2016. It is painful to quiet the mind –the ego- by making it sit still for twenty minutes, but eventually you manage. The trick is to be very still and focus on your breathing: feeling it, visualizing it, maybe quietly reciting a mantra to help you focus on the breathing. I use the Insight Timer app and it really helps and motivates.

The gratitude diary works like this:

  • Monday: write three good things that happened over the weekend.
  • Tuesday: Write about a good moment in your life.
  • Wednesday: Set a task and accomplish it!
  • Thursday: Write a letter (in your diary, or you can send it) to someone you are grateful for.
  • Friday: Write three good things that happened during the week.
  • Saturday and Sunday are off.

About the life changing experience that is the Camino de Santiago I have already waxed poetic many other times on this blog, so scroll down to read it!!

The Yoga bit is really enriching. As opposed to the US where Yoga is basically a workout, my teacher in Madrid, embraces it as it should be: a way of life, a philosophy. So there are lots of breathing exercises and meditation, and in between some movement ashanas. When a class is not available I use the Down Dog app on my phone

Last weekend I again managed to escape to El Paular Monastery to spend four days with the Benedictine monks. This is as simple a life as you will ever live. Praying five times a day, walking in the mountains, eating in silence, working in the monastery, meditating. If you get a chance to do a retreat, do not hesitate, the silence is worth it!!

In conclusion, yes, I am in the search for spirituality. Many folks say we they are in spiritual journeys, the truth is more that they are spiritual beings in human journeys.

 

 

El Paular Monastery

(There is a previous post on El Paular. This one is a bit more detailed and touches on different themes, most importantly, spirituality.)

Every trip to El Paular monastery is gift, a spiritual gift.

A few years ago, Jaime, my oldest childhood friend, took me to see what had been his first professional restoration job in the late 80s: the Monasterio de El Paular, nestled in the Guadarrama Mountains. Although many years had passed, he was still friends with the Abbot and with a few of the monks there. The drive was breathtaking; over the Navacerrada pass and down Cotos, not far from where Hemingway had based his novel For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Brother Eulogio is getting old and frail, but his faith, his spirituality is still resolute. After working at the Vespa scooter factory in Madrid, he decided to become a monk at El Paular. He has been there for fifty odd years, since his 20s. We did not know what to expect, he had been in hospital for a stint.

The monastery has a long history dating back to medieval times. Apparently there was a hermit living there before the monastery was built by the Carthusian order in the 1300s. The placement could not be any more beautiful, between a crystalline stream and the mountains, with a huge vegetable garden and orchard. The energy flow, the calm and beauty would not have passed unaccounted for anyone, regardless of the era.

By my calculations, following the geographical clues, the Arcipreste de Hita’s Serranas section of the Libro de Buen Amor should pass by the Monastery, since he mentions Somosierra and Lozoya on his way to Segovia. There could not have been much of a place to pass other than the Monastery.

The first time I went to El Paular, the Abbot treated us to lunch with the brothers in the modern but humble, functional, refectory. The gorgeous original is only used for Christmas dinner, when they have many guests. It was then that I met brother Eulogio for the first time. I remember vividly his first question: “Do you have faith?” To which I mumbled/chuckled something to the effect of “I’m working on it”. Then he went off on a tirade on the state of modern faith, his thin, strong frame acting as an exclamation mark for his statements.

In 1779 Enlightenment writer Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos stayed at the Monastery for a retreat/convalescence writing what scholars consider the seed of Spanish Romantic poetry, the Epístola del Paular, which you can find at the end of the post…

After lunch Eulogio took Jaime and I for a walk on the huge fruit and vegetable garden. It is so big that they have hired a company to run and sell their produce, but only after the monks take what they need. During the walk, Eulogio referred repeatedly to feelings I had that needed answers to, he hit the spot on the need and importance of a “higher presence” in our lives – subtly connecting this need to the beauty around us. Eulogio looks like a closet Franciscan. From that visit, and that conversation I have always wanted to return to El Paular to continue my conversations with Eulogio. So every time Jaime mentions a visit, I jump at the opportunity.

The Church in Spain had so much power that for centuries it rivaled the government in its sway of the citizens. So in the 1800s Prime Minister Mendizabal took over and sold many, if not most of the Church’s properties, El Paular was abandoned, the massive Vicente Carducho paintings lining the cloister walls were grabbed by museums and collectors looking out for Mendizábal’s garage sales.

For years Eulogio’s job at the Monastery had been to handle the weddings that took place in the church. Only a couple of hours North of Madrid, it is an idyllic setting for a romantic wedding. However, Eulogio does not fit into the “cute” monk idea popularized by Hollywood. He would question the couples on their love, their reasons for marriage, their commitment.

During the Civil War, 1936 to 1939 the abandoned monastery served as a makeshift military barracks for troops. The graffiti left there was not painted over during the restoration process as it gives further historical context to the Monastery.

Last year we also made the drive to visit Eulogio, but we did not stay for lunch, as we wanted to ride and hike to explore the mountains surrounding the Monastery.

After the Civil War, General Franco, seeking to restore the Monastery, brought in some Benedictine monks who continue to this day. In the late 70s the government built a luxury hotel next door to the Monastery, profiting from the ideal location, the tourist influx, and the weddings that were held in the beautiful church of the Monastery. After changing hands a number of times between luxury hotel operators, it now rests abandoned.

My thirst for Eulogio’s spiritual wisdom comes from my realization in 2010 of the powerful inter-connectedness of the universe, of which we are as much a part of as a blade of grass, as a distant star. But to get to that point one must let go of the ego, of that which we think we are, and simply be. Easier said than done. Richard Rohr explains it in the context of the ancient Greek word of self-emptying: “kenosis, an emptying out of the contents of awareness so that one becomes oneself an empty vessel, a broken vessel, a void that lies open before God and finds itself filled with God’s own life. This gift of God is revealed to be the ground and root of our very existence. It is our own true self.”

This, of course, is not a new concept, it is embraced by Buddhism and Hinduism, and by early Christianity. 18th Century philosopher Kierkegaard wrote about the Three Stages of Life: the Aesthetic when our lives are dominated by the ego necessary to gain independence from our parents and establish ourselves in the world, everything is superficial. The Ethical where we concern ourselves with what is right and what is wrong, and finally – if we are lucky – and only through a process of “breaking” does one reach the Religious Stage where one realizes that our lives are a part of a much bigger, interconnected picture. Unfortunately for many people, they do not overcome the Aesthetic stage, refusing to release the ego and embrace the universe, the oneness.

This summer, Jaime and I made our pilgrimage to El Paular only a few days after I had finished my own Pilgrimage of The Camino de Santiago (see earlier posts) so I was primed and ready for conversing with Eulogio. He did not disappoint. As soon as we arrived, the Abbot invited us to stay for lunch in the garden. We had plenty of time to walk around the monastery and the garden and talk. And talk we did, about the importance of prayer, of meditation, of being in the presence of God, of a higher power, an energy.

After mid-day prayers at the chapel we headed for the garden where a wonderful meal awaited. I sat next to Eulogio and enjoyed his wisdom, wisecracks and complaints about the food!

El Paular does host visitors that want to spend time with the monks in retreat, so I am considering spending some time with them next time I am in Spain.

 

Epístola de Jovino a Anfriso escrita desde El Paular  (Epístola desde El Paular)

(Jovellanos)

Desde el oculto y venerable asilo,

do la virtud austera y penitente

vive ignorada, y del liviano mundo

huida, en santa soledad se esconde,

Jovino triste al venturoso Anfriso

salud en versos flébiles envía.

Salud le envía a Anfriso, al que inspirado

de las mantuanas Musas, tal vez suele

al grave son de su celeste canto

precipitar del viejo Manzanares

el curso perezoso, tal süave

suele ablandar con amorosa lira

la altiva condición de sus zagalas.

¡Pluguiera a Dios, oh Anfriso, que el cuitado

a quien no dio la suerte tal ventura

pudiese huir del mundo y sus peligros!

¡Pluguiera a Dios, pues ya con su barquilla

logró arribar a puerto tan seguro,

que esconderla supiera en este abrigo,

a tanta luz y ejemplos enseñado!

Huyera así la furia tempestuosa

de los contrarios vientos, los escollos

y las fieras borrascas, tantas veces

entre sustos y lágrimas corridas.

Así también del mundanal tumulto

lejos, y en estos montes guarecido,

alguna vez gozara del reposo,

que hoy desterrado de su pecho vive.

Mas, ¡ay de aquél que hasta en el santo asilo

de la virtud arrastra la cadena,

la pesada cadena, con que el mundo

oprime a sus esclavos! ¡Ay del triste

en cuyo oído suena con espanto,

por esta oculta soledad rompiendo,

de su señor el imperioso grito!

Busco en estas moradas silenciosas

el reposo y la paz que aquí se esconden,

y sólo encuentro la inquietud funesta

que mis sentidos y razón conturba.

Busco paz y reposo, pero en vano

los busco, oh caro Anfriso, que estos dones,

herencia santa que al partir del mundo

dejó Bruno en sus hijos vinculada,

nunca en profano corazón entraron,

ni a los parciales del placer se dieron.

Conozco bien que fuera de este asilo

sólo me guarda el mundo sinrazones,

vanos deseos, duros desengaños,

susto y dolor; empero todavía

a entrar en él no puedo resolverme.

No puedo resolverme, y despechado,

sigo el impulso del fatal destino,

que a muy más dura esclavitud me guía.

Sigo su fiero impulso, y llevo siempre

por todas partes los pesados grillos,

que de la ansiada libertad me privan.

De afán y angustia el pecho traspasado,

pido a la muda soledad consuelo

y con dolientes quejas la importuno.

Salgo al ameno valle, subo al monte,

sigo del claro río las corrientes,

busco la fresca y deleitosa sombra,

corro por todas partes, y no encuentro

en parte alguna la quietud perdida.

¡Ay, Anfriso, qué escenas a mis ojos,

cansados de llorar, presenta el cielo!

Rodeado de frondosos y altos montes

se extiende un valle, que de mil delicias

con sabia mano ornó Naturaleza.

Pártele en dos mitades, despeñado

de las vecinas rocas, el Lozoya,

por su pesca famoso y dulces aguas.

Del claro río sobre el verde margen

crecen frondosos álamos, que al cielo

ya erguidos , alzan las plateadas copas,

o ya sobre las aguas encorvados,

en mil figuras miran con asombro

su forma en los cristales retratada.

De la siniestra orilla un bosque ombrío

hasta la falda del vecino monte

se extiende, tan ameno y delicioso,

que le hubiera juzgado el gentilismo

morada de algún dios, o a los misterios

de las silvanas dríadas guardado.

Aquí encamino mis inciertos pasos,

y en su recinto ombrío y silencioso,

mansión la más conforme para un triste,

entro a pensar en mi cruel destino.

La grata soledad, la dulce sombra,

el aire blando y el silencio mudo

mi desventura y mi dolor adulan .

No alcanza aquí del padre de las luces

el rayo acechador, ni su reflejo

viene a cubrir de confusión el rostro

de un infeliz en su dolor sumido.

El canto de las aves no interrumpe

aquí tampoco la quietud de un triste,

pues sólo de la viuda tortolilla

se oye tal vez el lastimero arrullo,

tal vez el melancólico trinado

de la angustiada y dulce Filomena.

Con blando impulso el céfiro süave,

las copas de los árboles moviendo,

recrea el alma con el manso ruido;

mientras al dulce soplo desprendidas

las agostadas hojas, revolando,

bajan en lentos círculos al suelo;

cúbrenle en torno, y la frondosa pompa

que al árbol adornara en primavera,

yace marchita, y muestra los rigores

del abrasado estío y seco otoño.

¡Así también de juventud lozana

pasan, oh Anfriso, las livianas dichas!

Un soplo de inconstancia, de fastidio

o de capricho femenil las tala

y lleva por el aire, cual las hojas

de los frondosos árboles caídas.

Ciegos empero y tras su vana sombra

de contino exhalados, en pos de ellas

corremos hasta hallar el precipicio,

do nuestro error y su ilusión nos guían.

Volamos en pos de ellas, como suele

volar a la dulzura del reclamo

incauto el pajarillo. Entre las hojas

el preparado visco le detiene;

lucha cautivo por huir, y en vano,

porque un traidor, que en asechanza atisba,

con mano infiel la libertad le roba

y a muerte le condena, o cárcel dura.

¡Ah, dichoso el mortal de cuyos ojos

un pronto desengaño corrió el velo

de la ciega ilusión! ¡Una y mil veces

dichoso el solitario penitente,

que, triunfando del mundo y de sí mismo,

vive en la soledad libre y contento!

Unido a Dios por medio de la santa

contemplación, le goza ya en la tierra,

y retirado en su tranquilo albergue,

observa reflexivo los milagros

de la naturaleza, sin que nunca

turben el susto ni el dolor su pecho.

Regálanle las aves con su canto

mientras la aurora sale refulgente

a cubrir de alegría y luz el mundo.

Nácele siempre el sol claro y brillante,

y nunca a él levanta conturbados

sus ojos, ora en el oriente raye,

ora del cielo a la mitad subiendo

en pompa guíe el reluciente carro,

ora con tibia luz, más perezoso,

su faz esconda en los vecinos montes.

Cuando en las claras noches cuidadoso

vuelve desde los santos ejercicios,

la plateada luna en lo más alto

del cielo mueve la luciente rueda

con augusto silencio; y recreando

con blando resplandor su humilde vista,

eleva su razón, y la dispone

a contemplar la alteza y la inefable

gloria del Padre y Criador del mundo.

Libre de los cuidados enojosos,

que en los palacios y dorados techos

nos turban de contino, y entregado

a la inefable y justa Providencia,

si al breve sueño alguna pausa pide

de sus santas tareas, obediente

viene a cerrar sus párpados el sueño

con mano amiga, y de su lado ahuyenta

el susto y las fantasmas de la noche.

¡Oh suerte venturosa, a los amigos

de la virtud guardada! ¡Oh dicha, nunca

de los tristes mundanos conocida!

¡O monte impenetrable! ¡Oh bosque ombrío!

¡Oh valle deleitoso! ¡Oh solitaria

taciturna mansión! ¡Oh quién, del alto

y proceloso mar del mundo huyendo

a vuestra eterna calma, aquí seguro

vivir pudiera siempre, y escondido!

Tales cosas revuelvo en mi memoria,

en esta triste soledad sumido.

Llega en tanto la noche y con su manto

cobija el ancho mundo. Vuelvo entonces

a los medrosos claustros. De una escasa

luz el distante y pálido reflejo

guía por ellos mis inciertos pasos;

y en medio del horror y del silencio,

¡oh fuerza del ejemplo portentosa!,

mi corazón palpita, en mi cabeza

se erizan los cabellos, se estremecen

mis carnes y discurre por mis nervios

un súbito rigor que los embarga.

Parece que oigo que del centro oscuro

sale una voz tremenda, que rompiendo

el eterno silencio, así me dice:

“Huye de aquí, profano, tú que llevas

de ideas mundanales lleno el pecho,

huye de esta morada, do se albergan

con la virtud humilde y silenciosa

sus escogidos; huye y no profanes

con tu planta sacrílega este asilo.”

De aviso tal al golpe confundido,

con paso vacilante voy cruzando

los pavorosos tránsitos, y llego

por fin a mi morada, donde ni hallo

el ansiado reposo, ni recobran

la suspirada calma mis sentidos.

Lleno de congojosos pensamientos

paso la triste y perezosa noche

en molesta vigilia , sin que llegue

a mis ojos el sueño, ni interrumpan

sus regalados bálsamos mi pena.

Vuelve por fin con la risueña aurora

la luz aborrecida, y en pos de ella

el claro día a publicar mi llanto

y dar nueva materia al dolor mío.

 

 

 

Don Quixote’s influence on Existentialist philosophy

This has taken me a couple of years to bring to the Interweb. The idea of publishing my thoughts in an academic journal kept me from using my own blog as a platform. Now that I have some distance from the ivory tower that is academia, I feel liberated enough to use this humble vehicle to say my thoughts.

The idea is quite simple: The Danish philosopher Kierkegaard (1813-1855), who comes up with the idea of existentialism, even if not in those words – he is known as the grandfather of existentialism –, was a fan of Cervantes’ Don Quixote, writing extensively about him. Kierkegaard influenced many of the philosophers who came after him: Friedrich Nietzsche, Miguel de Unamuno, Martin Heidegger, José Ortega y Gasset, and eventually Jean Paul Sartre (although it would be fairer to say Simone de Beauvoir) who finally came up with a formal theory of existentialism. Unamuno relied heavily on Kierkegaard and on Don Quixote to form his theories.

In 1605 Cervantes creates a man who decides to live life by his own rules. Bored with his bourgeois life, he becomes a knight in somewhat shining armor. Don Quixote is a celebration of free will with all the beauty and issues that that carries. Therefore Don Quixote is the great-grandfather of existentialism. As you will be able to see from the bibliography, remarkably little, if anything has been written about this topic.

This is my Master’s thesis which I wrote in 2008 at Simmons College in Boston, for the great professor Louise Cohen. It has not been peer-reviewed, which is not to say that this paper is any good, it is not. If you have read any of my work on this blog before, you know I write like a horse’s ass. So read at your own discretion. Oh, haha, FYI it’s in Spanish.

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The people of academia (The good the bad and the ugly)

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The beautiful, wise, awesome, funny Prof. Valis presenting her novella at UNC

My dear Kierkegaard explains how a person’s life goes through three stages. Simply stated: the young aesthetic where everything revolves around the ego, the more mature ethical stage where we concern ourselves with what is right and wrong and hopefully and eventually the religious stage where with some wisdom gained from pain and loss, we realize that it all boils down to love and giving and forgiving. These three stages of maturity are evident in academia. You find the young guns that know all the big words and trendy phrasing to write brilliant articles and books that say very little, but show off their brilliance. The ethical writers where everything is correct but boring, and a handful of scholars that “get it” and go beyond the big words or the correct arguments to delve into the spiritual.

Of course if you are in the aesthetic phase yourself, then you cannot see beyond the ego and the writing that caters to that. You think that the young, hip professor is the bee’s knees. It takes time, but more importantly spiritual growth that will only come from hardship to get to the religious phase.

During my time in the upper echelons of academia, I was able to experience this division in the quality of scholarship. Seeing these ego driven scholars, it is easy to understand the anti-intellectualism in vogue in certain social circles.

Flip the coin, however, and you find some of the nicest, most brilliant, most humble people around. I was blessed to have had some of those enlightened folks in my department and in my doctoral committee. I also got to meet some fantastic professors that came to present their work at Carolina.

David William Foster is one such fellow. Never mind that he is the Regents Professor of Spanish and Women and Gender Studies at Arizona State and President of the Latin American Jewish Studies Association, blah, blah, blah. He is a deep, brilliant, understanding person. I was honored to show David around UNC’s beautiful campus and then we went to lunch with two other colleagues. I did not want that lunch to end! It was funny, insightful, thought-provoking, just a pleasure.

Another such person is Noël Valis. Yes she works at Yale and has published a shelf full of books and articles, but more importantly, she “gets it” she understands humanity in all its difficult intricacies, our weakness, our idiocy. I was working on my dissertation most of the time Prof. Valis was at UNC, but I eventually managed to go to her presentation of her own book of fiction: The Labor of Longing. After that intimate and enlightening (sorry to use the same word twice) chat I had the privilege of showing her around campus. For a glorious North Carolina autumn Friday afternoon we walked and talked and I did not want that walk to end, I kept adding bits to our tour, until I had to let go of her.

I could go on and on about marvelous professors that enrich academia and the world. I have already talked about the ones on my Doctoral Committee on other posts. On the other hand I could also talk about ego driven, academic climbers, more interested in publishing their work than on what is really in that work. Unfortunately not all the latter will eventually become the former.

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Enjoying one of Noël’s books with a cafe con leche.