Mind It With Philosophy

Words: Dr Rajgopal NIDAMBOOR

Do you know that philosophy is truly consoling — a mirror onto itself, and self? Maybe, you do. It can, therefore, be a great source of inspiration, and curative design, for many of our distressing problems — day-in and day-out.

Alain de Botton’s delightful book, The Consolations of Philosophy [Penguin Books] brings that truth in a manner never before personified. And, why not? It distils the practical wisdom of some of the greatest philosophers of all time, with more than a touch of solace and humour, grace and wisdom.

It also presents a definitive composition, and purpose, sculpted to a resourceful web — a set-up of six modules, each focusing its extent and breadth on a different psychic ailment and the appropriate philosopher. Thus, you have Socrates offering comfort for being in the bad books, Epicurus for not having enough money, or wealth, Seneca for disillusionment, Michel de Montaigne for meagreness, Arthur Schopenhauer, perforce, the murkiest of thinkers and, ironically, the merriest, who was extraordinarily influenced by Eastern thought and the Upanishads, for love’s labour lost — and, last but not the least, Friedrich Nietzsche, for envy. Not only that. Nietzsche also has the ultimate word on consolation per se: “Not everything which makes us feel better is good for us.” Touche!

Socrates

First, Socrates. His life says it all. Here’s a philosopher who never buckled before unpopularity, and the condemnation of the state. Never did Socrates retract his thoughts, because someone complained. His confidence in himself emerged from the ground swell of his own convictions, or a more profound source than bull-dog courage, or tenacity. His life was grounded in philosophy: a philosophy that augmented his resources with more than an element of rationality as opposed to frenzied buoyancy, when confronted by censure. He drank hemlock without rancour, and offered us a lead to conquering two powerful delusions: that we should always, or never, listen to the dictates of public opinion. His bottom line: listen always to the dictates of reason.

Epicurus

Epicurus thought trepanning would serve as a symbol of the difficulties of understanding our psychological and physiological selves. His philosophy aids us to interpret our indistinct pulses of distress and desire — to save us from mistaken schemes for happiness. Epicurus said that we are as bad at intuitively answering the question, “What will make me happy?” as “What will make me healthy?” He opined that doctors understand bodily maladies better as much as philosophers do when our soul is unwell. His credo: surpass levels of happiness are already available to those on a limited income, because we will not cease to being happy with greater outlay.

Seneca

Seneca contended that the terrain of frustration is boundless. He argued that it is only by learning not to aggravate the world’s obstinacy through our own responses that we can fathom frustrations. Philosophy, Seneca said, must reconcile us to the true dimensions of reality. It should also prepare for us the softest landing possible on an adamantine wall — or, a canopy of emotions. In his words: “All outdoors may be bedlam, provided there is no disturbance within.”

Montaigne

Montaigne owned a thousand books, all right. He was also a great scholar. Yet, he was angry with himself. He thought there was enormous inadequacy all around — intellectual, sensual and cultural. His riposte: there’s no need to be discouraged if, from the outside, we look nothing like those who have ruminated in the past. A virtuous, ordinary life, striving for wisdom but never far from folly, Montaigne concluded, is achievement enough. This was akin to what Schopenhauer once wrote: “Human existence must be a kind of error.” Maybe, the great man did not have to spell out the parallels — to depress us. On the contrary, he offered us a remedy to grief, or even a broken heart. “We must, between periods of digging in the dark, endeavour always to transform our tears into knowledge.”

Nietzsche

And, now, finally to Nietzsche, who did his best to reduce suffering — or, anxiety, despair, anger, self-contempt, and heartache. He thought of his ilk as a gallery full of ‘cabbageheads.’ He thought of himself as the first ‘decent’ human being. He also thought that there was nothing funny than the elimination of suffering.

His aphorism: “To regard states of distress in general as an objection, as something that must be abolished, is the [supreme idiocy], in a general sense, a real disaster in its consequences almost as stupid as the will to abolish bad weather.”

Isn’t this consolation unlimited? Just read the book — to live mindfully and thrive well in life.

Dr RAJGOPAL NIDAMBOOR, PhD, is a wellness physician-writer-editor, independent researcher, critic, columnist, author and publisher. His published work includes hundreds of newspaper, magazine, web articles, essays, meditations, columns, and critiques on a host of subjects, eight books on natural health, two coffee table tomes and an encyclopaedic treatise on Indian philosophy. He is Chief Wellness Officer, Docco360 — a mobile health application/platform connecting patients with Ayurveda, homeopathic and Unani physicians, and nutrition therapists, among others, from the comfort of their home — and, Editor-in-Chief, ThinkWellness360.

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