Not this, not this

Dr Horan - The exercise of remembering “not this, not this” reminds us that we are not these overwhelming situations nor our equally overwhelming responses to them.

The past year has been trying and difficult for very many of us. We are all familiar with our own thoughts, feelings and emotions and how they fluctuate day by day and hour by hour in response to constantly changing and unfolding events in our own lives and in the turbulent world around us. But we have turned, through the School, to philosophy as a practical means of living a better, more fulfilling and happier life, so how should we deal with difficult external events and circumstances and the effect that they have upon us? Should we strive to be entirely unaffected and unmoved by any worldly events? Is this the aim of philosophy? Well, philosophy should proceed through enquiry and discovery so we should consider this question in the light of reason and of our own experience.

At least since the time of Plato humanity, faced with the relentless turmoil of worldly life, has asked a simple question: is there any single thing that escapes this endless cycle of coming into existence, reaching maturity, decaying and perishing? Plato asked this question too[1] and he concluded there is such a thing as unchanging being which does not ever alter despite the ceaseless change of the world of becoming. He said that unchanging being could indeed be known, not by our senses or by our ordinary mind but by a quieter mind. This is accessible to us in silence and stillness, where we can remember the unchanging and take refuge there. Plato knew that there was, of course, a world of change and becoming but also a world of unchanging being. He knew that humanity, overwhelmed by the world of change, all too easily overlooks or forgets the unchanging. And so he encouraged the forgetful soul to: “collect and gather yourself into yourself”,[2] and place your trust in what you find in that unmoving, unchanging realm where you discover what you truly are.

As the waves of the ocean rise and fall,

often with terrifying impact, the depths of the ocean remain still and unmoving. If we wish to escape from the turbulence on the surface of the ocean any attempt to stop the waves and calm the sea is utterly impractical. The deepest ocean remains undisturbed, That is the place of peace, that is the place we need to remember and that is where we need to go regularly to remind ourselves and refresh ourselves. Every practice we have been given since we came into the School has had this objective. Their aim is not to deny or negate the world of change but to visit and to remember the quiet peace that lies beneath the waves of the turbulent ocean. The exercise of remembering “not this, not this” reminds us that we are not these overwhelming situations nor our equally overwhelming responses to them. By remembering “not this, not this”, we may remember the deep peaceful ocean beneath the waves, even as we face those very waves. The turbulent ocean and our thoughts and feelings about it constitutes the world in which we must necessarily live our daily lives but the Shankaracharya assures us that:

Waves may appear furious looking and the worldly life may equally seem precarious under certain circumstances, but the person with the deeper level of consciousness is fully able to face them all and fare well too.

1989 2.2

  • [1] Plato, Timaeus, 27d-28a.
  • [2] Plato, Phaedo, 83a.