Seeing Around Corners

How learning to think clearly and well can 10x your life in more ways than you might imagine!

sent by: CLARKE SCOTT |

Welcome to this week’s edition of The Contemplative Life.

I have quite a bit to share with you this week, so I will keep the intro short.

It has been a quiet week. I am currently on retreat and writing for relaxation. Lots of silence.

This is what came out of it.


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What I’ve Been Thinking

Mental models, refraction, and how life’s journey can teach you to live, as long as you live long enough. These are the things I have been thinking about this week.

The journey through life and the lessons I’ve had – some happy and many not – are related to the article and podcast episode I am writing about the passing of my teacher and the dream I had the might of.

As for mental models and refraction—this is related to reading outside a tradition to better understand what is reality. The basic idea is to view one tradition through the lens of another. Getting at “truth” and the peace that ensues is a case of discovery.

In a recent conversation with a friend about the relationship between science and Buddhism, I mentioned how science, through its reductionist approach, strips the spiritual of its vitality—leaving all but an empty emotionless husk and taking all its energy and power with it.

Not everything science touches is good, in all ways. And while I’m not suggesting science is bad, or not useful, or never produced anything good for the world (that would be ridiculous). It is true, the wisdom traditions have been sucked dry by the radically reductionist project to which science is clearly married. David Hume saw the folly of this approach, an approach that simply ignores the problem of induction.

Part of the problem, as I see it, is that the reductionist approach is very satisfying in the short term and seems to yield benefits without understanding the effects that this approach has in other areas of the human experience. Modernity and The Machine feed off this approach, and not in a good way. (I have an essay planned on this topic). This is what got me interested in reading across traditions. Of viewing one mental model against another thus refactoring the meaning in the hope of seeing around corners.

The Christian tradition is highly numinous. Some might say to a fault. It is certainly a tradition where a religious experience is not shunned but celebrated. This has its own set of problems which I will not go into here. Suffice it to say, my tradition does not suffer from those problems but suffers from its own—a lack of spiritual emotion that can numinous life at least in the West.

What I’ve Been Reading

Have I told you about my anti-library? I’m not sure I have. I did mention it somewhere but for the love of pizza, I cannot find it now. So I will repeat myself. Do have patience with me in the meantime.

The reason I say this here is that you may be thinking quietly to yourself, “Boy, he reads a lot of books…he must be a quick reader!” The truth is strange and perhaps not interesting but you might be surprised to know that I went through high school without reading a book from cover to cover. Nothing engaged me enough to hold my attention back then. It wasn’t until I met Buddhism in my twenties that I found anything interesting found in books of prose.

An anti-library is a phrase coined by Nassim Taleb in his book, Anti-Fragile, and basically, it is a library of books you have read or would like to read at some point. So my library is an anti-library with many books sitting on the shelf just waiting for the right time to be read. And as books are cheap there is no reason not to start yours too. How? Next time you are at a book store or on Amazon buying a book, see what else the author had published and buy that too. This is a brilliant way to discover how an author has developed their ideas over time.

For instance, I picked up Richard Rohr’s popular book, The Universal Christ, and at the same time, I also purchased his previous book, The Divine Dance. Sometime later I was watching an interview with Rohr and he mentioned that the ideas in The Universal Christ had their genesis in The Divine Dance. Win for me. As I am yet to read either one, they make up part of my “anti-library.”At some point, I will read them and make notes from what I find interesting. Then process the notes for my commonplace book.

I use Obsidian for all my articles, essays, common-place book, and I am porting over my book from Scrivner to Obsidian now.

If you are interested in how I read and make notes, here is a video I recorded on how to read, and this is the exact approach I take when reading any book. It allows me to enjoy the reading, not get bogged down with note-taking as I’m reading, and yet not lose important details and sections or quotes I find interesting.

How to READ a BOOK –

Also, this week, I finished reading Thomas Merton’s autobiography. I read it 25 years ago in France at a Tibetan monastery, and it was even better the second time around. I enjoy his honest yet pious style and I am looking forward to reading more from him soon.

So right now as I make my way through research into the Christian tradition, I’ve turned my attention to a book on the mystic gospels and reading at Beyond Belief – the secret gospel of Thomas. The gospel of Thomas was a secret esoteric teaching by Jesus whose language is more of enlightenment sin original *footnote to Elaine Pagels book here* and banned by Rome as heretical for it. I was hooked!

I’m only thirty pages into The Gnostic Gospels but I must say it is so nice to see the possibility of a multi-layered approach to Christian contemplative training. If half of what is said in this book is even half true it changes nothing but adds a level of sophistication to the teachings of Christ. And aligns somewhat with the approach the Buddha took with his “three vehicles.” And that is, meeting the student at their level. It makes total sense from a pedagogical perspective that teachers such as the Buddha and Jesus would do such things. Why would they not?

List of books mentioned above:

What I’ve Created

The article and podcast episode on the passing of my teacher is coming along. It has taken longer than I expected. Apologies for that. But I think the end result will be better for it.

It is taking longer in part because I need to write about the context of the relationship, which meant I needed to write about the history and how I ended up in the monastery and where I was mentally in order for you to understand his impact on my life.

It is difficult to find the words to describe the impact he had on my life. When I left the monastery for Tasmania, I wrote him a letter and I wrote it by hand. In that letter, I said, “You have been more than a mother, more than a father, more than a best friend.

And that does not even stretch the surface of the impact his presence had on my life. But it does help, I think, or at least I hope it will give readers a feel for the tremendous benefit the guidance was and continues to be.

I cannot wait to share it with you.

One of the other reasons it is taking longer than expected is that some of these stories will make up my book, Meditate or Die. I don’t have any more news of this other than to say, the recent changes here have prompted a rethink on the what, why, and how of the book. And I know the book is going to be far better as a result of these changes too.

Previously the “table of contents” for the book felt off and I could not put my finger on why.

Take care,

Clarke Scott

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