Monday, April 30, 2012

The Consolations of Philosophy - The Wrap Up

 The Beauty of Despair #2
Artist: Kemba Opio

You may have been able to tell from my lack of postings, but I haven't been feeling particularly great lately. My epilepsy has been playing up, Lucille has been getting rowdy, I've been feeling isolated from friends and family, and my mood and work rate (both paid and not) has suffered. I'm not in the best place for maintaining a blog, that is certainly true.

And while it hasn't completely lifted my cloud, Alain De Botton's The Consolations of Philosophy has undeniably been a salve for my wounds.

You may recall that I mentioned how daunted I was by this book. I wasn't kidding - philosophy can be a big, scary word when you feel like you don't get it. It feels like some kind of exclusive sport that only really clever people are able to play and participate in. I was completely convinced I simply wouldn't get it. My current emotional funk sure didn't help my confidence in this respect, but I had committed to it. I had to read it. Nevertheless, I was sure I was going to fail and walk away from the book feeling even stupider than I did when I first picked it up.

I was certain I wasn't good enough to read this book.

The name should have clued me in to what to come - The Consolations of Philosophy has been truly comforting to me. De Botton's writing doesn't leave you feeling like he's dumbing stuff down for you. He's chosen simple concepts, all of which are remarkably easy to relate to, across a number of different famous philosophers. He turns what seems vaguely terrifying into a friendly, comfortable conversation about these basic things that affect us all as human beings, and turns these great minds of history into true characters, who seem to want to nurture you into becoming a better person.

Socrates and the reflections on unpopularity were a chapter I could really have used about 12 months ago - the truth makes people uncomfortable, but when you're okay with that, it doesn't matter what they think.

Epicurus reminded me that even though I don't have the best pay packet in the world, I'm still living a pretty good life.

Montaigne (I can't tell you how much I love this guy) reminded me that inadequacy is a human trait. We all feel shit sometimes. We've all been there. None of us are really good enough, but by golly, we get by and that's something worth celebrating!

(As a side note, Montaigne was not only my favourite chapter, but also quite confronting. It would have been very easy for me to have wandered down the path of, "You're not unique. You're pretty shit. We're ALL shit. There's no hope left." And I did, for a bit. And then there was a fart joke, and everything was okay again. Seriously, De Botton, you fucking rock.)

And because we're about to talk about Nietzche, here's an obligatory picture of his epic 'stache.

Unlike my 100% agreement and empathy with the previous great thinkers, Nietzsche's chapter was a bit more of a challenge. Why? Because in reading it, I had to acknowledge the ways that my mood was holding me back. I wasn't putting in the work I needed to in order to get better, be it emotionally, physically or in my writing output.

And I really didn't want to. I didn't have it in me. I'm still not sure I do.

But hell, I'm going to give it a try.

Because even if I'm not special or popular or clever or rich, I've still got something to give and I owe it to myself to get the hell out of this hole, even if it takes me forever.

And that is exactly why this book is now so precious to me. While it's tempting to molly-coddle someone who is in a bad place, sometimes the best thing you can do is slap them around the head with some home truths, both uplifting and hard to face. Yes, it's okay to be a bit crap, but it's not okay to wallow in it. The trick is going to be getting out of the easy habit of doing the latter.

If any of this muddling mess has made sense, then I'm sure you'll have taken the following message away from this post: if you haven't yet, you really should read this book. It's not as scary as it seems, it's not boring, it's not a hard read. It is an invigorating, entertaining, inspiring read that may well be just what the doctor ordered. For me, it feels like a pseudo-sign from on high. (Although I'm sure Mr De Botton would disagree with my turn of phrase. Eh, it sums things up nicely.)

It truly is delightful finding a friend in the pages of a book, and I can safely say I've found one in The Consolations of Philosophy. I hope that when you come to reading it, you'll get as much solace out of it as I did.

I am not better, but I am getting there.

x ND