Understanding the Eternal

Understanding the Eternal

P23: The human mind cannot be absolutely destroyed with the body, but something of it remains which is eternal.

…though we do not recollect that we existed before the body, we nevertheless feel that our mind, insofar as it involves the essence of the body under a species of eternity (translation from: sub specie aeternitatis), is eternal, and that this existence it has cannot be defined by time or explained through duration. (p. 172)

Spinoza argues that the idea of being human has always existed in God and that this means that there is a part of us which has always existed and always will exist. This is not the ego-centred part of us, defined by the unique and specific cultural background which we inhabit in time and space. It is rather the unique flow of energy which is us. We are all bundles of energy, forces, which have always existed and always will exist. Understanding this enables us to acquire the third kind of knowledge: intuitive knowledge (pp. 173, P25). Once we have this kind of knowledge we realise and understand our eternal natures, the parts of us which have always been in nature and always will be.

Recently, I have begun to acquire a sense of this by looking closely at trees, understanding them as living things, as forces in nature, thinking about the sap that flows through them, feeling their bark, observing their leaves and blossom in spring. I share certain flows of energy with the trees I encounter, and I can feel this in a wordless fashion when I encounter them. This is not to personify the trees as people but to see trees as having certain powers of action, certain modes of thought (completely different from human beings), certain strivings to become. It only when I am in the company of these trees that I fully understand this, but nevertheless my reason has begun to give me an adequate idea of this. Trees create a definite “sub specie aeternitatis” affect for me. And this has enabled me to feel connections with other living things as well — mammals, insects, birds, plants – as well as inanimate things which have their different powers of action within the context of our physical universe: clouds, stones, metals etc. The third kind of knowledge impels the thinker to jettison the cultural self, the homunculus in the head speaking its ego-driven thoughts, and feel the connections between everything in nature.

Journey into Joy

What connections can you find between yourself and other things in nature?

This Wikipedia page on Sub Specie Aeternitatis” is full of quotes about the concept from various eminent people: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sub_specie_aeternitatis

What do you think of them?

Fearing Death

P38: The more the mind understands things by the second and third kind of knowledge, the less it is acted on by affects which are evil, and less it fears death.

For Spinoza thinking adequately about ourselves involves learning how determined we are by external causes, conceiving ourselves as parts of an ever-changing, interlocked whole (God or Nature); this means cheerfully acknowledging that the things that we think define ourselves – our name, our jobs, our status, our feelings – are entirely determined by nature. We are flows of energy which have been expressed in particular moments of time as particular beings with particular identities. We share with all things certain powers of action which ebb and flow as our lives unfurl. This flow of energy is eternal: it always has been and always will be. Our names, our clothes, our houses, our friends, our families are part of this inter-locking flow: we are them and they are us. We are everybody and nobody. Getting in touch with our “flow”, with our energy, with our powers of action and thought, feeling and understanding them means we will necessarily not fear death because we realise these are the things that really define us.

Journey into Joy

What do you feel and think about your own death and other people’s? What do you think of Spinoza’s ideas regarding death?

The Rewards of Blessedness

P42: Blessedness is not the reward of virtue, but virtue itself; nor do we enjoy it because we restrain our lusts; on the contrary, because we enjoy it, we are able to restrain them.

Spinoza’s last proposition in Ethics returns to the concept of immanence, rejecting teleological modes of thinking. Being virtuous is the reward. Thinking adequately is the reward of life. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less. Being blessed involves feeling the joy of learning, taking delight in the journey and not expecting any reward at the end of it.

Spinoza sums up his approach in the Scholarium to P42 here:

…it is clear how much the wise man is capable of, and how much more powerful he is than one who is ignorant and is driven only lust. For not only is the ignorant man troubled in many ways by external causes, and unable ever to possess peace of mind, but he also lives as if he knew neither himself, nor God, nor things; and as soon as he ceases to be acted on, he ceases to be. On the other hand, the wise man, insofar as he is considered as such, is hardly troubled in spirt, but being, by a certain eternal necessity, conscious of himself, and of God, and of things, he never ceases to be, but always possesses true peace of mind. (pp. 180-181)

This is a philosophy of intuition and spontaneity which means that the blessed person feels able to express him/herself in the way that’s appropriate in the moment, regardless of what other people might think of him/her. It means shedding many of the inadequate ideas of our culture which inhabit our powers of action. So for example, if you feel like it you should:

Just breathe

Take some deep breaths and feel your breath moving through your body.

Just dance

It doesn’t matter if you think you’re a bad dancer. Dance around the room, dance in the street if you feel like it. Feel the joy of your body moving in the shapes it wants to move in.

Just sing

Go to a suitable place and sing your favourite words, your favourite song at the top of your voice.

Just clap

Get a rhythm going with your hands. Get a beat going. Feel the pulse of your beat.

Just write

Write whatever you like. Express all the feelings that you want to on the page.

Just smile

Feel the power of your smile.

Journey into Joy

Add your thoughts to your Joy Journal, writing down what you think it means to be blessed.






Author: @wonderfrancis

Francis Gilbert is a Lecturer in Education at Goldsmiths, University of London, teaching on the PGCE Secondary English programme. He also teaches the Creative Writing module on the MA in Children’s Literature, which is run by Maggie Pitfield and Professor Michael Rosen. Previously, he worked for a quarter of a century in various English state schools teaching English and Media Studies to 11-18 year olds. He has, at times, moonlighted as a journalist, novelist and social commentator. He is the author of ‘Teacher On The Run’, ‘Yob Nation’, ‘Parent Power’, ‘Working The System -- How To Get The Very Best State Education for Your Child’, and a novel about school, ‘The Last Day Of Term’. His first book, ‘I'm A Teacher, Get Me Out Of Here’ was a big hit, becoming a bestseller and being serialised on Radio 4. In his role as an English teacher, he has taught many classic texts over the years and has developed a great many resources to assist readers with understanding, appreciating and responding to them both analytically and creatively. This led him to set up his own small publishing company FGI Publishing (fgipublishing.com) which has published his study guides as well as a number of books by other authors, including Roger Titcombe’s ‘Learning Matters’ and anthology of creative writing 'The Gold Room'. He is the co-founder, with Melissa Benn and Fiona Millar, of The Local Schools Network, www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk, a blog that celebrates non-selective state schools, and has his own website, www.francisgilbert.co.uk. He has appeared numerous times on radio and TV, including Newsnight, the Today Programme, Woman’s Hour and the Russell Brand Show. In June 2015, he was awarded a PhD in Creative Writing and Education by Goldsmiths.

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