Let’s Help Construct a New Philosophy of Living—and Grow

How would you express your current philosophy of living? Would you like to develop it further? Here’s an opportunity to do so based on the idea that thinking aspires to truth, feeling responds to beauty, and doing can be governed by goodness.

My thesis: Truth, beauty, and goodness are qualities of God and values that we can live. These values come from love and lead to love, and this philosophy that I want to continue to develop with you is a path to love.

We can express these themes in other words. Instead of truth, some people prefer to speak of intuition or insight. Instead of beautiful, some say “cool” or “awesome.” And instead of goodness, people talk about giving back, making a difference. What are your words?

Ideals can be overwhelming, but a gentle, step-by-step approach joins idealism with realistic expectations about our progress. Would you like to make the most of this opportunity?  Then consider launching a personal growth project.

The method has been validated with thousands of Kent State students. Adjust the proposed ideas to what you can honestly feel good about applying in your lives. If it is psychologically reasonable for you, tackle your front-burner issue, the number one growth need that would be most liberating if you could achieve a breakthrough. State it in positive terms: for example, the project is not to overcome fear, but to grow in courage (no need to share personal details). Then intelligently and creatively, prayerfully and worshipfully, go into creative partnership with God. Take the human steps that enable the divine spirit within to give you an increasing experience of the truth that makes you free, the joy that pervades and radiates, and the beautiful wholeness of righteousness. Thus, the intellectual aspect of study becomes part of a larger search for holistic personal growth.

Interested in a copy of my book, Living in Truth, Beauty, and Goodness? Contact me, Jeff Wattles (jwattles@kent.edu). Too busy to read the book? Here are one-page summaries of the three parts and the seven chapters, which enable you to participate with pleasure and progress.

Part I. Living the Truth

Jesus said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” What truth? What liberation? First and foremost, truth is spiritual. Only a living spiritual reality has the liberating power that Jesus promised. The word of truth can be understood by the mind in its way. But above all, truth is above we know through the receptive and active phases of faith. We receive truth as insight given by the spirit to the open and trusting child. And living faith is active and growing—not only intellectual belief and a spiritual gift, but something that we exercise. Tackling our front-burner liberation issue, be it momentary or chronic, takes real faith.

Pilate asked “What is truth?” with skeptical and cynical attitude. Sincere inquiry can know truth through the Spirit of Truth. Jesus taught that the kingdom of God is within. We know God through the back-and-forth of interpersonal relating with him, by wholehearted and intelligent abiding by the divine will. Silently, gradually, suddenly, truth liberates.

But truth is not exclusively spiritual. All truth is God’s truth. Truth has a spiritual core, a scientific periphery, and a philosophical bridge between them. The truths of science, philosophy, and spiritual experience are all part of truth in its wholeness. The more we live responsibly in all the realms of material fact, intellectual meaning, and spiritual value, the more we taste the fullness of living the truth.

The methods of discovery differ from one realm to another. We learn the truths of science through experiment, the truths of philosophy through interpretation, and the truths of spiritual experience through faith. They all help us in daily life as we grow and serve.

Chapter 1 addresses the scientific dimension of living the truth in a way that reconciles science and religion in theory and also in practice. Chapter 2 shows how to sharpen our powers of intuition through reason and how wisdom makes decisions by bringing together meanings of relevant facts and values. Chapter 3 unfolds practices of living as a member in God’s family. The virtues that can we see in Darwin, Socrates, and Jesus can inspire us in our daily lives and in our growth projects.

Scientific Living Basics: Sharpen your Awareness of Facts and Causes;

Develop an Integrated Perspective on Evolution

Think of a time when your knowledge played a key role in your success.

To carry out a project of personal growth, to love someone well, or to be an effective leader or team member, we need some knowledge of facts and causes. The laws of the Creator are inherent in every level of the creation, matter, mind, and spirit. To cooperate with these laws includes a four-stage process that I call scientific living.

In stage one, we pay more effective attention to the facts of our material and social surroundings. Here is where health and the environment come in, as well as social, economic, and political developments. When we are living at our best, we focus effectively on the task at hand. We notice facts that would be easy to overlook, face facts that are hard to deal with, and establish important facts with care instead of jumping to conclusions. Exploring facts leads us to causes. We do what we reasonably can to figure out the causes that led up to the present and the possible and effects of alternative courses of action. To sharpen our capacity for genuinely insightful intuition, we make forays into further stages of scientific living.

Stage two involves bringing to mind the relevant scientific information that we already know, like a student who wanted to quit smoking and gained power to succeed by classifying the temptations that arose as biological, psychological, and sociological.

In stage three we learn more about the sciences that are relevant to our task.

In the fourth stage of scientific living, we develop a perspective on evolution that integrates science and religion. We affirm the outworking of divine purpose in the realms of cosmic creation, biological evolution, personal growth, and historical progress. We can participate cosmologically by an affirmative and scientifically realistic attitude toward an ultimately friendly universe; biologically by healthy habits of nutrition, rest, and exercise; psychologically by adding realism to our love; and historically by responding to the current period of planetary transition in its danger and its bright hope.

Philosophical Living Basics: Sharpen Your Capacities for Insightful Intuition;

For Wise Decisions, Interpret the Meanings of the Relevant Values and Facts

Philosophical living means living true to the wisdom we already have, recognizing when we lack wisdom, and seeking for it when we need it.

We gather wisdom from family, teachers, friends, the lyrics of rock songs, painful experience, the world’s philosophical traditions, scripture, and prayer. In taking wisdom from here and there, we sometimes put a new thought into our basket that does not fit with some of the ideas already there. Sometimes we seek wisdom from a friend, and don’t quite get what we need. Or pray and are unsure of the response. Most folks steer clear of the overwhelming resources of philosophy, which has a reputation for being difficult and impractical. But giving up on the quest for wisdom impoverishes our ability to integrate the material and spiritual dimensions of life. So what shall we do? Neglect our quality of thinking, and make do with a more surface view?

Growth of the mind involves sharpening our capacities for insightful intuition into the three basic dimensions of reality: material, intellectual, and spiritual. Sharpening these capacities involves the exercise of reason. The specifics of reason’s methods differ according to the aspect of reality that we are working with. Philosophy seeks to learn from diverse perspectives, establish clear starting points for thinking (premises); draw logical inferences; and continually update its synthesis of major concepts: God, human being, life, evolution, destiny, truth, beauty, goodness, love, and so on. When we are living at our best and focusing on the task immediately in hand, all our powers of mind are mobilized.

Philosophy can integrate the truths of science and religion in two stages. We prevent conflict between these factors in civilization by distinguishing them in terms of their involvement with differing realms of reality, material and spiritual. Then we can unify them in our thinking and action. Wise decisions take into account the meanings of the facts of the situation and the meanings of the relevant values.

Spiritual living basics: Live as a member of the family of God;

Develop Spiritual Experience

The spiritual truths that Jesus taught usher us into truth in its divine and all-encompassing wholeness. These truths express concepts of God as our Father and ourselves as his children, worship and service, love and mercy, the spirit of God within, the will of God, becoming like God, eternal life, Jesus as the Son of God, and more. As these realities of truth become meaningful in our experience, we are liberated from the undertow of contrary influences, and free to enter into the life in truth, beauty, and goodness.

The spirit gives us the faith to recognize truth. We appropriate the gifts of faith, make them our own; and, as we act on them, our faith grows. In order for divine love to pervade our relationships, we want to enhance our spiritual experience. Nothing dramatic or mystical is necessary; garden-variety experiences of prayer, worship, and service accomplish the essentials. What spiritual experiences have made a difference in your life?

God is the center of everything, and spiritual centering means, above all, centering on God. His presence within us gives us a nucleus that makes it meaningful to speak of centering as also an inner process. Some prepare for centering by calming and harmonizing mind and body by simply allowing the attention to rest on the breath. On the path to spiritual experience, some step back from being caught up in the mind’s immediate concerns, its passing thoughts and emotions. We can take time to allow ourselves to be our true and deeper self. The soul is deeper than the mind; the soul is the true self. The soul expresses itself in the book of Psalms, from the depths of agony to the heights of celebration. Inward centering goes beyond soul to spirit. One practice is to close the eyes for twenty minutes and consent to the presence and activity of the indwelling spirit of God, refocusing one’s attention as needed.

As we follow a spiritual path, the soul grows; and we contribute to that growth by the decisions we make, the attitudes we express, and the character we develop in cooperation with the spirit of God. In this way, the soul can move from being lost, through seeking, to connected; from hurt through healing to radiant; from torn through reconciled to unified; from rebellious through obedient to wholehearted.

Part II. Walking in Beauty

The Creator provides for our pleasures. Balanced living makes us “like a watered garden,” with time for refreshment and recreation. On the whole, spiritual living is joyous living. When beauty touches us, it awakens our aesthetic response, ranging from calm, contentment, and satisfaction to delight, laughter, rejoicing, and awe. We may find something cool or awesome. These experiences register our recognition of beauty. What especially delights you?

Walking in beauty means living in touch with beauty—the beauty of truth, the beauty of goodness, beauty in nature and the arts, beauty around us and within us, beauty actual here and now, and beauty potential and evolving. Along this path, joy increasingly pervades.

Responses to beauty—present, remembered, or anticipated—are implicit in the most common positive emotions: joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride (paired with humility), amusement, inspiration, awe, and love. Although we often cut short our positive emotions before they have a chance to blossom fully: when positive emotions begin to dawn, we can take the time to allow them to come forth abundantly, to permeate, uplift, open, and strengthen us.

If we want positive emotions, culminating in love, to dominate our life, research indicates that there is a tipping point on the way to that goal: we need a three-to-one ratio of positive over negative. It is a ratio that takes account of an emotion’s duration and its intensity. Research points toward the conclusion that positive emotions strengthen our resilience for the future and give us better access to our resources for creative problem-solving in the present.

Living Amid the Beauties of Nature Basics:

Unify Material, Intellectual, and Spiritual Dimensions of Aesthetic Experience

Describe a favorite place in nature. What are the features you appreciate, and how does it make you feel? Have you had experiences there that stand out? What blessings have you enjoyed from time in nature?

My study of the life and writings of John Muir brought home to me a huge lesson about personal growth: we don’t grow as whole persons by adding up isolated achievements on separate levels. Holistic growth comes through the wholehearted and self-forgetting quest for value. The various layers in a full aesthetic experience were all unified in Muir’s life by his wholehearted embrace of the Creator and the physical creation.

Would you like to take your experience of the beauties of nature to a new level? Here’s how. Mobilize all your powers of mind, soul, and body.

The first layers of the aesthetic life in nature are keen perception, including activating the whole body in its vitality; continually advancing inquiry into geology, botany, and zoology; empathy with animal life and for the expressiveness of nature generally; and creative imagination stimulated by the arts.

The pivotal bridge to higher realization comes from intellectual insight into the harmony of contrasts, as in Muir’s description of Yosemite Valley with its granite walls and waterfalls: “rocky strength and permanence combined with beauty of plants frail and fine and evanescent; water descending in thunder, and the same water gliding through meadows and groves in gentlest beauty.” Muir patiently sought harmony, from simple to complex, obvious to obscure, and small scale to cosmic. His love for beauty on all levels made him a patient inquirer.

The next layer is philosophical reflection on a particular place by using aesthetic concepts such as the picturesque, the sublime, and the beautiful.

The crowning layer is a pervasive realization of beauty as divine. Muir had an eloquent and passionate experience of natural beauty as the gift of the Creator. Although we in some ways transcend nature, we are also part of nature. And learning to enjoy vigorously our continuity with nature is part of feeling at home in the universe.

Artistic Living Basics: Appreciate Excellence and Cultivate Skill;

Design Intelligently and Enjoy Liberated Performance

Artistic living is a response to the beauty in the creation; we can give back, add our own touch of beauty. And artistic living finds ways to cultivate emotionally mature responses to that which is unbeautiful in our world. For creativity to flourish, we learn what we can from works in the arts that appeal to mind and spirit as well as to the senses.

How have the arts enhanced your life? Describe some painting, sculpture, architecture, piece of music, poem, novel, or play that has particular significance for you. How do you express yourself artistically, whether in the fine arts; the fun arts of play, humor, and sports; or the practical arts of gardening, cooking, or crafts any sort? How do you extend hospitality to the spirit of God dwelling within you? Can we find an artistic way to do anything whatever?

The arts and crafts movement advocated the ideal that the whole life could become a total work of art. And cultural and spiritual traditions plus research on optimal performance have brought forth the goal of living in what psychology has called flow, popularly termed being “in the zone,” where you are fully focused, engaging with challenges, interacting spontaneously and effectively. What experiences of flow or being in the zone have you enjoyed?

In order to approach this goal, I propose that artistic living takes in beauty’s nourishing joy and helps build a nest of emotional harmony, so that we can process the ugliness, danger, agony, and grief that are also part of our life journey.

My recipe: Get in touch with uplifting examples of fine art, and study examples of persons of noble character. Before setting forth on an important course of action, take time for planning, intelligent design, at least making the major decisions needed to frame your project. And enjoy a reasonable measure of liberated spontaneity in the performance of the course of action. What’s your recipe?

Specific project-related questions: When you are living at your best, what are the feelings that accompany what you do? What is the emotional the growth that you seek? Does it involved overall shift of attitude? Is there a work of any kind of art that inspires you? How does it feel to do something to add beauty to another person’s day?

Part III. Participating in Divine Goodness

We know something about what it means to be good in the home and the workplace. But what does it mean to be a good member of the family of God? Goodness is about doing and being: doing the will of God and becoming like God. Putting divine values into reality. We participate in God’s goodness the more we live in his spirit of love and mercy, revealed in the ministry of Jesus.

In his goodness, God created a heaven of perfection, where his will is done, and also an evolutionary realm where we start out imperfect. God does not do for us what we can do with him, so there is a lot to do. We each have a high destiny beyond this world, and humankind has a high destiny on this planet. We can succeed in these adventures because the Creator has sent his spirit to dwell within us, a core of perfect goodness to guide and empower us. There are many reasons that support trust in the goodness of God.

In general, what is the will of God? That we supremely desire to do his will, do what is called for, and do it in the divine way.

In a particular situation, how do you find the will of God? A prayer process that I work with includes several components: living faith; a quest for divine wisdom to handle human problems in a way that brings me closer to God; mobilizing positive attitudes for the various types of challenge that I face; doing my best to work out a solution; and surrendering my favorite ideas and soul longings to whatever the Father’s will may be. And I look for his answer to be an enhanced revelation of truth, beauty, and goodness. My response needs to be discerning, decisive, and committed to following through.

Intuitively we recognize our duty; and we can sharpen our capacity for intuition by study and experience. Sometimes duty-consciousness is distorted. It turns into moralism, a form of self-righteousness and pride. This is a vice of the isolated intellect, which is healed by integrating moral reason with an understanding of the relevant causal processes and a realization of spiritual purpose. We already know a lot of sturdy moral teaching from the Bible and elsewhere. Love God and the neighbor. Treat others as we want to be treated. The Ten Commandments. Do justice, love, mercy, and walk humbly with God.

Moral Living Basics: Live the Golden Rule on Successive Levels of Meaning

From the beginning, when we spoke of living the truth or walking in beauty, we were anticipating doing. Truth has implications for conduct, and so does beauty. The golden rule of treating others as we want to be treated can be applied on different levels of meaning, as a rule of emotional sympathy, moral reason, and spiritual relating—the principle of the practice of the family of God. In its fullness, the golden rule means living the truth beautifully in love.

How do you want others to treat you? Think of people who have treated you well. How did they treat you? In what different types of situation and in what different ways did they benefit you? Different types of situation call for different types of response. Suffering elicits sympathy. But those who suffer because of their foolishness also need to be treated in ways that strengthen their capacity for realistic responses to life’s problems. To be helpful thus means not relying solely on a first impression in order to gauge how to treat someone.

Getting to know a person, a good listener picks up feelings as well as facts, connects the dots and forms hypotheses, asks questions that gently invite sharing, interacts with good humor, and gains insight into the other person’s motivation. Taking the time to achieve mutual empathetic understanding of feelings their and underlying needs can defuse conflict.

In various ways, philosophy plays a role in the exercise of moral reason. A philosophical perspective on what it means to be a human being can provide a useful framework for interpreting what we learn about others. For example, many people have a sense of identity based on factors of gender, race, religion, economic class, education, nationality, or condition of health. Such factors of identity are indeed important, but we can add an affirmation of our common humanity and recognition of our unique personalities. Some philosophical personalists regard each personality as constant throughout change, unique and mysterious, each one a masterpiece of the Creator’s art. How does your concept of a human being guide you morally?

Treating other persons as brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of God, leads to loving service. The spiritual level of the golden rule builds on understanding sympathy and moral reason; one desires to say or do something to enhance the other person’s life.

Project-related questions. Is there a recurring situation where you struggle morally?

Character Achievement Basics: Integrate the Virtues Developed in the Previous Areas into the Beautiful Wholeness of Righteousness

Good character integrates the virtues developed in all previously discussed aspects of living.

What are the characteristics that you appreciate most in your friends? Describe a person someone you have known whose character you regard as excellent.

How does character grow? As a youth, I heard, “Sow an action, reap a habit. Sow a habit, reap a character. Sow a character, reap a destiny.” In other words, we have to do the right things first, and then virtues and character follow. But a genuinely good action is an expression of good character. Being precedes doing. We need to be righteous in order to work as ambassadors of the family of God in this troubled world. If qualities of noble character are not self-produced but fruits of the spirit, then our role is to cooperate in transformation, which comes as a gift. We can cultivate the soil for growth, but God gives the growth.

What are we aiming for? Ultimately, we strive for a heavenly perfection. But there is also a kind of perfection or maturity that we can reach in this life: the beautiful wholeness of righteousness. At its core, it is a wholehearted commitment to the will of God. It is free of self-righteousness, moralism, anger, and fanaticism. It is based on truth in its wholeness, encompassing truths of scientific fact, philosophical meaning, and spiritual value. And its beauty comes from being dominated by love.

The long path to mature love is complemented by the short path of the immediate availability of love in communion with God. Faith that is wholly personal and purely spiritual can break through barriers, open the door, and receive the love of God. The Father’s love is not dependent on how our body looks in the mirror, or on the balance of our intellectual pluses and minuses. We can love ourselves in that we can respect ourselves profoundly, accept the facts of our present condition, harmonize the different parts of ourselves, be responsible in caring for ourselves, and enjoy our personal uniqueness. But love in its wholeness is mutual, a relationship between whole persons. Those who struggle to love themselves would do well to allow God’s love to teach them their real value.

Coda

Truth, beauty, and goodness are blended. Every experience has some meaning that we can interpret, some quality of feeling that we can enjoy or work with, and some implication for action. These dimensions of experience are simultaneous, though at any given time, one value or another may be dominant. Because of these dominant accents, we also experience these values in sequence. The realization of truth gives rise to beautiful feelings of appreciation, which may then shift into good motivation and action. A response to beauty can lead to a realization of truth and a commitment to action. An experience of goodness in decision or action brings its own beauty and realization of truth. These sequences can occur very quickly.

Happy experiencing!