Can You Stay Serenely In Yourself?

Do you have the patience to wait

till your mud settles and the water is clear?

Can you remain unmoving

till the right action arises by itself?

The Master doesn’t seek fulfillment.

Not seeking, not expecting,

she is present, and can welcome all things.”

Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, Chapter 15

Stay home. Alone with ourselves and our households. Dinner outings, concerts, sporting events, and leisure travel taken away. Discomfort and disquiet resulted. Without fine tasting food prepared by others, music and sports played by bodies other than our own, or the sites of other homes and homelands, where were we to look? At ourselves. Within. Our own lives, decisions, and the world we built or accepted as a place to live. 

If you don’t realize the source,

you stumble in confusion and sorrow.

When you realize where you come from,

you naturally become tolerant,

disinterested, amused,

kindhearted as a grandmother,

dignified as a king.”

Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, Chapter 16

We were unbearably discontent. When made to stay within the walls of our home, we climbed them, scratching at the paint. When made to sit within our own skin, we crawled inside of it, uncomfortable with the fit. Too big, too small. Growing, shrinking. Desperately seeking the respite of externality, we screamed for the injustice and justice of the day.

Thus the Master travels all day

without leaving home.

However splendid the views,

she stays serenely in herself.

Why should the lord of the country

flit about like a fool?

If you let yourself be blown to and fro,

you lose touch with your root.

If you let restlessness move you,

you lose touch with who you are.”

Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, Chapter 26

It was not the outside world. It was not the system. It was not the screens. None of those things were the sources of our perturbation. It was being forced to look within and not liking the view. Of sitting with ourselves and not liking the company. Deep in the well, we scraped at the walls to reach out. Will we keep reaching?

If a country is governed wisely,

its inhabitants will be content.

They enjoy the labor of their hands

and don’t waste time inventing

labor-saving machines.

Since they dearly love their homes,

they aren’t interested in travel.

There may be a few wagons and boats,

but these don’t go anywhere.

There may be an arsenal of weapons,

but nobody ever uses them.

People enjoy their food,

take pleasure in being with their families,

spend weekends working in their gardens,

delight in the doings of the neighborhood.

And even though the next country is so close

that people can hear its roosters crowing and its dogs barking,

they are content to die of old age

without ever having gone to see it.”

Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, Chapter 80

Looking out my dark window, the wind blows and the snow falls. The plows clear the road and the walks are salted to enable travel outside. Must we go outside? It has been cold.

Life Is Only Falsifiable

“Our knowledge can be only finite, while our ignorance must necessarily be infinite.” Karl Popper, Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge

The work of Karl Popper is indispensable for any treatment of the Philosophy of Science. Popper’s most significant contribution is in the concept of falsifiability. According to Popper, in order for any theory to claim a scientific basis, it must be possible for the theory or hypothesis to be proven wrong by disconfirming data. This means that a scientific claim is never proven correct; it is only not proven false. In other words, given the existing data, one formulates a theory or hypothesis and that claim is evaluated against observations that would possibly prove it false. This notion helps us distinguish scientific claims from faith or intuition based claims, which hold no similar standard.

As a young student of philosophy with a rationalist sensibility, I found Popper’s work well reasoned. Taking a course in Philosophy of Science was a practical endeavor. It certainly seemed to me that the world at large would benefit from a concrete criteria of what is and is not a scientific claim and benefits from having a scientific approach to problem solving and forming questions in general.

I had no idea that falsifiability would come to my aid during a much less rational point of my life.

As I have written about before, after college I entered a PhD program, studying political philosophy. After just one semester, I found myself to be as profoundly unhappy, dissatisfied, and depressed as I have ever been. I knew that I had to leave the program. I would not have lasted another semester; this was not based on academics, but personal survival.

Leaving that program shook me to my core. I had long formulated an identity around being an intellectual and getting a PhD was an essential component to that identity. Thinking and writing about practical problems of philosophy was to be my life’s work. Who was I going to be if not that? What was I going to do?

During the dark period of unknowing that followed, I had one conversation with my father that was particularly helpful and quite freeing. After a soliloquy of dread about my thenstate of loss of purpose and how would I ever find an alternative, my father, who is a doctor, stated, “I think of it like the practice of medicine, you can’t know you are making the right decision. You can only look at the best available data, apply your training, and make a decision. You made a decision. Based on how you did in school, it was a reasonable decision, but it didn’t work out. It’s been falsified. Now you have to try and find something else.”  

The logic of this reasoning hit me hard in the best sort of way. Of course this was true. This was the only scientific way to look at life. While we certainly want to make the correct choices in life, life’s decisions are made without any sort of perfect knowledge. You can only make a best attempt with the data available and see if the experiment is successful. If the theory is tested and proven invalid, you go back to the drawing board. There is no value judgement based on a lack of success because we can never really know what is ultimately successful, we can only know what hasn’t been proven wrong yet. My escape from the “dark period of unknowing” wasn’t fueled by “finding the answer,” it was by realizing that we cannot know. Life is experimental. Life is only falsifiable.

My Friend Bill

“I don’t make music, I am a musician.”

Today my guest is My Friend Bill, Bill Mather. Bill has been a professional musician for fifty years and shares his experience playing music, entering the professional world, and recovery from alcoholism. I met Bill in my first year of sobriety as someone who idolized rock musicians from the sixties and seventies for both their playing and excesses. He was a great mentor for me to meet.

Listen here:

Also available on iTunes and Stitcher




If you don’t know the people Bill’s played with, they’re your favorite rock n’ roll artist’s favorite artists, legends:

Buddy Guy

“He is an exponent of Chicago blues and has influenced eminent guitarists including Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Keith Richards, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jeff Beck, Gary Clark Jr. and John Mayer.”

James Cotton

Branford Marsalis

Big Mama Thorton

Maybe you’ve heard this song

Hubert Sumlin

“a Chicago blues guitarist and singer,[1] best known for his “wrenched, shattering bursts of notes, sudden cliff-hanger silences and daring rhythmic suspensions” as a member of Howlin’ Wolf‘s band.”

James Montgomery Band


Tao Te Ching

Father Thomas Keating “Centering Prayer”

Cosmic Odds

The universe is incredibly vast. The current best estimate on the size of the universe is 93 billions light years. That means that if a light photon were to leave one side of the universe traveling at 670,616,629 miles per hour (the speed of light), it would take 93 billion years to reach the other side. Most of what makes up those 93 billion light years is what we would generally consider to be nothing, just the space between celestial objects. If you are to take any point in the universe at random and travel there, you are most likely going to hit nothing. You will not hit a galaxy, star, or blackhole. You will not hit a habitable planet, uninhabitable planet, or flying piece of space rock. You will hit nothing. It is overwhelmingly likely that if you are in the universe, you are in the midst of nothing.

Yet, here we are on this place that holds so many possibilities.

The universe is incredibly old. Though the exact age is not known, the best estimate is somewhere around 14 billion years old. Our own solar system is only about 4.5 billion years old. Human beings are estimated to have been on the planet earth as a genus for about 3 million years and Homo Sapiens are believed to have evolved about 200,000 years ago. What that means is that if we are to randomly take any point in the history of the universe, we are more likely to take a point where our entire solar system doesn’t exist. If we are to take any point in earth’s history, it will most likely be a point where humans don’t exist. If we take a point where humans existed as a genus, it is most likely that homo sapiens don’t exist. And finally, if we take a point in human history, it is most likely that civilization does not exist.

Yet, right now we live in a time where humans are flourishing beyond any previous point.

You are in the here and now. It is against the greatest of odds that this is the case. Were a point in space and time picked at random, the overwhelming likelihood is that you do not exist. Yet, you do. Are you making the most of that existence? Do you spend time wishing you were somewhere else? Do you spend time wishing you could change the past or in the future? The chance that we have to exist is against cosmic odds. Do not waste it.