The Preservation of Liberty

Educate and inform the whole mass of the people. They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.” – Thomas Jefferson

The ancient Roman system of education called liberalia studia or “liberal studies” has been immensely influential on the modern world. In a nutshell, liberal studies are those which give a man his liberty. Liberty is not preserved by government, it is maintained by those who understand what erodes it and what fortifies it. Simply put, liberty is preserved by virtue and eroded by vice.

Some have claimed that the liberal arts bestow virtue upon its students, but they do not. Seneca explained it best in “Epistle 88”:

Our ancestors used to teach their children nothing that could be learned while lying down…  But neither the new system nor the old teaches or nourishes virtue.  For what good does it do us to guide a horse and control his speed with the curb, and then find that our own passions, utterly uncurbed, bolt with us?  Or to beat many opponents in wrestling or boxing, and then to find that we ourselves are beaten by anger? “What then,” you say, “do the liberal studies contribute nothing to our welfare?” Very much in other respects, but nothing at all as regards virtue. For even these arts of which I have spoken, though admittedly of a low grade – depending as they do upon handiwork – contribute greatly toward the equipment of life, but nevertheless have nothing to do with virtue. And if you inquire, “Why, then, do we educate our children in the liberal studies?” It is not because they can bestow virtue, but because they prepare the soul for the reception of virtue.  Just as that “primary course,” as the ancients called it, in grammar, which gave boys their elementary training, does not teach them the liberal arts, but prepares the ground for their early acquisition of these arts, so the liberal arts do not conduct the soul all the way to virtue, but merely set it going in that direction.

In classical antiquity, liberal arts was a catch-phrase for those subjects of study deemed essential for a free person to master in order to acquire the qualities that distinguished him from a slave. Hence, the system was more concerned with producing students who knew how to live a good life than it was with teaching students to make a living. Students trained in the liberal arts were taught to think, to have minds free from traditional beliefs that tend to be accepted uncritically. The liberal arts are in this sense liberating arts, providing those grounded in its principles the means of leading their culture into all that is good, beautiful and true.

The Elephant in the Living Room

I saw a fascinating documentary last evening called “The Elephant in the Living Room.” The film takes its viewers deep into the American subculture of raising some of the world’s most dangerous animals as household pets, focusing in particular on Terry Brumfield, a kindhearted man who is struggling to raise two African lions he bought to help him deal with his depression following a truck driving accident.

Mr. Brumfield cares deeply for the lions, but his declining health and fragile emotional state make it obvious to him that he must find a more appropriate home for them. He knew he was growing increasingly incapable of handling them, but holds on to them even though his difficult situation is rendered more awkward by the birth of four lion cubs. Strangely, he doesn’t let them move on until tragedy strikes. His first lion, a gorgeous male named Lambert, was sadly electrocuted to death in a freak accident.

While the story is heart-wrenching, it happens more often than you might think, well, maybe not actually, but metaphorically-speaking. Mankind has suffered from this ironic condition – where that which is loved is kept imprisoned – for ages. He loves his higher self, but keeps it imprisoned for various reasons. Perhaps like Mr. Brumfield, he feels he will lose himself if he opens the gate. Or maybe he does so because it makes him feel powerful to imprison that which he knows is greater than himself.

Whatever the reason, it is clear from watching this film and from any honest review of human history that we must endeavor as individuals, and eventually as a race, to embrace the means by which our higher selves can be given free reign in the field of circumstance we are blessed to have before us. The lion is a wonderful symbol of nobility and strength and it pained me to see one of them locked in a horse trailer in this well-intentioned, but sad man’s back yard. Even sadder to me is the limited state we have accepted for ourselves as human beings. Remember this: that which becomes normal is not always natural.

Man has long hoped and prayed for the release of a great power in the earth. They feel it is being withheld from them for one reason or another. The various world religions have elaborate reasons for why it is being kept from them, but I think we’ve been looking at it backwards. We are the prison wardens – not the prisoners – and we alone possess the key that unlocks to gate to our freedom. We are are the means by which and through which the beauty and truth, the majesty in fact of that power can be known in the earth – not in some distant future, but here and now.

A Greater Person

When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds. Your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be.” ~ Pantanjali

A friend of mine sent me this lovely quote from Pantanjali (who is purported to have authored the Yoga Sutras) and I am pleased to admit that it really got me thinking.

For starters, I love the idea that a shift in attention can lead to an expansion of both consciousness and capability. The way in which we focus our attention either binds or loosens our inherent capacity for the expression of beauty, strength and wisdom.

Rare is the person who, once ignited by a great purpose or an extraordinary project, maintains the flame through to fruition. For most, attention wanders, vision dims and passion fizzles. If great care is not taken, the clarion call to greatness that once titillated the hearer is lost in the din of prisoner’s cups clanking on the bars of their own making.

The world is full of distractions that will consume your attention if you let them. You must deliberately place your attention in a direction that matters.

An open door is set before you, that only you can shut.

The Art of Expression

“It is not enough that a man has clearness of vision, and reliance on sincerity, he must also have the art of expression, or he will remain obscure.” ~ George Henry Lewes

You can have the best product in the world, but if you don’t package it correctly, it will be lost in the crowd. Likewise, you can have the best idea in the world, but if you don’t present it well, it, too, will be lost in the sea of ideas that tend to slosh around in human consciousness.

Style concerns the artful expression of ideas and according to Hermogenes of Tarsus (c. 155-225) in his influential treatise On Style (Peri Ideon), there are seven virtues of style:

  • Clarity
  • Grandeur
  • Beauty
  • Rapidity
  • Character
  • Sincerity
  • Force

It is easy to see the vices that tend to corrupt an otherwise virtuous expression. Whether you consider the antonym of any of the above or a lighter shade in between, you are wise to spend time each day considering the style with which you presented your ideas, especially if you generate a lot of ideas on a regular basis. Watch for these stylistic vices:

  • Confusion, illogic, obscure references, jumping around from point to point
  • Understating or treading overly lightly on the important and often uncomfortable points
  • Coarse or vulgar language
  • Circumlocution, long-winded descriptions, big words where smaller ones would suffice
  • Poorly formed, disjointed or incomplete presentation
  • Insincerity, talking to cover the uncomfortable silences, selling something you don’t believe in
  • Flaccid, namby-pamby expression devoid of passion

Take time this week to take note of and improve upon your expression. Package your ideas as carefully as you would wrap a valuable gift for a precious friend, regardless of your audience. And have fun with it!

Truth and Goodness

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” ~ Albert Einstein

I’ve often marveled at the ingenuity of those standouts in history who dedicated their lives to the restoration of goodness and truth to their rightful place at the apex human understanding and function. It hasn’t been easy. Human beings have resisted this restorative process tooth and nail throughout the ages, giving every reason and excuse for not coming to the point of yielding every ounce of their capacity to the expression of goodness.

“The ideals which have always shone before me and filled me with the joy of living are goodness, beauty, and truth. To make a goal of comfort or happiness has never appealed to me; a system of ethics built on this basis would be sufficient only for a herd of cattle.” ~ Albert Einstein

In my estimation, the greatest hindrance to the restoration of sanity on earth is the obsessive pursuit of comfort. Human beings want comfort on their own terms. For each one, it means something a little different, and yet those differences always seem to conflict and contradict rather than complement one another.

Don’t get me wrong. Comfort is not intrinsically bad or evil, but it becomes so when its possession is put ahead of goodness and truth. Comfort achieved at the expense of goodness and truth is fleeting, hence the multitude of comfort-seekers in every corner of the earth.

“If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.” ~ C.S. Lewis

What percent of your energies do you devote to the development of a greater understanding of truth? What is truth to you? To me, truth is the pattern of principle, purpose, design and control that govern the expression of life as well as all creative activity.

The principles of truth are eternal, while their application is specific in relation to the need at hand. There is no “your truth and my truth,” for the truth is holistic and more importantly, never in conflict with itself.

The truth is the one thing that will set you free from a life of wishful thinking and despair. Get to know it and you will not be left comfortless! No matter how much the world challenges, criticizes and condemns you, you will be at rest if goodness and truth are your central concern.

Nobility without Pride

Where in this wide world can man find nobility without pride,
Friendship without envy,
Or beauty without vanity?
Here, where grace is served with muscle
And strength by gentleness confined
He serves without servility; he has fought without enmity.
There is nothing so powerful, nothing less violent.
There is nothing so quick, nothing more patient.
~ Ronald Duncan, “The Horse,” 1954

Having recently been introduced to the horse world I am constantly in awe of their qualities. I am told by those with decades of experience that the fascination never ends and I must say that I am looking forward to the time when I can deliver the same message many decades from now.

Over a period of many thousands of years, horses provided one of the most consistent and influential levers in the development of civilization around the world. As John Moore aptly noted: “Wherever man has left his footprint in the long ascent from barbarism to civilization we will find the hoofprint of the horse beside it.” They’ve carried us, pulled us, powered our equipment and entertained us as we fumbled our way up through the pages of history.

We’ve domesticated them yet they retain their powerful and effective herd mentality. They protect one another, organize themselves, care for their young and enjoy life, all without our intervention. While the same could be said about the intelligence and skills of their human counterparts, I can assure you that no bet was ever lost by a horse at the track!

Horses can teach a great many lessons to humans who have an ear to hear. I don’t want to spoil it for you by telling the whole story, but each of the pure qualities of expression outlined by Duncan above are natural characteristics of what I call “radiance.”

Radiance manifests through any individual who has made the connection between inner greatness and outer expression. He who is radiant is outwardly oriented, focused in serving others and devoted to giving without concern for results. Is it really so hard to imagine?

When you forget about yourself radiance comes naturally. Your expression in radiance is characterized by nobility, beauty, grace, strength and gentleness. Not sure? Watch a horse for a few minutes. They possess these qualities and are unhindered in their expression.

I encourage you take the time before you go to acquaint yourself with one or several of these magnificent beasts which have not only witnessed, but participated in the rise and fall of great civilizations throughout the history of man.

When I bestride him, I soar, I am a hawk: he trots the air; the earth sings when he touches it; the basest horn of his hoof is more musical than the pipe of Hermes. ~ William Shakespeare, Henry V

Shibumi: Subtle Beauty

Shibumi is a Japanese word that refers to a particular aesthetic of simple, subtle and unobtrusive beauty. It can be used to describe a person, place or thing, naturally occurring or man-made. I love to observe and photograph shibumi and below you will find a few of the more spectacular manifestations I have been privileged to witness.

Ice on my Car Hood by Gregg Hake
British Columbia Reflections by Gregg Hake
Winter Branches by Gregg Hake
Mushroom UFO by Gregg Hake
View from Above by Gregg Hake
Tree Silhouette by Gregg Hake
Endless Waves by Gregg Hake

Simple, uncomplicated beauty can be found in the most unremarkable places. You needn’t construct a marvelous temple or an impressive tower to connect with it, in fact, all you have to do is open your eyes and soften your heart to shibumi.