THE ASCENT CHAPTER THIRTEEN

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Links to previous chapters may be found at the end of this chapter. 

This book is almost fully edited and should be published soon, along with the next two novels, THE SUMMIT AND QUANTUM LEAPS

 

CHAPTER THIRTEEN
 
DOUBLE, DOUBLE TOIL AND TROUBLE

           Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn and caldron bubble. - William Shakespeare

              The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education. - Albert Einstein

         

Seemingly, only moments had passed when the next thing I saw was the morning light shining brightly through my gable window. Judging by the sun’s position in the sky, it was likely late morning. I wasn’t sure if it had to do with me or the bottom half of the bottle I consumed last night, but I slept much longer than usual. Probably, my mind needed some extra downtime to process all the unresolved life issues we had been discussing the last few days. It seemed many of these had been festering for years.

I lay peacefully, wondering wistfully if my angel had come to visit me. Would her alluring voice have entranced me through the night? What, perchance, had she whispered to me… something I wished to hear? I laughed at myself; these were the sentiments of a love-sick poet, not a philosopher. For now, however, it felt better to be a poet.

As I was coming down the stairs with a bemused smile on my face, my companions walked in, bringing with them several varieties of cheese and meats.

‘Buenos Dias amigos! Just look at this; what market have you been to?’

‘The Italian one, you know, in the Palermo district of Buenos Aires,’ Eli said. ‘We know how much you like Italian, so how else would we know what to manifest if we couldn’t see it first? Since there’s always something new and delectable foods in the kiosks there, you wouldn’t believe how many we went to. For items such as this Soppressata sausage, we needed to go much further.’

‘Probably somewhere off in Italy, possibly Tuscany,’ I said. ‘That wouldn’t surprise me at all.’

‘Not far off,’ Mo said. ‘This time, it was a market in Naples.’

‘That wouldn’t surprise me either,’ I said.

‘As we settled in by the fireplace after our exotic Italian breakfast, Eli said, ‘you’ll see there are a few more surprises for you. For now, though, can you tell us if you’ve gotten over your love affairs, or do you need more time to wallow in the regrets of your past loves before we can move on?’

‘You put that so delicately, Eli. I hardly know what to say except to remind you that my current challenges aren’t limited to just women. It’s a bit humbling for me to acknowledge, but to be honest, I’ve never spoken to anyone so openly about my concerns before.’

‘Even when these affairs relate to the lower realms of earth, we’re pleased to offer you our views from above,’ Mo said. ‘What you do with them is up to you. Nevertheless, the longer you remain with us, the more your consciousness notches upward. Though you might encounter foreboding caverns of darkness ahead, realise your most valued treasures await you there.[1] With that said, tell us about what other woes have you befuddled.’ 

‘As I might have mentioned before, after almost three years, I haven’t been able to secure an academic position that will pay me what I’m worth and what I require to live comfortably. I haven’t even been able to afford a down payment on a flat or purchase a reliable vehicle.

‘That’s another reason I have trouble with women, or possibly it’s they who have trouble with me since I never seem to have enough money to meet their expectations. I like my flat, although I’m not sure it makes the appropriate statement for those I most wish to impress. After all, I’m no longer a student, even if it might appear that way at times.’

‘And yet, are you not lecturing at one of the more prestigious institutions in Britain, if not the world?’ Eli asked. ‘I don’t think many academic aspirants come this far in attaining a doctorate in philosophy at such an early age.  Even if they do, they often have to settle for far less than you already have until their number comes up.’

‘Sure, I may have achieved a modicum of recognition after all the work and effort I devoted to the cause; still, I’m caught in a vocational impasse. With all the budget cutbacks, it seems I won’t be receiving a secure tenured position anytime soon. So, tell me, what am I supposed to do; spend the rest of my life standing in a queue waiting for someone on the faculty to die or retire?

‘All I have to show for my expensive education is part-time employment with part-time pay. I’d be much better off teaching in a secondary school somewhere in the hinterlands, for which, unfortunately, I’m over-qualified. I even had to apply for another credit card to make this trip. Now, I’ll have to pay usurious interest rates each month out of savings I don’t have.

‘Worse, I may no longer have a lectureship should I return. Even if I do, the administration will likely continue to retain me as a part-time sessional instructor for as long as they can, which could be forever. That way, they can play me off against other instructors competing for the same classroom time. Occasionally, they’ll throw me a bone, although it doesn’t amount to much, barely enough to cover the expenses for an occasional symposium on the continent.

‘What can I do, what can I say when there’s no paid employment at the end of each semester, only more bartending after almost ten years of studies. Everything in life remains so damned tentative. All I can hope is that there will be enough enrollment to fill my classes at the beginning of each term. Yet, there’s no way to be certain of that.’

‘I sympathise,’ Mo said, ‘however, I’m not so sure all that much has changed over the years for those entering your profession.’

‘Still, it seems we’re always getting screwed over for frivolous capital expenditures such as refurbishing the administrative offices in the East Wing. Too much money is being squandered at the expense of my livelihood.’

‘How did you get involved in this line of work?’ Mo asked, ‘considering how you seem less than enamoured with your career prospects?’

‘I love philosophy, but I don’t care for the politics of tenure. I have no desire to be just another drone in a learning factory. I need to be inspired.’

‘You mean when you were a security escort in a Miss Nude pageant several years ago. Remember, a while back, you described your interesting time there?’

‘Oh yeah, I guess I did mention that. It still puts a smile on my face. An ex-sailor friend of mine with some dodgy connections helped set that up. Best job I ever had, and I must say, the most revealing, even if it was only for a day.’

‘So, did you get paid,’ Eli asked, ‘or did you have to pay?’

‘The play was the pay,’ I said, laughing. ‘Indeed, wouldn’t it be delightful if all life could remain that inspiring.’

‘With that aside, what motivated you to go the full distance to earn a PhD. I’m sure that’s not what most merchant sailors aspire to do with their lives.’

‘No, I’m relatively certain most don’t. As for me, I’m not sure how long I would have lasted in my academic pursuits if it wasn’t for an eccentric physics instructor who inspired me to pursue a degree in philosophy. I could never figure him out and still haven’t, yet more than anyone else I met on campus, he changed my attitude and direction in life at such a crucial time.

‘What I’ll never forget about him is that he exuded a charming intellectual piquancy, yet, his outlook on life seemed anything but academic. What impressed me the most was his genuine passion for pursuing truth instead of just acquiring more information and accolades.

‘He claimed he hailed from Portugal; however, he didn’t look or sound particularly Portuguese. If anything, he reminded me of the physicist Richard Feynman, with his cool and witty raconteur, both in appearance and affection for bongo drums.

‘One day after class in my first semester, I introduced myself and told him that until enrolling as a student recently, I was a merchant sailor in the Mediterranean. I mentioned this because he had made some allusions to sailing in his lecture. He seemed greatly interested in this, so he invited me to join him after class at a local pub to tell him more about my sailing adventures.

For whatever reason, he seemed inordinately intrigued with my tales, including where I had sailed and what ports our ship had docked. Interestingly, he claimed to have done some sailing several years ago, mainly out of Portugal.

‘Having this in common, we’d often meet at various off-campus alehouses where he’d go on with what he knew about the history of sailing, including Magellan’s ill-fated attempt to circumnavigate the world. He also seemed to know a lot about Columbus’ adventures and his infamous relations with the Caribbean natives.

‘Another peculiarity about him is that he never drank bitter, only dark Caribbean varieties of rum such as Port Royal, his Jamaican favourite. When I asked him why he drank only rum, he replied, curiously, that’s what Columbus preferred.

‘Yes, of course,’ I said laughing; ‘why didn’t I know that?’

‘His tales often went into vivid detail… perhaps too much so that I wasn’t sure where he could have received all this information. At times I wondered if he wasn’t making it up or just interpolating various facts to embellish his interpretations, much like certain amateur historians are known to do when writing historical fiction.

‘Despite some initial reservations I had about his stories, we connected on many levels besides just sailing. It was as though we had known each other for a long time, which was uncanny, considering how much younger I was and how little I knew compared to him. Often, he would overwhelm me with his broad knowledge of almost everything.

‘Even as a physicist, he would probe me with a variety of philosophical questions that I found intellectually provoking. The most difficult was the meaning of Nosce te Ipsum,[2] just as you’ve been asking me ever since I arrived here. These times might not have exactly been the School of Athens,[3] although it might have been close to it.

‘For me, this set him apart as a true philosopher, rather than just a pundit. Unlike many other professors I later encountered, he didn’t need to be right; instead, he remained open and fair in his analysis.’

‘Would you say he was your mentor back then?’ Eli asked.

‘It seemed he was… at least in the beginning. When I first enrolled at university, I decided to study physics. Then, one day, as we were leaving the pub, he suggested I take up philosophy instead, even hinting this was my calling. Until then, I had never seriously considered a career in academia other than becoming a humble physicist like Einstein. By the end of my first semester, I switched from physics to pursuing studies in philosophy.

‘As it turned out, this was sage advice since I was never exceptionally talented with mathematical equations. Or, possibly, my friend sensed the philosopher in me, something I had never considered. He seemed to have keen insight into the world’s affairs, including mine, so I trusted his judgment.

‘One of the peculiar things about him was how he kept calling me Sebastian, someone he said he knew in his seafaring days. Consequently, whenever we met at the pub, I was no longer James but Sebastian.

‘Then, after serving as an interim instructor for less than two semesters, he suddenly disappeared, even before the academic year was over. He didn’t bother to mention he would be leaving; he just did. No one in the administration seemed to know what happened to him, where he went, or if he intended to return.

‘At first, it was assumed that either the law or mafia were closing in on him, though there was no evidence for this. After that, everything about him remained shrouded in mystery, including his credentials. I don’t know how he managed to secure a lectureship in astrophysics, not because he wasn’t bright; in fact, he was brilliant, knowing far more about the cosmos than should have been possible.’

‘Do you remember his name?’ Mo asked.

‘That was long ago, so I don’t recall his surname, except that it sounded Portuguese. After we became friends, I just called him Miguel. I think I might have mentioned that to you before. So why, do you ask?’

‘You never know,’ Mo said, ‘perhaps we can track him down if you like.’

‘It would be splendid if you could; still, I don’t know how you would. At times, I wonder if he didn’t show up at university for the sole purpose of resetting the course of my life. Not only did he inspire me to pursue philosophy, he changed the way I thought about everything, especially myself. As I look back on my life, I think he was why I went the distance for my doctorate.

‘That’s why it seemed strange he would suddenly leave without even bidding me adieu, not that I was necessarily his only friend. Although, at times, it seemed I might have been. In any case, his influence remained upon me long after he left, whereby I saw everything in a much broader, universal light. I’m not sure, but I think that’s when I began to have visions of the Mountain.’

‘It sounds like he was a fascinating and unusual character,’ Eli said.

‘So much so that he seemed alien to what we consider normal on earth… maybe he was an alien,’ I chuckled. ‘Anyway, if you hear anything about where he’s hiding in the cosmos, be sure to let me know; I’d love to find out what happened. I might even try to track him down myself someday.’

‘You just might,’ Mo said. ‘Perhaps sooner than you think… if he doesn’t track you down first. So, was there anyone else who helped illuminate your path during your philosophical studies?’

‘Most certainly,’ I said. ‘While enrolled in my Master’s degree programme at the University of Calgary in Canada, I was greatly influenced by Dr Terrance Penelhum, a highly regarded world-class philosopher. He specialised in areas as diverse as Hume, scepticism, religion, and immortality. With remarkable clarity, he understood and delineated opposing positions, then posited compelling arguments for each side without compromising his beliefs.

‘Though he was already retired as Professor Emeritus when I met him, he was equivalent to my unofficial Master’s thesis advisor. I found his insights invaluable in opening my mind and offering me profound new philosophical perspectives.

‘After I return to my body, if I do, I’d like to meet him again and chat about my experiences here. The last I heard, he was still writing and speaking, even well into his nineties.

‘It was during the time of my graduate studies that an overall shift in my awareness occurred, albeit tentatively. Gradually, I opened towards a broader, more inclusive understanding of reality, just as my friend Miguel had encouraged me before.’

‘Possibly, this was one more reason you were beginning to catch glimpses of the Mountain,’ Eli said. ‘Speaking of which, wasn’t that about when you began to learn to climb and rappel in the mountains?’

‘That’s right; it’s where I learned how to take on some of the highest and most challenging slopes in the Canadian Rockies. After spending several weekends scaling precipices, I was hooked on the mountains, greatly inspired by the rugged beauty and majesty that surrounded me. These adventures were a turning point in my life; indeed, I was coming alive. It also helped that my girlfriend, Cynthia, was likewise an avid mountaineer.

‘As I was exploring these peaks, I also ascended to new vistas of understanding that caused my studies to take on fresh new meaning, as if from a higher mountain perspective. Again, I have to credit my two unofficial mentors who inspired me to go beyond what others thought and believed. It was a time when I felt touched by what you called the numinous. [4]

‘Just before graduating with my Master’s Degree, Professor Penelhum sent a recommendation for my admission into Edinburgh’s prestigious doctoral programme. This letter was like a passport, so it was with great honour and fortune to be admitted. Not so fortunate, however, was having a thesis advisor assigned to me with a much different view of reality than what I acquired in Canada. Consequently, the next few years didn’t go so well for me.

‘His disdain for those who didn’t share his views made him as intransigent as a fifteenth-century Spanish Inquisitor enforcing the Roman church’s theocratic dictums. He seemed to think his philosophical precepts should be as evident to me as they were to him. Yet they weren’t… no more than mine were to him.

‘I sometimes wonder how I made it through that ordeal, considering the adversarial approach towards my dissertation. My studies in Canada had significantly shifted the mooring of my former weltanschauung to release me into new uncharted territory I didn’t know of before.

‘At first, it seemed like I was being led, then it felt I was being bullied into going where I didn’t wish to go, but not without resisting. Of course, this philosophical struggle concerned me about where this might lead and whether my dissertation would be accepted.

‘If you wish to apply these challenging times to my dream allegory, you might say I was slogging through the marshes on my long trek from the Lowlands to the Mountain where I would eventually see the landscape from a much higher perspective. Before then, however, things had become stressful when my advisor tried to force me to focus more on Hume’s sceptical enquiry, along with Ayer’s positivist repudiations of all things spiritual.

‘However, that wasn’t the direction I wished to go. Too limiting. That’s where I came from and had no desire to go back. So, the more I dug in my heels along my road-less-travelled, the more our relations deteriorated.

‘At a certain point, I realised they would probably deny me my doctorate. Still, I wasn’t prepared to back down by compromising my stand or grovel for acceptance. My attitude was damn the torpedoes; I’m charging ahead regardless of the consequences.’

‘I assume this conflict is what got you past the bogs and, as you say, charging ahead to the Mountain looming before you because you could no longer deny its presence.’

‘I never thought about it that way before,’ I said, ‘although there might be something to this when I consider all the nasty mud wrestling that went on in the swamps. Possibly you’re right; by then, I might have already gone well beyond the borders of the Lowlands, past the nuances of philosophical discourse to clashing over everything from sports to politics.

‘These might not have been the old drunken brawls I once participated in at the seaports. Regardless, they remained brawls, and it wasn’t certain who would be the last standing.

‘It didn’t help that he was an ardent and militant atheist. Although I officially considered myself an agnostic, I vacillated between belief and unbelief. Possibly it was his dismissive belligerence that drove me in the opposite direction. It was ironic, yet the more Augustine and Aquinas I read, the more I found myself arguing for the same positions I once dismissed.

‘On occasion, I would bring a copy of Pascal’s Pensées to read on the bus. For whatever reasons, I felt drawn to the writings of this seminal Frenchman of the Renaissance.

‘Even if I didn’t always agree or relate to his more religious discourses, I respected the clarity of his philosophical statements. At the very least, he helped give me a clearer vision of what might lie beyond the Lowlands’ murky fog. Whenever I contemplated a pensée, I felt something stirring within me, something I had previously ignored or denied. Was it inspiration or a matter of being in-spirited?

‘When I had enough of my advisor’s condescension, I would quote him something he would find provocative. I remember him becoming particularly annoyed when I recited: There is enough light for those who desire only to see and enough darkness for those of a contrary disposition.[5] Implying, of course, he was too in the dark to see what Pascal and I could see. As you might imagine, these vignettes of wisdom did endear me to help him see through the fog of his preconceptions.

‘I’ll admit, I was often cocky, as though I had all the light and he, in his obstinacy, had none. It was apparent we were on a collision course.  Unfortunately, he had his committee’s steam roller ready to flatten my world as I stood my ground while shooting him the bird. My defiance, pitted against his machinery, mattered little to me. When I get angry, I don’t care.’

‘Are you angry with him still?’ asked Mo.

‘In retrospect, I might have handled the conflict differently. Probably, he felt that he needed to rein me in to prevent me from falling into, as he put it, the black hole of solipsistic idealism. Had I given him credit for this, I might have realised that his intentions weren’t as bad as they seemed. Nevertheless, I think he could have been less doctrinaire while encouraging me to develop a more nuanced approach toward my emerging views.

‘Things weren’t so polarised when I began my scholarly sojourn as an undergraduate. Back then, I fit in well with the prevailing groupthink where everyone was eager to dismiss religious and spiritual views as superstitious. Everything in the universe was predictable and straightforward. It’s astonishing how effortless life can become when you flow with the mainstream. There’s no reason to think critically when no one opposes you.

‘It seemed I was destined to have a promising career at that point, as I continued to earn scholarships while making connections with influential scholars. Although philosophical concepts came relatively easy, I worked hard to gain admission into my doctoral programme.

‘However, this became a time of frustration as I felt increasingly confused about what to believe. I wished to remain a free-thinker, independent of the establishment’s beliefs, as I became increasingly aware of new ways to interpret reality. Was this me beginning to see the Mountain? I don’t know, but it’s probably what got me into trouble in the end. 

‘As you may guess, after giving my oral defence of the thesis I had laboured over for so long, the dissertation was rejected. I suspect, for one, I offended some on the reviewing committee for being too critical of Hume’s empirical perspectives, which I considered to be too stifling.

‘Nor did I do me any favours by bringing Berkeley into an imagined debate with Hume. I thought since Hume had the last word long after Berkeley’s time, it was only fair that Berkeley should be allowed to rebut Hume – through me, of course, his willing provocateur.

‘That’s why I formatted a significant segment of my dissertation as a type of Socratic dialogue between Berkeley and Hume. At one point, Berkeley reminded Hume, most cogently, of the logical necessity of an omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotence to divine Presence to sustain the universe rather than his contrarian scepticism to tear it all down.’

‘Imagine,’ Eli said, ‘having the audacity to conjure the good Bishop to affront the committee’s materialist sensibilities. I must give you credit for having the gonads to do that.’ 

‘It wasn’t just that, I genuinely believed my thesis was clever and almost humorous in places, especially where Hume broke his foot kicking a stone as he attempted to refute Berkeley.[6] I thought it seemed a most ingenious innovation, although not so much to the dour review committee.

‘I thought they might appreciate my bold and novel approach to scholarship, but apparently, that’s not how things work. I suppose I should have known better; still, I couldn’t resist having a little fun aggravating my sullen advisor.

‘It’s ironic; my original thesis was eventually published in a prestigious philosophical journal, at least in part, receiving favourable reviews for its humour, creativity, and scholarship.’

‘So how did you suddenly become such a fan of Berkeley,’ Eli asked, ‘especially after being an agnostic most of your life?’

‘Well, I’m not sure how much of Berkeley I actually embraced at the time, yet I remained impressed with how he posited unique, logical explanations for how reality was unified, especially when everyone else seemed more predisposed to settle for a fragmented universe. Rightly or wrongly, I challenged Hume’s empiricism and sceptical enquiry as having a disintegrative effect with a resultant plurality of duality and separation.

‘Possibly, I overplayed my hand on that one, especially when I suggested Hume’s empiricism might have had a precursory role in the socio-political fragmentation of the twentieth century. The committee would have nothing of that, preferring to blame Edinburgh’s very own Adam Smith and his seminal book The Wealth of the Nations.[7]  

‘Admittedly, I can at times be a bit contrarian by intentionally taking positions that even I might not agree with, just to challenge the smug assumptions of the philosophical thought police. As you probably guessed by now, I hate being told how to think, so I thought I‘d give them something to think about in my oral defence. 

‘I was convinced of my thesis’ veritable stance, believing it to be self-evident. In my zeal, I even attempted to argue how contemporary philosophy was undermining creative discourse. A bit audacious of me; still, it seemed worth a shot. As it turned out, the committee censors were more sensitive to this suggestion than I expected.’

‘And for this, you had to do more time?’ Mo asked.

‘Sure did… another year of reworking the paper, which in my mind, already was an abiding achievement of innovative scholarship. At least I got another crack at defending myself against these pompous sophists, as I called them. In the end, they relented and accepted my defence. Most likely, this was because I had sufficiently altered my positions to give them what they needed to hear. As someone remarked, my thesis could now be regarded as something more measured and balanced.

‘Later, I learned a few memos were written by certain scholars that encouraged the committee to consider the merits of my revised thesis. I suspect Professor Penelhum might have been one of these since he was aware of what was going on in Scotland. Regardless, it was the biggest ordeal and challenge in my professional life, having compromised my scholarship to appease, assuage and mollify their insularity.’

‘It sounds you might still be a little bitter about the affair,’ Mo said, remarking on my enduring frustrations.

‘Does it sound like it? Then perhaps I am. By now, I’m sure you both understand how I feel about being pushed around. When I was at sea, we had ways of dealing with bullies. But in this case, they were all bullies.

‘In retrospect, I don’t think anyone harboured any personal ill will towards me. From what I can tell, most consider me a relatively affable chap, albeit a tad belligerent when my inner street fighter was triggered.

‘And I must say, to his credit, even my advisor told me not to take things personally; he suggested that he only wanted to thicken my skin and sharpen my mind. I’m not certain that was the case, knowing his aversions towards whatever alluded to transcendence. Still, with my supercilious attitude, I was probably too full of my intellectual conceits to handle things as well as I could have, for which I paid the price.’

‘What you said reaffirms that these challenges were the early stages of your calling to the Mountain, especially after years of slogging through the Lowlands’ marshes.’

‘I like the way you construe these symbols,’ I said. It’s almost poetic.’

‘Yet, is it not true that we’re all poets, at least to some extent,’ Eli asked, ‘even when we don’t live as poetically as we could? Indeed, your rich imagery suggests you are not only a philosopher but a poet too, at least in your dreams. Simple words could never portray the significance of your experiences.

‘When you return, you might remember your time here as a waking dream, which is perhaps why we refer to your dream as a poetic metaphor for your outward journey.’

‘So, do you now wish to make my dream allegory a poem too? Isn’t an allegory sufficient?’

‘Are allegories not, in a way, poetry too?’ Eli asked. ‘And what if these dreams are the poetry of the soul? Is poetry not the most rarified form of communication on earth where visual images express the inward richness of the heart, far beyond the ability of cognitive processes? Don’t you think that’s why Socrates said poets are the interpreters of the gods? Notice, he didn’t say philosophers; he said; poets.’

‘His student, Plato, might have disagreed with this,’ I said, ‘considering that he believed poets had a destabilising influence on the masses.’

‘I suppose he had a point,’ Mo said, ‘since this often happens when the heart isn’t sufficiently engaged with the mind to remain rational, inciting disharmony and conflict. Nevertheless, whatever can be elicited by descriptive words in conscious souls will convey the meaning of higher realities when universal meanings are implicitly enfolded within these envisioned impressions. Refined thoughts are often presented to us as vivid images, or, we might say, the symbols of the gods, evoking what’s hidden within the subliminal recesses of the soul.’

‘I’m not sure what that’s supposed to mean,’ I said, ‘although I understand how epic poetry can communicate exquisite imagery. Even as an adolescent, Homer could transport me onto the high seas. That may be why I ended up as a merchant sailor, at least for a while. Sadly, by the time I graduated from university, much of this romance was lost or misplaced.’

‘That’s because you sought to understand life rationally rather than poetically,’ Eli said.

‘That’s probably true,’ I said. ‘I was determined to arrange and rearrange the universe until I was satisfied with what order I had imposed upon it, although I was never satisfied for long. Then, just when I thought I was close to making sense of it all, you two came along to topple my fruit cart.’

‘We’re always pleased to topple neat and tidy carts,’ Eli said. ‘It matters little what fruits are displayed; when they’re stale, the carts need to be toppled before someone gets sick. We’re not vandals; we don’t go around doing this for fun, except in your case. So now, when you return home, we hope you will do the same by pushing over whatever carts you find stuck in the Lowlands’ muddy ruts.’

‘I’m not sure academic grants are available to upend the established order,’ I said.

‘That didn’t stop Socrates,’ he said. ‘No one can discover anything when they stop asking questions. Isn’t that what children teach us when no one else will, just as philosophers are supposed to demonstrate inquisitions to the world? Each answer must lead to new questions, and if it doesn’t, the cart becomes mired in the ruts of smug satisfaction. Then, the rot of hubris sets in, spoiling in and everything around it.’

‘Before we get too carried away talking about apple carts,’ Mo said, ‘I’d like to hear what happened after your graduation.’

‘So, where was I? Oh yes. Back then, I was idealistic, believing I would set the world ablaze with my brilliant discourses. It didn’t take long for reality to sink in when I discovered few entry-level philosophy lectureships available in British institutions of higher learning. Or, should I say, none that I considered worthy of my intellectual prowess.

‘Finally, several months after graduating from Edinburgh, I found a temporary sessional position in London. And so, after almost three years, I’m still stuck there with little promise of advancing to an established career.

‘I suppose, if necessary, I could find extra work during evenings and weekends doing more bartending like when I was an undergraduate student. Then what… sail with a gang of Sicilian chavs shipping contraband from Turkey?’

I should have stopped there; nevertheless, I kept rambling on about a litany of grievances regarding the system, administrators, obstinate faculty members, and all the useless committee meetings I was required to attend.

During this time, Mo didn’t say anything, causing me to feel increasingly uncomfortable the longer I carried on. Now and then, an empathetic nod of the head, acknowledging the various injustices that had befallen me, would have been appreciated. I’m not sure if he was glowering at me… yet it felt that way.

Finally, I got the message, even though my ego seemed to enjoy twisting in the pain of its misery. I needed to recalibrate my attitude by finding some resolution for whatever I had stirred up within, so I decided to take a hike.

‘Excuse me, gentlemen,’ I said, ‘but I need to get outside for a while. If you don’t mind, see if you can find me a pint of bitter in the cellar for when I return.’

‘We’ll see what we have,’ Mo said. ‘Before you go, though, I wish to remind you that the problems you speak of are just symptoms of the human condition. Even among the most accomplished, fear, guilt and self-loathing often fester into cynicism and arrogance.’

‘Are you saying I’m cynical and arrogant?’

‘Since you asked,’ he said, ‘allow me to answer your question indirectly, and then you can draw any conclusion you wish.’

‘Okay, but make it quick,’ I said.

‘As I’m sure you’ve witnessed,’ Mo said, continuing, ‘the ego is a master at creating a persona of arrogance to hide its fear since, as we keep saying, fear is what the ego is all about. It cares not for love except to exploit it for its advantage. As we’ve said, the ego’s biggest fear is unconditional love, which vanquishes fear, just as the presence of light conquers darkness.

‘When you understand this, you will see why humanity continues to identify so much with failure and victimhood. Things go wrong whenever the inward light is dimmed; things go wrong… often very wrong. That’s when the collective ego lashes out, which explains how Hitler built his Third Reich after Germany was defeated in World War 1. That’s how he capitalised on the resentment harboured in the German psyche, enabling him to build a war machine that took several nations to bring down.

‘If you’re aware of Russian esoteric philosopher G.I. Gurdjieff, you may appreciate when he suggested that the last thing humanity wishes to give up is its suffering. This unfortunate propensity has a way of inflicting a variety of delusions upon those who cling to how special their ego feels in victimhood. After all, it’s familiar and even comfortable, in a sick sort of way. Problems are always, and inevitably, perceived as someone else’s fault. When we look at the world, it’s obvious how right Gurdjieff was about this.’

‘I concur with Gurdjieff,’ Eli said. ‘It’s most apparent how the ego finds ways to exploit its suffering once it finds a way to leverage its misfortune. Guilt is often the most effective means to whatever perks and payoffs it believes it’s entitled to. To make matters worse, governments become complicit when they encourage and enable this psychosis, inevitably destroying the dignity of those caught in the dysfunction of their victimhood.

‘For many, there exists a perverse pleasure in being wretched. The more pitiful, the better since it makes them exceptional, even superior, especially if they blame someone for their condition. At some point, should they become sufficiently hostile, they often organise into a gang of vengeful militants, demanding their perceived rights.

‘As the anger continues to smoulder, shame is projected on anyone they choose to blame for their plight and alleged misfortunes. This collective psychosis is what, in large measure, brought about the holocaust when ordinary Jews were blamed for Germany’s perceived misfortunes.

‘I’m not discounting the many injustices committed against the oppressed when revolutions become inevitable,’ Mo said, ‘particularly with totalitarian oppression. Throughout history, sadly, revolutionary leaders continue to aggravate and exploit dissatisfaction towards existing orders, only to create greater oppression through their totalitarian ambitions. By fulminating resentment, tyrants learn how to catapult themselves into power by sedition and insurrection.

 ‘History repeatedly shows how wars fester after revolutionaries exacerbate resentment, hate and envy. Russia’s czars often oppressed the proletariat; still, nothing compared to the millions of lives destroyed by their presumed liberators of Lenin and Stalin.

‘Regrettably, much of humanity continues to seek vengeance, which in the end, agitates even more inner pain and torment for most everyone. This outward discord is a macrocosm of the inward discord caused by the tyranny of the collective ego, which seeks to destroy humanity, one person at a time. Nevertheless, like a virus, in destroying its host, it destroys itself. It’s that insane! But then, the ego is an illusion. Unfortunately, what this illusion inflicts upon humanity is no illusion.’

‘Those are very sobering thoughts,’ I said. ‘I’ll consider them while I hike.’

‘When you return later,’ Mo said, ‘perhaps we can continue this discussion… you must understand these implications for your world.’

As I headed out the door to make my way up to the summit ridge, I wondered if this speech was intended to tell me, in oblique terms, that something within was destroying my relationships and career. If so, I couldn’t disagree with how often I had sabotaged my relations with others, just as nations often destroy themselves by going to war.

They called it the ego, although I wasn’t convinced it was all that simple. Maybe it was something more like karma, except I didn’t believe in that either. I could do whatever I wished with my life, be it lecturing, bartending, sailing or something else; nothing was in the cards or the stars; I was free. But was I really? Or had the dye been cast?

 

 FOOTNOTES

 

[1] From a line in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Act 4, Scene1)
[2] Mo was alluding to Joseph Campbell’s reference to the treasure found in the dark cave of our fears.
[3] Latin for Know Thyself
[4] In reference to Raphael’s fresco masterpiece (1511) of famous Greek philosophers from antiquity discussing philosophy in a great hall of learning, with Plato and Aristotle most notably positioned in the centre
[5] The Latin numen, meaning the arousing of spiritual awareness; is often felt to be mysterious and awe-inspiring.  
[6] Pensées; Section 7
[7] This incident was a parody of the following famous quote by Boswell's in his biography of Samuel Johnson, The Life of Samuel Johnson (Book 3, published in 1791). After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley’s ingenious sophistry to prove the nonexistence of matter, and that everything in the universe is merely ideal. I observed that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it — “I refute it thus."
[8] The Wealth of Nations was first published in 1776. One of the world's classics on economics, Adam Smith, provided the intellectual foundation for free-market economics. The book is also a social commentary. Interestingly, both philosophers were from Edinburgh. Hume died the same year Smith's book was published.

__________________________________________________



CHAPTERS IN ELYSIUM'S PASSAGE: THE ASCENT

                                                           

Prologue to the Series
https://digitalbloggers.com/arts-and-entertainment/prologue       

Chapter One: A REALLY CRAZY DREAM
https://digitalbloggers.com/arts-and-entertainment/Elysiums-Passage-Chapter-One       

Chapter Two: WHERE AM I?
https://digitalbloggers.com/arts-and-entertainment/Elysiums-Passage-Chapter-Two      

Chapter Three: STORYTIME            
https://digitalbloggers.com/arts-and-entertainment/chapter-three      

Chapter Four: THE COMPANY YOU KEEP             
https://digitalbloggers.com/arts-and-entertainment/chapter-four       

Chapter Five: THE FALL
https://digitalbloggers.com/arts-and-entertainment/the-ascent-chapter-five        

Chapter Six: SUMMIT UNIVERSITY           
https://digitalbloggers.com/arts-and-entertainment/the-ascent-chapter-six      

Chapter Seven: DOWN AND OUT             
https://digitalbloggers.com/book-reviews/the-ascent-chapter-seven   

Chapter Eight: THE SCEPTIC’S DILEMMA          
http://digitalbloggers.com/arts-and-entertainment/the-ascent-chapter-eight    

Chapter Nine: THE TRUTH OF THE MATTER
https://digitalbloggers.com/book-reviews/the-ascent-chapter-nine    

Chapter Ten: A NEW GIRLFRIEND      
https://digitalbloggers.com/book-reviews/the-ascent-chapter-ten    

Chapter Eleven: LAMENT TO LOVE
https://digitalbloggers.com/arts-and-entertainment/the-ascent-chapter-eleven    

Chapter Twelve:  MY BIG BREAK 
https://digitalbloggers.com/arts-and-entertainment/the-ascent-chapter-twelve 

Chapter Thirteen: DOUBLE DOUBLE TOIL AND TROUBLE
https://digitalbloggers.com/arts-and-entertainment/the-ascent-chapter-thirteen  

Chapter Fourteen: NOT MY FIRST RODEO
https://digitalbloggers.com/arts-and-entertainment/the-ascent-chapter-fourteen  
        

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SUMMARY OF ELYSIUM'S PASSAGE NOVEL SERIES
 

 
This is a series of seven Elysium Passager novels regarding a young British philosopher named James Phillips, who finds himself living in an altered state of reality while still remaining on earth.  

After experiencing a near-fatal fall while climbing to the summit of a remote mountain in the Andes, James awakens in a new dimension. He soon encounters two mysterious beings who provide him with a very different perspective on the nature of his existence. Over the next year, before his body recovers from the coma, he is challenged to re-examine his understanding of life’s meaning and purpose far beyond anything he previously believed or could believe.

An engaging and sometimes surreal adventure with intimations of impending romance, the narrative explores the most important questions about life, death, reality, and our ultimate destiny. 

The Plains of Elysium (Champs-Élysées) was described by Homer, Hesiod, Virgil, and many other poets as the paradisiac afterlife realm reserved for heroes. As the title suggests, this is about a journey through a passage that leads towards Elysium’s exciting realm of adventures.

To read a sample press review at https://www.prweb.com/releases/2018/05/prweb15515775.htm