How Reflecting on Big Questions Can Change Your Life
Articles in This Section:
God and the Sendai Earthquake GO
What Do Process Thinkers Believe? Twenty Key Ideas
(English and Chinese)GO
The World is a Reflection of the Heart:
Learning from (Half) a Chinese Saying GO
Comparing Whitehead and Chinese Thought GO
What is the purpose of life? Wisdom, Compassion, Creativity GO
Washing Dishes and other Sacred Acts:
A Brief Introduction to Ultimate Reality GO
Jesus beyond Christianity:
Seeker of Wisdom and Friend to the Powerless GO
I Believe in Big Love(大爱):
Letter to a Chinese Exchange Student GO
A Letter to Whitehead From a Christian in Beijing GO
We Will Wonder, Too:
Buried Questions, Pure Minds, and the Collective Unconscious GO
“I Keep Dancing”
Whiteheadian Reflections On Harmony and Hybridity GO
One Tree Doesn't Make a Forest, One Forest Cannot Replace a Tree:
Reflections on the Postmodern Self GO
Colors are What Feelings Look Like:
Guidance from Whitehead and Tibetan Buddhism GO
Six Tips for Thinking about Religion
Letter to a Chinese Exchange Student GO
Wouldn’t It Be Nice if Christians Became Taoists?
Hope from the Emerging Church GO
Can We Love People Who Harm Us?
Even if they Harm People We Love? GO
Easter Morning Reflections
For People of All Faiths and No (Institutionalized) Faith GO
The Fire is Raging. Are you Afraid?
Prayer for a Daffodil GO
Creation through Lovingkindness
A Jewish Appreciation of Process Theism GO
Every Parent Deserves a Nobel Prize
Twelve Tips for Postmodern Parenting GO
Becoming – East and West
A Brief Meditation on Buddhism and Judaism GO
What Difference Does Prayer Make?
The Value of Prayer for People
Who are Religious and People Who are Not GO
Religious Atheism and Process Theology
An Inter-Religious Dialogue GO
Can We Find God in Organized Religion? GO
The Improvising Christian
Finding Your Inner Coltrane GO
Ecopoetics is seeking wisdom for daily life. This seeking occurs in many contexts and is not limited to philosophy or poetry, religion or art. Those of us who live in Asia and those of us who live in the West can think together, even as we arrive at different answers. Each person has a unique perspective, a unique world. Harmony is not sameness.
People do not need to be philosophical in order to seek wisdom. There are many wise people who are not very philosophical. Their wisdom comes with experience, not detached reflection. Additionally there are many people who fancy themselves as philosophers, but are not very wise. They fall into what Whitehead calls the fallacy of misplaced concreteness. This is the fallacy of confusing their own abstractions with concrete existence. As this happens, they may also lapse into forms of specialized speech -- jargon -- which function to secure their place within what they pereive to be an elite class. Consciously or unconsciously their aim is to wield power over others. Along the way they forget the big questions.
Still, if we understand philosophy as the activity of reflecting upon big questions in life, philosophy can play an important role in ecopoetics. So can theology. There is much to learn from philosophy and theology in the East and West, inasmuch as it deals with big questions.
What are these big questions? There are many of them, and oftentimes in the West they are preceded by the words what and how and why. What is time? What is space? What is the self? What is beauty? What is truth? What is goodness? What can people hope for? What is the purpose of life? How can I live? How can I find peace of mind? How can I contribute to society? How can I take my place within the larger scheme of life? How did the universe begin? And what does that matter, anyway?
As people ask these questions, they - we -- need not seek final answers. Whitehead is famous for saying that the merest hint of dogmatic certainty is an exhibition of folly. The desire for final answers is a desire for closure, for putting an end to questioning. Often it is a sign of spiritual immaturity: an inability to deal with different perspectives, different kinds of people, different kinds of experience, and different ways of knowing. And often it is rooted in fear: a fear of the unknown, a fear of mortality, a fear of loneliness.
There is something dangerous about closure, too. Many an oppressed person has been victimized by someone or some group who claims to have the right answers. There is no need to be right about everything, or even anything, if being right is an excuse for domination. It is enough to say: "This is how things seem to me, and I am open to evidence to the contrary." In this openness there is wisdom, too. It makes room for other people with other points of view. It facilitatates dialogue and conversation.
The big questions are music. The are lures for feeling. They call the soul with beckoning melodies, but there is always more to the beckoning that our minds can grasp. We respond to their callings, not by pretending to answer them, but by singing our own songs in response to them. Sometimes the singing takes the form of tentative answers and sometimes of more questioning. In this singing, including the questioning, there is wisdom, too.
Among the best questioners in our world are children. In Whiteheadian philosophy one of the purposes of education is to give children the freedom to ask questions, to be curious, to seek answers, and then to seek more questions. All of it is singing. Naturally and intuitively, children are drawn to the biq questions. Why is there suffering? What can we hope? How can we live?