“Prove your words by your deeds.” – Seneca the Younger
The only worth a philosophy has is whether it can be applied in life. If our philosophy can be applied then we should practice what we preach. A practical philosophy means not only knowing what must be done but actually doing it. Without practice, a philosophy is conceptual and not a tool. We can sit in a university café (or online forum) for hours and debate the merits of one philosophy over another. One can bring forward the moral and ethical strong points of their chosen philosophical flavor but unless they have practiced it in real life then there is nothing much to say.
We go to a doctor or psychiatrist if we are feeling physically or mentally unwell. A psychologist or therapist is visited for counseling. Some of us visit a Priest, Rabbi or Spiritual Advisor to help us grapple with problems or questions. Who these days goes to a Philosopher for advice on how to live in accordance with a particular philosophy? We do not live in ancient Greece or Rome where we can engage in conversation with Socrates, Epicurus, Zeno, Seneca or Epictetus. We will not find Stoics, Skeptics or Ascetics to confer with and take away a formula for living. If I were to walk in to the Philosophy Department of the local University and ask a professor for some sage advice on how to manage my affairs, handle cravings or deal with emotions he would probably not be able to offer anything practical.
The ancients had words of advice on all these matters. Today we have many philosophies to choose from. The libraries are full or books written by the classic, renaissance, contemporary and modern philosophers. One can easily create an account on an online forum and engage in debate on Philosophy. The Stoics hold an annual conference and a “Stoic Week”*. The event draws people from around the world in an online experiment on living like a Stoic for a week. I participate in the event and continue to apply many of the practices as part of my own Jedi training throughout the year. You only get out of philosophy what you put in.
I consider myself a student of Jedi Philosophy. This means not only do I read widely on Jedi Philosophy but I broaden my knowledge in others as well. I participate in online forums and read posts to understand what other followers of the Jedi path think and how they live their lives. The fiction is also there to draw inspiration from. Jedi philosophy is a recent phenomena and an evolving trend. The focus of Jedi Philosophy is similar in many ways to the ancient schools of philosophy. Students are encouraged to study and question but most of all to practice what they have learned every day. The Fictional Jedi was all about action and deeds, not words.
Deeds not Words
This emphasis on a practical philosophy for life agrees with recovery from addiction. The 12 Steps is also all about action. By accepting our disease and embracing certain principles in to our life we embark on a program of recovery that requires action. Reading books, speaking to people and attending meetings is not enough. Recovery occurs outside of that, in the day to day things that we do. We commit to mapping our faults and doing something about them. Addressing the past and seeking to make amends. Action includes daily maintenance of our practice through meditation, prayer and study. Service to others is also a form of direct action that helps us.
It is the same for any philosophy. One can say they are a Stoic but yet live like a Hedonist and allow their emotions and desires to govern their every decision. We are judged by our actions not our words. I can not say I am Jedi if I am rude and obnoxious to people, dishonest in my dealings and commit illegal acts like theft or physical assault no matter what the reason. Would I be able to stand up in a meeting and tell people I follow the 12 Steps and the principles of honesty and humility if in fact I continue to drink when I’m not there?
You are the Master
We can argue and debate about how one should act and what one must do to live a “Good Life” however unless we do these things none of that matters. It is only a rhetorical practice. No one is watching us all the time but ourselves. If there is a “God” and it resides within then the old scripture which tells us “God knows all that we do” is true. It may not be some deity outside of us looking down but our own inner conscience. If I question whether I am consistent with my personal philosophy of life usually checking in with my heart reveals the truth. We can fool ourselves in to thinking that we are something but deep down we know we are faking it. We can be dishonest with others, but to be dishonest to our self is far worse.
If I am unsure of how I must think, speak or act in any given situation there is usually no sage standing by. There are books and forums but usually we must decide on how to proceed from advice given in general terms. We must also filter what works for our unique circumstances and what doesn’t. I know what my principles and values are; I know which virtues to practice when faced with challenges. My philosophy for life gives me that tool kit and I decide how to use apply the tools. There is a general rule of thumb when we get stuck or are caught with our pants down; we can react and possibly go against our principles or we can stick to the basic rule that Marcus Aurelius set him self every day:
“If it is not right do not do it; if it is not true do not say it”
The practice of Kabbalah teaches students to just go out and practice; “first do it, then understand”. Don’t get lost in the detail or the semantics just pick up the tools and get to work. Trying to learn everything there is to know before practicing means never practicing. One must simply jump in. I did not wait to read the Big Book and the 12×12 and a myriad of other literature before I decided to abstain from alcohol, I did that first and then read the books.
At the moment I am trying to learn the guitar. A part of me thinks that I will be able to learn simply by reading the books, understanding theory and watching some you-tube videos. Unless I pick up a guitar and play I will never learn. Philosophy is no different. Even mistakes are useful, in fact making mistakes is essential.
Go out and practice being the person you want to be. There is no need to be a Philosopher or even to have a firm philosophy of life. Simply be the person you want to be and the rest will fall in to place. Practice what you Preach.