Three Of The Best Philosophy Books I Have Ever Read
See if you can wrap your mind around these books.
There are three books that have shaped my philosophical life. With each of them, I found one big take away, a guiding principle. From each of them, I still carry to this day, three “slogans” or ideas that I use to simplify my life. I don’t know them perfectly, I haven’t memorized all of the main points. I just found one thing from each of these books that work for me. I have kept them in my mind since the time that I read them.
The Wisdom of Insecurity, by Alan Watts
I was alone in 1997. I had just broken up with a woman with whom I was dating. Well, she broke up with me when I suggested that I needed more time for myself or something like that. At the time, I didn’t have a program, a support network, or anything like that. I remember going to see the movie, “The 5th Element” that day and feeling totally numb while watching it. So I walked out in the middle of the movie to do something else.
About a year before that breakup, I had been lucky enough to “borrow” a book from a friend, The Wisdom Of Insecurity, by Alan Watts. When I first got that book in my hands to read, it read like gibberish to me and I could not understand it. But after that breakup, that book made more sense than ever. I really needed that book.
I read it because I knew that I was looking for a sense of security that didn’t exist. I needed an out. As I read that book again, after another breakup with another woman, a new perspective began to take hold. I didn’t need as much security as I thought. I also learned something else. Many of my beliefs were costing me dearly and I needed to drop them. As I read that book, again and again, I latched onto the following sentence, the one thing that I will always carry with me:
Belief clings where faith lets go.
That is a principle that I live by. More than anything, that book taught me how to let go of beliefs that didn’t work for me. That one principle taught me to let go of beliefs that cost me so much time, effort and money. And I let go of those beliefs had made me hungry for security, attachment, and possessions.
So I made a decision to let go of as many beliefs as I could muster. Since the time that I finally came to understand the wisdom of insecurity, I have tried to let go of as many beliefs as I without going insane. Well, most people seem to think I’m OK, so maybe I haven’t gone too far.
That phrase, belief clings where faith lets go, meant that I could be agnostic and still be OK. I could be agnostic about everything, and I would still be OK. While thinking about how belief clings where faith lets go, I learned to stop making predictions and pay attention to what was already happening.
I also learned a great definition of faith: to reserve judgment. A belief is something that I hold to be true, regardless of the available evidence. Faith reserves judgment about reality. Faith says to me, “wait and see what happens next.” Faith has taught me to live without expectations, for the cost of expectations is the experience of disappointment.
As I live my life now, I live to see what happens next. Nothing more. I have tried the way of living with expectations and found them wanting, full of disappointment. For when I shed the beliefs that didn’t work for me, to the greatest extent possible, I relieved myself of the burdens that expectations carry. I opened my eyes to the way things are, rather than how I expect them to be. And from there, I can make a decision about whether to be happy or not.
The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz
I can’t remember when I first read this book, The Four Agreements. The agreements in this book all mean something to me. But I can’t remember them all. I only remember the most important agreement: Don’t take anything personally. I live by that. I don’t always remember it, but I have found a few ways to remember it and to live by it if I don’t remember those words when I need to.
That idea, “don’t take anything personally,” has guided me through many intense encounters with other people in my life. By not taking anything personally, to the greatest extent possible, I’ve been able to get married, keep my marriage, my family, my worldly possessions and my sanity.
In the chapter, Don’t Take Anything Personally, I learned that I don’t have to buy into the dreams of other people. If I fail to meet their expectations and disappoint them, it’s not my business. My job is to focus on my part when an interpersonal conflict arises. If someone tries to slight me with their words, that’s on them, not me. If someone wants me to feel unhappy, I can see that for what it is, and let it rest with them. Not my circus, not my monkeys.
The principle that I shall not take anything personally is literal. I used to think I was having a bad day, but later on, I learned I was really just having a challenging day. If I say that I’m having a bad day, then that’s personal. Then the world and its dog is out to get me. But if the day is challenging, then it’s not about me. It’s about how I decide to deal with the day.
When someone cuts me off in traffic, the challenge is to let it go. When my wife asks me to do something other than what I’m doing now, the challenge is to get that other thing done when it works for both of us without an argument or a fuss. When it rains, I keep my parade inside. When things don’t work or go as planned, I interpret that event as a challenge, not as a defeat. When I encounter a wall, I turn left or right. There are always options. That is what I see when I don’t take anything personally.
That idea, not to take anything personally made it easier for me to learn another idea from another book, Raising Human Beings, by Dr. Ross W. Greene. He says that “children exhibit challenging behavior when they lack the skills or capacity to respond proactively to the demands of their environment.” I have found that statement applies to everyone, not just kids. That statement cemented the idea in my mind that I never have to take anything personally, again.
Blink, The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, by Malcolm Gladwell
There is a story in Blink that I will never forget. It’s a story about art collectors and art fraud. A museum had received a new piece of art and they were investigating it, trying to decide if it was real or not. They were trying to decide if they wanted to pay for the asking price of a few million on that piece of work. One group of investigators saw it as a fraud right away. The other group spent nine months verifying it.
The group who saw that piece of art as a fraud right away didn’t know why they felt the way they did. They only knew that there was something wrong with it. They had an intuition about it and followed it. The other team did their due diligence and followed every lead they could find to verify the authenticity of the artwork, and after many months they reached the same conclusion. That story demonstrated to me that an immediate assessment can be just as accurate as nine months of deliberation.
What I liked about Blink is that it gave me permission to use my intuition. I learned that I had been using my intuition for all of my life. I’m deaf in one ear and blind in one eye. I have found that if I can’t trust my senses, then I must rely on intuition.
I was reading that book when I first started courting my wife. She was living in Vietnam at the time. I didn’t really know her when I proposed to her. As I read that book, I decided that I could spend the next few years investigating this woman, or I could get married. I was 42. I wasn’t getting any younger, and I was tired of living alone.
I went to Vietnam to meet her. I had other women that I wanted to meet, but they were unavailable. They couldn’t meet with me or they were too far away for my schedule to work. So I spent my time with the woman I would eventually marry. I proposed on the first trip. Then I went back a second time to get her visa approved.
I can remember sitting outside in the shade at the embassy, in the hot and humid air, waiting for my interview. I worried that this isn’t going to work out. I knew that the decision was going to be made by someone else. I had to have faith that the person behind the window who gave the interview, that he wanted to go to sleep at night knowing he did the right thing. I had to have faith that this was going to work out, either way. I was willing to trust my intuition to find out.
Since I got married to my wife, Alice, I have applied these principles. I have had to exercise faith, to reserve judgment. I have had to learn how not to take anything personally to stay married. And I used my intuition to find a mate in my wife and to raise two great kids.
These three books are the best philosophy books I have ever read.