𝌡 Uman is a monthly newsletter about documenting what it means to pursue philosophy, contemplation, and writing independently as a way of life.
In this August 2022 issue:
- Henry Bugbee and his philosophy of place, presence, and memory
- Leaving academia
- Andrew J. Brown and unitarianism
- What the words “religion” and “spirituality” mean
- A forest garden of the mind
- Some new walking vignettes
- Why freelancing and entrepreneurship might be more secure than a traditional job
August was was a weird month. I started it by experimenting with work schedule. I combined two working-for-money sessions that ran from July 26 to August 6. Usually, I would work four to five straight 12+ hour work days during the last five days of each month. This frees up the next 25 days of the following month for philosophy, walking, and photography. I wrote about how I got into this lifestyle in a badly titled essay I wrote a few years back: ”How I Became a Professional Multipotentialite.”
I was curious what would working for ten straight 12+ hour work days in exchange for 50 free soulful days felt like, so I tried. I might never do it again. After 120+ work hours in a span of ten days, I went home immediately to Pangasinan to spend time with some relatives coming home from the States for the first time since the pandemic. There, in between family bonding, I spent my time exploring a few new thinkers and a completely different way of writing and publishing online, which I have been exposed to in the past but never really embraced until now: digital gardening.
Philosophical and other studies
I discovered henry bugbee through his prolific student edward mooney, while reading about henry david thoreau last month. The two Henries were similar as they both wrote works that could be classified as lyrical philosophy, that is, philosophical texts that were written sans the rigid and dry language of most analytical philosophy but instead using literary techniques like narrative and verse. They are called lyrical because the use of the first person “I” is integral in this kind of philosophy. The experiences and point of view of the author is seminal in the work. It is a kind of philosophy I am playing around in the past couple of months. In fact, I already have some Ideas on how to explore lyrical philosophy in my work. Specifically, I would like to Combine analytical and lyrical philosophy in one practice.
Bugbee, like Thoreau, wrote relatively little and published even less. In fact, while Thoreau only published two books, Bugbee only published one—The Inward Morning: A Philosophical Exploration in Journal Form. It is a beautiful piece of writing, one that eludes simple description. I have only started to read its first 50 pages but I have to say it is a mix of deep, difficult prose and poetic, even entertaining stories. Lyrical, indeed. If you are curious, I started publishing my commentaries on the inward morning by bugbee.
Since he is not a structured thinker, Bugbee can be difficult to understand. To help me “get” him, I read two excellent essays: “Henry Bugbee: Thinker, Wanderer, Fly-fisherman” by Joseph Keegin and Working Certainty and Deweyan Wisdom by Douglas Anderson. The introduction of his book written by his mentor Gabriel Marcel also helped as well as a podcast about his essay “Education and the Style of Our Lives.”
Bugbee believes that philosophy, like poetry, should flow, and therefore, the philospher should follow a poetic principle in writing:
Get it down. Get down so far as possible the minute inflections of day to day thought. Get down the key ideas as they occur. Don’t worry about what it will add up to. Don’t worry about whether it will come to something finished. Don’t give it up when faced with the evidence of miscarried thought. Write on, not over again. Let it flow. Don’t haggle with the naturalists. Don’t be stopping to jam the idea down somebody’s throat. Give it a chance. If there can be concrete philosophy, give it a chance. Let one perception move instantly on another. Where they come from is to be trusted. Unless this is so, after all is said and done, philosophy is arbitrary and idle.
His epistemology inspired me to treat the field notes I write during my walks and the fleeting notes I take while reading as integral parts of my philosophical universe. Before, I treated them as inputs to be processed and later on deleted. This August, I created a separate tag in my Obsidian vault that marked them as “seeds”—seeds that need planting somewhere in my forest garden of the mind.
Here are two seeds I was particularly fond of in August—both of them taken during a walk:
I have always been interested in intellectual work happening outside academia. In August, I found some resources about people who were once deep inside academia and now were out. They shared the reasons why they left and a few options about what to do next for people who left the ivory tower.
Here are those resources:
- The Professor is In
- Why I Left Academia, And What Happened In My First Three Years | Chris Cornthwaite - Roostervane
- Academia is a cult | Karen Kelsky | TEDxUAMonticello
- Get your mind off the conveyor belt with Steve Patterson
- Career Hackers
Andrew J. Brown and unitarianism
While looking for secondary resources to help me understand Henry Bugbee’s The Inward Morning, I came across an article entitled Henry Bugbee - an atheistic mysticism free of mythological trappings. It was an article posted on a very interesting website. Interesting because it was owned (and regularly updated!) by a church minister who was also an atheist! To show you how interesting this person is, I’ll just paste his bio here:
My name is Andrew James Brown. I’m a philosophically/theologically inclined writer with sympathies towards Christian atheism, D. G. Leahy’s “thinking now occurring for the first time”, a Lucretian inspired religious naturalism, new materialism and Kyoto School philosophy; also a photographer, cyclist, walker and jazz bass player. In addition to this, I’m the minister of a small, liberal-religious, free-thinking community in Cambridge (UK).
He got me at “philosophically/theologically inclined writer” (That’s me! Well, at least the first half of it) but also at Christian atheism (I had no idea something like that existed). I read Andrew’s About page and fell in love with the twist and turns of his life that led him to where he is now. He piqued my interest on the philosopher Benedict Spinoza and I just love this quote he uses throughout his work, a quote by the philosopher Herbert Fingarette:
“These studies are outcomes rather than realised objectives. In making the journey, I have no aims. These studies are intellectual footprints, not blueprints.”
That’s exactly how I want my thinking and writing to look like or, at least, try to be. His article/sermon ”The Freedom To Be Tomorrow What We Are Not Today” elaborated this quote.
After reading the word unitarianism from Andrew’s bio, I immediately felt it was familiar. Ah, yes! The movie Come Sunday, which was about the excommunication of Carlton Pearson, a once pastor of the Higher Dimensions Family Church, because of his refusal to teach the existence of hell. After leaving his previous church, Pearson became affiliated with a unitarian church.
Unitarianism, I would later learn, is one of the most liberal movements in religion, one that allowed its ministers to teach free thinking theologies, even skepticism about the existence of God. As an ex-young pastor of a fundamentalist evangelical religion, who left after realizing how stringent the rules in the church were, the spirit of unitarianism speaks a lot to me. Although I have no plans of joining any organize religion anytime soon, Andrew’s work reminded me of the many possibilities in a life devoted to philosophy and contemplation.
Religion and spirituality
Bugbee’s only book The Inward Morning was described by Gabriel Marcel as a religious work. Fifty pages past since I started reading it, nothing in there came to me as religious except, perhaps, some alusions to Eastern philosophy. Was this what Marcel referred to as “religious”? This got me thinking: How do philosophers use the noun “religion” and its adjective “religious”? In addition, Andrew Brown mentioned religious naturalism in his bio, which I immediately checked out. I read the Wikipedia entry on it. I discovered that Religious naturalism is a relatively new belief system that simply introduces religious practices, ideas, and values as a response to a sense of wonder of the natural world. Many atheists or agnostics who reject the supernatural realm but are still “religious” find a home in this label. To learn more about this perspective, I listened to a podcast interview of one of the movement’s founders, Ursula Goodenough.
All of these led me to a rabbit hole that I should have explored long ago if I have not been intentionally avoiding the topic: religion. After I left my childhood religion, I found that it was an almost automatic reflex to reject anything that has to do with “religion.” Although I did have a “spiritual period” a few years after leaving the church when I explored different Eastern belief systems, I never really was able to let go of the cautiousness I learned from my previous experience nor do I want to let go of it. Today, as I try to develop my own worldview, I never really looked at the current project as something “religious.” But reading Bugbee and encountering religious naturalism convinced me that I need to understand what religion really is and evaluate my life work through that understanding.
I started my exploration by reading the entry entitled ”The Concept of Religion” at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. I was mindblown by the plethora of options in defining religion, many of which I wasn’t aware of. I assumed that the word religion always referred to an organized group that shared a belief in a deity or deities and whose practices and traditions involved pleasing those dieties. But the original meaning of the Greek word religio was far from this assumption and even more contemporary definitions reject the idea that a religion always requires a belief in a deity. If you are fascinated by this topic, like me, you can check out the notes I wrote about the theme religion.
After reading and thinking about the many uses of the word religion, I began thinking about the possibility of having a religious element in my life work. As I have articulated in the past, I see my life work as something that revolves around finding answers to the question how to live. My desire to learn phiosophy and develop my worldview and a unique way of life based on that is, I now see, a very religious endeavor. In history, such an endeavor was originally philosophical (that is, it didn’t involve deities), but it was later adopted by religious people throughout history that I couldn’t keep a blind eye to the lives of these great exemplars. They are rich resources for my project.
I am taking baby steps towards this direction. I wrote the following notes where I considered the possibility of learning from my past life as a religious person:
- Things I had in my past religious life I can incorporate in my current life
- A comparison of my past religious life and my life today
Thinking about religion, I couldn’t not think about spirituality. Not long from my research, I realized that, unlike religion, most resources about the meaning of he word spirituality are written outside academic circles by spiritual gurus from different traditions. Scholars treat spirituality as something integral to religious studies and, therefore, does not give it its own discourse. That is starting to change as some philosophers are advocating for the establishent of a new “philosophy of spirituality.” As currently conceptualized, spirituality seems to be closer to the concept of a “personal religion,” a religion that is curated by the individual practitioner using different elements from different traditions available in a “spritual marketplace.” Also, spirituality, as understood by psychologists, refers to the state of having spiritual experiences (or transcendental experiences), something that Scott Barry Kaufman discusses in his book Transcend.
A seed note I wrote recently (2022-08-30 seeds) captures my current thinking and dilemmas about the words “religion” and “spirituality.” My current stand is to avoid using these words in my life work, at least for now, not because they are innacurate (my work indeed has a religious and spiritual element), but because they are too loaded that I might be misinterpreted. I don’t have a clear alternative. But for now, I will stick to philosophy or “way of life” as labels to my project.
I wrote a new Lilim issue earlier last month: “Lilim 03(08) — Walking Lopez, Quezon Part II: A Fishpond at San Jose”.
In my digital forest garden, I also published first drafts of four vignettes:
- sampaloc lake
- the ube halaya stores at san pablo
- ang mosque sa bulusan street
- the dirt roads are my kissas
These drafts could become future Lilim issues. Why I am publishing “drafts” will be explained in the next section.
Lastly, I wrote a lengthy Facebook post about why Freelancing or Entrepreneurship is More Financially Secure Than a 9-5 Job. A lot of my freelancer and entrepreneur friends seem to resonate with it.
As I said in the introduction, I spent a good amount of August thinking about and applying a different way of writing on the web. Earlier this year, I intended to learn web design and development. I took a course (which I haven’t finished yet!). My goal was to redesign my website from the ground up. I also wanted to launch a customized website for the hundreds of processed and unprocessed notes in my Personal knowledge management system, notes I accumulated from years of reading, writing, and reflecting.
While researching for inspirations for the redesign, I cam across the website 100r.co. Its authors treated the website as a personal wiki (an encyclopedia of their life while living in a boat and experimenting with a low-tech lifestyle). I became fascinated by the concept and wanted to turn my website into something similar, to distance myself from the time-bound chronological style of maintaining a site that also pressures one to produce and publish. Alas, I didn’t have the coding skills to create one. I just learned how to use Hugo, a static site generator, but I wasn’t verse in the languages of coding: HTML, CSS, or JS. Because of this, I settled to old-school blogging, parked the project, and focused on my other interests like photography.
Today, I understand that what I really wanted was to combine both my notes and my blog posts into a single ecosystem where my writings are treated as different stages in a plant’s life: seeds, seedlings, and evergreens. This, I later learned, was connected to the idea of digital gardening.
I couldn’t implement this system early this year because, aside from my mediocre coding know-how, my notes and blog posts were in a form that cannot be uploaded into a static site. This was the reason why I switched from Craft to Obsidian in curating my notes. All my notes and blog posts are now in markdown, a file type that could be uploade into the web via a static site generator like Hugo. Using a really amazing theme, Quartz, that is what I did.
Today, I publish my Obsidian vault, with both my blog posts and notes, into a single site: vinceimbat.com. Things aren’t perfect. I am still using a theme. I still don’t know how to fully customize it to suite my own needs. But I am happy with how the website turned out for now.
If you want to know more about this project, I documented it through a log here: Project log - Forest garden publishing. Also, here is a note introducing my initial thoughts about using a “forest garden” as a metaphor to refer to my writing and thinking ecosystem: forest garden of the mind.