Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Pyrrho of Ellis a teacher of Silence

This year I have made a spiritual journey to become the spiritual leader and teacher of a Uniting Church in Adelaide after a year of discussion and discernment.  My arrival in this place has astonished me but feels deeply right.  I thought I would never return to church ministry but sojourn on the edge of the Church, exploring philosophy and mindfulness, being part of silent Quaker Meetings and Anglican Eucharists while working in the wider world.

For some of my friends and those in my wider circle there have been searching questions.  These have been directed towards my practices of Pyrrhonism and interest in ancient scepticism.  My return to a community where language of faith and the exploration of spirituality takes place in a community setting has been of some interest and others have been disappointed thinking that I might well become a more committed Buddhist.

These questions serve to underline the subtle scepticism practiced in the ancient world. Those influenced by Sextus Empiricus who looked to the enigmatic Pyrrho of Ellis saw themselves as practitioners of a middle way.  They suspended belief in the non evident while living lives of reflection and inquiry in daily life. Unlike the Academic sceptics who doubted everything and the materialist philosophers like the Stoics and the Epicurians, the Pyrrhonists gently indicated that usually what passes as doubt involved taking up another belief. Perhaps they practiced mindfulness where often we experience the inter relatedness of all things and can suspend the kinds of thinking that is always categorising experiences into abstraction. Suspension of belief invites a process of insight, investigating the thoughts and emotions that arise rather than taking those thoughts and emotions and beliefs literally.

When once again we live in a society where abstraction and the world of the everyday have become separated, ancient Pyrrhonic scepticism can prove a path back to balance and a sense of flow. We have to remember that Pyrrho never rejected religion, was honoured as sage and priest and learned from both the ascetics of India and Greek philosophy.

David Gamez's book on 'Positive Sceptism' also invites me to move between the worlds of belief with equanimity without constantly having to engage in an internal battle of deciding what is true. Here in this placement I can honour and practice this ancient sacred way of Pyrrho in ways that are liberating for myself and I hope for others. Here I can explore what Socrates and the Platonic tradition called 'Aphoria' that astonishing experience of living with the indefinable and the mystery of being.

When we move beyond constraining literal isms and can circle back to gently explore the mysterious power and enchantment of words there is the discovering of a sense of liberation and of inner silence.
There is a modesty in this ancient and seldom explored path where ego and the desire to justify through stating belief and opinion becomes the beautiful silence of refusing to choose, of remaining balanced in the paradox between flowing everyday moments of discovery and the contingency of abstract ideas. In Pyrrho there is a spark that leaps across between Asia and the West and in gently blowing on that spark in everyday encounters and in ministry practice maybe some of those dangerous and destructive forms of literalism may find a way to track beside each other in a great and abundant silence.

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