The Perils of Reading Platonists, Like, Nonstop

Over the past few years, I have been reading, and I have been reading quickly — with only one illness-imposed break last February when I had Influenza B and had such a rough time that I was wondering if I should check myself into the hospital because I couldn’t breathe. (A coworker got the same strain and she actually was hospitalized.) It feels like I was reading the French translations of Proclus’ essays on the Republic forever due to that. However, looking at Goodreads, this is not the case — I’ve made a lot of progress, and in fact, I’ve actually read 19 books so far in 2021, most of which were Platonism-related. I read 35 books in 2019 and 32 in 2020.

My general approach to learning is that I read things and make mental placeholders for what I don’t know, and the faster I read, the faster I can fill in my mental gaps with content, and the more stable that mental picture feels. Sometime over the past two months, I’ve had a sudden bout of confidence, and I don’t know where it’s from, but it’s a good sign that my mental gaps have closed enough that I at least have a workable structure.

There are perils to acculturating this fast to a philosophical system, namely that (a) it’s making me extremely disconnected from pop culture and (b) many of the jokes I would like to make now need a context that most people just don’t have — for example, “when life gives you λειμών-s” requires knowing about the Life part of the Being-Life-Intellect triad and the Meadow and Persephone and a bunch of other stuff to actually be a funny pun. Conversely, being able to make jokes about something is a positive sign for me that I’m understanding something well enough to do something with it; my brain just does them by default when it’s active. There is also (c) having now trained my brain to read Plato at least somewhat.

I will illustrate (c) now.

Yesterday, I decided to do a Yoga International class called “Held, Met, Recognized,” a recording by Chelsey Korus. It was a self-care class designed around the theme of “okay, so you’ve let go, but what do you actually fill that space with?” and involved soothing scents like lavender and a bunch of that.

During the opening part of this class, we did an aromatherapy exercise with the lavender. I have practiced with this recorded class before (in 2020?), and the first time I did it, I did not possess lavender oil, so I had used hand lotion (very slippery on my mat during the asana part, lol, not doing that again). It was great to feel prepared. The opening part of the class, while integrating scent, motion, and contemplation, asked us to think about what each of those words mean.

My brain went, “Wow, that’s actually a really nice self-care triad. Held corresponds to abiding, as it’s stationary, and it’s like Being; met indicates procession, as it indicates coming into a position, so it could almost be read as proceeding towards matter, and it’s like Life; and Recognized would then be the turning back portion, so it’s like Intellect, and that’s actually really beautiful, recognizing is totally like that theurgically, and it’s also like that moment at shrine when you use making eye contact with divine images to deepen the ritual state.” All in a span of probably 3 seconds, and then the rest of me was like, “… lolwhut Kaye? Are you seriously triading a self-care contemplation exercise?”

I wasn’t actually sure what to do, as I felt a bit sheepish and embarrassed and like I didn’t know where I was going with any of this. It’s also a yoga class, and Platonic philosophy is not the same as Yoga philosophy despite their commonalities. It’s very similar to how I often get flustered if I try to do a libation or something in a public natural setting like a park, as part of me is always worried about being heckled for littering or being called crazy and having the libation disrupted. I tend to be very self-aware in public anyway because being bullied as a child warps the brain for hypervigilance; it’s developmental damage that I have to manage. Alone, though, I sometimes suffer from the same thing because a part of me always feels as if it is preparing for battle, and I become vigilant about the things I would have to defend. Can you do asana and engage with a yoga class while holding Plato and not Patañjali in your heart? is a big question underlying that kind of embarrassment and anxiety.

It passed, though — it was, after all, a self-care flow, and thinking about Held-Met-Recognized as a triad was exciting and calming for me. I understood these words differently from some of the narrative Korus was bringing forth when she brought us back to those terms in longer holds and when we went into anchoring poses like bālāsana (child’s pose); she didn’t see the term met as proceeding, while I did.

A few times since yesterday, I’ve thought back to that, and also to (b), because part of me wants to make a joke of it — ha ha ha, I’ve been reading so much Proclus that I literally cannot even — and it’s the kind of thing that would have been easily tweetable had I not decided to avoid Twitter. It is a blessing, though, to not be tweeting. An offhand comment may get likes, social approval, and a few laughs, but it doesn’t yield to the reflective capacity to say okay, why am I joking about something important and realize that sometimes jokes are rooted in us wanting to downplay things that are important to us because we fear judgment and being wounded for finding a certain thing beautiful, useful, and sufficient. And then there is (a), which brings me back to Socrates and what he said about being a stranger to the agora and crowded places and making a fool of oneself when one does go there due to not nourishing oneself on the same things as others. And in my case, it’s not just an estrangement caused by studying Platonism, but because when I take breaks from reading it, there are particular types of poems, stories, and media that I reach for — mousikē in dialogue with mythology, science, folklore, and theology in a variety of genres.

It is kind of ironic, though, that in the process of learning about something that will ultimately help the soul become as Godlike as possible is, in practice, also particularization — a peril if it becomes another set of shackles we use to bind ourselves, an opportunity if we commit to learning about ourselves and diving into uncomfortable places.

Held — Met — Recognized.
Being — Life — Intellect.
Artemis — Persephone — Athene.
Abiding — Proceeding — Returning.


3 thoughts on “The Perils of Reading Platonists, Like, Nonstop

  1. i’ve done a similar thing in my somatics practice, actually. the group i practice with begins by centering ourselves in three dimensions of length, width, and depth, which in the model of Generative Somatics are also our individual dignity, our interdependence, and our movement through time. the facilitator mentioned that she maps them onto elements from her own cosmology (in her case, Celtic), and wheels immediately started churning in my brain. so now i center in length/dignity/unity, width/interdependence/multiplicity, and depth/time/the cycle of procession and reversion.

    Liked by 1 person

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