Editor: Jerry Katz
LETTERS TO MY GRANDSON
why the unexamined life is not worth living
P D Goldsmith
Table of Contents
Letter One: The Body and the Physical World . 3
Letter Two: Smoking, Alcohol and Drugs 14
Letter Three: Healing the Body .. 17
Letter Four: Character .. 21
Letter Five: Culture . 46
Letter Six: Your Role in Society .. 57
Letter Seven: The Nature of Men and Women . 73
Letter Eight: Relationships 77
Letter Nine: Sex . 91
Letter Ten: Family and Fatherhood 96
Letter Eleven: Religion .. 101
Letter Twelve: Philosophy and the Spiritual Search ..110
- INTRODUCTION -
My dear Sebastian,
I am sitting in a wonderful Italian resort overlooking the
sea at Santa Maria Sebastian di Castellabate and I decided,
with considerable help and support from Laura, to start
on a series of letters to you to express some of the possible
wisdom that I have accumulated over my sixty-seven years.
That is not an arrogant or egotistical statement; it is simply
a matter of fact that as one gets older one does accumulate
some wisdom, whether by exploration of oneself or simply
through the experiences of life. These can be happy or
painful at times, but actually are always rather interesting.
Nobody knows how long each person has upon this earth.
One may think that one is in good health and everything is
going swimmingly, but it does not stop the possibility that
a disaster could strike at any time, as happens in so many
places in the world. I hope my time on this earth will be a
lot longer so that I can know you when you are older, but
no one can predict how long one has and it is probably a
blessing that that is so.
This series of letters is a
distillation of the essence of
my experiences on subjects which I hope you will find
interesting in due course. Some you may not fully understand
until you are quite a bit older, but at least you will
have them before you.
You may well ask, and no
doubt your parents will, why
these are letters to you rather than to your sisters Olivia and
Claudia. I hope what I have to say will be useful to them as
well, but because I am a man what I say will inevitably have
a male slant in the writing and may have more relevance to
you than to them.
I should add one thing at
the outset. There may or
may not be some good advice in these letters. But nothing
in them should be regarded as totally prescriptive. I have
simply set things out as I see them. And some of what I
have said may even, perish the thought, be wrong! So do
not worry if you do not agree with any of what I say.
So to the letters. There is a generally held view that
there are three aspects of knowledge: the spiritual, the
emotional and the physical. In truth, I do not think one can
make such a differentiation and I will come on to that in
a later letter; but for the sake of practicality, I propose to
start with the physical, then move on to the mind, then to
the emotions, and end up with arguably the most important
So let us make a start.
Your loving Grandfather.
- Letter Twelve -
Philosophy and the Spiritual Search
My dear Sebastian,
In my last letter on religion we concluded that it was important
to consider the questions about the meaning of life and
who we are.
Whilst fatherhood may be an
extremely rewarding and
enriching experience, and a mans employment may also
give him some satisfaction, these may not be enough. And
when these things no longer satisfy and there is an existential
ache within him, he may turn to consider the great
Traditionally, there are
three questions which provide
the basis for the start of the search. These are: Who am
I? Why am I here? and What is my relationship to society
and to the creation? These are very deep questions and
cannot be answered simply. However, as Socrates said, The
unexamined life is not worth living and in this, my final letter
to you, I propose to consider these questions and to offer
The subject of philosophy is
an ancient one and has
existed in all cultures from time immemorial. A philosopher
means, in the Greek, a lover of wisdom, and this
search, in my view, is the sole real function that a man has.
Without this search he is simply playing with toys all his
life or re-arranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.
When I was about twenty-one, I saw a poster on the
underground, with the title Philosophy which resonated
within me, and I went along to the course in London and
stayed there for thirty years. Initially the course was based
upon the ideas of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky and, if you only
have time to read two books on these extraordinary philosophers,
read In Search of the Miraculous by P D Ouspensky,
which looks at the time he spent with Gurdjieff, and
Meetings with Remarkable Men by G Gurdjieff, which charts
his journey to discover the truth by visiting various teachers
and gurus. Gurdjieffs ideas were radical and revolutionary.
He believed that man was fundamentally asleep even
though apparently awake whilst carrying out his daily life.
To quote briefly from Ouspenskys book, he reported
Gurdjieff to have said:
All people think they can
do, all people want to do,
and the first question all people ask is what they can
do. But actually nobody does anything and nobody
can do anything. This is the first thing that must be
understood. Everything happens And it happens
in exactly the way rain falls as a result of a change of
temperature in the higher regions of the atmosphere
or the surrounding clouds, as snow melts under the
rays of the sun, as dust rises with the wind.
Man is a machine. All his deed, actions, words,
thought, feelings, convictions, opinions, and habits
are the results of external influences, external
impressions. Out of himself a man cannot produce
a single thought, a single action. Everything he says,
does, thinks, feels all this happens .
But no one will ever believe you if you tell him
he can do nothing. This is most offensive and the
most unpleasant thing you can tell people. It is particularly
unpleasant and offensive because it is the
truth, and nobody wants to know the truth.
Strong stuff! I read this
book one term after I joined the
school of philosophy in 1966, and it had a profound effect
on me; it was as though the scales had fallen from my eyes.
In In Search of the Miraculous, Ouspensky is very taken
by Gurdjieffs teaching that there were higher levels of
consciousness that could be attained through something
called self-remembering. He decides that he will attempt
to remember himself and be aware for a certain period
of time as he sets off down a road. Several hours later he
has a slight feeling that he has forgotten something that he
was supposed to remember, and wakes with a shock to the
fact that he was supposed to remember himself. He traces
back in his mind the journey that he took and remembers
being aware of himself right up until the point that he
went into a tobacconist and asked for some cigarettes. This
also had a profound effect on me, as it really demonstrated
the clear nature of sleeping man, but also the possibility of
waking up to a different level of reality.
What is so powerful about
these books is that they
radically shake up ones ideas about the nature of reality.
~ ~ ~