Book Review – The Inward Morning

The Inward Morning
A Philosophical Exploration in Journal Form
By Henry Bugbee, Edward F. Mooney, (Introduction)

1958, 1976 Henry Bugbee
1999 University of Georgia Press

Philosophy is an odd occupation. For most of us, it’s not a vocation as much as an occasional exercise in intense thinking. It’s novel, out-of-the-norm, something wise people in ancient Greece did. And then there were those clever German thinkers, British empiricists, and of course the “lively” existentialists. But I’d like to suggest that we’re all philosophers, regardless of education, age, or occupation. We all have ideas and beliefs about life, and because we’ve (hopefully) given some thought to these beliefs and grapple with their impact, we do qualify–at least as far as I’m concerned–as philosophers.

Until I happened upon Henry Bugbee’s “The Inward Morning,” I tended to think of philosophy as the specialty of those who were classically educated and had a lot of time on their hands. Philosophy, in its most distinguished (and therefore “legitimate” form) happened among old, wise people, often smoking pipes, furrowing their brows, and glaring over the tops of their reading glasses at the abstruse meanings of words and the complexities of ethics. I admit it was a stereotypical picture. But Henry Bugbee changed that for me. He me showed something much more human and accessible regarding philosophy.

“The Inward Morning” is often called “a book of philosophy written as a journal.” But it’s really much more than that. It’s not a “finished product” of genius, but rather a glimpse into the actual process of philosophy itself. It’s a documentary of discovery. Each entry is a snapshot–not of a school of thought or theory–but of a man’s effort to unravel and explore the mysteries of himself and his world on a day-to-day basis.

First published in 1958, “The Inward Morning,” is an amazing work. Often compared to Thoreau’s “Walden,” “The Inward Morning,” is a philosophical exploration inspired by nature, and guided by a search for balance in heart and mind. Huston Smith called it “the most Taoist Western book I know.” It has been both an underground philosophical gem and a staple of contemporary thought among professional and lay philosophers alike. Essentially, it is Bugbee’s personal journal, from August of 1952 through November 1953. As a Harvard professor of philosophy (and later professor emeritus of philosophy at the University of Montana), Bugbee is no stranger to deep thought. But his writing reaches beyond the usual confines of the university classroom. Bugbee is a man who seems to think best outdoors. And so it is fitting that Bugbee composes his work in the open, in the wilderness, both figuratively and literally. But what is the advantage of a philosopher publishing a book of his journal entries? Bugbee points out in the Preface:

“The present day–that is the dwelling of meditative thought. Consequently this work is in journal form. Not because it is a philosophical notebook or diary; it is neither of these. It is basically a work which required to be done within the day, from the actual human stance which the day might afford, whatever that day might bring.”

To read “The Inward Morning,” is not to read about philosophy, but to watch it happen. Bugbee is remarkably candid in voicing his doubts and uncertainties, and with that willing “beginner’s mind,” he takes a wondrous journey of the mind and heart. Bugbee is a participant in his own philosophy, a witness to his own process and product. Here, he refers to the often unspoken challenges of personal development:

“It is sobering to experience the extraordinary difficulty of coming to grips with one’s own beliefs, and yet also to suspect that one can say nothing worth saying that must not stem from what he believes in his heart.”

Nature is the backdrop to Bugbee’s thinking. From day to day, Bugbee reports on various aspects of the dynamic natural elements around him. From these things, he draws his inspiration, fueling his mind under a clear awareness of the influences of his own environment:

“Last night the humidity kept dropping, the air cooling off, and a full moon rose – The effect of this day, and of Beethoven’s Opus 135, to which I have just listened, is to make me conscious that the readiness to receive is all. Without that what can be given?”

Bugbee’s lyricism does not detract from the depth of his work. This is not meandering prose. At times, Bugbee is intently focused; a man deep in his work, attempting to convey for us some sense of the point-and-counterpoint happening within him. He draws on a diverse range, from Hume, Spinoza, Plato, to Zen (Bugbee traveled with famed Buddhist teacher D.T. Suzuki during the latter’s lecture tour in New England, and the two struck up a lasting friendship). Indeed, Bugbee has sometimes been called an “American Zen existentialist.”

However history decides to categorize Bugbee, “The Inward Morning” remains a masterfully deep, beautiful, and accessible document of one man’s journey of the mind and heart.

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