|| Maria João dos Santos das Neves Heer
Maria’s earliest memories include the trauma leaving her home in Lourenço Marques for good, and at the age of three arriving in cold, cold Coimbra after Mozambique had become independent following over 400 years of Portuguese rule.
From the early 20th century, four generations of her family in Mozambique had held high-ranking positions in the civil administration and the customs service, although Maria describes her nearest relatives as a “family of doctors”.
Maria’s Tavira home is full of Mozambican furniture; her rocking chairs, her piano, beautiful hardwood tables together with fine china from Macao. It is a warm house, bright and sunlit. It is her part of Africa in the Algarve.
One of the reasons that she decided on a teaching career is because of the holidays. There is more time available for reading, and it was a book by the Spanish philosopher María Zambrano (1904-1991) that would change her life.
Scholarships and grants, including one from the Gulbenkian Foundation, enabled her to spend five years studying Zambrano’s published and unpublished documents in Málaga, Zambrano’s birthplace, where she also felt close to Africa through the smells, the colours and the heat.
Her eyes lit up as she described her excitement and the luxury of so much time to read, think and write. Zambrano’s view that dreams come first and awakening comes afterwards have set the pattern for Maria’s life. “Night does follow day,” she says, “but daylight also follows a night of dreams.”
She took her degrees from the Universidade Nova de Lisboa and her PhD in Contemporary Philosophy followed in 2002, and she went on to teach at the now-closed private university in Loulé (for six years now she has been a Senior Researcher at Universidade Nova de Lisboa).
As visiting scholar in the University of MSOE, Maria gave lectures in several universities in Wisconsin. She lectured mainly on María Zambrano and the Phenomenology of Dreams. “People think one way, they feel differently and then act in a third way. This generates confusion and a lot of suffering. When dreams are remembered, they are a wonderful source of information – they go directly to the point.”
In ancient times, Greek philosophers would apply their thinking to the everyday issues of the man in the street, and philosophical practitioners are going back to that original tradition. Using the wisdom of the great thinkers of the past and using everyday language that we can all understand, today’s philosophers are becoming part of everyday life. As a part of this movement, Maria uses Zambrano’s views on dreams in her method of counselling, which she calls Poetical Raciovitalism (RVP).
Maria has had 10 years’ experience in philosophical counselling and she has opened her consultancy at ArtLabos in Tavira. Although one-to-one counselling work is rewarding, she believes that people do not reflect enough on the human condition.
Philosophers ask such questions as: What is the purpose of life? What are the sources of happiness? Can we find meaning in pain and suffering? How can we train our minds for happiness? Are dreams important to our lives?
Many people would personally benefit from discussing these issues, and we should then be in a position to make more sense of our existence.
Poetical Raciovitalism (RVP) is a series of Philosophical Practice exercises designed by Maria as a means of putting reason to the service of life.
Three sets of exercises help a person first to understand who they really are, and to see through character and caricature; secondly to become consciously and openly aware of what is happening; and thirdly by speaking to reveal to the practitioner unconscious patterns. “The cadence of speech is most likely involuntary and therefore possibly more genuine and revealing than the content of what is actually being said.”
The original symposium in Greece was people getting together to drink wine and discuss ideas, and, following this example, Maria has started discussion groups called Philosophy Cafés.
She already runs meetings in Portuguese in Faro and Tavira, and she now plans to run an English Philosophy Café in Tavira, starting at 5.30pm on Friday, May 6 at the Associação Casa Álvaro de Campos.
The topic for the first Philosophy Café in English will be “Creating Positive Karma” (the background text for the talk is available on the website www.algarvehistoryassociation.com). The Greek philosophers also used to talk as they walked and Maria has plans to organise Philosophy Walks as well as Greek-style symposia.
Maria’s views on the uses of philosophy go beyond working with individuals and groups. Her recently published book Troika-me describes Portugal as a 21st century feudal society and her solution to Portugal’s problems is a revolution in the way people think, particularly among those in power.
Use of the sciences, the arts and philosophy can make Portugal more powerful again and give the country a voice in Europe and the world.
It is clear that the Portuguese want to hear her message. At her book launch in Faro on March 30 this year, people scrabbled for a copy of her book before she had even begun her presentation. “I had never seen anything like it,” she said. Of the 100 available copies, there remained only four. Maria herself appears on the front cover in a characteristic yoga handstand pose.
In a sense, Maria is evangelical about her work, but visionaries have to be. Her attitude to life is positive and uplifting, and through her counselling practice and Philosophy Cafés, her influence and energy can have only a beneficial effect.
Algarve History Association will sponsor a Literary Lunch on Friday, May 27 at 12.30pm at the Tavira Garden Restaurant, where Maria will talk about her book and her ideas on philosophy. Although her book is not yet translated into English, her words will be of great interest to the many foreigners who have made Portugal their home.
Maria João was recently offered a professorship in the USA, which she has had to refuse. The Algarve is much closer to her African birthplace, she said, “and I love my life here in the Algarve and … Wisconsin is so cold”.
By Lynne Booker