It’s been a pleasure to spend the last seven months reading together Montaigne, Sarah Blakewell, Peter Berger, and, above all, Pierre Hadot! Your fascination with him has deepened my own: The Present Alone Is Our Happiness and Philosophy as a Way of Life are full of “news we can use,” echoing Pema Chödrön.
In fact, her little book, Always Maintain Only a Joyful Mind frequently reminds me of Hadot’s work. Buddhism is a form, a choice, and a way of life. We can and must be attentive to this instant, this present moment, only moment. The 59 mind-training slogans are spiritual exercises to practice hour by hour, on the spot. They are a call to be aware of our inordinate self-cherishing and egoism, and drop them when we recognize what we are doing. One does well to “keep them at hand,” as the Stoics themselves advised long ago. Like Stephen Batchelor, she has given retreats over the decades, and has responded to innumerable questions of practitioners; she would remind people that the slogans are not theory, but therapy, in the root sense of the word, healing, for ourselves and our world.
This book is a condensed version of Start Where You Are, an extensive commentary on the 59. It would be easy to carry around with one throughout the day. Here are a few slogans with her succinct comments—
#21: Always maintain only a joyful mind.” Constantly apply cheerfulness, if for no other reason than because you are on this spiritual path. Have a sense of gratitude to everything, even difficult emotions, because of there potential to wake you up.
#28: “Abandon any hope of fruition.” The key instruction is to stay in the present. Don’t get caught up in hopes of what you’ll achieve and how good your situation will be some day in the future. What you do right now is what matters.
#33: “Don’t bring things to a painful point.” Don’t humiliate people.
#54: “Train Wholeheartedly.” Train enthusiastically in strengthening your natural capacity for compassion and loving-kindness.
I’ve picked 10 of the slogans to focus on practicing, during COVID, after Trump, through my seventh decade breathing in and out on this beleaguered planet.
I’ll end this by quoting Georges Friedmann, whom Hadot introduced me to a decade ago—“Try to strip yourself of your own passions, of the vanities and the rash of noise surrounding your name (which, from time to time, itches like a chronic affliction). Flee backbiting. Strip yourself of pity and of hatred. Love all free human beings. Become eternal by transcending yourself. This effort upon yourself is necessary; this ambition is just. Many are those who become completely absorbed in militant politics and the preparation of the social revolution. Few, very few, are those who, to prepare for the revolution, are willing to make themselves worthy of it.”