Spiritual Exercises

Last year I read several books by French philosopher Pierre Hadot, who has focused on the role of spiritual exercises in philosophy. Through Hadot, I became acquainted with this short passage from a diary kept by Frenchman Georges Friedmann in the 1940s:

“To take flight” every day! At least for a moment, which may be brief, so long as it is intense. A “spiritual exercise” every day—alone or in the company of a person who also wants to better herself.

Spiritual exercise. Leave duration behind. 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.

In What is Ancient Philosophy? Hadot offers the following comment on Friedmann: “The ‘engaged’ philosopher always runs the risk of letting himself be swept along by political passions and hatreds. This is why it was vital, in Friedmann’s view, that in order to improve the human situation we concentrate our strength ‘on limited groups, even on individuals,’ and ‘on the spiritual effort (the transformation of a few),’ which, he thought, would eventually be communicated and diffused.”

Hadot goes on to describe such spiritual exercises as “voluntary, personal practices meant to bring about a transformation of the individual, a transformation of the self.”

Reading Hadot, I thought of many friends and former students who have taken the demanding path of social work, or teaching, or medicine, or activism, and it occurred to me that it may be beneficial if a few of us gathered to share our experiences, offer support, and expand our repertoire of spiritual exercises to make ourselves worthy of the work we have taken on.

In January, we worked with the exercise of gratitude at the home of Sarah Bollinger and Kenneth Pruitt:

Meister Eckhart: If the only prayer you say in your entire life is “Thank you,” that would suffice.

Albert Einstein: There are two ways to live your life.  One is as though nothing is a miracle.  The other is as though everything is a miracle.

Rick Hanson: We experience gratitude when we are freely given something good.  Therefore, looking for opportunities for gratitude—developing an “attitude of gratitude”—is a great way to notice and enjoy some of the gifts you’ve received. Gratitude does not mean ignoring difficulties, losses, or injustice. It just means also paying attention to the offerings that have come your way. Especially the little ones of everyday life.

On Monday 27 February, we will continue our explorations at the home of Josh and Laura Aranda, 6312 W. Park Avenue in Dogtown (63139) from 7-8 pm. Please contact me if you are interested!

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