Choosing the Right Spiritual Path

The Scene of Bewilderment

One is soon bewildered after one awakens to the realization that there must be more than this. The realization comes, comes surely and painfully, and cannot be taken back. Despite the realization striking home with the force of conviction, one does not know what one means when one says and believes, ‘There must be more than this': what is the ‘this’ to which I’m referring? More than what? Where is this more? And why ‘must’ there be?

This much is for sure: one is making a cut between how one lives and how it would be better for one to live, and one is pronouncing the former to be pale in the radiant light of the latter. To say ‘there must be more than this’ is to mean, at least, that ‘There must be more to human life than the life I am currently leading. And whatever this surplus is, it promises to make human life better somehow: to overcome this restlessness, this disquiet, this strife, this vacuity and to make it fuller, truer, realer, more splendid. In the light of that which is namelessly, enigmatically higher, I could be transformed into that, or a part of what, I seek.’

Existential Choice as Devotion

Now comes the existential choice concerning which spiritual path to take, for that is what it is: an, perhaps the, existential choice. This sort of choice is not a choice without matter or consequence but is, as Pierre Hadot says, a ‘choice of life.’ To say this is to say that it is not the sort of choice that one can easily renege upon or back out of in an instant; it is devotion, a fundamental and ongoing act of commitment, a something to which one is related, tied, wedded. It is rather like choosing a spouse. Granted, one can seek separation or get a divorce later on but not without considerable consequences, lifelong implications, uneasy disentanglements, the painful waves of severance. Furthermore, this existential choice, unlike the garden variety decisions one makes on any given day, is that in the light of which one lives, values, appreciates, affirms, confirms, or denies, rejects, disconfirms certain facets of everyday life. Without this orientation toward others, the world, events, oneself, one is scarcely the same person, barely known to oneself. Thus, the existential choice of life is far more serious than a matter of life and death since in it lies the very possibility of, the delicate key to my life’s going well. It is a gossamer thread I wish not to break.

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Kaos Pilots: A Comprehensive View (Part 2)

I mentioned a second method that, if applied, could help Kaos Pilots or a school like it to make sense of a wide array of phenomena by bringing that wide array into a single, comprehensive view of things.

In Whose Justice? Which Rationality?, the Catholic philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre observes that there come times when competing traditions confront each other. Quite often, tradition B will do no more than reject tradition A, claiming simply that A’s views are incompatible with its views. Occasionally, tradition A concedes that some of B’s minor claims may be placed at the outskirts of A yet nothing else need be modified. In MacIntyre’s telling, most medieval theologians before Aquinas simply rejected Aristotelian cosmology on the grounds that it wasn’t compatible with the Augustinian theology they had inherited and were committed to espousing.

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Kaos Pilots: A Comprehensive View (Part 1)

Kaos Pilots is a fairly unique school in that its students are taught by a wide array of guest lecturers who discuss a vast array of subjects. The latter include courses in business strategy, process consulting, and appreciative inquiry as well as workshops on personal development and theories of narrative–just to name a few. Over its 20 year history, the school has not had an overarching vision of what the school is about (its telos) nor has it had a curriculum in the old-fashioned sense of a relatively unchanging course of study the primary aim of which is for each student to acquire a specific body of knowledge.

Over the past three years, one of the remarks I have heard from students is something that has also struck me: it is that they can have a hard time coming up with a comprehensive view of how all the diverse items they have learned over the three years can be fit together in one picture. The project concerned with achieving a synoptic view is, without question, a philosophical one.

In the past two posts, I have described what could provide Kaos Pilots with greater cohesiveness and unity: an explicit emphasis on the cultivation of character as well as a clear commitment to the articulation and specification of the statement, ‘I want to make a difference.’ I believe the third element would be to supply the school with some philosophical methods for bringing seemingly disparate phenomena into a single whole.

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Kaos Pilots: The Cultivation of Character

What would unify the curriculum at Kaos Pilots? One way, which I explored in yesterday’s post, would be to treat the education as articulating and specifying what, concretely, making a difference means for me. A second way would be to explicitly teach the cultivation of character. This is called character education.

As far back as antiquity, the question of how to teach young men to be excellent or outstanding, the further question of what virtue was, whether it could be taught, and which should be taught, and other related questions were considered and debated with the utmost seriousness. And as recently as the eighteenth century, Enlightenment reform pedagogues sought to ground education on character and citizenship: a good education would furnish the pupil with training in character development and would instill in him a commitment to being a good citizen.

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Kaos Pilots: Making a Difference

Yesterday, I began to discuss what Kaos Pilots is; today I will discuss what it could become.

I suggested that what could unify the school would be (i) the cultivation of character, (ii) the articulation of a finite set of final aims, and (iii) the attempt to draw a comprehensive picture of a set of prima facie competing claims and vocabularies. It occurs to me that it could make the most sense to begin with (ii).

What it is Not

Manifestly, it is a school committed to the active life even though it does not fit the models of a design, business, or creative leadership school. The purpose of the school is not to teach design (e.g., Stanford D-School, RISD, etc.), sustainability (e.g., Bainbridge Graduate Institute), business (e.g., Aston Business School, Wharton, etc.), ecology (e.g., Schumacher College), or fine art (e.g., Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts). And it is not simply a social enterprise or social innovation school either. If it is not these, then what unifies it in form (formal cause), substance (material cause), and aim (final cause)?

Furthermore, even though it believes in self-cultivation, it is not a school oriented to the contemplative life. It is not an ashram, a retreat, a meditation center, an Esalen Institute.

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