The rigor of meditation practice

There is a rigor involved in meditating regularly that calls me back to meditate well before dawn in spite of the passing desire to stop or the urges to make an exception today. The rigor of a meditation practice emerges only for the one who, like the Pyrrhonian skeptic, would not live according to dogma. Dogma sets down grooves and shows the way ahead; a life without dogma makes no concessions and accepts no metaphysical supports.

Thus I do not claim that the aim of meditation is to have no thoughts at all or that it is to reach the divine or that it is achieve peace of mind or that it is to bring about something else entirely. For me, meditation’s aim is an open question, not one to be decided or insisted upon and certainly not a question to be begged. Its aim may arise while meditating–or it may not. Moreover, the means by which one meditates, quite apart from the practical matter of whether one is seated or standing or walking, are not to be taken as givens; they are essays or experiments and typically exercises as much in learning something unfamiliar as in the exhibition of courage. Other risks may be noted in passing: all the mornings I simply go through the motions with the result that meditation has become a task or a ticked-off item on a list rather than an activity; all the moments of laziness or lack of vigilance evinced in certain tedious lines of thought.

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Can we tell an alternative story of not being at home?

‘The one who masters walking leaves no footprints. / The one who masters speaking makes no slips of the tongue.’

Daodejing 27, trans. Wenlong Lu and Keith Wayne Brown

I believe one could write an alternative story of human embodiment, worldly engagement, and understanding that would not avail itself of a psychologist’s categories but would seek to describe someone’s not being at home in the world in thick ethico-aesthetic terms. On this understanding, one would not be diagnosed as ‘mentally ill’ but would reveal himself to himself and others as being unsurefooted or unsurehanded in his performances and deliveries. The poetic vocabulary that would come most in handy, in the story we would want to tell about another’s disorientation, would be thick concepts such as fumbling, awkwardness, flummoxing, stumbling, stuttering, floundering, and so on. And the practice we would would want to cultivate would be that of learning to master walking, speaking, and comporting. To be surefooted, able-tongued, and lighthearted when faced with surprises.

Beauty of Soul: Course Schedule

My  Short Course at Schumacher College, ‘Beauty of Soul, According to Nature,’ has now been posted on Schumacher College’s website. The course is set to run from November 4-8. I’m including an early draft of the Course Schedule below.

Opening Talk

‘The Beautiful Life of the Virtues’

What would modern moral philosophers make of the following example: The mother stroked her sick child’s forehead with a touch of grace? A utilitarian would consider whether this act, among all the acts available to the mother, could be regarded as bringing about the best possible state of affairs: the most good or least evil overall. A Kantian would conclude that compassion–if that is indeed the mother’s motive–is the not the right reason for anyone’s acting morally. Yet neither camp would have much, if anything, to say about the beautiful manner in which the action is performed–that sense of lightness, that caressing softness–and their silence about the manner of the mother’s touch would, by my lights, be revealing.


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Beauty of Soul: A Short Course at Schumacher College

My  Short Course at Schumacher College, ‘Beauty of Soul, According to Nature,’ has now been posted on Schumacher College’s website. The course is set to run from November 4-8. Please take a look, and come and join me in Totnes if you’re free. I hear it’s beautiful there.

From time to time, I’ll be posting some thoughts about the course schedule and other related matters. As things stand, I believe the opening talk will be called ‘The Beautiful Life of the Virtues.’ The rest of the week, as free as the wind, is up in the air.

413anuPhoto Credit: Alexandra Marcella Lauro

The wisdom of one-liners

Wisdom comes not in but through one-liners. The throughway is the entire expanse of a life of investigation which has been worked and shaped and magnified–like a vast, refined conclusion–into a single intuition. Condensed in that straight, parabolic line is the sinuous beauty of the speaker’s grainy union with the gulping, glorious cosmos. Hold to that–hold–hold still–still–hold and do not speak.