Cultivating discipline: A forthcoming manual

I’m beginning to think about the contents of a short guide, Cultivating Discipline, which I’ll likely be using in some upcoming educational workshops. One chapter, I believe, will be on spiritual exercises, which I plan to arrange according to categories. Pierre Hadot suggests that a spiritual exercise is a meditation aimed less at informing the pupil about a state of affairs than at transforming the philosopher’s perception of the world. The ‘habits’ Hadot speaks of are more like a way of being.

I include a preliminary list below.

Change in Perspective

The aim of these exercises is to move from the first-personal to the impersonal, a transition I describe in ‘Preface. The One who Philosophizes.’ In this piece, I urge that the ‘oneself’ is the perspective from which one can philosophize.

1. View from Above

2. Learning to Die

3. Philosophical Conversation

4. Transience (or: Impermanence)

Being Present

Presentness is at once a temporal and a phenomenological notion. Temporally speaking, the one who is present has learned not to focus his thinking on the past or the future or on his relations to the past (regret, e.g.) or to those of the future (e.g., anxieties, anticipations, hopes). Phenomenologically speaking, he is directing his focus pointedly and lucidly on the words, deeds, and features of the world around and before him.

1. Attention

2. Vigilance

3. Lightheartedness (or: Humor)

Expanding the Imagination

The cultivation of the imagination can be likened to a feeling of expanding, widening, deepening, and broadening. Each of these metaphors captures some sense of this phenomenon. It is important for us to cultivate our imagination properly so that our aesthetic perception, thus trained, thus enlivened, can be put in tune with our ethical considerations.

1. What it’s Like to Be…

2. Unnaming (or: Object P Reminds me of Q)

3. Defamiliarization (or: the Extraordinary Ordinary)

Cultivation of Good Speech

Most speech fails in one respect or another, and few have much to say about the art of eloquence or about how eloquence can be put in touch with ethical life. In my philosophy practice, I thus stress language that speaks to something, that is pared down to its essentials, that is not in a hurry, and that avoids garrulity.

1. Directness

2. Simplicity

3. Slowness

4. Measure

Virtuous Action

Socrates says that we only desire what is good, but to see this clearly we must undergo a re-education of the spirit. Our desires must be examined and our understandings of the good have to be clarified. In order to become adepts at the practice of virtue, we will have to practice certain spiritual exercises that sharpen our focus on goodness.

1. Examination of Conscience

2. Humility

3. Unhurriedness (or: With What Reason?)

4. Debt Cancellation