A right discipline: Daily practice

A right discipline is not a regime that one imposes upon oneself from without. A right discipline begins with lived experiences of what is best, of intimations of the elongation and prolongation of what is best. Taking the idea of prolongation seriously, a right discipline makes explicit to one how it is possible to maintain oneself in the way of what is best.

The following is an example of right discipline from my own life. This thought I first expounded upon, in more generals terms, in this short post on living according to nature.


Waking with love before dawn

Walking meditation with love before and during sunrise

Preparing and eating a light breakfast in silence

Writing as spiritual exercise (ascesis(as I do now)

Philosophical conversation with conversation partner

Brief rest and stretching (taciturnitas)


Preparing and eating a light lunch lovingly, in the spirit of laughter

Mysore ashtanga yoga or climbing alone (tranquillitas)

Light snack


Philosophical conversation with conversation partner or Writing as spiritual exercise

Reading as spiritual exercise or Enzo as spiritual exercise


Making dinner as spiritual exercise

Eating dinner with spirited, lighthearted conversation


Walking meditation with love before and during sunset

Reading aloud in bed as exercise in natural eloquence or Eros as beautiful expression of love

Sleeping gently

Cultivating Discipline Lightly: A Weeklong Course at Kaos Pilots

‘Cultivating Discipline Lightly’ is a weeklong course running during the second week of September 2013 at Kaos Pilots in Aarhus, Denmark. This course offering grew out of the need for Kaos Pilots students, who will be on their own during their final year as they work on their social business project, to learn how to respond well in the face of great uncertainty. Last year, Pete Sims asked me to come in and put on a workshop on the art of philosophical inquiry entitled ‘Confusion and Clarity: The Art of Inquiry in the Context of Social Enterprise.’ Learning to inquire proved helpful and necessary but not sufficient. What was wanting still was the cultivation of a kind of discipline–one requiring good guidance, one invoking the right set of virtues, yet one also honoring the lightness and humor of things–that would see them through the unsettledness. Hence this course: cultivating discipline lightly.

What follows is a layout of the guide I’m writing for Kaos Pilots students. Enjoy.


Rip Van Winkle: A Parable

Story: Rip Van Winkle falls asleep in one world and wakes up in another. What now? What does this mean for us?

Chapter 1. Raising and Lowering Our Eyes

Argument: I discuss the concept of authority, the structure of authority, types of authority, and–most importantly–our present need for legitimate authority.

Chapter 2. Acknowledging Our Unsettled Time

Argument: I ground my account of unsettled time on three related theses:

i. All claims to legitimate authority appear suspect in our eyes and have failed to gain our approval. ‘Who is to lead whom and by what right?’ seems impossible to answer wholeheartedly. (Halfhearted answers there are aplenty.)

ii. Skepticism has saturated our daily lives to such an extent that our words have become seeded with doubt and our attitude toward others has become starched and blanched with distrust, uncertainty, and reticence.

iii. Despite the crisis of authority and the near universality of our skepticism, we as socially dependent beings who need to act in concert with one another, to figure out what is unknown about ourselves, and to find a way to reach mutual understanding.

Chapter 3. Building a Sturdy Trellis

Argument: I draw from the work of St. Benedict to provide a beautiful vision of a different kind of organizational life. A trellis is the metaphor for the framework upon which an individual can grow by means of philosophical friends and a philosophical guide. A trellis, accordingly, is an answer to the question of good authority.

Chapter 4. Learning to Inquire

Argument:  How does one grow in and through good guidance? Inquiring, I argue, is the kind of activity that takes place between guide and conversation partner. Specifically, philosophical inquiry is an ‘unrehearsed genre whose chief aims are to reveal to us what we do not know but thought we did and to bring us a greater sense of clarity than we could have possibly imagined’ (definition from The Art of Inquiry). It is rather like saying, ‘I don’t know. Let’s find out.’ Inquiring begins in some state of confusion (bewilderment, puzzlement, or bafflement); proceeds in a state of mind that is wholly dispassionate; requires the virtues of courage, patience, openness, and humility; and ends in a state of clarity (illumination, laughter, lightness).

Chapter 5. Becoming Lighthearted

Argument: The best form of education is one that cultivates one’s character. My philosophical guide Pierre Hadot suggests that character is cultivated by means of ongoing spiritual exercises (ascesis). What sorts of exercises, apart from and together with inquiring, will allow one to become lighthearted in the face of unsettledness?  In this chapter, I explore a handful of spiritual exercises whose purpose is to bring about the kind of character that is properly, energetically, and lightly responsive to ordinary surprises. It’s only an apparent paradox to say that inquiring teaches us to be prepared for responding well–lightheartedly rather than stoically or resiliently–to we know not what.

Appendix: Getting the Hang of Being Surprised

Argument: In Part 1, I discuss the importance of being surprised, arguing that philosophical inquiring presents us with two kinds of surprises: perplexities and illuminations. In Part 2, I discuss the cultivation of lightness in the presence of surprise. In the final part, I explore the difference between other states of mind and an inquiring state of mind.

On doing lots of things and doing them well

The chief problem with thinking of work in terms of a career is that one gets in the habit of thinking that one can only do one thing well. But then at some point one gets stuck because that sort of thing is no longer desirable or because one can no longer stomach the idea of doing that thing every day for another 10 years. Whereas a creative, reflective, talented person, someone who’s thrown off the idea of a career, quickly realizes that he can do lots of things and do them well.

It wouldn’t take this kind of person long to recognize how much easier it is to get by in this freelancers’ world by doing lots of things and doing them well than it is to try to shoehorn oneself into doing one thing really well and doing that thing over and over again. Easier and interesting versus harder and boring…

What is more, apart from the interesting variety to be discovered in doing lots of things and doing them well, apart also from the daily learning involved, and apart finally from the recognition of one’s increasing capacities and greater self-worth, it may turn out that there is unity underlying doing lots of things and doing them well. Finding this underlying unity, which is a philosophical adventure, would help the inquirer to make sense of his work life so that he would no longer feel scattered about or pulled in multiple directions but would see himself coming together and made lighter by self-understanding.

A good human life flows according to nature

The following occurred to one conversation partner and me yesterday morning. After our philosophical conversation, I ate lunch, then went for a climb, only to be brought home by the early afternoon desert rain.


A good human life flows according to basic categories (or modes) of human experience: movement, rest, thinking, conversing, having sex, eating, working, and so on. Let us suppose that whatever ‘table’ of modes we come up with is exhaustive of all modes of human activity.

What typically occurs to disrupt the flow of human activity is that one mode becomes distended, either encroaching upon another (as , say, movement does in the case of rest), overextending itself into other modes (as, say, work does under the conditions of modern capitalism), or losing its one-pointedness (as, say, mindless sex does in the case of eros). Too often, individuals do too much of one thing in a single day (binge eating, spending, becoming specialists) or cannot focus gently on the activity at hand.

Yet for a good human life which is led according to nature, one mode would need to be ‘unto itself’ (i.e., given its time and its due) as well as ‘in measure’ (i.e., not lasting beyond its proper duration). One can let such a life flow only if

1. each mode is touched by gracefulness (eating with grace, conversing with grace, moving one’s body with style, etc.);

2. the transitions from one mode to another are made in the moments just before ‘tiredness’ settles in (e.g., just before hunger arises, one learns to cook food and eat slowly, mindfully, lovingly; just before emailing makes one irritable, one goes for a leisurely walk);

3. the next mode serves as a counterpose to the one prior (e.g., making love follows eating well, clear thinking follows meditative stillness, climbing rocks gracefully follows conversing well, etc.).

Thus when I do X, I only do X and, at the right time, X passes organically onto Y. So goes a day, a year, a life.

Airbnb Etiquette

Etiquette is not Law

Unlike law, etiquette doesn’t  apply to all cases of one’s conduct. It applies only in certain circumstances, where appropriate.

Etiquette is not Rule

Whereas a rule permits only certain kinds of behavior (e.g., speaking after being called upon) while forbidding other kinds (e.g., no running in the halls), etiquette makes no such commands and issues no directives. It’s of the form: ‘A well-mannered person would do or say something like X in circumstances such as Y…’ Or: ‘When P is the case, it would be a good thing to do Q….’

Etiquette is not a Set of Pet Peeves

Etiquette is broader, more general, and more reasonable than any set of pet peeves. Someone may have a pet peeve that all guests fold the bathroom towel this way, then that, and then hang the towel just so. This kind of thing would not make sense in a book of etiquette.

A Definition of Airbnb Etiquette

Airbnb Etiquette is a general yet not universal, reasonable (non-arbitrary) set of guidelines that draw the perceptive guest’s attention to the salient features of a given situation, where some action would be appropriate to perform.

Airbnb Etiquette

1. A gift may be offered in the beginning or in the end of the stay, but in either case it would be best if it were well-suited for the person, showing him that you ‘got’ him, showing her that you ‘got’ the space.

2. It’s a good idea to give advanced notice of when you’ll arrive. Perhaps twice: once when you’re leaving and a second time when you’re an hour or so (i.e., an appropriate proximate distance) away.

3. It’s highly salutary for a host to greet her guests either upon arrival or early the following day in order to make the guest(s) feel welcome.

4. A small touch of grace goes a long way: not cookies left on the counter but honey held in hand; not a text message with smiley icons but a friendly phone call; not a phone call but a gentle smile appearing after a gentle knock on the door.

5. Any effortless way of making something more beautiful or significant needn’t be overlooked. A goodbye note may be a decorous, not-overdone collage made from feathers, snail shells, and pine cones.

6. It’s lovely, when appropriate, to offer to help the host. It’s also lovely for the host to decline with ease.

7. Staying in another’s house is not an excuse for taking what isn’t yours or for ‘trading up,’ swapping your shampoo for theirs.

8. It’s appropriate to leave a space as well off, if not slightly better than, you found it. (Leaving a space dirty and unclean is no good, but so is leaving it overly clean and tidy, as this may be taken as some implicit criticism of the host.)

9. It’s good neither to understay one’s welcome (thereby making the host think that you’re fleeing) nor to overstay it (thereby becoming a burden). Saying goodbye at the right time may feel as if it were one moment too early: the host would have liked it if you could have stayed a bit longer and wishes for you to return anytime you like while the guest holds no grudges or ill will toward the host. Everyone parts on friendly terms.