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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Self-deception: A threat to philosophizing

Self-deception–what is it? It seems to be rather like lying to oneself, but how does one do that? You can lie to others, but it beggars the comprehension to fathom how one could pull off the trick of lying to oneself.

This may be why we say that self-deception is like lying to oneself. Deceiving oneself is not actually lying to oneself. But if it is true that self-deception is analogous to lying, then in what respect? In the respect, I think, that somebody is deliberately misled.

But can I deliberately mislead myself? The possibility is worth considering.

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Philosophical Portraiture: Courage and Nobility

About a month ago, Aleksandra completed a philosophical portrait of a woman who is seeking to live the life of a modern mystic (below). In her work on philosophical portraiture, the claim Aleksandra wants to make is that she is not rendering the subject in a too literal form of mimesis as if the photograph of the subject were simply being reproduced in the form of a portrait. To do that would be to assume that the living subject has already, as it were, been transformed or is already finished. Rather, her claim is that philosophical portraiture is a spiritual exercise–both in its activity and in its production–in drawing out what is potentially good and beautiful in the subject but has yet to be fully realized. Specifically, which virtues have yet to be brought out, and how would it be possible–indeed, how best–to do so?


In the original photos, the subject on the viewer’s left showed a touch of timidity while the subject on the viewer’s right was slightly discomposed, flinchingly discomposed. What had to be revealed or realized, therefore, was courage in the face of hardness and hardiness (left) as well as a noble composure in view of her own death (right). I suppose there lies, in the background to this particular work, one of Aleksandra’s larger themes: what, in the present time, does it mean to age well and to live and die nobly?

Skyping as living discourse

All of my philosophical conversations are held over Skype, and my philosophical friends (formerly called conversation partners) and I are the better for it. The claim that ‘we are the better for it’ is counterintuitive, yet it turns out to be true. The object of these posts will be to establish both why this is the case and how it is that Skype can serve as a platform that makes possible philosophy as living discourse.

I begin with two elementary observations and one counterintuitive conclusion.

  1. By the end of 2012 when Aleksandra and I left New York City for rural Appalachia (we have since moved to Southern California), I noticed that all of my philosophical friends and patrons were living  either on the West Coat or in Western Europe. By the end of 2013, I observe that all are living in Europe, Canada, and South Africa.
  2. Despite not being based in a large city, I have found that my philosophy practice has grown dramatically since December 2012.
  3. I can conclude, rather counterintuitively, that my current philosophical friends have made more progress in their self-understanding when philosophical conversations have been held over Skype than former philosophical friends had made when conversations used to take place in person and used to last much longer (3 hours, 6 hours, a half-day, and so on).

Quite often, we read that technology is alienating, not life-enhancing; that screens are distracting, not one-pointed; that personal connections, not impersonal exchanges are what matter; and, as a species, that we are getting worse at taking face-to-face time with each other. How, then, can it be, as I wish to argue, that the cultivation of the ear without the eye is a much better way of reaching philosophical self-understanding than the use of the ear together with the eye (and hand)? How can it be that the voice-to-voice flowing in eternal time is superior to the face-to-face? How can we be present when we are decidedly absent?

The assumptions we commonly make about self-knowledge and mutual understanding run very deep. I explore these assumptions and the above questions on the following days.