take flight every day!

bronze elephant madison squareSpiritual exercises are — brief, intense, timeless, dispassionate, a place where you forget yourself.  They jettison hate, malice, gossip, loathing; and free you to love and overcome.

Here is the sociologist Georges Friedmann’s description of spiritual exercises.  He says activism – outward, worldly, political work – may usher in the revolution, but for whom?  Better to do the ‘necessary’ inward work, through spiritual exercises, that readies us to live freely post revolution.

Here is Friedmann via Hadot:

To take flight every day! At least for a moment, which may be brief, as long as it is intense. A “spiritual exercise” every day – either alone, or in the company of someone who also wishes to better himself. Spiritual exercises. Step out of duration … try to get rid of your own passions, vanities, and the itch for talk about your own name, which sometimes burns you like a chronic disease. Avoid backbiting. Get rid of pity and hatred. Love all free human beings. Become eternal by transcending yourself.

This work on yourself is necessary; this ambition justified. Lots of people let themselves be wholly absorbed by militant politics and the preparation for social revolution. Rare, much more rare, are they who, in order to prepare for the revolution, are willing to make themselves worthy of it.

George Friedmann La Puissance de la Sagesse, quoted by Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life

you can be delivered from a state of disquiet

greek marketplacePhilosophy isn’t an esoteric inaccessible pursuit; it is lessons that can have a very real affect on life.  Often philosophers write about simple reactions and observations to life’s problems.  Montaigne for instance – I just learned – wrote mostly about everyday almost pedantic and sometimes domestic topics.

In his book Exercices Spirituel, and excerpted below, the writer Hadot tells us how philosophy is a spiritual exercise.  How with practice it can turn isolated unhappy wrecks into reflective, meditative, flourishing souls.

From Exercices Spirituel:

[Ancient philosophy schools]

agree that man, before his philosophical conversion, is in a state of unhappy disquiet [un état d’inquiétude malhereuse]. Consumed by worries, torn by passions, he does not live a genuine life, nor is he truly himself [il n’est pas lui-même]. All schools also agree that man can be delivered from this state. He can accede to genuine life, improve himself, transform himself, and attain a state of perfection [un état de perfection].


we have forgotten how to read: how to pause, liberate ourselves from our worries, return into ourselves, and leave aside our search for subtlety and originality, in order to meditate calmly, ruminate, and let the texts speak to us. This, too, is a spiritual exercise, and one of the most difficult.

Pierre Hadot, Exercices spirituels et philosophie antique (Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault)