On Spiritual Exercises Part 1: Learning How To Live

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 wished 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.

That was a quote from Georges Friedmann; a quote that for all intents and purposes could have been taken out of the work of Marcus Aurelius. Friedmann comes to the conclusion that there is no tradition – be it Jewish, Christian or Oriental – compatible with contemporary spiritual demands. Curiously, however, he does not ask himself about the value of the philosophical traditions from antiquity even though the lines quote give a decisive nod to those traditions.

Spiritual exercises. The expression is a bit disconcerting for people in this day and age. Firstly, it is no longer fashionable to use the world spiritual without invoking images of new age hippies or references to a religion of one form or another. It is nevertheless necessary to use this term, because no other adjective like, psychic, moral, ethical, intellectual, of though, or of the soul – covers all the aspects of the reality we want to describe. Since, in these exercises, it is thought which takes itself as the its own subject-matter, and seeks to modify itself, it would be possible for us to speak in terms of though exercises. Yet the word “thought” does not indicate clearly enough that imagination and sensibility play a very important role in the exercises. For the same reason, we cannot be satisfied with “intellectual exercises”, although such intellectual factors as definition, division, reading, investigation, and rhetorical amplification play a large role in them. “Ethical exercises” is a rather tempting expression since, as we shall see, the exercises in question contribute in a powerful way to the therapeutics of the passions, and have to do with the conduct of life. Yet here again, this would be too narrow of a view.

These exercises in fact correspond to a transformation of our vision of the world, and lead to a metamorphosis of our personality. It is analogous to think of their transformative power as we find a transformative power in the MGTOW concepts of hypergamy and Briffult’s Law or the wall. By reflecting on hypergamy, Briffult’s Law, and the wall, we transform our vision of women and out disposition towards women transforms with it. With this in mind, “spiritual” is quite apt to make up understand that these exercises are the result, not merely of thought, but of the individuals entire psyche.

But you might be asking yourself, how do these exercises differ from those found in religion. Well, religious spiritual exercises such as reflecting upon the mysteries while saying the rosary are a continuation of this tradition but have their own flavor. Whereas religious spiritual exercises have as its object bringing you close to God, the exercises of antiquity have the object of attaining the highest value of the respected philosophical school. As far as the stoics are concerned, spiritual exercises are meant to bring you happiness; for the epicureans, they are meant to bring you to the highest pleasures and so on.

The focus of this video will be to introduce you to these exercises as pillars of the art of living. It is the common belief that life does not come with an instruction manual. However, this is not true. Each of the traditions in antiquity is exactly that, a manual to how to live.
Spiritual exercises can be best observed in the context of Hellenistic and Roman schools of philosophy. The Stoics, for example, declared explicitly that philosophy, for them, was an exercise. In their view, philosophy did not consist in teaching abstract theory – much less the exegesis of texts – but rather in the art of the living. It is a concrete attitude and determinate life-style, which engages the whole of existence. The philosophical act is not situated merely on the cognitive level, but on that of the self and of being. It is a progress which causes us to BE more fully, and make us better. It is a conversion which turns our entire life upside down, changing the life of the person who goes through it. It raises the individual from an inauthentic condition of life, darkened by unconsciousness and harassed by worry, to an authentic state of life, in which he attains self-consciousness, an exact vision of the world, inner peace, and freedom.

In the view of all the philosophical schools of antiquity, mankind’s principal cause of suffering, disorder, and unconscious turmoil are the passions. That is, unregulated desires and exaggerated fears. People are prevented from truly living because they are dominated by worries. Philosophy thus appears, in the first place, as a therapeutic of the passions. Each school had its own therapeutic method, but all of them linked their therapeutics to the profound transformation of the individual’s mode of seeing and being. The object of spiritual exercises is precisely to bring about this transformation.

Let us consider the Stoics. For the Stoics, all of mankind’s woes derive from the fact that a man seeks to acquire or to keep possessions that he may either lose or fail to obtain, and from the fact that a man tries to avoid misfortunes which are often inevitable. The task of philosophy, then, is to educate people, so that they seek only the goods they are able to obtain, and try to avoid only those evils which are possible to avoid. In order for something to be always obtainable, or an evil always avoidable, they must depend exclusively on man’s freedom. But the only things which fulfil these conditions are moral good and evil. They alone depend on us, everything else does not depend on us. Here, “everything else” means everything that is not subject to our free will. Those things that do not depend on us must be indifferent to us, that is, we must not introduce any differences into it, but accept it in its entirety, as willed by fate. This is the domain of nature.

We have here a complete reversal of our usual way of looking at things. We are to switch from our “human” vision of reality, in which our values depend on our passions, to a “natural” vision of things, which replaces each event within the perspective of universal nature. Such a transformation of vision is not easy, and it is precisely here that spiritual exercises come in. Little by little, they make possible the indispensable metamorphosis of our inner self.

There are few existing list of all of these exercises but one such list comes from Philo of Alexandria. The list includes the following items; research, thorough investigation, reading, listening, attention, self-mastery, and indifference to indifferent things. Let us go through some of these starting with attention.

Attention is the fundamental stoic spiritual attitude. It is a continuous vigilance and presence of mind, self-consciousness which never sleeps, and is a constant tension of the spirit. Thanks to this attitude, the philosopher is fully aware of what he does at each instant, and he wills his actions fully. Thanks to this spiritual vigilance, the Stoic always has “on hand” the fundamental rule of life, that is, the distinction between what depends on us and what does on.

Think of all the actions a man takes on auto-pilot. How many of the decisions in our day to day life are done out of reflex or habit? The objective of this spiritual exercise is to train yourself out of the auto-pilot mode of being and to be consciously aware of every decision in front of you and thereby regain the control of making it at each instant.

As in Epicureanism, so in Stoicism, it is essential that the students be supplied with a fundamental principal which is formuable in a few words, is extremely clear and simple, precisely so it may remain easily accessible to the mind, and be applicable with the sureness and constancy of a reflex. You must not separate yourself from the general principles; don’t sleep, eat, drink, or converse with other men without them. It is this vigilance of the spirit which lets us apply the fundamental rule to each of life’s particular situations, and always to do what we do appropriately.

We can also define this attitude as “concentration on the present moment”;
Everywhere and at all times, it is up to you to rejoice at what is occurring at the present moment, to conduct yourself with justice towards the people who are present here and now, and to apply rules of discernment to your present representations, so that nothing slips in that is not objective.

Attention to the present moment is, in a way, the key to spiritual exercises. It frees us from the passions, which are always cause by the past or the future – two areas which do not depend on us. Finally, attention to the present moment allows us to accede to cosmic consciousness, by making us attentive to the infinite value of each instant, and causing up to accept each moment of existence from the viewpoint of the universal law of the cosmos.

Now, this should not be taken as some mystical state of mind as cosmos merely refers to order; the order of things in which choice only exists in the present and not the past or future. To take the viewpoint for the universal law of the cosmos is to always bear this in mind.
Now, attention allows us to respond immediately to events, as if they were questions asked of us all of a sudden. In order for this to be possible, we must always have the fundamental principles “at hand”. We must envelop ourselves in this rule of life, by mentally applying it to all of life’s possibly different situations, just as we adopt a grammatical or mathematical rule through practice, by applying it to individual cases. In this case, however, we are not dealing with mere knowledge, but with the transformation of our personality.

We must also associate our imagination and affectivity with the training of our thoughts. Here, we must bring into play all the psychagogic techniques and rhetorical methods of amplification.

In other words we must use every trick in the book to make sure we hammer this into our thoughts. We must keep life’s events “before our eyes”, not as auto-pilot decided events, but as things we have a say in, and see these events in light of the fundamental rule. This is known as the exercise of memorization and meditation on the rule of life. In this way, a spiritual exercise can become a simple aphoristic sentence that is written in such a way as to have the most psychological effect on us and then we must not only memorize this sentence but reflect upon it. A modern day example of such a spiritual exercise is “Shit happens” or “Happy wife happy life”.

The exercise of meditation allows us to be ready at the moment when an unexpected, and perhaps dramatic, circumstance occurs. In the exercise called praemeditatio malorum, we are to represent to ourselves poverty, suffering, and death. We must confront life’s difficulties face to face, remembering that they are not evils, since they do not depend on us. This is why we must engrave striking maxims in our memory, so that, when the time comes, they can help us accept such events, which are, after all, part of the course of nature. In this way we will have the maxims “at hand”.

In a way, the spiritual exercise of praemeditatio malorum is similar to one theory about dreams. It has been speculated that the purpose of our dreams is to do dress rehearsals for our brain so that if the content of our dreams ever occur, our brain already has a plan. Though we cannot usually control our dreams, we can control our waking thoughts and as such can imagine “what if” scenarios. The object of this exercise is to “pre-decide” these terrible things as independent of us and as such if they occur, they will not be emotionally devastating. Meditation on a spiritual exercise is much like training in a martial art. You do it not because you want to fight, but because if a fight is imposed on you, you will be ready, reflexively, to deal with the situation.

What we need are persuasive formulas or arguments, which we can repeat to ourselves in difficult circumstances, so as to check movements of fear, anger, or sadness. Firs thing in the morning, we should go over in advance what we have to do during the course of the day, and decide on the principles which will guide and inspire our actions. In the evening, we should examine ourselves again, so as to be aware of the faults we have committed or the progress we have made.

As we can see, the exercise of meditation is an attempt to control inner discourse, in an effort to render it coherent. The goal is to arrange around a simple, universal principle; the distinction between what does and does not depend on us, or between freedom and nature. Whoever wishes to make progress strives, by means of dialogue with himself or others, as well as by writing, to carry on his reflections in due order and finally arrive at a complete transformation of his representation of the world, his inner climate, and his outer behavior.
Now, the exercise of meditation and memorization require nourishment, this is where the more specifically intellectual exercises, as we listed before from Philo come in; reading, listening, research and investigation. It is relatively simple to provide food for meditation. For example, one could simply read the saying of poets or the works of the philosophers. I personally derive nourishment from the Platonic dialogues and the works of Nietzsche.

Reading, however, could also include the explanation of specifically philosophical texts, works written by teachers of philosophical schools. Such texts can be read or heard within the framework of the philosophical instruction given by a professor, or MGTOW youTuber. Fortified by such instruction, the student would be able to study with precision the entire speculative which sustains and justifies the fundamental rule, as well as all the physical and logical research of which this rule was a summary. Research and investigation were the results of putting instruction into practice. For example, we are to get used to defining objects and events from a physical point of view, that is, we must picture them as they are when situated within the cosmic whole. Alternatively, we can divide or dissect events in order to recognize the elements in which they can be reduced.

Finally, we come to the practical exercises, intended to create habits. Some of these are very much interior, and very close to the thought exercises we have just covered. “Indifference to indifferent things”, for example, was nothing other than an application of the fundamental rule.
There are a large number of treatises relating to these exercises in Plutarch; On Restraining Anger, On Peace of Mind, On Brotherly Love, On the Love of Children, on Garrulity, On the Love of Wealth, On False Shame, and of course On Envy and Hatred which I covered in a previous video. Seneca also composed works of the same genre; On Anger, On Benefits, On Peace of Mind, On Leisure and so on. In this kind of exercise, one very simple principle is always recommended; begin practicing on easier things, so as to gradually acquire a stable, solid habit.

For the Stoics, then, doing philosophy meant practicing how to “live”; that is, how to live freely and consciously. Consciously, in that we pass beyond the limits of individuality, to recognize ourselves as a part of the reason-animated cosmos. Freely, in that we give up desiring that which does not depend on us and is beyond our control, so as to attach ourselves only to what depends on us; actions which are just and in conformity to reason.

It is easy to understand that a philosophy like Stoicism, which requires vigilance, energy, and psychic tension, should consist essentially in spiritual exercises. But it will perhaps come as a surprise to learn that Epicureanism, usually considered the philosophy of pleasure, gives us as prominent a place as Stoicism to precise practices which are nothing other than spiritual exercises. The reason for this is that, for Epicurus just as much as for the Stoics, philosophy is a therapeutics. “We must concern ourselves with the healing of our lives.” In this context, healing consists in bringing one’s soul back from the worries of life to the simple joy of existing. People’s unhappiness, for the Epicureans, comes from the fact that they are afraid of things which are not to be feared, and desire things which it is not necessary to desire, and which are beyond their control. Consequently, their life is consumed in worries over unjustified fears and unsatisfied desires. As a result, they are deprived of the only genuine pleasure there is; the pleasure of existing.

This is why Epicurean physics can liberate us from fear. It can show us that the gods have no effect on the progress of the world and that death, being complete dissolution, is not a part of life.

Epicurean ethics, as deliverance from desires can deliver us from our insatiable desires, by distinguishing between desires which are both natural and necessary, desires which are natural but not necessary, and desires which are neither natural nor necessary. It is enough to satisfy the first category of desires, and give up on the last, and eventually, on the second category as well in order to ensure the absence of worry.
This may come as a surprise to some, but Epicurus would encourage people to abstain from drugs, alcohol, sex, and so on. This is not usually what we imagine a philosophy of pleasure would entail. To Epicureans, all but the natural and necessary desires yield true pleasure and all others false pleasure. The cries of the flesh are; not to be hungry, not to be thirsty, not to be cold. For if one enjoys the possession of this, and the hope of continuing to possess it, he might rival even Zeus in happiness! This is the source of the feeling of gratitude, which one would hardly have expected, which illuminates what one might call Epicurean piety towards all things; “Thanks be to blessed Nature, that he has made what is necessary easy to obtain, and what is not easy to unnecessary.”

Spiritual exercises are required for the healing of the soul. Like the Stoics, the Epicureans advice us to meditate upon and assimilate, “day and night”, brief aphorisms or summaries which will allow us to keep the fundamental rule at hand. For instance, there is the well known tetrapharmakos, or four-fold healing formula: “God presents no fears, death no worries. And while good is readily attainable, evil is readily endured.” The abundance of collections of Epicurean aphorisms is a response to the demands of the spiritual exercise of meditation. As with the Stoics, however, the study of the treatises of the school’s great founders was also an exercise intended to provide material for meditation.
The study of physics is a particularly important spiritual exercise: “we should not think that any other end is served by knowledge of celestial phenomena….than freedom from disturbance an firm confidence, just as in the other fields of study. Contemplation of the physical world and imagination of the infinite are important elements of Epicurean physics. Both can bring about a complete change in our way of looking at things.

The closed universe in infinitely dilated, and we derive from this spectacle a unique spiritual pleasure:

…the walls of the world open out, I see action going on throughout the whole void…..Thereupon from all these things a sort of divine delight gets hold upon me and a shuddering, because nature thus by your power has been so manifestly laid open and unveiled in every part.

Meditation, however, is not the only Epicurean spiritual exercise. To cure the soul, it is not necessary, as the Stoics would have it, to train it to stretch itself tight, but rather to train it to relax. Instead of picturing misfortunes in advance, so as to be prepared to bear them, we must rather, says Epicurus, detach out thought from the vision of painful things, and fix our eyes on pleasurable ones. We are to relive memories of past pleasures, and enjoy the pleasures of the present, recognizing how intense and agreeable these present pleasures are. We have here a quite distinctive spiritual exercise, different from the constant vigilance of the Stoic, with his constant readiness to safeguard his moral liberty at each instant.

Instead, the Epicureans preach the deliberate, continually renewed choice of relaxation and serenity, combined with a profound gratitude toward nature and life, which constantly offer us joy and pleasure, if only we know how to find them.

By the same token, the spiritual exercise of trying to live in the present moment is very different for Stoics and Epicureans. For the Stoics, it means mental tension and constant wakefulness of the moral conscience. For the Epicureans, it is an invitation to relaxation and serenity. Worry, which tears us in the direction of the future, hides from us the incomparable value of the simple fact of existing. “We are born once, and cannot be born twice, but for all time be no more. But you, who are not master of tomorrow, postpone your happiness; life is wasted in procrastination and each one of use dies overwhelmed with cares.” This is the doctrine contained in Horace’s famous saying carpe diem.
Life ebbs as I speak. So seize each day, and grant the next no credit.

For the Epicureans, pleasure is a spiritual exercise. Not pleasure in the form of mere sensual gratification, but the intellectual pleasure derived from contemplating nature, the thought of pleasures past and present but not future, and lastly, the pleasure of friendship. In Epicurean communities, friendship also had a spiritual exercise, carried out in a joyous, relaxed atmosphere. These included the public confessions of one’s faults, mutual correction, carried out in a fraternal spirit, and examining one’s consciousness. Above all, friendship itself was the spiritual exercise par excellence. “Each person was to tend towards creating the atmosphere in which hearts could flourish. The main goal was to be happy, and mutual affection and the confidence with which they relied upon each other contributed more than anything else to this happiness.”
Though this video provides the groundwork for all spiritual exercises there are things one needs to learn other than how to live. One needs to learn how to read, how to dialogue, and also one must learn how to die. These will be the topics of subsequent videos in this series.

Now, to close of this video, I want to put forward one spiritual exercise from Marcus Aurelius that I think is very relevant to MGTOW.

“Sex is the friction of a piece of gut and, following a sort of convulsion, the expulsion of some slime”

Thanks for listening.

Go Team!


Share this Videos