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Friday, August 26, 2016

Philosophy as Spiritual Exercise

Time for a recap. Spiritual growth is integrity and transcendence. Integrity means getting it all together, being whole. Transcendence is the fullness of humanity, the actualization of potential. Spiritual teachers have called this happiness, beatitude, enlightenment, and holiness. The way to spiritual growth is spiritual exercises in  integrating and transcending.

We considered many of those exercises: meditation and prayer, walking in the footsteps of the great-souled, spiritual reading, remembering death, examination of conscience, cognitive therapy, and religion. My favorite, which I contend contains or surpasses most of the others, is philosophy. But this is philosophy not just as an intellectual or academic pursuit. It is philosophy as a way of life and action.

There are as many definitions of philosophy as there are practitioners of it: including the examined life, wonder and the inquiry into the nature of reality, secondary reflection, the unrestricted desire to know,  and critical thinking. Philosophy is the adventure of discovery of both the material universe and of the human mind. It is a stimulus for, composition of, and inquiry into all human endeavors: language, art, religion, science, economics, politics.

It culminates in ethics and politics: the understanding and pursuit of virtues, the habits of personal behavior, and of institutions, the habits of collective behavior. Philosophy is an inquiry and judgment on these behaviors. As judgment it articulates norms and rules of personal and social behavior. As inquiry it challenges those norms and rules in pursuit of greater understanding, growth of mind, and right behavior.

The mission of philosophy is to critique, to reflect, to enlighten, and to dispel illusions. There are four illusions in particular which relate to the structure and method of human existence in the world. These illusions consist in resolving the tensions of existence by a preoccupation with one or more of the poles of the tensions of human being--rather than holding both in tension. So the libertarian reduces community to a sum of individual selves. The reactionary reduces transient temporality to a past or future utopia. The dogmatist forgets the subjective in the objective. The realist reduces becoming to being by denying existence in its ambiguity, contingency, and transcendence. All these are forms of the illusion of the absolute sometimes call the objectivistic fallacy (Dewey).

In dispelling these illusions, we center ourselves in the tension of adapting with our environment or being in the world. It is a center that does resolve the tensions of existence but is nevertheless a quiet space of balance in which we hold all the poles of our tensions. In this way another mission of philosophy is achieved: to please and console. To console and be consoled is to con-soul, that is, to bring our souls in union with all other souls and with the Soul of the Universe.

Philosophy as a spiritual exercise is a ceaselessly active process of transcending previous and conventional answers, approaches, and boundaries. It is also an integration of body and mind, of knowledge and action, of human activities in the world and their subject matters, of souls with souls.

How does the adventure of philosophy proceed?

It starts with wonder--a curiosity that when nourished grows infinitely.

It continues by dialogue, the interacting with philosophers and other seekers present and past.

It attempts to draw connections towards a model in which all things might be related.

It hears and reads the stories of tradition and those now in vogue to understand their lessons.

It dares to present its understandings in words and other metaphors so that others might criticize.

It listens to its own expressions and those of others and tries to reconcile them.

It meditates by returning to that primary experience of existence in the world.


For further reading see Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault, 1995.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Happy Talk

(Another spiritual exercise)

Like many mid-aged, insecure American males of European descent, I fell into a profound, clinical depression about 20 years ago. Oooh! Black hole of the psyche.

After I was pushed by my partner to get help rather than to commit suicide, I realized that my dark cloud had been following me for some time. As a boy I always thought of myself as melancholic and identified with Hamlet. (I liked the idea of being the dark prince.) I still remember intermittently entering that dark place in my mind. I guess I felt a dissonance with what with what I could do or be as exemplified by my father. Perhaps the curse of being a junior. And that carried on into adolescence and adulthood. But I denied and evaded my somber moods by running marathons, by throwing myself into my work, and by occasionally binging with self-medicational alcohol.

Psychologists say that the roots of depression are both chemical and environmental--like almost everything else regarding our evolved, embrained bodies. My psychologist pushed zoloft for the chemical part and led me through cognitive therapy for the environmental part. It worked.

Cognitive therapy focuses on the self-talk a person has acquired in interaction with his environment. It rests on the understanding that inner language or thinking affects moods and behavior.  Positive thinking through positive speech makes for a positive outlook and mood. "Don't worry, be happy," sings Bobby McFerrin.

I've studied languages all my life, their vocabulary, their structures, their history, their origins. I studied languages mainly from a developmental point of view, but also have dabbled in evolutionary psychology and neuroscience to further understand where words and thoughts come from. I wrote a thesis on the phenomenology of language.

So I should have understood the importance of self-talk to thinking and moods. My most important education came when I got into the practice of noticing and changing my negative self-talk. As a bonus I learned how talk-therapy works not only for depressed and depressing individuals, but also for communities, neighborhoods, and nations. And I learned that when others are enabled to change their self talk (e.g. through community organizing), it helps me too. The good organizer challenges people to hope in their own limited abilities and take responsibility, fighting instead of blaming outside forces.

Pessimism, including fear of the future and a sense of inadequacy, is a product of negative self-talk in which we put ourselves down, question our worth, and understand ourselves as victims of our genes, our past decisions, and others. Sometimes I feel that my brain is in control of the real me and holding me back. Sometimes, especially when I try to compare myself with others, I feel immobilized by my inadequacies.

The good news is that with a little help from my friends I can change my language, the structure of my brain, and my chemistry. And that is when I identify with my body, including my brain, and decide to use what I have to change what I am and strengthen who I am.

The first step is acknowledging the mood and the language that enables it. I first accept my feelings and my previous decisions, even the bad ones, as being there. I reflect on the context in which the words and the moods occur. I experience from where those words and moods are arising--the personal and social consciousness in which those words and their moods are taking on meaning for me. The response is not a pretense that I and everything are just great, that I am happy,  powerful, and secure when I am not. Indeed it may mean going deeper into that dark night of the soul. But most important it means taking responsibility for it. That is the move from being a victim that blames myself or others, towards becoming an agent of change.

Likewise, when the organizer goes into a situation that is bleak, she doesn't deny the poverty, crime, abuse, apathy that may be there. She feels it in the stories of the people who are being held back by the situation in which they are in and gets them to feel it in all its extremity. And she gets them to see that others are feeling the same way.  I remember organizers whom I was supervising coming back from meetings with residents and complaining about the people's apathy. Well, of course, I would reply, why do you think we are here?  Accepting the reality is step one in cognitive therapy.

But step two is choosing to do something about it. It means deciding what I want and in the case of an organizer or therapist, prodding others to decide what they want. And that includes knowing and paying the costs of getting what we want. We begin to focus on the positive vision and the abilities in ourselves and others. And we change our language from fear and despair to one of hope and decision.  Nobody shows up at a meeting? Well, what are we going to do about that?

And step three means taking the first steps towards getting what we want. Some call this process ACT: accept, choose, and take steps.

But beware! This is not a covering over of ruptures in ourselves or in our communities and their pains through drugs, doctrine, and rhetoric. Cult leaders and politicians claim to have the answers or to be the ones to save us from our happiness. Even positive thinking and happy talk can be the drug, doctrine, and rhetoric that merely whitewashes our blemishes. If it is not a continual process of integrating and transcending, forget it! Perfect happiness would be such a bore anyways, wouldn't it?

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Fear of Hell

Those who act out of fear aren't really acting at all. They are reacting and as such are not free. I hope I never act out of fear of hell or hope of eternal reward.

But here is a hell that I am afraid of. Sartre said it best: "L'enfer, c'est les autres": "Hell is others" or "hell is other people," he is often translated. Adversaries condemn Sartre for being anti-social in this statement. He is demeaning people, they say, and praising an existence without others.

Just the opposite! What Sartre is saying is that hell is the place we create where persons have been "otherized." In a hell, as Sartre experienced in Nazi occupied France, people are objects to be used to achieve a goal outside them. They are things to be manipulated, threats to be conquered, outsiders to be controlled by force. Hell is the place of demons, that is, where persons have been demonized, given names that make them less than human and so treated as such. They are foreigners, aliens, enemies, losers, perils, rather than neighbors, relatives, friends, actual or potential.

This is the danger of the populist movements we see expanding throughout the globe. It is the danger of Trumpism resting on Tea Partyism. The masses are bering manipulated into making persons into others "les autres," objects to be feared and hence becoming objects to be feared themselves--not as individuals, but as a mass. Mass democracy is demagoguery; and that is the hell to be avoided.

A civil society is one where all residents are citizens and no person is considered illegal. It is a community in which all persons are related or at least relatable. That is why I believe that the most basic civil act is recognizing another person as a person; and the most basic political act is saying hello, (bonjour, qué tal) to a person passing on the street. And the most fruitful political act is hearing and sharing their story.

Dividing people into sheep and goats, the elect and the condemned, good guys and bad guys, winners and losers, nationals and aliens, liberals and conservatives, lazy and industrious otherizes persons. And by demonizing others, we create our own hell. It is a fearful place because it is created by fear. And the only way to avoid hell is to reject fear and make every alien a friend. "L'enfer, c'est les autres"

Tuesday, August 9, 2016


Some more on conscience.

Is conscience a guide like Jiminy Cricket appointed by the good fairy for Pinocchio? Is it the voice of my guardian angel?  Does it make "cowards of us all?" Or is it the way of courage of the warrior in the face of adversity?

We know we feel bad when we are doing the wrong thing. But knowing that we are doing wrong or right is a matter of judgment. Judgment whether fast or slow means making a decision weighing the pros and cons in the light of certain criteria or principle. But where do those principles or criteria come from?

Do those principles and criteria come from the outside--from our environment or culture and the training in that culture by our parents, teachers, ministers, artists, politicians, and media.

Ot do they come from inside? How did Huck Finn decide to free his friend Jim, a slave by law, even if it meant going to hell?  What criterion was he using?  And the reader knows that it was the right one. How is it possible to think critically and put all of our conventional wisdom, all that we have been taught as true doctrine or divine revelation, under scrutiny? Where do those criteria and principles come from? Is there a human nature and natural law that can guide us? If so, does that nature need to be redeemed or graced to function well?

Conscience is moral consciousness. It is therefore the consciousness we have of ourselves in our action in and to the world. It is our awareness, not just as thinking but also as acting. Conscience is our moral judgment aware of itself.

Kant spent a book critiquing moral judgment and identifying the built in categories and criteria of the mind in action. Ethics and Politics as philosophical enterprises are inquiries into and analyses of human consciousness in its intention towards goodness. The articulation of that inquiry becomes a part of the culture and its teachings subject to further inquiry. Helpful, but not sufficient because all of us personally and socially can review and revise these teachings based on our own judgments and criteria.

Mark Twain and other novelists probably do it best by telling stories of decision making that describe the circumstances within which people choose and act along with the consequences for themselves and others. It is up to us to approve or disapprove what the protagonists do and become. In doing so we have to consult our own conscience. We have to decide what we want in the world and for ourselves.

I experience consciousness unmediated, i.e. directly; but of course as soon as I talk about consciousness, it is no longer unmediated or as it is. I experience it in my own existence which "stands out" (stans ex) from the world. And from this experience I take the meaning of existence which I apply abundantly to all things in the world. I say for instance that the pavement on which I tripped and cut my knee exists; and so do all the billions of stones glued together to make up the pavement. I say these things exist, participate in being, are real. So are other things which I discover by giving them categories.

But I know that my existence is different from those things because I experience my agency (though I sometimes naively attribute agency to objects). I experience my act of "standing out" from objects which I make stand out from other things.  Real things are not mere figments of my imagination--even though it is through these figments of imagination that I can verify them as real.

In the primary, unmediated experience of my own conscious body and those of other persons with whom I am entwined, I discover the meaning of being, existence, and reality. I experience my and others' subjectivity as "out-standing" in our shared projection out to things in the world through speech. Standing-out is our sense of physical and communal space. It also is the source of our illusion of the absolute.

But we also experience ourselves as passing on--moving through moments which are undistinguished until we name them. We experience our existence as "upward bound" because we are passing beyond each moment and its expression. Thus in the very act of out-standing, we experience ourselves transcending. It is that sense of transcendence that provides us the notion of time. It is also the source of our illusion of eternity. 

Therefore, I discover that my consciousness has a structure, which is of my very nature as a human being. The structure is out-in and up-down. I experience myself as a tension grasping the poles of space and time (and I could add association and intention). This structure of my existence and consciousness provides the criteria and principles for thinking and acting with others in our world.

We can articulate these as precepts and maxims, common rules and natural laws. But as soon as we name the structure and its principles, we open them to criticism and revision although still based on our common experience of human existence and consciousness. 

The examination of consciousness and conscience is therefore a never-ending enterprise of dispelling the illusions of the absolute and eternity in our grasp of presence. And we can only grow wisdom and grace if we engage in that enterprise without ceasing. 

My conscience as moral guide therefore is my soul, my moral consciousness, in tension out and up towards greater consciousness and transcendence. Other persons help me in this endeavor. Many great souled ones provide the training through example by having me look beyond their words to create my own. This is a gift of love, a grace, that I am asked to pass on. They show me how to let go of the absolute and the eternal in favor of transcending existence. 

With grace, our souls are intending wisdom, the good, and love itself. And our transcendence, our grace-filled consciousness, is the principle for our moral judgments. No wonder souls are called divine sparks and inner lights overcoming outside darkness.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Exam my conscience?

(Another installment in my thinking about spiritual exercise.)

Many masters of the Spiritual Life recommend a daily examination of conscience. In Catholic terms it sounds like a preparation for going to confession where I can tell my sins to a priest representing a potential vengeful God and get absolution so I can go to heaven. Sorry--no longer interested in that. I'm with Martin Luther who said "Pecca fortiter!" Sin bravely.

Or it could mean a listing of all my faults towards developing a corrective strategy which would be somewhat practical as I move ahead in my career. No longer interested in that either. In fact I've never been that interested in a career.

Conscience in French is the word used both for what we English speakers call "consciousness," i.e. mind awareness, and "conscience," i.e. moral awareness. I like to think that the French, though they got stuck with Descartes in the body/soul duality, have with Piaget closed the gap between thinking and acting. Acting is a thinking out and in. Thinking is acting in and out. And also the gap between ethics and politics. Personal behavior is shaped by and shapes social action. Social action shapes and is shaped by personal behavior.

So the examination of conscience is a reflection or meditation on consciousness in both its thoughtful and behavioral dimensions. It is mindfulness and contemplation in action. Mindfulness is taking out moments, few or many, to withdraw into my consciousness by focusing not on the object of my consciousness, the words or images that make things in the world, but on the flow in which objects are becoming. Much more than my camera does, I change my depth of field all the way back to a focusing on the focusing itself.

I do this quite naturally when I jog along my usual running route simply allowing my thoughts to run through and evaporate as new thoughts emerge and run through. I am feeling the sun, the pavement, hearing my breathing, and seeing the trees and the path go by. But like beautiful butterflies, the feelings land on my palm, are appreciated, and flutter on. It is floating in William James' "stream of consciousness."

Or I do what my Zen Roshi taught me to just sit comfortably, go with my breathing, and then let all my thoughts whiz by and out like birds in the wind. Or when I fully get into the act and style of an artist while viewing her paintings or watching him perform on stage, or when I participate in a rally for something I believe, or when I listen to a good sermon at church, or when I read an exciting article about the cosmos, I often leave my self as an idea and enter into the creative consciousness of others and myself.

Sometimes I do feel a union with a bigger, universal consciousness all around, though I now feel silly labeling it that way. Perhaps it is "runner's high" or some other kind of stupor; but if it happens I am grateful for the gift. And I return refreshed.

It is awareness attending not to the objects of awareness but to the awareness itself, that which gives birth to all objects. I do not believe that one can ever get to "pure" spirit or mind or consciousness. I am with the phenomenologists who say that all consciousness is of or to something. But I think we can grasp that awareness and know what thinking/acting is only by discovering the origins of words and things, of formulas and scientific laws, of images and the forms of art, of icons and gods, of rules and society in one's self in union with many other selves. I believe it is catching the creative act of myself in union with other persons that stimulates my "high."

Even when alone. Perhaps often when alone. "Numquam minus solus quam cum solus," the monks used to say. Never less alone than when alone.

When I return from my consciousness of consciousness to the objective world, I am not only refreshed. I am bubbling with ideas which I try to write down but do so badly. Some of these ideas had come to me while running or sitting, but many are just outbursts. It is somewhat like trying to get a hold of the contours or story lines of dreams that had no contours and absurd story lines. I try to capture them in words, diagrams, and pictures--but cannot do so adequately.

I do get insights into my behavior and projects. I do rethink what I formerly held true. And I recognize that all that is real is a figment of our imagination, a product of our consciousness/conscience shared in our acts of science, religion, art, and politics. That frees me to further engage in projects that are now defining who I am and choosing to be and to critique, review, and modify them. And to offer them to others for critique, review, and modification.

That is what I believe at this writing is the examination of conscience. I am sure that there are other ways and labels for the exercise--probably as many as there are unique individuals. I believe it is essential to good thinking and good action. But I am still learning.

(Next: Cognitive therapy as a spiritual exercise)

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The Man with No Soul

This is a chapter in my next project on Soul Growing: Spiritual Exercises in Post Modern Times (or whatever I wind up naming it).

In previous reflections, I discussed what is meant by soul. I noted great-souled persons. And I described us weak-souled ones and why we need spiritual exercises along with physical exercises to grow our minds and the spirit of the universe. I asked the question of the possibility of a no-souled person which seems like a contradiction in terms since soul defines ones personality, character, and center of consciousness.

But then I encountered a man without a soul. Like Zelig in Woody Allen's movie of that name he is everywhere and no where. He is totally a creature of his environment and genes. Neither good nor bad, he is no-one, fits in anywhere, and takes on the guises of his situations. There is no transparency and no identity in such a man. He is pure reflection--which, by the way, is why he can have a following, even a large one. His words and actions reflect what others desire and fear. He has no position because he is not positioned. He is a brand, a slogan, a commercial. He is an actor without his own persona.

I was about to write a story of this man whom I named Harold Godman. He enters a crowded room of the Godman Center dressed in fine dark blue silk and a bright red tie. His hair is molded by a professional in what could be called a permanent. He wears a smile that seems molded by Da Vinci. On his arm and in his entourage are beautiful women from the cover of Vogue or the center page of Playboy. He looks like a god in his silk suit, with his manicured hands, and bronze skin. And if the gods exist because lesser men believe in them, he is indeed a god.

He puts himself and his name everywhere gaining as much publicity as he can and selling his name to investors. He places his name on all his properties, has ghostwritten books, and claims to have the answer to all persons' ills. I had him deliver a speech of dedication to the Godman Center, a huge hotel in the heart of Gotham, which on the surface used great phrases and yet, on analysis, said nothing.

By now you have guessed who my model of the man without a soul is. But I was intending on simply drawing a cartoon and writing a caricature or using what Weber would call an "ideal type" for making a point of distinction. But then I read the interview of Tony Swartz, the ghostwriter of Donald Trump's Art of the Deal. I discovered that my ideal type is real.

Here are some of the phrases Swartz used to describe the man after spending eighteen months shadowing him in the writing of his book:
  • pathologically impulsive and self-centered.
  • obsessed with publicity.
  • only takes two positions. "Either you’re a scummy loser, liar, whatever, or you’re the greatest. I became the greatest."
  • ruthless and single-minded in pursuit of profit.
  • no attention span.
  • impossible to keep focussed on any topic, other than his own self-aggrandizement.
  • a stunning level of superficial knowledge and plain ignorance.
  • seriously doubt that he has ever read a book straight through in his adult life.
  • driven entirely by a need for public attention. All he is is ‘stomp, stomp, stomp’—recognition from outside, bigger, more, a whole series of things that go nowhere in particular.
  • lied strategically. He had a complete lack of conscience about it.
  • his willingness to run over people, the gaudy, tacky, gigantic obsessions, the absolute lack of interest in anything beyond power and money.
  • need for attention is completely compulsive.
  • He’d like people when they were helpful, and turn on them when they weren’t. It wasn’t personal. He’s a transactional man—it was all about what you could do for him. 
  • People are dispensable and disposable.
If persons of great souls are centered and integrated, they grasp both poles of all the dimensions of the present. They are fully conscious with a robust interior life while acting passionately outwards in the world. They are a totally unique, creative individuals while being totally persons for others. They are always mindful of the lessons of the past while intending a better future. They totally acknowledge the world as it is while acting for the world as it should be. They transcend by questioning themselves and all their positions. They think.

The man (or woman) with no soul is fixed in the illusion of an independent self, of which depending on the circumstances he has many. He believes he has access to an absolute truth while being a creature of other opinions and cultural forces. He cannot be totally present in himself or with others. He has no empathy since he has no way to enter another person's consciousness. He is not with or for others. Others are things he uses. Without consciousness himself, he has no conscience. He behaves only for and by outside rewards. He does not question himself or his positions because he does not have any. He does not critically think. He denies or dismisses complexity in favor of simple formulas. He achieves a following and an ego by mirroring the basest of fears and desires of people. He will say or use anything to get his deal. 

Is such a man without a soul evil? I cannot call him good nor evil though I think that much evil results from his behavior. He is not responsible because he takes no responsibility; and I do not know if his refusal to take responsibility is culpable or pathological. He blames others whom he labels as evil in order to defend and glorify himself whom he claims is great. He fans the flames of fear in others in order to aggrandize himself. 

But do you recognize in all that an insecurity, a secret fear of failure, a secret distaste for who he is? If so and if he begins to acknowledge that insecurity, perhaps he can yet develop a soul. 

Ignatian exercises (a chapter in my next project)

Ignatius of Loyola was a Basque soldier in the Spanish army. At the Battle of Pamplona in 1521, his leg was seriously injured by a cannon ball. While recuperating, he read the lives of Catholic great souled ones or saints. He retreated to a cave in Manresa where in solitude he entered on the spiritual journey that changed his life. This was the source of what is now called Ignatian Spirituality practiced and promoted by his followers who formed an association called the Company or Society of Jesus now known as the Jesuits. He wrote down his spiritual exercises in a manual that has been studied and used to the present time.

Jesuits today participate in and lead retreats using the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola. The full retreat modeling the experience of Ignatius at Manresa is 30 days divided into four weeks. But there are also three, eight, and ten day retreats where the retreatant in silence and solitude, under the direction of an advisor-guide, meditates on the themes that Ignatius and his followers set forth.

I am citing the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius because of my own familiarity with and appreciation of them, but also because they embody many practices for expanding the soul in many traditions. I do not pretend to provide some definitive assessment of these exercises. There is a large literature by scholars and practitioners for those who want. (For example, go here.)

As a sixteenth century man in a Roman Catholic Europe transitioning from feudalism to monarchy, prior to the Enlightenment and just at the beginnings of the Protestant Revolution, much of his language, imagery, and ideas are quite strange to me and to the community in which I interact. I find many of the studies and practices, to which I referred above, fundamentalistic in relation to Catholic dogma and foreign to our emerging postmodern culture. But taking that in consideration, the Ignatian exercises can provide insight into methods for strengthening our souls.

Here are some of the elements of these exercises which I personally find most useful when interpreted into our present context.

The Ignatian exercises consist in progressive and courageous decision making including 1) a willingness to set aside time to consider, reflect, and face the truth about oneself and one's world as it is, 2) opening the mind to new ways of thinking, of shifting paradigms, and being led by experience and imagination, 3) joining in solidarity with the suffering, those left out, the poor, the less esteemed and powerful and then seeing things from their point of view, 4) taking responsibility to act to achieve a better world.

These correspond to the four weeks in which we 1) consider evil in ourselves and in the world as we are (e.g. Sin), 2) sojourn with a great-souled-one (i.e. Jesus of Nazareth) to experience a new style of behavior, another way of looking at the world, 3) experience the suffering (e.g. of the Christ) in others and proclaiming one's union with them, 4) joining the community (e.g. the Church or religious society) to act to achieve the world as we would like it to be (e.g. the kingdom of God, Christ the King). In the parentheses I used the Christian idiom as did Ignatius Loyola. However, I believe this can be translated into many traditions and even secularly.

[Incidentally, these four weeks correspond to cognitive therapy in contemporary psychology which I will demonstrate a bit later.]

What is notable in these exercises is the role of imagination. Ignatius incites what we call today thought experiments. He has us imagining ourselves in the company of the great-souled-one (Jesus) to experience the activity, to enter into the style, and to take on the mind and character of that person. It is an exercise of inter-subjective engagement with, not merely objective observation of the great-souled-one.  (St Paul said: the "putting on of Christ" or "assuming his Spirit.")

What is also notable in these exercises is the role of decision-making. The exercises all lead to a choice of vocation: who I want to be and what I want to do. It culminates in personal action and action with others--which, by the way, is the definition of politics.

To facilitate the decision-making, Ignatius offers meditations on 1) detachment, 2) the two standards, and 3) the discernment of spirits.

Detachment is a state of freedom from external control of mind and behavior. It is a process of gaining freedom by first acknowledging all the ways in which my mind and behavior are being influenced. These include the values to which I have been socialized even by loved ones, the institutions into which I have been born, the attractions to which I am genetically predisposed. Detachment is not necessarily to reject these values, habits, and attractions, but to know that they are there and that I can use them or be used by them. The first week of the exercises confronts through meditation all my attachments, all my desires and fears, all my likes and dislikes, all the ways that I am not free.

Kung fu, ninja, and jedi knight films portray accomplished spiritual warriors as impervious to pain, fear, and death in pursuit of their mission. I doubt that I can achieve that level of detachment until I exhale my last breath. I see detachment and the mental exercises that achieve it as a lifelong pursuit. Nor do I believe it to exclude, but actually to enhance, the enjoyment, pleasure, humor, and fun in living.

The mediation on the two standards is a thought experiment to clarify the standards or metrics I choose to guide my life. I imagine two leaders: the first who would command my total allegiance, the second who might be admirable but unworthy of total allegiance. Perhaps it is Jesus the Christ who was focused on a higher power and even died before his movement conquered an empire over against Alexander the Great who focused on earthly gain and conquered his empire and then died. Who was the winner and who the loser?  Perhaps it is the great-souled-one like Ghandi or Martin Luther King in distinction from a weak or no-souled one like King Richard or Andrew Jackson. I see it as the difference between a transcending existence and a fixed, mundane existence.

In a state of relative detachment and with clearer standards, the retreatant reviews and revises his choice of vocation. But how do I know if my choice is correct? Here Ignatius offers an exercise in the discernment of spirits. How do I know if I am being prompted by my angel or my demon? Or, in Star Wars language, the good side or the dark side of the Force?

Ignatius first suggests the rules of rational judgment. List the pros and cons and see what comes out on top. But, more important, he urges the retreatant to select what feels right. When I am in a calm mind, if I imagine myself in a certain profession or taking a certain course of action, do I feel happy or sad, in consolation or in desolation. This exercise tries to catch and probe the fundamental consciousness of my body acting in the world. This goes beyond and perhaps against corporeal pleasure, dominant cultural values, and the esteem of others.

Can I ever be sure? No. But this is why I must continue to discern, to question, to examine my consciousness in every situation and moment, every here and now, every present. No guarantees except the openness to change itself. In medieval Christian language, this is "discerning and following the Will of God." But here is a God that is present within, not just in the worldly bureaucracy of the Church or Nation.

One might argue that Ignatius and his early followers were not merely strong defenders of the (Reformed) Roman Catholic Church and the Papacy, but were also among the first Protestants, as was Jesus the Zealot in relation to Palestinian Judaism in his time and place.

(Later--what is the examination of moral consciousness, e.g. conscience? how does this connect to the contemporary exercise in mindfulness?)