Saturday, September 11, 2021

Notes and What I learned from "The Present Alone is Our Happiness" - The Present Alone is Our Happiness by Pierre Hadot

This is part 10 of a 12 post series reviewing the book "The Present Alone is Our Happiness"

Regarding which attitudes and spiritual exercises Hadot prefers and practices - 

meditation on death ... give, as it were, absolute value to every instant of life ... The thought of death thus led me to this exercise of concentration on the present (p. 162).

Regarding the balance between concentration the present and action and orientation to the future -

implies a double liberation: from the weight of the past, and from fear of the future ... concentration on the present is a concentration on what we can really do (p. 163).

Goethe's Faust II says, "Then the spirit look neither forward nor backward.  The present alone is our happiness."  Hadot is asked "how can one say that the present alone is our happiness?"

He cites a portion of the poem in response, "Do you want to mold yourself a pretty life?  Do not let the past worry you, get angry as little as possible, rejoice in the present, rejoice without ceasing, hate no one, and abandon the future to God" (p. 164).


it consists in knowing how to recognize the infinite value of every moment.  In fact, this is very difficult, but it is good to regain awareness of the wealth of the present instant as much as possible (p. 165).


Ordinarily our life is always incomplete, in the strongest sense of the term, because we project all our hopes, all our aspirations, all our attention into the future, telling ourselves that we will be happy once we have attained this or that goals.  We are afraid as long as the goal is not attained, but if we attain it, already it no longer interests us and we continue to run after something else.  We do not live, we hope to live, we are waiting to live (p. 166).

How do we overcome this?

an action that is well done [is] done for itself, with attention and consciousness. ... we can tell ourselves, I am here, alive, and that's enough ... we can even add, Here I am, in an immense and wonderful world.  It is this present instant, Marcus Aurelius said, that puts us into contact with the whole cosmos.  At every instant I can think of the indescribable cosmic event of which I am a part ... wonder before the world (p. 166).

Regarding the look from above -

the existence of a look from above is indeed attested among the Greeks and the Romans (p. 167).


this exercise consists in imaginatively traversing the immensity of space, and in accompanying the movement of the stars (p. 167).


The contemporary period has achieved flight in space.  And those who have lived this experience underwent an unforgettable shock, and reported ideas and sentiments analogous to what was felt by those who had lived it merely as a spiritual exercise (p. 168).


aim for objectivity, the impartiality, of the historian and the scholar, but it is also to detach oneself from oneself, in order to open oneself to a universal perspective ... detach oneself from his egotistical point of view ... leave behind a unilateral view of things, to put onself in the place of others.

He quotes Einstein, again, about the human being as a part of the whole (see quote here).

in order to know the authentic value of a human, one must ask to what degree and to what end he has freed himself from himself. ... an awareness of the duty to put oneself in the service of the human community (p. 169).


Socrates, in Plato's Apology, insists a great deal on the fact that he neglects all his personal interests to occupy himself only with others (p. 172).

Regarding wonder and the splendor of existence - 

[seeing the world] for the first time is to get rid of the conventional and routine vision we have of things, to rediscover a raw, naïve vision of reality, to take note of the splendor of the world (p. 173)


He quotes Seneca, "it often happens to me to look at is as if I were looking at it for the first time" (p. 173).


A true connoisseur of nature must also love its repugnant aspects.  In all the works of nature, he said, there is something wonderful (p. 173).


Certain human beings, sometimes, very simple and 'ordinary' ones, as Montaigne remarked, have this courage, and thus gain access to the philosophical life.  Even when they suffer and find themselves in a desperate situation, they sometimes manage to consider existence as something splendid (p. 174).


One does not produce this sacred quiver at will, but on the rare occasions that it takes hold of one, one must not attempt to get away from it, because one must have the courage to confront the inexpressible mystery of existence (p. 174).

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