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The Time of the Vine
From philosopher to mystic and beyond.
About a year ago in a post entitled A New Philosophy I wrote the following:
Throughout most of my life, I’ve been quite private and solitary about my philosophical practice despite it being a major part of my life. Others would only see some polished fragments (many of which are in my archives) that were the result of philosophical activity but not the activity itself. Not even my immediate family knows exactly what it is that I’ve been doing…It is now that I finally feel ready to reveal more of my philosophical process and lead others through the rites of passage philosophical adventures require. Even those who are not meant to travel with me, may derive some benefit from the captain’s logs recorded during my life’s quest. That’s another reason why I started Numinous Quest; to help fellow travelers with lessons learned, experiments attempted, dead ends reached, and challenges overcome, while generating resources to keep on traveling and logging my way out of Plato’s Cave. One more thread leading out of the labyrinth and back to the love that is waiting for us all.
Though the rites of passage have been available to anyone who feels called to them through my philosophical guidance website, my philosophical process did not get revealed. This and more, changes from today onwards.
The new chat feature recently introduced by Substack, now available for both iOS and Android mobile devices, offers a solution to a concern I had, which was that the potentially daily and real time updates revealing and documenting my philosophical life might prove too much for anyone’s email inbox and create subscriber fatigue. Thankfully, with Substack chat this is no longer an issue since chat updates and newsletter posts are different and subscribers have full control over what notifications they get and where they get them (e.g. email inbox, mobile device push notifications). You can learn how to participate in a Substack chat here.
That was not the only concern that kept me from sharing my process. The truth is that the profound transformations of the past few years have shifted not just my process but my own worldview so far off the Overton window that I am concerned with the overall consequences of being more open about it, especially when it comes to writing as opposed to oral discourse, as I share Plato’s aversion to written discourse for the same reasons. As I have written elsewhere:
This critique of knowledgeis what provides the key to Plato’s aversion of written discourse versus that of oral discourse:
In oral discourse, there is the concrete presence of a living being. There is genuine dialogue, which links two souls together, and an exchange in which, as Plato says, discourse can respond to the questions asked of it and defend itself. Thus, dialogue is personalized: it is addressed to a specific person, and corresponds to his needs and possibilities. Just as, in agriculture, it takes time for a seed to germinate and develop, many conversations are necessary for knowledge to be born in the soul…Dialogue does not transmit ready-made knowledge or information; rather, the interlocutor conquers his knowledge by his own effort. He discovers it by himself, and thinks for himself. Written discourse, by contrast, cannot respond to questions. It is impersonal, and claims immediately to give a knowledge which is ready-made, but lacks the ethical dimension represented by voluntary assent. There is no real knowledge outside the living dialogue.
Of course this begs the question as to why did Plato write all these dialogues in the first place. One answer is that the dialogues were written as exhortations to philosophy, belonging to the ancient Greek genre of protreptics, aimed at people beyond the confines of the Academy and Athens. Axiothea of Phlius is said to have traveled to join the Academy as one of Plato’s first female students after reading The Republic.
Thankfully modern technology has enabled hybrid environments that I hope will overcome some of the limitations of written discourse outlined above. For example, even the chat feature mentioned earlier is a mixture containing elements of both written and oral discourse given that though it is in writing, it could be said that one is often responding to particular subscribers in speeds approximating real time oral discourse. Moreover, with mobile devices and high speed internet availability increasing globally, I could simply drop an impromptu video conference link in the chat and we could switch to oral discourse on the fly, which could help personalize the experience seamlessly. So if you want to participate in any upcoming chats make sure you add the Substack app in your mobile device and follow the instructions necessary to participate. For a limited time I’ll post all my chats for both free and paid subscribers so everyone can get a taste of what kind of content I will be sharing, but after that some chat posts will start being for paid subscribers only.
The result is as important as the process
Ἕκαστον γὰρ δένδρον ἐκ τοῦ ἰδίου καρποῦ γινώσκεται. Οὐ γὰρ ἐξ ἀκανθῶν συλλέγουσι σῦκα, οὐδὲ ἐκ βάτου τρυγῶσι σταφυλήν. Ὁ ἀγαθὸς ἄνθρωπος ἐκ τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ θησαυροῦ τῆς καρδίας αὐτοῦ προφέρει τὸ ἀγαθόν, καὶ ὁ πονηρὸς ἄνθρωπος ἐκ τοῦ πονηροῦ θησαυροῦ τῆς καρδίας αὐτοῦ προφέρει τὸ πονηρόν· ἐκ γὰρ τοῦ περισσεύματος τῆς καρδίας λαλεῖ τὸ στόμα αὐτοῦ.
For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.
Though I believe there is value in sharing philosophical theories and processes, the fruit of philosophy is ultimately its effect on the quality of one’s life, its direction, and the legacy it leaves behind for oneself and others. Thus, a true evaluation of a philosopher’s work entails an understanding of how their process is applied in life and what fruits it generates by that application. To share the fruits that are generated practically means sharing more concrete details about how my philosophical investigations and experiments affect the quality, direction, and work of my life. Since philosophy is not merely designing instruments of the soul but learning how to play them in service to the art of living, demonstrating the music your life makes through the playing of a philosophical symphony can serve as an enticement and protreptic for others to learn too.
The relation between one’s philosophical process, the quality, and direction of one’s life is not, however, a simple one. For some philosophers may create instruments of the soul to play philosophical flamenco while their students use the same instruments to play philosophical jazz. Moreover, the quality of the philosophical flamenco or jazz may change depending on who is playing the instrument, and those who came up with some genre will not necessarily be the best ones in it.
In short, one philosopher can come up with brilliant methodologies and insights that countless people find useful yet fail to apply them skillfully in their own life heading in one direction, while another may invent nothing new, yet apply old tools he didn’t invent to create a wonderful life heading to a completely different direction. No matter the choices any particular philosopher makes, the point I’m making is that we can learn something from everyone, it being wise to judiciously apply the Delphic Maxim Ἄκουε πάντα (translation: Listen to everything/everyone) but of course not in isolation from the application of the others.
That being said, my heritage, by birth and orientation, is nevertheless Greek, and follows an understanding of philosophy that embodies what Kierkegaard astutely singled out as the Greek principle:
"To live like a Greek philosopher, existentially expressing and existentially probing the depths of what he must call his view of life, [such a person] would be regarded [nowadays] as a lunatic. Let it be so."
The Greek principle…is the very antithesis of abstract thought. "While abstract thought seeks to understand the concrete abstractly, the subjective thinker has conversely to understand the abstract concretely."
This is why starting to share more concrete details of my life, is not an unconscious surrender to the current of widespread narcissism in our midst but a conscious attempt to demonstrate what it looks like to live the philosophically abstract concretely, and what kind of fruits grow out of this exercise.
This orientation aligns with the original ancient Greek conception of philosophy, as I’ve shown elsewhere. However, such a start cannot begin without a preliminary acknowledgement of a significant development.
From Philosopher to Mystic
Recent postshave already mentioned that the past few years have been a prolonged dive into mysticism. This was not the result of my academic education but a result of my own initiative. In fact, nowhere in my undergraduate or graduate studies in philosophy was the role of the Mysteries ever emphasized. And yet it was only after my mystical experiences that I finally started truly understanding Plato for the first time.
Ironically enough, Plato has Socrates explicitly say in Phaedo that in order to practice philosophy the right way, one needs to become a genuine mystic:
Eἰσὶν γὰρ δή, ὥς φασιν οἱ περὶ τὰς τελετάς, ‘ναρθηκοφόροι ’μὲν πολλοί, βάκχοι δέ τε παῦροι. Οὗτοι δ᾽ εἰσὶν κατὰ τὴν ἐμὴν δόξαν οὐκ ἄλλοι ἢ οἱ πεφιλοσοφηκότες ὀρθῶς. Ὧν δὴ καὶ ἐγὼ κατά γε τὸ δυνατὸν οὐδὲν ἀπέλιπον ἐν τῷ βίῳ ἀλλὰ παντὶ τρόπῳ προυθυμήθην γενέσθαι: εἰ δ᾽ ὀρθῶς προυθυμήθην καί τι ἠνύσαμεν, ἐκεῖσε ἐλθόντες τὸ σαφὲς εἰσόμεθα, ἂν θεὸς ἐθέλῃ, ὀλίγον ὕστερον, ὡς ἐμοὶ δοκεῖ.
There are indeed, as those concerned with the mysteries say, many who carry the thyrsus but the Bacchants are few. These latter are, in my opinion, no other than those who have practiced philosophy in the right way. I have in my life left nothing undone in order to be counted among these as far as possible, as I have been eager to be in every way. Whether my eagerness was right and we accomplished anything we shall, I think, know for certain in a short time, god willing, on arriving yonder.
The thyrsus was a ceremonial staff associated with Bacchus. I will go deeper into its meaning in later posts. What Socrates is saying here is that many can merely carry itwithout being true initiates (Bacchants). However, those who practice philosophy the right way become true initiates. Thus, good philosophers become genuine mystics; or to put it another way, philosophers who have not become mystics are basically guilty of philosophical malpractice.
It’s time we gather our grapes from the vine instead of the bramble bush.
Only then can we make and distribute the wine.
It is time.
But to understand what this means, I have to share, in the next posts, some of what has happened. It starts once upon a time in Eleusis.
For sometimes the past has a future we don’t expect.
Soren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, trans. David F. Swenson, completed after his death with introduction and notes by Walter Lowrie (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1941), p, 315.
Last quote from ibid. but entire quote from David K. Naugle’s Worldview: The History of a Concept, chapter 4. Italics and words in brackets mine.
Notice that the ancient Greek text does not say thyrsus/θυρσός but ναρθηκοφόροι. That word literally means those who carry the wooden rods that make part of the thyrsus which was made from a species called νάρθηξ (the giant fennel) but it is not equivalent to the thyrsus itself given the thyrsus also included ivy vines and leaves, sometimes wound with taeniae and topped with a pine cone. Knowing this, the passage is easier to understand, because what Socrates is saying is that many can carry the incomplete thyrsus, but the Bacchants (who can carry the complete thyrsus because only votaries of Dionysus could do so) are few. I think the English translator took some liberties in translating this for what he thought was easier comprehension, at the price of the loss of nuance. His translation would have been accurate if the Greek text had the word θυρσοφόροι instead of ναρθηκοφόροι.