On the Orphic theme of inner peace

I mentioned the theme of inner peace early on in my exposition of philosophy as a way of life, specifically when I quoted Hadot on “the inner peace brought about by wisdom” (1995:274) in light of remarks made by Philo. The notion of inner peace being Orphic in character is perhaps, upon initial consideration, a non-sequitur. Inner peace may seem associated with a selfish process of looking inwards and a ‘forgetting’ about the natural world, while the Orphic attitude highlights (amongst many things) the interconnectedness of all that constitutes nature. The context of the ecological crisis, as I have also already remarked in, is one that creates an atmosphere of urgency, specifically an urgency to somehow try and deal with the considerable issues constituting an ecological crisis with such widespread implications for life on planet Earth. So inner peace may not seem an important goal when the need to create a sustainable dispensation is of such obvious importance.

However, Hadot makes it perfectly clear that the “inner peace brought about by wisdom” (1995:274) is nothing other than an immediate and active respect for the united synergy of all of the components that constitute the present moment – this of course requires that a person has undergone a transformation away from pure Promethean utilitarianism, instrumentalism, and of seeing the world ‘for ourselves’, towards something far more conducive to the well-being of the environment. Hadot draws explicit attention to the un-selfish character of what is here being referred to as inner peace:

What is required is concentration on the present moment, a concentration in which the spirit is, in a sense, without past nor present, as it experiences the simple ‘sensation of existence.’ Such concentration is not, however, a mere turning in upon oneself. On the contrary: the sensation of existence is, inseparably, the sensation of being in the whole and the sensation of the existence of the whole. (259)

For this reason, the ancients did various exercises (none of which entail any kind of Promethean action) to cultivate a state of mind conducive to ‘being in the whole’: “In order to realize this state of attention, …a number of exercises were necessary: intense meditation…, the ever-renewed awareness of the finitude of life, examination of one’s conscience, and, above all, a specific attitude toward time” (Hadot 1995:268). This attitude towards time entails an acute awareness of the (Orphic) interconnectedness of the present moment:

For the ancients… it is quite apparent that the transformation of one’s view of the world was intimately linked to exercises which involved concentrating one’s mind on the present instant. In Stoicism as well as in Epicureanism, such exercises consisted in ‘separating oneself from the future and past,’ in order to ‘delimit the present instant.’ Such a technique gives the mind, freed from the burden and prejudices of the past, as well as from worry about the future, that inner detachment, freedom, and peace which are indispensable prerequisites for perceiving the world qua world. We have here, moreover, a kind of reciprocal causality: the mind acquires peace and serenity by becoming aware of its relationship with the world, to the extent that it re-places our existence within the cosmic perspective. (Hadot 1995:259)

This is a most important extract. It reveals that inner peace is not sought because of some selfish goal, but rather because inner peace is an “indispensable” prerequisite “for perceiving the world qua world”, a form of perception where the inherent value of the constituents of existence is central. It also reveals the secret to inner peace as the ancient philosophers understood inner peace: to not have the mind ‘hijacked’ by the habituated form of perception (a form of perception dominated by humanity as it has historically been constituted) where the mind is constantly replaying past events or speculating about the future, and in so doing missing the present moment. This is fitting for the Promethean attitude: in being instrumentally focused, it homes in on those parts of an environment that can be used ‘for ourselves’, but accordingly ‘we’ must actively engage in ‘logistics’ about what to do in the future with the ‘resources’, how to go about processing the resources, etc.; and of course, ‘we’ need to draw on past events, experiences, customs, habits, structures, etc. in order to guide ‘our’ future choices. An instance of this is what is heralded as the new industrial revolution, namely ‘the internet of things’[1], in which all industrial objects and people will be digitally ‘interconnected’ in the most invidious way to exacerbate production and, concomitantly, ecological degradation, thus taking Deleuze’s ‘control society’ (see Chapter 4, sub-section 4.6) to an unprecedented level. ‘The internet of things’ is also being heralded as the greatest investment opportunity of all time[2], where the investment process occurs seemingly in Promethean celebration of the Capitalist medium of ‘the market’ (see sub-sections 2.9 and 3.5). Habitual perception and perception ‘for ourselves’ (where focus on the future or past for practical and instrumental reasons is foregrounded) corresponds to something Martin Heidegger says in his essay ‘On the essence of truth’[3]: humanity

replenishes its ‘world’ on the basis of the latest needs and aims, and fills out that world by means of proposing and planning. From these man then takes his standards, forgetting being as a whole. He persists in them and continually supplies himself with new standards, yet without considering either the ground for taking up standards or the essence of what gives the standard.

On the other hand, there is the remembering of being[4], the concentration “on the present instant” which involves “suspension of our projects for the future” (as already quoted from Hadot, above) – suspension of activities like the creation of, and the investment into, ‘the internet of things’. Note the importance of this statement in light of the ecological crisis – the crisis has been brought on by Promethean processes such as the widespread domination of Christianity in the ‘developed world’, the spread of reductionist Science, the acceleration of the spread of ‘dominion-Technology’, and the endless-growth imperative of Capitalism. The latter three of these Promethean arenas have continued to spread and grow, with a view to spreading and growing continuously into the future[5] – but as just seen, concentration on the present moment entails “the suspension of our projects for the future” – which is to say, the suspension of Promethean projects for the most part, insofar as the Promethean is intimately inculcated with instrumental reason and value, and with habitual perception.  It is this Promethean burden that one is freed from when concentration on the present moment is prioritised; as already quoted, it frees one from the “burden and prejudices of the past, as well as from worry about the future”, and it “lets us discover the infinite value and unheard-of miracle of our presence in the world” (Hadot, Ibid). These are surely worthy constituents of a state that is here being referred to as inner peace, and it is a state in which no Promethean phenomena are being perpetuated by the person nurturing the state of perception, a state of perception that lingers on to influence one towards benign interactions (instead of ecologically-destructive actions) in an interconnected system.

This state of inner peace is repeatedly described by Hadot as a state in which a profoundly Orphic attitude is nurtured. Here is one instance of this (Hadot 1995:260):

By becoming conscious of one single instant of our lives, one single beat of our hearts, we can feel ourselves linked to the entire immensity of the cosmos, and to the wondrous fact of the world’s existence. The whole universe is present in each part of reality. For the Stoics, this experience of the instant corresponds to their theory of the mutual interpenetration of the parts of the universe.

It follows that people who have “suspended their projects for the future”, who feel “linked to the entire immensity of the cosmos”, who are aware of the “wondrous fact of the world’s existence”, who see the “whole universe… present in each part of reality”, who comprehend “the mutual interpenetration of the parts of the universe”… these people are unlikely to lead the way in exerting dominion over the natural world – that is, beyond that which is necessary for their own survival. Of course, such people would have to act; they would have to focus on some utilitarian outcomes, have to have some projects for the future, because life certainly requires that people eat food and maintain shelter. However, consider again what Lyn White Junior (1971:11) has said (which I have already quoted more than once in this study): “What people do about their ecology depends on what they think about themselves in relation to the things around them”. The people I have just described in Orphic detail (details provided by Hadot) certainly would have minimal detrimental impact on the natural world, because they feel themselves “linked to the entire immensity of the cosmos”. The same logic applies to the following:

By concentrating one’s attention on one instant, one moment of the world: the world then seems to come into being and be born before our eyes. We then perceive the world as a ‘nature’ in the etymological sense of the world: physis, that movement of growth and birth by which things manifest themselves. We experience ourselves as a moment or instant of this movement; … We are born along with the world. (Hadot 1995:260)

The sense conveyed here is one of deep appreciation for existence, an existence in which the perceiver is intimately interconnected with that which is perceived. It may be possible that a person could perceive the world in such a manner of interconnectedness but still go about acting in an ecologically-detrimental way, but White’s comment again comes to mind, and again the overwhelming impression is that what a person thinks about the things around them matters for what the person does ‘to’ or ‘with’ the things around them. Indeed, in the following observation from Hadot (1995:261), he is in agreement with the notion that what one thinks affects how one lives, specifically when he mentions “an interior transformation and complete change in his way of seeing and living” (my emphasis):

The contemplation mentioned by Seneca is… a kind of unitive contemplation. In order to perceive the world, we must, as it were, perceive our unity with the world, by means of an exercise of concentration on the present moment. Similarly, in order to recognize wisdom, we must, so to speak, go into training for wisdom. We can know a thing only by becoming similar to our object. Thus, by a total conversion, we can render ourselves open to the world and to wisdom. This is why Seneca was just as stupefied and filled with ecstasy by the spectacle of wisdom as he was by the spectacle of the world. For him, in both instances, it was a case of a discovery obtained by dint of an interior transformation and complete change in his way of seeing and living. In the final analysis, both the world as perceived in the consciousness of the sage, and the sage’s consciousness itself, plunged in the totality of the world, are revealed to the lover of wisdom in one single, unique movement.

The previous four quotes ‘speak for themselves’ in conveying the Orphic character of the inner peace that the ancient philosophers nurtured as a matter of priority. In order to nurture this state of perception, the ancient philosophers had to drop their “projects for the future” and abandon (as far as possible) thoughts about the past and worries about the future. They literally had to stop what they were doing, stop any utilitarian process, shake loose their habitual perception of the world, and actively (de-)condition the mind to be aware of the interconnectedness of the present moment. In doing all this, the adept is no longer part of the ‘Promethean problem’ anymore. In hindsight, the Orphic areas of focus explored in Chapter 5, and the domain of permaculture explored in Chapter 6, are partly characterised by a similar consequence of halting people in their Promethean tracks and working to convey Orphic perceptual qualities partly characterised by an awareness of being a part of a much greater whole.

I am not for a moment suggesting that ‘instrumentalism’ is a bad thing as such; but as the dominant attitude directing the actions of the human race, as is the case with ACID, where an almost exclusive Prometheanism reigns, the Promethean problem is pressing – indeed, Hadot himself comments on this problem when, in The Veil of Isis, as I have quoted elsewhere, he writes (2006:98), the “blind development of technology and industrialization, however, spurred on by the appetite for profit, places our relation to nature, and nature itself, in danger”. The ancient philosophers, on the other hand, were actively engaged in observing nature, and their observations were not of dislocated quantities of resources; instead, their observations were of themselves and of all manifestations of life as an interconnected piece of the cosmic whole. This, as stated by Hadot again and again, is a state of observation, and a manner of perceiving the world, which have to be practised actively at each instant. It follows that not only was the ancient philosopher actively stopping Promethean endeavours when she observed in the manner described, but this observational process, in having to be practiced at each instant, continued into each subsequent moment – it is not the present ‘giving way’ to the future, but rather the unfolding of a continuous present tense. So even when the utilitarian need to eat food arises, the person practicing philosophy as a way of life considers (surely amongst many other considerations) the cosmic interconnection of himself and that which he eats, where it comes from, the impact that the farming method has on other parts of the whole, and the impact of the transport system in the world of which the human being is just one part. Eating is a necessity; what one eats, how one eats, where one’s food comes from, what the impact on the ecology of the farming method is – these are all far more likely to be considered by a person actively engaged in careful observation of the unity of the cosmos. A practitioner of philosophy as a way of life, as described in detail at various stages in to, is cognisant of this unity, and adjusts actions accordingly.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_of_things accessed 5 March 2017

[2] https://pro.banyanhill.com/p/PRLPRA/LPRLT251/?h=true accessed 5 March 2017

[3] Accessed 5 March at http://aphelis.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/Martin-Heidegger-On-the-Essence-of-Truth.pdf

[4] Heidegger associates this with what he calls ‘letting-be’, which I comment on in the conclusion to this chapter.

[5] …which of course is impossible because infinite expansion cannot occur on a finite planet, as discussed in Chapter 3 and elsewhere in this study.