Philosophy Workshop: “How to Meditate with a Text”
September 12, 2022 @ 6:00 pm - 8:30 pm MDT
For thousands of years, people seeking after wisdom have approached important texts as invitations for meditation, whose treasures can be uncovered through careful, deliberate practices of attention.
In this workshop, we’ll explore some of these techniques, combining practical instruction with reflections on the theoretical and conceptual background needed to make sense of the practices. We’ll examine the aims, goals, and underlying assumptions of this style of meditative practice. And we’ll consider the thorny question of the historical, cultural, and religious contexts in which the practices were first developed, and how well (if at all) they can be transplanted outside those contexts.
We’ll discuss how we might engage meditatively or contemplatively with a wide spectrum of texts, from philosophy, to theology, to mythology and folklore. What tools of interpretation, what styles of approach, will we need, if we want to learn from and be transformed by these texts? How can meditation with a text help us to situate ourselves within structured patterns of meaning that are there to be found—not made—throughout the cosmos?
We’ll draw on a wide range of sources and resources, including:
The works of Pagan Platonists like Porphyry (On the Cave of the Nymphs) and Proclus (Commentary on Plato’s Republic), on the use and interpretation of myth;
The Benedictine monastic practice of lectio divina (“divine reading”); and
Two quite distinct sets of practices—Christian and post-Christian—that are both known as “discursive meditation.”
We’ll also step back to consider what might be involved in meditating with various kinds of “texts,” including:
Written and spoken collections of words: texts in the most common, obvious sense, whether they’re written down, memorized, etc.
Other musical and artistic works: paintings, engravings, sculpture, “music” in the narrow modern sense, etc.
Symbols and conceptual categories
Reading the “Book of Nature.”
Warnings and safeguards:
The techniques we’ll be exploring are considered to be generally safe, and can be practiced by most people on their own, even without an experienced teacher.
If you suffer from clinical psychiatric disorders or mental illness (especially, but not only, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder), please consult with your health care provider before beginning any type of meditation, including (but not limited to) the techniques taught in this workshop. I do not recommend practicing any form of meditation while suffering from, or receiving treatment for, psychiatric disorders or mental illness. If this applies to you, you are still warmly welcome to attend the workshop for the sake of intellectual conversation and learning the theory, but please wait to begin the practices until you have completed treatment or received the approval of a licensed medical provider who is familiar with your personal circumstances.
Other (for those who participated in our previous workshop on this topic):
While there will be some repeat of material we covered last year, about 60% of the workshop is new. So it will serve as great refresher as well as an introduction to different things!
When & Where
This evening workshop led by philosopher David Nowakowski will take place outdoors at Caretaker’s Lawn (in Reeder’s Alley) on Monday, Sept. 12th if the weather is nice. If it’s being cantankerous, then we’ll hold the workshop indoors in the Reeder’s Alley Conference Center. No prior background in philosophy or meditation is required to participate.
*If the weather is not conducive to being outdoors, we’ll move indoors into the Reeder’s Alley Conference & Convention Center.
David Nowakowski is as a philosopher and educator in the Helena area whose professional work is dedicated to helping people of all ages and backgrounds access, understand, and apply the traditions of ancient philosophy to their own lives. David began studying ancient philosophies and classical languages in 2001, and has continued ever since. A scholar of the philosophical traditions of the ancient Mediterranean (Greece, Rome, and North Africa) and of the Indian subcontinent, reading Sanskrit, Latin, and classical Greek, he earned his Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton University in 2014. His work has appeared in a variety of scholarly journals, including Philosophy East & West, Asian Philosophy, and the Journal of Indian Philosophy, as well as in presentations to academic audiences at Harvard, Columbia University, the University of Toronto, Yale-NUS College in Singapore, and elsewhere.
After half a decade teaching at liberal arts colleges in the northeast, David chose to leave the academy in order to focus his energies on the transformative value of these ancient philosophical and spiritual traditions in his own life and practice, and on building new systems of education and community learning that will make this rich heritage alive and available to others.
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