Philosophy Workshop: “How to Meditate with a Text”

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 explored some of these techniques, combining practical instruction with reflections on the theoretical and conceptual background needed to make sense of the practices.  We examined the aims, goals, and underlying assumptions of this style of meditative practice.  And considered 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 discussed 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, do 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 drew 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 also stepped 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


Readings & Resources


About the Workshop Leader...

David is as a philosopher and educator 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.  A lover of philosophy and the great outdoors, David is currently building his own consulting practice and serves as a Philosophical Advisor and Consultant for Merlin CCC & Senior Mentor for scholars in the Merlin Fellowship Program.

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 & WestAsian 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. 

A hermit by nature and by committed choice, he balances contemplative solitude with his active work in teaching, counseling, and the healing arts. We are elated to be collaborating with David on our philosophy in the community activities, fellowships, and other Merlin projects.

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