The Wisdom of Hypatia

Ancient Spiritual Practices
for a More Meaningful Life
Learning Hypatia's Philosophia

    By using the ancient Greek word philosophia, rather than the English word philosophy, I intend to refer to the ancient practice — the desire for wisdom as a way of life — rather than to the often technical, academic discipline called philosophy today. Therefore, my purpose in blogging here is to discuss a system of practices to help one to live wisely. It is rooted in the ancient philosophia and wisdom traditions of the West, but it has much in common with those of the East, as I'll mention from time to time. Further, although it is rooted in these ancient traditions, it is perfectly compatible with our contemporary scientific worldview, as I will explain. I dont intend to present Hypatia's Neoplatonic philosophia as a complete and closed system of practice; that is not my purpose. Rather, I plan this blog as the continuation of a living 2500-year old wisdom tradition, which must be verified and validated in our own experience. It evolves in order to adapt and survive.

    The goal of ancient philosophia was to learn and to practice a better way of life, which usually meant to live with joy and equanimity by living in accord with nature. Still a worthwhile aim! Of course there are many ways to interpret these words, and that is what distinguished these philosophies. Nevertheless, the important point is that they were not so much intellectual systems as methods of mental and moral training. (The late Pierre Hadot has done much in recent years to explain the true nature of ancient philosophia.) 

    Instruction in ancient philosophia focused on the practice of daily living, and the intellectual system was intended to support the practice, maintaining motivation by providing intellectual justification for the practices.

    Therefore ancient instruction in philosophia was not so much a lecture as counseling. It was more akin to spiritual instruction by a guru or other spiritual teacher, or to modern psychotherapy, counseling, or "life coaching." A small number of students would meet with the teacher. They might discuss a text from the sect's founder or another philosopher, exploring its meaning and application to everyday life. The students might ask the teacher about their practical problems in living philosophically. The support of the group was essential, for the students would encourage each other, praising progress and discussing ways to overcome difficulties. Later, the teacher might meet with the students individually to discuss their individual progress or difficulties. Students also kept journals as a way of judging their progress and analyzing their own thoughts. In this way, through individual effort, the guidance of a teacher, and group support, the students grew in their ability to live philosophically.

    I think this is still the "gold standard" of philosophical instruction, since it permits the teacher's and students' familiarity and engagement in one another's lives to make true progress in a mutually supportive environment. The prerequisite is long-term interaction among a small number of practitioners (perhaps a dozen). Traditional large lectures are not as effective, nor are weekend workshops, both of which lack long-term intimacy. Nevertheless, although it is more difficult, you can learn and practice Hypatia's philosophia on your own.

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