The Need for Philosophy
I’m hesitant to advise or promote any particular spiritual or philosophical path. But there are actually two practical methods, which can converge and enhance each other, for anyone who wants to pursue philosophical experience and spiritual development.
The first method is to find a “philosophical friend.” By that I don’t mean a guru, or someone who can teach you about a particular path. A philosophical friendship is among peers, and it’s rooted in the study of the great unanswerable questions of our existence, the questions of the heart: Why am I here? Does God exist? Why does evil exist? Why do we suffer, and is death the end? What should we do with our lives? The aim is to explore such questions with each other, or perhaps in a small group, in a way that serves to deepen the questions without feeling the need to come up with definite answers. This way we become more visible to those persons who have real knowledge and who are looking for those who need what they have to transmit.
The other philosophical directive that I would recommend is the work of listening. It’s quite rare these days to encounter the person who can hear opinions which are contradictory to their own, and receive those opinions in a respectful way, without reacting immediately or, at best, waiting for an opening in which to fire back with one’s own point of view.
A very useful tool is the “mirroring” technique of dialogue, which is usually directed toward solving problems of communication. But if you pursue this kind of communication without trying to fix anything, or heal a relationship, it’s a wonderful exercise in the pure art of listening. When you have to restate another’s point of view, and get that person’s agreement that you have indeed gotten it right before expressing yourself, you are effectively stepping back from your own opinions. There’s a kind of enforced pause from the habit of mostly listening to yourself, which we all have. And you’re also stepping back from the habit of wanting to win arguments, which is also universal. When you can step back in this way, some remarkable and even miraculous things can happen – not just between people, but within one’s own mind.
p. 115-116 from Necessary Wisdom, Jacob Needleman in conversation with D. Patrick Miller.