Is this the right way?

Late one August evening in a small provincial town, a woman steps out her front door. In her hand, she holds a slim leather briefcase, probably containing a laptop. When she steps down from the small landing in front of the door, a mild breeze fills the air, gently tousling her long blond tresses. She tries to pull her hair back behind her ears without any luck. From the back pocket of her jeans she pulls out a bandeau and ties those unruly locks into a simple ponytail. Now, with no hair interrupting her vision, she looks first to the right and then to the left before turning around to lock the door behind her. After checking twice that the door really is locked, she rotates to face the street for the second time. 

This time she looks to the left first. Actually, at this point, her whole body shifts as she evaluates the possibility of going in that direction. 

Is this the right way? 

Read the rest of the essay in Terse Journal.

When life blooms

I’m pleased to announce that my new book, When life blooms – Breathe with Jeppe Hein will be released November 28th.

The publisher writes about the book:

“Danish artist Jeppe Hein soared to the top of the international art scene before the age of 35. His works were showcased at the world’s finest exhibitions and sold for sky-high prices. Then suddenly his body said stop. In 2009 Hein went down with stress.

In this book philosopher Finn Janning follows Jeppe Hein’s development from the tome immediately after his diagnosis with burn out and onward – a period where Hein underwent psychoanalysis and developed and interest in yoga, breathing exercises and spirituality.

Janning shows how spirituality has become more present in Hein’s works, and in the book, he develops an existential philosophy in continuation of the artists spirituality and art.”

I may add:

Although I was commissioned to write this book, I aimed at turning it into a philosophical biography that describes the life of the artist Jeppe Hein. In doing so, I’ve tried to exemplify Gilles Deleuze’s idea that “life is not personal,” that is to say, each life is a case study.

I choose this approach as a way of addressing the narcissism of the artist without making the narrative confronting, or in anyway judgmental.

Instead, I illustrate how Jeppe is formed by the major cultural trends during the last 40 years, such as the growing accelerating and spirituality and social entrepreneurship. He is an artist of his time.

It’s a book that tests and nuances the popularity of today’s spirituality through a philosophical, primarily existential lens.




Whenlife blooms_cover

When life blooms

Get your copy – either Danish or English version.


The philosophy of Byung-Chul Han

The French philosopher Gilles Deleuze once said: “There is no need to fear or hope, but only to look for new weapons.”

‘Weapons’ may give us the wrong associations, but what he refers to are concepts that, like a brick, can be used to destroy what is hindering the growth of our lives, and at the same time, help us build or create something sustainable.

The Korean philosopher Byung-Chul Han’s work can be seen a toolbox aimed at helping us understand our contemporary society, while also presenting us with concrete ideas, thoughts or ‘weapons’ that might help us overcome or resist our own weak desires and vanities.

Read the rest of my portrait of Byung-Chul Han that I wrote for The Mindful Word 

My review of The expulsion of the other

My review of In the Swarm

My review of Saving beauty

A small feature on Han, can be read here.

How Should I Live?

Before I try to give a decent answer, I would like to emphasize that I’m glad the question is personal. It refers to me, not you, or someone else. I don’t like moralizing, that is, telling other people how they should live, but I do like the element of self-knowledge and care that this question addresses.

Thus, “How should I live?” should live a joyous life.

Life, of course, is full of both joy and sadness, suffering and pleasure. Some of these are related to individual limitations, e.g. intellectual abilities. Others are related to social or political circumstances, e.g. financial.

Still, a useful guide is to live in a way that enhances a life’s joyous moments regardless of the circumstances.

How do I do that? From the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, I’ve learned that we always have the thoughts and feelings that we deserve. At first this can seem brutally arrogant, but what he aims at is that our mental state depends on how we relate to or approach our experiences. The challenge that we all share, regardless of setback or misfortunes, is how we become worthy of what is happening. This is not acceptance as a kind of resignation; rather, it’s an approach to life that confronts obstacles or setbacks by trying to create a new form of life that minimizes the effects of what is hindering ourselves from living freely.

Therefore, I should live as a compassionate fighter, that is, become a person that fights by exploring what a life may become. What is possible? I fight hate, discrimination, domination, violence, etc. because it kills life. And by involving myself in this fight — although I have to acknowledge my intellectual limitations – I feel better. Actually, I feel alive. And to live a joyous life is to have an intimate affair with life, to experiment, and dance with it.

I remember the Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño once said that children typically are full of joy, and then he wondered why it’s so, before answering, that they are alive.

It sounds like a tautology: a joyous life is synonymous with how I should live because joy emerges through appreciation of being alive, which I accomplish by destroying  everything that seem to hinder life from flourishing, just as I create room for things that flourish. Nothing comes for free, except death.

Joy and happiness require hard work.

Compassion – Toward an Ethics of Mindfulness

This work is guided by two hypotheses with one overall objective of establishing an ethics of mindfulness . The first hypothesis is the concept of moral motivator or in- tentional moral. Both Western philosophy and mindfulness operate with an intention influenced by their moral beliefs. The second hypothesis is the relationship between moral reasoning and wisdom. That is, our reasoning is affected by our moral belief . To combine those two theses, I introduce the concept compassion from mindfulness and the ethics based on the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze. Hereby, I suggest that by practicing mindfulness, one can develop his or her capacity for compassion, but also – this practice – is a «way of life» that can help protect the planet: an ethical practice.

Read the entire paper here: Compassion – Toward an Ethics of Mindfulness.

“Compassion – Toward an Ethics of Mindfulness” is published in the journal Mindfulness & Compassion, vol. 3, issue 1.

Philosophical Counseling

Some years ago, I was teaching a course in Philosophical Counseling. To my surprise, all that the students wanted to know was “What is the right thing to do?” Having that knowledge, they assumed, would make life easier. “Perhaps,” I said, “but not better or more interesting.”

Their request is part of the obsessive achievement eagerness of today’s society to perform well according to fixed ideals. It creates dullness when it comes to mental exercises. The unfortunate norm is the faster the better. I told them that philosophy is about developing problems, not delivering solutions. It’s a slow practice. It’s for life. My answer made them fidget with impatience. To philosophize, I emphasized, is to dwell on the fundamental questions, and these questions are developed in problems, just as the problems are enveloped in fundamental questions.

Yet, my students insisted: “So, what is the right question?”

I told them that this particular question was related to the problem embedded in the question. For example, how do you draw a clear distinction between right and wrong?

The ones who weren’t paying attention looked up from their screens.

In sports, where the rules are given, I said, it is rather obvious to tell whether a player is “doing it wrong.” Similarly, in business, where profit seems to guide every decision, knowing what is right and wrong may be easier. Life, however, is neither a game nor a business, although there is a tendency to classify people into winners and loser as if life were that simple. Such labeling is part of today’s achievement society. Everyone’s performance is measured according to an ideal–and ideal that is often related to the staus, prestige, power, and, of course, money that is associated with being a winner.

They went silent, so I went on. Of course, there are things in life that are rather obvious. For instance, no one needs philosophy to tell you that it is wrong to kill, discriminate against, or repress other people. Instead, philosophy begins when we start to questioning the obvious. Could I live another life? What is also possible? How may I also live?

A part of philosophy is to accept that some problems remain without solution; some questions can’t be answered once and for all.

Such a question is Which life is worth living?

Of course, one of my students then asked me: “Which life is worth living?”

This is how A Philosophy of Mindfulness – A Journey with Deleuze begins.


A Fragile Life

The main argument in Todd May’s book, A Fragile Life: Accepting Our Vulnerability, is that most of us would be unwilling to choose an invulnerable life even if we were given the opportunity. Of course, we all understand that in reality, it is impossible to live a life where we avoid all sources of pain. In his book, the author proposes that we should accept our vulnerability and acknowledge that the suffering is part of life. The question is: How do we develop that acceptance within ourselves?

It is doubtful whether May is correct in his assumptions regarding what most people might choose or might not choose. When supporting his supposition, he references Buddhism, stoicism, and the thoughts of Tolle Eckard, an extremely popular spiritualist currently. Many people might find the opportunity to live an invulnerable life, one in serenity or full awareness, an attractive option. However, this possibility seems highly unrealistic for the majority of us if we take the philosophical perspective seriously. Still, regardless of the truth regarding this particular claim, May’s book can be a useful companion for people who want to reflect on their lives. It is full of examples and is written for a broad audience.

The book starts by setting the scene regarding the inevitable vulnerability inherent in our lives. It then moves on to discuss to what extent having a project is required to provide meaning for our lives. He suggests that, “understanding how we can suffer requires that we first understand how we live.” May loosely follows the ideas of Bernard Williams with his suggestion of a meaningful project since it is embedded in a net of social practices such as rules and norms. By living our lives according to a meaningful project, we encounter some of the first potential problems. He writes that ,  “many of the ways we are vulnerable to sufferings” comes from the various things affects us negatively, that is, hinder “our ability to engage with our projects.”

The two opening chapters of the book provide excellent examples of the problems that result from vulnerability as compared to invulnerability. Next, May introduces various philosophies that claim to provide us with a model of how to live without suffering: Buddhism, Taoism, Stoicism, Eckard, and Epicurean. He describes how psychological and physical pain are connected for example. Then, he mentions that one of the challenges when it comes to suffering is whether or not we are capable of accepting the situations we cannot control. This section begins to sound like a book for consulting managers, but it does present an easily understood summary of these various philosophical schools of thought.

One of the guiding ideas links the introduction and his conclusion is how our past has led us to who we currently are and where we are in our lives today. The question is whether we should affirm our past or just simply accept it. May favors the latter approach. He uses the example of the Holocaust to illustrate his point. This is not an event we would want to affirm. Instead, he suggests that we accept that it happened neither affirming nor refusing it. Similarly, we should try to accept our past without necessarily assigning it a positive or negative value.

May’s book focuses on the fundamental question of how to live a life worth living with or without suffering. The answer that May provide us hinges on acceptance. We should learn to acknowledge our suffering. Acceptance, he writes, “does not render us immune to our suffering. It does not take us beyond our fragility. But neither does it leave us bereft. To accept the contingency of things and the quiet sadness that may go along with it is not to lie prostrate before the world. Rather, it is to embrace a perspective that can, with luck, help us find a path.”

The book deals with an interesting existential issue. Even though he uses personal stories as well as the experiences of others, the book never truly had an effect on me. It lacked the power of classical existentialist work, which really cut into my flesh. Perhaps, May’s conclusions were too banal. While I do feel that the invulnerable philosophies presented were relevant, the argument could have easily worked even without their reference. The distinction between a life with or without suffering is already clear enough. I would rather that he strengthened the argument regarding why it might be “attractive” for our lives to include suffering. For example, he could explore how we might develop creativity and artistic expression in an attempt to overcome our miserable lives.

Still, the book would be useful for newcomers to philosophy in my opinion. Also, readers who like a more conversational style would enjoy this book. The conclusions are not dramatic, but they might generate a new interest in the reader for further study of the existential philosophies that May summarizes in passing.

First published in Metapsychology, Vol. 21, Issue 21.

A Philosophy of Mindfulness

 A Philosophy of Mindfulness is out!


In this book, I argue that we need a “new” philosophy because we—many of us, at least—are blind. We see rather little of that which surrounds us.

By mixing mindfulness with the affirmative philosophy of Gilles Deleuze, I unfold a philosophy of mindfulness. A philosophy that makes us less blind but also ethically responsible in relation to what we experience. Hereby, I move mindfulness from the sphere of psychology into philosophy, or from being primarily an inward-turned practice to an out-turned one.

A Philosophy of Mindfulness puts emphasis on experience, experiment, and actualization or affirmation. Each experience matters; life is the experience of making contact or being connected with what is in the midst of becoming—that is, life—and then passing it on to the next generations.

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