What Do I Know? on Montaigne and the Art of Living

“My métier, my art, is to live” — Michel de Montaigne

Vincent Van Patten
6 min readMay 28, 2020

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Throughout history, when the line between truth and madness, freedom, and injustice faded into nonexistence, writing was all one could do to maintain one last semblance of reality.

The Religious Wars of 16th-century France were one of these times, where being a Catholic or Protestant meant more than being a friend or neighbor.

Caught in between this brutal age, The French Renaissance thinker Michel de Montaigne did something it seems nobody else was capable of doing: he sought beauty in humanity.

He turned inward; he wrote.

What came were his Essais — individual works on life and death, on thought, on the joys of travel, friendship, and communication — but above all how to stay true to himself, “rester soi-meme.”

Montaigne’s sole purpose was to master the art of living.

He wrote his Essais as a spiritual guide to connect with his mind, body, and soul, not merely to endure the atrocities taking place, but to live.

“My métier, my art, is to live,” Montaigne writes.

His work laid the foundation for what we consider the modern essay, comprised of 107 chapters of varying lengths and style, each with a specific theme.

Montaigne wasn’t writing to have his work published. Everything he penned was for him and him alone, to understand what remained within his soul.

Without uncovering what rests deep within us, the wind is free to pick us up and send us drifting like a leaf with no branch as an anchor, no spirit as a guide.

To take Montaigne’s teachings and apply them to our modern-day is to practice the supreme art of living — to know oneself.

In doing so, we have the knowledge to make it through anything life puts in our way.

When we commit to discovering our essence, we can surrender and finally take a breath of fresh air.

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Vincent Van Patten

Exploring what lights my soul on fire ❤️‍🔥 Living in Japan. For my writing, podcast, photography and more, check out vincentvanpatten.com