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It’s not for nothing that I address you all each week as ‘Dear Friends’. There’s more to it than a standard form of address. In sharing these philosophic thoughts with you there is the hope of creating a community of like minds that might benefit from hearing about not just my efforts but many others in our attempts to live a philosophic life.
Friendship is a crucial part of this endeavor. Epicurus said that nothing was more pleasant than to share the company of friends over a glass of wine - a rather appealing thought. For the Epicureans pleasure was considered the main aim in life and that pleasure was best achieved by the cultivation of Virtue. The Stoics took the contrary view, their main aim being the cultivation of Virtue by recourse to Reason and living at one with the world. Pleasure was a natural spin off from this, but it wasn’t the main aim. It came for free.
I lay awake the other night thinking about my friends and how much I owed their company. Some of these friends have been friends for many, many years, sharing with me the philosophic quest. The three who spoke so inspirationally last Sunday about their philosophic lives being just three of these. Then there are others I have met in all the many philosophy classes I’ve taken over the years, people who have shared so much and then gone on their many and varied ways in life, hopefully taking with them something from what we explored together. I lay awake thinking of them and their great qualities, and I was overwhelmed by a tremendous sense of affection for every one of them.
Marcus Aurelius considers there is nothing so cheering as thinking about the good qualities of our friends. It’s not just thinking but also showing care and concern, being there for them, and when the time is ripe praising their particular virtues. In this week’s reflection it talks about those qualities as ‘divine virtues’, ‘divine’ in that they are a particular expressions of things universal. As universals we all may come to know them in ourselves and express them in our own unique way. We can start that process by consciously being on the look out for how they appear in others, in our friends.
With my best regards, William
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Men exist for the sake of one another.
Think of the good qualities of those who live with you: such the energy of one, the decency of another, the generosity of another … There is nothing so cheering as the images of the virtues displayed in the characters of those with whom we live.
THE STRENGTH COMES FROM WITHIN
The divine world is constantly present, and when the divine qualities come within view, it’s not as if they arise, it’s simply that we remember. They are our own natural qualities. It is ourselves that we remember.
Often it’s at times of disaster that memory is strongest and the divine qualities arise in the form of courage and strength to meet the desperate need of the situation. A young woman told me this story:
I went to visit a friend last week who has lost her twins when six months pregnant.
Disaster puts everything into perspective. All our clutter disappears. The little worries are no longer important
I went to visit her not knowing what to expect. I took a few minutes quiet before I met her. Everything seemed soft, real and vibrant even within this terrible grief. It was very important to be in the moment.
Times like this show the beauty within people. I was very concerned about how she would cope, but what emerged was rock solid strength and courage. The strength comes from within. It’s like the real you. I would never have thought that after talking and crying, we could go on to look at maps and discuss holidays.
Under these circumstances the trivial drops away. It is the trivial that keeps us penned within petty confines, that prevents our true qualities from manifesting. But when the circumstances command a response, the situation is met quite differently. How evident this is in the woman's story, but what is also clear is the depth of their meeting, the unity that existed between the close friends.
When the woman said that she ‘took a few minutes quiet’, it indicates the approach she adopted. It would seem that before she met her friend she felt she needed to come to herself, to rid herself of all those petty agitations that sustain separation and prevent the possibility of a proper meeting. In the way she describes everything as being: ‘soft, real and vibrant’, it is evident that despite the sad circumstances, her thoughts turned entirely out in order to serve the need of her friend. It also speaks inevitably enough of heightened awareness. In this reflective state of mind, acting out of love for her friend, not only did the physical world have a greater sense of reality, she also came to the profound conclusion that: ‘The strength comes from within. It’s like the real you.’
In circumstances like this we discover that all those things that usually possess the mind, the things to which we invest our identity, do nothing but prevent us from making contact with what we really are. And any insight as to what lies beneath the surface cannot help but generate love. Read her words again, and you’ll see what I mean
Use reflection to come to yourself by falling still and making full and proper contact with the peace to be found in the present. Act from that.