Issue 738
This week's practice

 

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Dear Friends.

Two o’clock this morning I woke up.  What do you do at two o’clock in the morning when you can’t get back to sleep?  Read Epictetus.  What else would you think of doing?   I came across a piece about the rod of Hermes.  You can see Hermes in action clearing the clouds of ignorance with his rod in Botticelli’s Primavera. 

 

This is what Epictetus says of the rod of Hermes: Touch what you will with it, they say, and it becomes gold.  Bring sickness, bring poverty and reproach, bring trial for life - all these things through the rod of Hermes shall be turned to profit. The Rod of Hermes is a symbol of wisdom.  It indicates that when the rod is employed then our power of judgement is effectively employed.  As Marcus puts it: If you are distressed by any external thing, it is not this thing which disturbs you, but your own judgment about it.  Or as Shakespeare puts it more succinctly: There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.

The British have adopted this Stoic ideal in the form of the ‘Stiff upper lip’, a quality that is often satirised and derided. but the very fact we can laugh at our traits doesn’t mean that it isn’t something that we no longer value.  The ideal of the stiff upper lip is traced back to the Stoics, and was very much associated with the ability to withstand hardship without caving in.  When your top lip starts to quiver then you know that you’re about to succumb to sorrow or fear.  


 

This may be looked upon as the suppression of emotion, but this isn’t quite the right way to see it, for, as far as the Stoics are concerned, it’s to do with having access to something more powerful than the negative emotion that is about to overwhelm you, and that is the power of Reason, reason not just in the sense of  being able to work something out logically, but, as the reflection below indicates it’s to do when faced with difficulty to make connection with our essential strength.  Tom Wolfe made this the heart of his novel: A Life in Full.  Worth reading.

Best regards, William

PS Don't forget that the next five week course will be starting soon and before that on the 24th, Inspiration Morning


 

This week's reflection

I must die. Must I then die lamenting? I must be put in chains. Must I then also lament? I must go into exile. Does any man then hinder me from going with smiles and cheerfulness and contentment?  Epictetus

LEAN ON YOURSELF

In moments of weakness there's always the desire to find something to lean on, something from which we may be given strength, and we must be grateful if we have those to whom we can turn.  What we must be also grateful for is inner strength.  Inner strength is always with us and we must come to trust in that inner strength and power and then, rather than relying on things that might not always be there for us, we have something that is utterly dependable.  Obvious questions arise however as to what it is that to which we might turn and where we might find it.  Is it amongst the stock of abilities upon which we normally depend or does it lie beyond?

It was one of those times in life of considerable anguish, of almost despair.  Suffering at times like this can be extreme, and none of the ways by which we deal with difficulties encountered in life seem enough.  I had tried to cope by using all my rational powers, but in this case whatever I had to draw on from the usual collection of tools made no difference.

The pain was such that I knew that there was no chance of thinking about things using the usual tools.  I turned to prayer instead.  When you have no resource of your own, there's no other option but to seek some alternative.

 


I have no idea how long it took, but at some point the despair that seemed to have me totally in its grip simply dropped away.  What it was replaced by was what I can only describe limitless sense of unity.  What then arose was not some conclusion drawn from my observation, rather a direct message:  'Remember what you are experiencing now.' I had no doubt then, and I have no doubt now.  By it I was given relief from my sorrow and a clear direction as to how to meet future events.  But that, in a way, was not the most important thing. What was evident was that when the truth is spoken there is a lasting recognition.  This is true when you hear the truth from someone else, even more so when it rises from within, not from your own stock of good sense, valid though that may be, but from a far deeper resource.

To know from experience that there are inner powers, far deeper than what appears to be of a personal nature is knowledge worth having.  This is self reliance of a remarkable kind.  This isn't fixed opinion or self delusion; this is knowledge in experience that there is that upon which you may rely. something which transcends the usual experience of life, regardless of how all consuming this life may be.

It also begs another question: When it comes to an ultimate individual identity, what is essential and what is peripheral?  One thing's certain: the presiding power of unity and love, which the insights of the wise have constantly referred to, exist as something utterly essential to our human experience and yet ultimately transcendent of this particular life.  In order to gain strength - in whatever way that strength's required - it's worth remembering this.

Practice:

Constantly turn to your own inner strength.
Allow the problem, whatever it is,
to find a resolution in reference to that.

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