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We had the third of our five week course on Stoicism. By looking at ‘a belief in the absolute value of the human person’ we were inevitably considering Hierocles’s circles of compassion. As a great example of just this we had a presentation from Doug Crawford, one of the group, who is chairman of the board of Ashford Place: https://www.ashfordplace.org.uk/, a charity working on a number of social issues including homelessness. He showed us a film about this aspect of his work in which one of the patrons, the actor and writer Ben Baily Smith, speaks about his feelings for the work done by the charity, the ‘magnetic quality’ of the organisation. From the film it’s evident that he feels this because of the sense of unity that those who are being helped feel, a unity derived from ‘coming out of isolation and connecting’. At Ashford Place that belief in’the absolute value of the human person’expresses itself in the ‘empathy and lack of judgement’ Ben Baily Smith recognises in the support offered to people.
After the presentation it was emphasised that not all of us are called upon to run charities, but this doesn’t stop us making our own offering in a way that is appropriate to us personaliy. The question is where to begin. As this week’s reflection suggests it starts with the nearest thing to hand.
Before the group I was talking to a friend and he was telling about how something really opened up for him in the most mundane of circumstances, his kitchen. Some years ago his wife fell very ill, and she was concerned about not being able to do the cooking. He told her she was not to worry as he would do the cooking from then on. He went into the kitchen and, not exactly being an emancipated male, he hadn’t a clue where to begin. He stood there bewildered. Then the thought formed in his mind: ‘Start with the nearest thing to hand.’ It was a revelation. He started and everything became clear as to what he had to do, and so he has gone on in the continuous care for his wife.
You might like to have a look at the film shown in the class: They Share the Air We Breath: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=okCy0pKhP6E You might also like to see something else. It’s an award winning film made by some of the homeless helped by the charity: https;//m.youtube.com/watch?v=GRPVtif62NU.
Very best regards, William
START WITH THE NEAREST THING TO HAND
As soon as we begin to recognise the need, and as soon as we seek to serve that need, there is an immediate problem. The need is everywhere, the problems insurmountable, so much so that is seems hardly worth making a start. In much the same vein it seems that confusion can so easily set in when the demands start to build up. When there are 101 things to do and no clear place to begin, don't lose your awareness by the force of confusion and the enormity of the task. Begin instead with the nearest thing to hand. That task may not appear to be some ultimate service to humanity, but simply serving the situation presented has its effect. By doing it in the right spirit you must in your own way, in a way that you alone can do best, serve the general good.
The good as a universal power can be served in an infinite number of ways. In serving the immediate need in your own inimitable fashion may appear to be utterly personal, as indeed it is, but the action, by the nature of the dedication, becomes a genuine act of service that transcends any limited capability. By holding in mind the good of all, there will be a growing resonance. By such service is the manifestation of the Good made possible.
The great joy in this is that we don't have to wait until we imagine that we have attained, in some mysterious way, the strength or the qualification. We can begin straight away, right now, at the only time we can start anything.
The Good as an eternal principle can only exist at one time, the eternal present. By being alert to the present need and by serving that need, no matter how it might manifest, the seeming importance of the service is immaterial. The immediacy of that service and the spirit in which it is done is what's important. Putting off action until you feel more capable is not an option if action is to take place when reality occurs. There is only one time. Anything else is only an idea. You may be high-minded, noble in intent, but nothing is actually happening. Have your high aspirations, but don't use them as an excuse for not meeting the present.
Serving the present, no matter how mundane the present may appear, has a great advantage. Such service is at the right time and in the right spirit. It also has another advantage. By giving our full attention to anything, with mind connected to the senses, there is a rise in consciousness. We shake off the daze that can so easily sweep over us, obliterating the present and turning it into a waking dream, and with a rise in consciousness, comes a rise in opportunity. Our world automatically expands, and with that comes benefits for all.
Rather than serving some ultimate end,
allow the good in all to manifest
by giving yourself to the immediate thing to hand.