Stoics On Loving Mankind

I love reading the writings of Greco-Roman Moralists or sometimes referred to as Stoics. The best know are Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, and Epictetus. They are the ancient masters of practical philosophy. The language they use is not sublime and their theories are not complex, but it is fresh with brilliant insights; so they are worth reading.

Love seems to be everywhere  today, since it’s Valentine’s day. However, there are lots of  people feeling sad as well. Those that don’t have  that special Valentine. I was inspired by the prospect of trying to open up the love for everyone , so I thought I will write about loving mankind instead of Valentines day.

Other people can be the source of the greatest delights life has to offer; with a smile, a touch, a hug, a kiss, full body embrace, as well as with love and friendship. People can also be a source of negative emotions we often experience, a boss may insult us, lover may forget valentine’s card, a friend may forget to invite us to a party. Even when other people don’t do anything to us, we worry that they may not think well of us , so we spend a lot of energy behaving and trying to look good in their eyes. This disrupts our tranquility.

The Stoics valued tranquility and they also appreciated the power people have to disrupt it ; even so they thought that man is by nature a social animal and therefore that we have a duty to form and maintain relationships with other people, despite the trouble they might cause us. Marcus think we should do this because God created us to be rational and if we use our rational ability we will discover that we were designed to live among other people and interact with them in a manner that is mutually advantageous; we will discover, says Musonius, that ” human nature is very much like that of bees. a bee is not able to live alone: it perishes when isolated.”

To fulfill our social duty – to do our duty to our kind – we must feel a concern for all mankind. We must remember that we humans were created for one another, that we were born, says Marcus, to work together the way our hands or eyelids do. Therefore, in all we do , we must have as our goal ” the service and harmony of all.” More precisely, ” I am bound to do good to my fellow creatures and bear with them.” Marcus thought when God created us, he made sure that if we fulfill our duty, we would experience tranquility and have all things to our liking. Indeed, if we do the things we were made for, says Marcus, we will enjoy ” a man’s true delight .” But an important part of our function, as we have seen , is to work with and for our fellow-men. Marcus therefore concludes that doing his social duty will give us the best chance of having a good life. This, for Marcus, is the reward for doing one’s duty: a good life.

We, in the present day are so used to thinking that duty is the enemy of happiness and we should be doing things that we want to do rather than any kind of duty we have to do. But throughout the millennia and across the culture, those who have thought carefully about desire , have drawn the conclusion that spending our days working to get whatever it is we find ourselves wanting is unlikely to bring us either happiness or tranquility.

So let’s live to our full potential, let fellowship be our purpose and compassion be our guide. Tranquility will be its reward.

Resources:

1. A Guide to the Good  Life

by William B. Irvine.

2. Practical Philosophy : The Greco- Roman Moralists

taught by : Prof. Luke Timothy  Johnson

The Teaching Company

Sexual Love

 

Sex is such a loaded word. It has different meaning for almost everyone. In modern time sex sadly is regarded as a trivial act; not long ago a women in her late thirties told me she was sleeping with someone so she could get to know him, that statement took me by surprise that I didn’t know what to say to her. Unfortunately the modern notion of sex ignores what the ancients recognized; that sex is not an activity in isolation from our thought, what we feel , what we do or what we value in rest of our  lives.They regarded it as a spiritual and a sacred act. George Leonard reminds us that today what we need to do is ” reconnect the bedroom with the rest of our lives, with society, and nature, and perhaps with the stars. We need to realize that the way we make love influences the way  we make our world, and vice versa. We need to appreciate the connection between the erotic and the creative. We need, more than anything else to reawaken to the almost endless, half forgotten, life transforming powers of full-bodied, fully committed erotic love.”

Sex is a powerful force, like the life-force itself. It brings lovers together, serves as an expression of love, creates life, and fulfills our longing for unity and wholeness. We engage in sex not only for physical release, but to merge with the beloved in a state of ecstatic spiritual union. The sexual act of union is highly spiritual but unfortunately this image has been tainted by our popular culture of trivialities. Mystics of the past have used images of sexual love to describe their deepest spiritual ecstasy; they recognized sexual love to be deeply spiritual.

D.H Lawrence uses act of sexual union to explain what is the beloved. ” She is that which I am not. In the act of love, I am pure male, and she is pure female. She is she, and I am I, and clasped together with her, I know how perfectly she is not me, how perfectly I am not her, how utterly we are two, the light and the darkness , and how infinitely and eternally not to be comprehended by either of us is the surpassing One we make.”

Alan Watts in his classic Nature , Man, and Women explains, that in the hight of sexual love we see the beloved as the divine. He writes……..”one of the most total experiences of relationship to the other of which we are capable, but prejudice and insensitivity have prevented us from seeing that in any other circumstances such delight would be called mystical ecstasy. For what lovers feel for each other in this moment is no other than adoration in its full religious sense, and its climax is almost literally the pouring of their lives into each other. Such adoration, which is due only to God, would indeed be idolatrous, were it not that in that moment love takes away illusion and shows the beloved for what he or she in truth is — not the socially pretended person but the naturally divine.”

 

Resources

Chop Wood Carry Water

By Rick Fields, with Peggy Taylor, Rex Weyler, and Rick Ingrasci.

Related articles

Gift Giving and Receiving

Christmas can be the best of times or the worst of times. I see lots of patients very happy at christmas time others sad and stressed out. Christmas could be a great time to renew connections , strengthen bonds with friends and the loved ones. It can be a very joyous and spiritual experience. When I was growing in England even though I didn’t understand the significance of christmas, it is was a time which left profound memories from my childhood. Very body seemed happy and helpful; the houses decorated , special food in the shops, snow on the ground , snow ball fights with children and adults, festive music every where; but most of all – my family and friends would get together ,cook, joke, laugh, eat, tell stories, drink chai and watch festive or inspiring movies. It was for me the best of times.

Things have changed since my childhood, people now feel the Xmas holidays have become more materialistic and there is less meaningful connection with others all around. The patients who are stressed and sad usually have no close friends or family , or if they do they can’t afford the gifts people expect at Xmas, resulting in financial hardship. Giving gifts is old and ancient tradition in most cultures. It has been subject of interest to psychologist , anthropologists, economists, marketers  and some philosophers.

A great twentieth century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote in his book , Thus Spoke Zarathustra,  ” a gift giving virtue is the highest virtue”. There are various interpretations of this statement but I like the one which takes gift as meaning –  ideas, experiences, riches of the soul and all the other sorts of giving; including material things, a smile, act of kindness, love etc….anything of value  that is bestowed upon the world , thus making it a better place.However, before we can give we have to accumulate these riches over time  and then…..” they (riches) flow out of your well as the gift of your love”. So if one can’t afford material things then give love , a story, a smile, act of kindness, a loving touch which will enrich someones life and maybe even inspire  them spiritually; spiritual gift would last them a lifetime or even longer when all the material things are long broken, disintegrated and gone. It is these kinds of gifts I received in my childhood that left me with fond memories, I have no recollection of the toys I was given.

Receiving a gift is an art too. We need to acknowledge the act of gift giving. The point of gift giving only comes about after the gift giver has acquired and perfected the gift over time and is ready to be given freely without any expectation or reciprocity . The gift is ready to be bestowed on someone and through them the gift will help the world to be a better place. We need to show the gift giver that we value and honour him/her for making the gift possible and bestowing it on us by accepting it whole heartedly and joyfully; by showing gratitude; by regarding the gift value as priceless, no matter what the gift maybe.

May our minds broaden over the holidays so be may have the best of times.

Quotes without comment:-

” It was by Your gift that I desired what You give

and no more, by Your gift that those who suckled

me willed to give me what You had given them:

for it was by the love implanted in them by You

that they give so willingly that milk which by

Your gift flowed in the breasts. It was a good for

them that I received good from them, though  I

received it not from them but only through them:

since all good things are from You, O God.”

Augustine, Confessions, 1, 6

“The greatest gift God of his largeness made at the

creation, and the most conformed to his own

excellence, and which he most prizeth,

was the will’s liberty, wherewith creatures intelligent,

both all and alone, were and are endowed.”

Dante, Paradiso,V 19

Resources:

Nietzsche and the origin of virtue

By Lester H. Hunt

Great Treasury of Western Thought

Edited by  Mortimer J. Adler & Charles Van Doren.

Related articles:

%d bloggers like this: