Thursday, March 17, 2011

Somewhere between Beauty and Love - Where is the Soul 7?

It's all a Question of Balance Really!

Detail over the front door of St Patrick's Church, Rouen, June 2006
As one grows older the truth of the above title hits home more and more.  It would seem that the great ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle got it right in his Nichomachean Ethics where he stated that every ethical virtue is a condition intermediate between two other states, one involving excess, and the other deficiency.  This is at once a strikingly simple and fiendishly difficult concept to grapple with, yet it is a worthwhile one to consider seriously. In a nutshell, Aristotle said that virtues are a point of moderation between two opposite vices. For instance, the virtue courage lies between the two vices of cowardice and recklessness. Recklessness is too much confidence and not enough fear, cowardice is too much fear and not enough confidence.  Courage, then, is just the right amount of both - right at the point of mederation (= mean) between both extremes. This theory can be expanded to most virtues and vices. Some other means that Aristotle laid out were temperance (or self-control), which lies between self-indulgence and a lack of sensitivity to your own needs, and modesty which is between bashfulness and vanity.

Likewise in our day to day living, this theory when put into practice can help us to have balance and indeed control in our lives.  It can also lead to a peace of mind, a growing self-acceptance - in short, it can and does lead to equanimity.  How many of us get our lives so out of balance that we are driven to excesses of one form or another: here we may list all the myriads of addictions that "human flesh is heir to" as well as all the pressures and stresses of modern living? We are out of balance when we put our careers about personal well-being, in short we place success above health.  Needless to say such an imbalance leads to all the various types of illnesses like heart-attacks, strokes and cancers of various types which all have stress as a major causal factor along with the obviously more physical and environmental factors.

We are severely out of balance when we place the Ego above the nurturing and growth demands of the Soul.  In Eastern Religions and Thought such severe imbalance goes by the name of dependence on or a clinging to things of the world (a clinging to impermanence) rather than a healthy reliance on things of the Spirit or of the Soul.

Beyond Clinging to Impermanence in the search for Soul:

Inside the Abbé Rouen, June, 2006
Clinging to the ideas (subtle lies really) of Success, Wealth, Promotion, even ideas of the importance Phof Relationships, Power and Control are all in a way transitory and illusory ideas.  What then of substance should we cling to?  Is anything worth clinging to, then, at all?  It would seem that peace of mind, equanimity, tranquillity, solitude, companionship and all the various virtues outlined by the good Aristotle and the many other philosophers, founders of the Great Religions and saints, and dare I say it, of scientists too, all these are worth acquiring (but definitely not clinging to in a negative way) in the sense that they build up our own Sense of Soul, our own Sense of Self  - in short, our true Well-Being.

And Love what is it at all, at all?

At the end of their long walk in Santa Monica on the Pacific Palisades Hillman and Ventura marvel at the nature of Love and Beauty.  I'll quote Hillman in full here as it is very appropriate and relevant, I feel:


You know, there's a feeling about a good day - it's slow, and very much like being with a lover.  Having a good moment at breakfast, tasting something - it has to do with beauty, this matter of love.  And I think all the work at personal relationships fucks that up.  That "work" is not aesthetic and sensuous, which is really what loive, for me, is about.  Aesthetic and sensuous, and a kind of joy.  Love doe not result from working at something.  So the therapeutic approach to love, of clearing up the relationship, may clear up communication disorders, expression inhibitions, insensitive habits, may even improve sex, but I don't think it releases loive; I don't think love can be worked at. (Hillman and Ventura, op.cit., p. 47)

And Ventura adds a very important comment to these words of his companion by pointing out that modern society has confused relationship with love and assumed that one automatically equals the other.  I have mentioned in these posts on a good number of occasions our silly assumption that we must be in a relationship with somebody (that is the pressure on us by society to pair off with one other significant person) to be happy.  Dr Anthony Storr hightlights this exact point in his wonderful little classic, Solitude, which I have commented on at large in this blog already - see this link: Solitude.  Therein and in the following blog entries on Storr's classic I argued the following:

"Storr finishes his first chapter in this delightful little book with a quotation from the great Dr John Bowlby whose wonderful work grew out of research he had done for the WHO on the mental health of homeless children. Bowlby argues well that “intimate attachments to other human beings are the hub around which a person’s life revolves,” but Storr adds a wonderful qualification to this obviously true statement by saying that such intimate attachments are “a hub... not necessarily the hub.” What has always impressed me about Storr is the wonderful perspective of balance we get in his books. And here he brings in the wonderful balance of solitude which I have described above and which I am experiencing here and now."

So while human relationships are very important to our development of persons they are not the only hub, the only central point of our well-being.  There are many others like our work and our hobbies and our creative pursuits which all go to form us in the round.  Also a year or so ago I discussed Hillman's 1997 book, The Soul's Code: In Search of Character and Calling, which was on the The New York Times Best Seller List that year. I see by my inscription on this book that I first read it back in February 1998.  You will find other of this learned gentleman's comments on the role of relationships in our personal development in those posts.  See here: Hillman and following posts.

There ends my comments on the transcript of their conversation during their walk along a small section of the Pacific Coast of California.   Part II are letters which the two authors later wrote to one another.  I shall begin my next post with that section.

1 comment:

Akash said...

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