The diseases of the rational soul are long-standing and hardened vices, such as greed and ambition - they have put the soul in a straightjacket and have begun to be permanent evils inside it. To put it briefly, this sickness is an unrelenting distortion of judgement, so things that are only mildly desirable are vigorously sought after.”
(Seneca, Moral Letters, 75.11)
There are so many to choose from, really. Seneca touches on greed and ambition, two very relevant and immediately-apparent conditions in our world today, as they were nearly two thousand years ago when Seneca made his original observation.
Greed and ambition, like many conditions of the “human condition”, show up in all our lives in varying levels of presence and intensity. No amount of anything practice will turn those hungers and desires off, but we can manage how much of our attention we grant those feelings, and what we choose to do when we’re feeling them.
For me, I have to combat not-enough-ness, daily, in many of its various and sundry forms. One in particular that stands out is miserliness. Talk about straightjacketed soul… metaphorically speaking, one can’t be generous when one’s arms and hands are bound. It’s hard to “give” when bound. It was modeled for me by my maternal grandmother (of blessed memory), the woman who reared me, probably because she was a child in the middle of WWII, and not-enough-ness was very real and present for her. That kind of experience can really break someone… and yet, while we are the product of our circumstances, we still have control over the final manifestation of what (or who) that product is.
Miserliness appears in my life in the tension between Hospitality (the Virtue) and List-keeping and Weighing “value” of Generosity (the weaponized Virtue). My grandmother was the freakin’ queen of weaponized hospitality. I promised myself I’d not be that way in my adult life, and would be generous, unlike her. Truthfully, it’s not that she wasn’t generous, she was just shitty about it. For a long time I was the idiot-Hospitality version of generosity, and that’s just another style of straightjacket. It’s not that I wasn’t giving, it’s that I was giving too much. However, the problem wasn’t that I was was trapped by doing too much giving, or too much withholding. The problem was, and is, that I’m trapped by Hospitality, itself.
The straightjacket of Hospitality.
Wait. What the hell is the “straightjacket” of Virtue???
Throughout our daily lives, Virtue challenges will pop up along our paths. Here we have the choice of do we “virtue” or do we not “virtue”. Let’s say, we choose to “virtue”. Yay. Good for us, yeah? The next phase of this process is HOW do we “virtue”? How are we being virtuous? Is it too much virtue, or too little virtue? Are we going to use our virtuous action to hold power over someone later? All this, and more, is about how we “virtue”.
Ultimately, we would like to reside in perfect virtue, and to feel free within that virtue and in all the actions we take… but, we will fail. That’s OK. We’re supposed to, otherwise how can we get the change to try again?
But what about the “straightjacket of Hospitality”? Being trapped by the virtue itself means that we (our egos) take advantage of the space between missing the mark (failing), and getting back on track. If, while we are within the zone of getting back getting back on track,we simply get back on our feet, dust off, make things right (rupture/repair), and keep on keepin’ on, then, yay! However, if we get “ego-fuel” from our choices that happen during the getting-up-and-getting-back-on-track process, then our egos are trapped within that virtue. We are doing the virtue for the sake of ego and not for the sake of the virtue practice itself… for the sake of others.
We can choose to be a free-spirit-who-virtues (virtue as verb), or we can feed our egos in a facade of virtue practice that looks like virtue from the outside, but has all the nutritional value of spirit-fast-food.
Ouch. The “diseases of the rational soul” can really knock us for a loop, can’t they?
So, from where do these ills and straightjackets arise?
Ego (but, y’all saw that coming, right?), and it’s lust for comfort and validation. Full stop.
Are we even aware of the bound condition of our souls?
More often than not, no.
We are responsible to be the doctor for our own spirit-illnesses. While we can get guidance to heal and free ourselves, ultimately, if we’re not even aware we’re sick, then we can never truly heal.
We must free our souls from their straightjackets.
(See y’all tomorrow)