It was a slow day. The birds seemed to be engaged in a never ending song which could be heard from above in the vast trees. Their shade extended over the wild grass. The sun was shining through the leaves, flickering on the narrow paths under the trees. These paths, much like the trees in which the birds had made their homes, were a product of time. Grass worn down by timeless feet, moving under the trees. There was a set of large stones almost next to the trunk of the oldest tree. It was a natural, yet necessary place of rest for all those who ventured there. It is often heard that spending time in nature brings peace. A chance to clear your mind, gather your thoughts and to look around at the natural arrangement of so many things existing in harmony. This makes you wonder, what are we doing here? In a perfectly balanced environment, we have a plethora of complicated problems to deal with. Most of them, ironically are created by our very own existence. Humans creating problems for humans. Is this what we are here to do? To avoid, solve, or handle circumstances that disturb our peace. Circumstances that we don’t even have anything to do with? Why don’t we have the choice to just alleviate ourselves of this turmoil and become peaceful?
“We do”, he answered. We sat on the stones as the leaves rustled above us with gentle wind. The flickering sun warmed our backs and our eyes enjoyed a magnificent view of unending plains with far off mountains. “We can tame ourselves to love who we are and reflect our self-understanding in our everyday interactions by controlling our emotions, prioritizing virtue and practicing self-love” He looked at me with a rather assuring smile, “When you know your true worth, you learn to withdraw from things and circumstances that are not worth your peace yet you don’t choose momentary peace over a righteous struggle to achieve something lasting. To enable yourself to recognize the battles worth fighting, is to enable yourself to love yourself” He finished and reached for his satchel. “How would you define righteous?” I asked him as he rummaged through his belongings looking for something. “By virtue and ethics” He responded rather quickly. “Everybody has a different perception of right and wrong. One may also differ in defining virtue” He stopped and pulled out a tiny piece of wood. It was polished and gleamed in the flickering rays of light. It had something carved into it. “Virtue is constant, and always will be. It is as simple as not hurting another with your words or your actions. It is as simple as understanding that preferring things that make you happy are only worth it if they bring good about you” Then he showed the wooden piece to me.
I held it in my hand and read the engraved words ‘To practice five things under all circumstances constitutes perfect virtue; these five are gravity, generosity of soul, sincerity, earnestness, and kindness – Confucius’. He studied my expression and then smiled “Do you think you would define it any differently?” I did not reply and closed my hand around the wooden piece as I looked into the landscape in front of me. We sat there quietly for a while. There was a certain calm inside me. As if a storm had just passed and now the sun rose over the darkness it had left behind. Is self-love really about doings things for yourself to preserve virtue? Does one not have the right to just do everything that makes oneself happy and at peace? There are times when we all need to just take our space and time to do things for ourselves. I looked at the piece of wood in my palm again and realized that all of my questions were valid but the five things Confucius had identified does in every aspect ensure that when we give ourselves the liberty to practice self-love without gravity, generosity of soul, sincerity, earnestness, and kindness – we become narcissists. We take what we think we deserve and we disregard those around us. We disregard the smaller and the greater good. We become the very humans who create problems for other humans.
I still had a swarm of thoughts in my head trying to establish some understanding of all this, when he reached out and took the piece of wood out of my hand “It was given to me by someone I hold very dear and I don’t want to lose it” He whispered aloud as he carefully stowed it away in his satchel. We sat there for some more time, till I decided it was time to move ahead. But one thing I was certain of after that day was that self-love is separated from narcissism and selfishness by virtue.