There was a time
When my thoughts were more coherent. . .
I was journeying swiftly
How did I become so desultory?
The path was clear,
Bare under the sky
How did it evade me?
When it was under my feet
Oh! I have been searching
Long forgotten and lost
Clad in abundant verdure,
Does it not want to be tread?
Or perhaps it was a thought
A mere creation of the mind . . .
I think of abandoning my search
Should I sift my heart instead?
In the timeless forest of my memory
I await for a long night
Maybe the north star will reveal itself
And guide me to my road?
Emotional intelligence is essential when taming oneself. The key to controlling situations and retaining your inner peace is restraint. A famous quote comes to mind, which is of disputed origin; ‘You will continue to suffer if you have an emotional reaction to everything that is said to you. True power is sitting back and observing things with logic. True power is restraint. If words control you that means everyone else can control you. Breathe and allow things to pass – Unknown’. This is the only task he had assigned himself for a while now. To practice restraint. The art of self-control. In learning self-love, he found that perhaps the greatest accomplishment of a mind, is to have the ability to control itself. It was on our way back home when he revealed the purpose of our journey. All this time, I had thought that the answer to everything related to ‘self’ was the experiences we all have in our lives. That everything that happens to us and around us defines our image, or rather our understanding of ourselves. Little did I know, that it was quite the opposite.
The way we react to situations, problems and challenges in our lives is in our control. To exercise that control, we need to practice restraint. We need to learn to control our emotions and hence our reactions by being calm and restraining ourselves. This gives us power over ourselves. This gives us the power to define ourselves and in turn, understand ourselves. This is the pinnacle of self-love, awareness and discovery. When you get there, nothing can control you and disturb your peace. When you get there, nothing can impact your self-image and nothing can affect your ability to love yourself. When you get there, you understand your worth. You ‘restrain’ yourself against negativity of all nature. You grow bigger than the everyday noise. You stop indulging in activities and company that drains you. Your emotions are in your control. You embrace your feelings, and give yourself enough space and time to let logic and restraint define your reaction.
“So how do you
do that?” I asked, wondering how one can develop restraint and emotional
intelligence. “Solitude” he replied. “You spend time with
yourself. You look around yourself. You understand yourself and you embrace
your emotions. You let every possible thought into your mind, and let yourself
react to the thoughts. You repeat this, till you understand that your reaction
does not change the original thought, but only the thoughts that come after it.
Only then, you understand how to control the thoughts, through your reaction.
Understanding this is enough to realize that your reaction is in your control
and you define the outcomes by exercising this control via restraint” We
kept walking downhill as he spoke in slow, careful speech. I made mental notes
and did not feel the need to respond. While this worked for him, I knew that
there are many ways to achieve restraint. Some practice meditation, some
practice other spiritual ways and many find their own path through constant
struggle to find and improve themselves. Regardless of the method you choose,
if you are trying or even just thinking about it, you have already started your
journey. The answer to the simple impediment of ‘self’ is restraint …
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.
What exactly is self-love? I have often wondered. We hear a lot about self-love, but how do we really define it and to what degree can we indulge in philautia without becoming selfish or narcissistic? While researching on this, I came across Aristotle’s definition. He states that people who love themselves to achieve unwarranted personal gain are selfish/erroneous, but those who love themselves to achieve virtuous principles are the best sort of good. This helped me understand a lot about self. To expand on this definition, it can be established that self-love is not about personal gain. It is about achieving virtue. It is about having a state of mind, where virtue is dominant. It is about, respecting oneself and loving oneself enough to reach a plateau of moral, ethical and virtuous principle. To define these principles, we need to delve deeper into moral philosophy. However, when you focus on taming yourself, it is essential to derive satisfaction from the day to day good deeds. To love oneself, it is important to see yourself as a source of “good”. To become “good”, you need to first learn to forgive and be patient.
To reach this realization, an individual must go through a life experience which forces one to ponder over oneself, their purpose and their situation. I have found that those who are quick to produce conclusions and are often satisfied by their view and opinions only are the ones who have not yet reached the maturity or the life experience required to practice philautia. People who will go the extra mile to justify their actions, their words and their reasoning, but they will not stop to take in the present reality or the “bigger picture”. They often like to pretend that things are not in their control. They come in your life and make you believe what they perceive is and will always be correct – even about yourself. To escape them you have to understand your worth. You have to understand self. It is dangerous to give such people the power to play with your emotions. By learning to master your emotions, you can alleviate the negative effect they tend to create on your life.
For him, the case was no different. He was always a strong person, but at certain times he could not master his emotions. He always practiced self-love to an extent but never really understood the true meaning of the same. Hence after the debacle, he started taming himself. He distanced himself from the darkness created by the narcissism of people, who he thought once cared for him. During the recovery, he forgave and during the taming – he focused on realization. He focused on how to be virtuously superior than his former self. He spent his days trying to have a positive impact on everyone he met. He practiced patience in everyday activities. The last time I met him, he was adamant on producing nothing but peace through his actions. “I believe in making things happen with one’s own effort and persistence” He told me. “But now I have grown enough to understand that some things are not worth it” I listened to him speak rather triumphantly. “The endeavor that creates good, is always worth it. But the tasks and people associated with it that only demand fuel for their narcissistic gains are not” I smiled and took a hearty sip from my cup of coffee and questioned him, “How do you tell one from another?” There was some silence and then he explained, “It takes wisdom to be able to tell one from another. Normally, we get into situations far too deep to reach a point to be able to make a sound judgment” He looked at me and concluded, “to have that wisdom – we all must spend a lifetime in the wrong situations and with the wrong people” . . .
How does one recover from a debacle ? Especially, one concerning losing people you care about for no apparent reasons ? Why is such loss difficult for one, but seems so easy for the other? A swarm of thoughts and questions kept circling his mind. A person who cares, and loves unconditionally, can never really forget those they once cared for. “I learnt that you should walk away from people who use the entirety of all their issues to measure every single thing you say or do and let their past shape your relationship with them. Love is not about healing others. It’s about loving them regardless” He a said with a calm tone. He sat down on a bench besides the walking track and was not bothered by the wind ruffling his hair.
Recovery to some extent, however does come with time. You can heal, but the scars always remain. The road to recovery starts from forgetting everything you were told about yourself and venturing on to find who you were, before it all happened. Recovery is about being yourself again, loving yourself again and prioritizing yourself again. Recovery is all about staying true to who you are and always were. It is about learning from your mistakes. It is about using how others treat you to grow as a human. It is about not letting the cruelty of others and this world shape you. What I have found is that, recovery begins at forgiveness and it takes place at self-realization, and ends at growth. The process is not easy and it takes time. It is, however something we all must do to create a better space for ourselves and the people around us. The little acts of kindness, the mere effort put in bringing about smiles, the simple joy of giving – all these things become a part of a person who has forgiven, realized self and in turn grown. The pointless noise of the world no longer excites them. They exhibit a positive energy. They start doing things they have always wanted to, breaking the imaginary chains they put on themselves for the sake of others. They become fearless and independent of everything and everyone. They become enough for themselves and this very feeling makes them content and happy. They become Indifferent of the anything abstract or concrete and nothing can disturb their peace.
He has reached that milestone. Recollecting all his mistakes, learning from them, realizing his self-worth and being aware of himself. He has grown. In all the turmoil, he has found his strength and he has overcome the vast mountains set before him. It has been a while since he has been this focused. His belief in building things with his own effort has never been stronger. He has given up finding good hearts. He wants his life to be about him and the greater good and about spending his time and effort in making this world a better place by practicing small, everyday deeds of kindness, generosity and humanity . Perhaps, I cannot comprehend this any better, but I believe he has found his road.
is persistence?”, he asked when I asked him the reason behind his attitude
towards everything. He has always been persistent in everything regardless of
the outcomes. Always adamant on getting the results that are not only right,
but also sometimes not in his control. Naturally, I tried asking him again,
“Why are you always trying to make everything perfect?”. This time,
he paused and stared at me before replying. His gaze was patient, yet it made
me uncomfortable. “Perfection is subjective. What is perfect for me, may not be
perfect for you”. He looked away and spoke slowly, “We all work for what seems
right to us. Sometimes, we get what we want”.
This statement obviously raised more questions than it had answered. Instantly, I leaned closer and asked, “What about the times we don’t get what we want?” He seemed annoyed by the question, as if I had asked something strange. There was a silence. I looked at him intently, but his expressions were painful. He shrugged suddenly and took a deep breath. He gave me a melancholy look, smiled and spoke softly, “Then you get what you deserved all along … ” The smile faded slowly and he closed his eyes as he added, “…something a lot better hopefully”. I knew I couldn’t badger him any further with my questions although I was growing impatient to learn more. I looked at him and my mind kept stirring.
But this is what I learnt from him that day; When you heal others and let them know you will always be there no matter what, they often take you for granted. That is perhaps the truest of all tests. A person who does not value you at their strongest, does not deserve you. Sometimes people put the blame on others so they don’t have to feel guilty for what they did to them. I understood that when people say something, they don’t always mean it. Not everyone is like how you are. Everybody has their own agenda in everything they do. The only person who really should matter to you, is yourself. People become strangers when words spoken have no meaning. There is nothing one can do to make anyone stay. The only person who truly stays with you and deserves all your love, is yourself.