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.