Monday, March 27, 2017

The Art of Living

The hardest battle is between what you know in your head and what you feel in your heart.

"You are a stoic", my sister-in-law said out of the blue one day to me over dinner. You can imagine my surprise when I heard that statement, but given that was also the period when many of my suppressed emotions started bubbling to the surface, I realized that she was spot on. I actually never got much into the philosophy of stoicism before, perhaps for the simple reason that as a a spiritual philosopher I didn't have to, I already embodied it.

This dialogue with my sister-in-law happened years ago and it was followed by years of soul-searching for a new approach. In my experience, the moral guidance "Be your better SELF" gets us only so far. As noble as this philosophy appears, it will eventually lead to a war within. The self has a habit of catching up with us in the search for the SELF.

I have changed since then. Life forced me to open up to my feelings instead, and I realized that the heart often knows what the mind can only understand in hindsight. Today, I am simply traveling the WAY. I hear my heart speak when I interact with people; I read their energies and instinctively understand where they are coming from. What my glorious mind comes up with is often an after-thought. Except, perhaps, in providing me the lucidity of sharing these insights along the WAY with you.

On my recent trip to India my wife got me a book of Epictetus, "The Art of Living" by Sharon Lebell. Ironically, when she asked the book-keeper for some recommended spiritual treasures in the land of the thousands Gods for me to read, he picked a European classic instead. Epictetus represents the mainstream Stoic belief that we can logically deduce the moral laws that will make us happy and effective. Reading it, I was amazed by his clarity of thinking and by the truth of his arguments. What surprised me the most though, I even found spiritual glimpses in it. Epictetus had also stumbled on the fact that life - once we open up to it and face it without judgement - in fact looks out for us. "We live in the best of all Universes", Epictetus conjectured. Curious, I was always told that this was the German philosopher Leipnitz' insight.

Still, this powerful western treatise only gets us this far. Our spiritual discipline still has something to add to it. It is subtle though, and may take years of soul searching to get to that stage. There certainly is heart, soul and love in Epictetus' treatise, and he was clearly a master; yet, in the end his work rests on the power of the intellect. The observation of the WAY in contrast is that there is amazing wisdom in our feelings and emotions as well, as well as there is wisdom in all of life's daily encounters with others. Once we dare opening up to everything that comes our way, life gives us treasures far in excess of what our mind could ever come up with.

Powerful as our mind is, let it be the servant of the WAY and let love be our guiding principle in everything we do. In the so-perceived battle between the mind and the heart, along the WAY they mostly go hand in hand.

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