Revolutionaries, retreat, and renewal

Combination lock

My daily reading of Stoic philosophy and the like helps me prepare for the day ahead. Most days, each reading contains a nugget that puts me in the right frame of mind. On rare occasions, however, like today, it’s like moving the numbers of a combination lock, and something ‘springs open’ in my mind.

Here’s François de La Rochefoucauld, in his Collected Maxims and Other Reflections:

Fools and stupid people see things only in the light of their own temper.

This was followed by a famous passage from Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations:

People seek retreats for themselves in the country, by the sea, or in the mountains. You are very much in the habit of yearning for those same things. But this is entirely the trait of a base person, when you can, at any moment, find such a retreat in yourself. For nowhere can you find a more peaceful and less busy retreat than in your own soul — especially if on close inspection it is filled with east, which I say is nothing more than being well-ordered. Treat yourself often to this retreat and be renewed.

The kicker, however, was this from Fernando Pessoa’s singular The Book of Disquiet:

Revolutionaries and reformers all make the same mistake. Lacking the power to master and reform their own attitude towards life, which is everything, or their own being, which is almost everything, they escape into wanting to change others and the external world. Every revolutionary, every reformer, is an escapee. To fight is proof of one’s inability to do battle with oneself. To reform is proof that one is oneself beyond all help. If a man of real sensitivity and correct reasoning feels concerned about the evil and injustice of the world, he naturally seeks to correct it first where it manifests itself closest to home and that, he will find, is in his own being. The task will take him his whole lifetime. For us everything lies in our concept of the world; changing our concept of the world means changing our world, that is, the world itself, since it will never be anything other than how we perceive it.

Plenty to dwell on there.

Image CC BY-NC Daniel Goude