Over the last weeks we looked at the general structure of this month’s principle and tried to understand it in general terms. We also looked at how it applied in the past and the present. This week some practical considerations and personal thoughts — about trying to apply the Principle of Proportion to what we believe, or imagine the future holds in store.
Game of the Week:
Perhaps after meditating on these general aspects of the principle you can provide us with a new version of the principle, or some aspect of it, and give it a name that captures its essence.
Delphi was home to Apollo’s Temple, but even before that it was considered a holy place. For thousands of years it was among the most important sacred sites in much of the Western world. For the ancient Greeks it was the navel of the Earth and the seat of Apollo’s priestess and oracle, who was known as the Pythoness. People came from all over Greece, and even from much more distant points, to ask the oracle about questions of great importance to them.
The walls of the temple bore a number of sayings attributed by some to the “Seven Sages” of Ancient Greece. On the entrance, to be seen by all those entering the sacred site three of these sayings were given prominence.The first and most famous was “Know Thyself”.
The last was the intriguing reminder “Certainty brings Destruction”. That phrase always puts me in mind of our principle 11,The Negation of Opposites. Which you may recall, says: “It does not matter in what faction events have placed you what matters is for you to understand that you have not chosen any faction.”
Fittingly, I think, between these two admonitions was the phrase sometimes translated as “Nothing in Excess” perhaps more accurately as “Moderation in All Things”, or as we might put it
“Proportion in All Things”.
Now For Something Completely Different
My approach to the principle this week is a bit different than usual. As always It involves some reflection. Last week I mentioned a certain kind of directed or organized reflection that was worth repeating in different moments and situation of your life. This is another one of those. If you haven’t done it try it out (step by step). If you have done it before in the context of these meetings you may find it worthwhile (and maybe surprising) to do it again now a year or two later.
I can’t emphasis enough that in my experience this procedure (and no doubt others, benefits from writing your down thoughts.
Over the last weeks we have discussed how this principle seems fundamentally connected to having clear priorities. Trying to sort those out helps us recognize if some activity, goal or aspiration is being ignored, or on the contrary being given too much time and energy.
What follows is a reflection on the closely related theme of turning wishes into projects.
The first thing I do in this exercise is to sit down and close my eyes (as I age I seem to do that more and more, even when not totally appropriate). I then ask myself, as one does in the Ceremony of the Service, “what it is that I really need?”, “what is it that I most want?”. I try not to discard anything that comes to mind. Instead I make notes about those things that seem most “charged”, that seem to move me the most. I make an effort not to be judgmental — as if I am listening with affection and detachment to a very close friend who is telling me about their secret dreams. I tell myself things I might be ashamed to say out loud. imagine things I’d never really do. I imagine things that in the balance of my life I’d never really even consider doing.
The point is it doesn’t matter if you say I want to win the lottery, or to tell my boss to screw off, or have a torrid affair, or move to a cute little home with a lovely picket fence, or whatever. You have to make a big effort to be honest, non-judgmental, and suspend self-censorship. You don’t ever have to tell anyone else. This is for you.
Having made my list, I reviewed it a few times. I then try to think about each point a little more deeply. In doing that perhaps I realize that it’s not necessarily that I really want to tell my boss to screw off. It may be that is just a kind of shorthand. Perhaps it’s an image that for example compensates in some way for the sensation of being stuck in a situation I don’t like.
Maybe what I’d like much more than scolding someone is a more fulfilling way to make a living, or perhaps simply a job that allowed me to actually make ends meet (or even a little more). In the same way, perhaps you conclude that “winning the lottery” is simply a sort of metaphor for having more control over your own life. Or maybe what you’d really like is to feel that there is still a future wide-open with possibilities, instead of the vague feeling of fear you have about the future.
It is certainly worth taking note of those thoughts that take you beyond the initial image (fantasy, reverie, day-dream), and point to the underlying climate the image is trying to compensate. But remember the central point of the exercise is to clarify what are the things, or situations, for which you hope.
When I do this exercise I try to do it more than once. I make various goes at it maybe at different times of day or, once a month for a few months, or in different situations. Each time I write down the results. Then I take that list, and ask myself, for each item that seems like it really would be a good thing: “What would I have to do to turn this from a dream or aspiration into a reality? How would I make a plan to arrive there? What would the first step or two be that I’d have to take?
In at least one of those reviews I ask myself two additional questions. First: what kind of world (situation) would I like for myself, and my loved ones? Then I’d asked myself: what am I willing to do to create that world?
Finally, I try to get beyond vague responses and come up with concrete actions (even if only the first small steps on a long path). I try to turn my vague aspirations into plans, with clear precise images of things I could do, at least to get started, in moving toward the situation to which I aspire. I try to give an order to these actions according to what I feel is most important. Sometimes that’s easier if put in the negative: what would I feel worse about not trying for if I died without advancing in that direction? In that way I end up with a small number of priorities.
I write down my conclusion and read it over a few times. Then I stash away my notes so as to compare them the next time I tried this exercise. Repeat over time and see what remains the same and what changes.