The greatest empire is to command oneself

Seneca the younger has said that “the greatest empire is to command oneself,” and I’ve noted in a reflection on this blog that you should know your enemy, namely yourself. As time passes by, I find the concept rings truer than ever, and that more often than not the greatest adversary I face is myself. I can apply that to many a little thing, whether it’s summoning the courage to do something or motivating myself to be less lazy. But I find in my life there are much deeper battles that must be fought and they are squarely between myself and I. Between my perception of reality and the facts that I know. Between the ideas I have of myself and the reality of who I am. Between my desires, and what I must do. Between my weakness and my will.

I see more and more, each day, how great a task it is to master oneself, and I admit I am so very far from it.

The Cost

For all the stoic self-control I so extol, I think this collection of writings has failed to capture the pains I have gone through to try and be whoever I am. Like most, I am an imperfect man with many vices, and I’ve lead a life where I’ve used those vices to replace connections in my life, fill holes in my heart and pass vast swathes of time where I would have preferred for my brain to be off rather than on. All of it has taken it’s toll on my body. So young and yet so broken. It ought not be like this, and it is a sobering thought to consider I have already done too much damage.

I would say to the reader, avoid this. Avoid a lifestyle of vices and self-destructive habits, especially if it’s in order to get by with your everyday life. It isn’t strength. It’s not even weakness. It’s death in a time before it should be, and if you do to yourself as I have done to myself, you will have none other to blame but yourself.

Owning One’s Destiny

Recently the 14th Dalai Lama has been quoted saying “We cannot solve this problem only through prayers. I am a Buddhist and I believe in praying. But humans have created this problem, and now we are asking God to solve it. It is illogical. God would say, solve it yourself because you created it in the first place.” While he said this statement in response to questions about his opinion on the recent Paris attacks, I think there’s an important lesson here for all religious people, myself included – and it has been one I’m trying to integrate into my life.

It is important to recognize in our lives, and in the lives of others, that we are – at the minimum, co-authors in our destiny. While it is easy to blame God for horrible things that happen, or to pray for God to fix it, the issue often lies with us. We make many decisions that positively or negatively impact our life, and I think it`s massively important to recognize that.

It`s not that I want to advocate that we take on a view that prayer is useless, but rather one that accepts that we’ve got our own proper faculties. If we were created in the image of God (as Christianity would have us believe), it seems like we’ve been given the capacity to learn and to think critically about our decisions. Let’s do more of that, and take responsibility for it.

Some thoughts from Vigelandsparken

It is not certain whether we may be creatures like angels or demons, forming into that which we will become in some later existence. What is certain is that we are human now, and here there is both heaven and hell incarnate, and it is up to us to choose which one we would prefer to help build. For if the kingdom of heaven can dwell in the hearts of men, so can the dominion of darkness engulf us as we are. We need but look out into our world and see where evil has spread.

But this is a mischaracterisation of the nature of evil, and as Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite would maintain, evil is truly the absence or corruption of good. For nothing was ever created or formed from evil. Furthermore “all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” And so must we recognize the place we all have in bettering the world.

Do something then. Build up heaven, here and now. Not in defiance of divinity, but in honour of that which we esteem to be – creatures of beauty, creatures of love.