“I am your teacher and you are learning in my school. My aim is to bring you to completion, unhindered, free from compulsive behavior, unrestrained, without shame, free, flourishing, and happy, looking to God in things great and small—your aim is to learn and diligently practice all these things. Why then don’t you complete the work, if you have the right aim and I have both the right aim and right preparation? What is missing? . . . The work is quite feasible, and is the only thing in our power. . . . Let go of the past. We must only begin. Believe me and you will see.” —EPICTETUS, DISCOURSES, 2.19.29–34
Our culture teaches us that we must be perfect, that we must arrive (but we know not where), that we must look good/feel good/be right/be in control 24-7; but this thinking is a trap that only entangles us.
The compulsions of looking good, feeling good, being right, being in control are the idols of this age, and perhaps all ages. They are compensatory, strategies for filling in what we feel is lacking in us; a way to cover over the gaping hole in our souls. They are focused on the past, what has happened to us, the hurts and faults and imperfections.
As Epictetus coaches, we must let go of the past to be free, and only begin again. The wisdom of many traditions teaches us this truth. The Rule of St. Benedict is one of them. Staying present, unhindered, free. Answering the call to be ourselves. That is enough. That is fulfilling. That is what we are made for.
January 17, 2017