There is beginning, middle and end to anything and everything on this old clod. And we might as well mediate on that for a moment. A moment? It has beginning, middle and end. Plato says that this realm is the realm of “coming to be” and “passing away”. Do not let it escape you. It is a fundamental truth, all-pervasive in its applicability. Given its all-pervasive applicability there is never a moment in which I should not treat what I encounter as involving it. Look: whatever you lay eyes on is changing.
The categories of beginning, middle and end are useful for placing oneself in life activity. I have spent some time meditating on how it feels. I am more sensitive than ever to the way feeling shapes, colors, distorts, highlights, accentuates my view of reality. I am more sensitive than ever to the way in which my choices (freedom) shape, alter, diminish, strengthen, emphasize, feed, starve feeling. If there are predictable ways it feels to be involved in life, then it may help to be ready for them.
Why pay so much attention to feeling? Without choosing between conventional interpretations of Plato and Aristotle in which I am either a soul imprisoned in a body or a soul plus a body what I am sure of is that the animal part of my rational animality is full of feeling. Mood, emotion, desire, pleasure, pain, satisfaciton, dissatisfaction, I am saturated in. Knowing something about how it might feel allows me to not be unduly influenced in my choice or aversion related to how I feel. Feeling is information at best. But it is information about me and how I am related to reality. It is not primarily information about reality.
That last part bears repeating: feeling is important. It is data or information primarily about me and not primarily about reality. Too often the unwary chooser takes feeling to be information about not-me-reality instead of information about one part of reality…the chooser.
The beginning. A time of newness, possibility, adventurousness, embarking, hope, energy. But also a time of inexperience. The beginning, as all the temporal categories, is relative. The infant to the toddler, the toddler to the youth, the youth to the adult, the new adult to the middle-aged adult to the elderly.
I am at the beginning of this paragraph, the beginning of a new day, and the beginning of the rest of my life. But the feeling I have, at age 42, is not one primarily of “beginning”. The feeling is guided by another category.
The middle. A time of natural lostness. A time of distance from the original aim and purpose. A time not yet close to the final achievement. A time of increasing experience. The hope and energy of the beginning is now difficult to find. A loss of energy has been experienced. Often the end is not yet visible. Boredom is possible. How disastrous to long for the adventurousness of the beginning? Is this what adultery is all about? How disastrous! To do the middle well one must embrace the mundane and the difficulty of receiving what one has asked for. The asking is at the beginning. The middle is a time of receiving, but not as fully as the end.
The end. A time of exhaustion modified by the visibility of the finish line. A time of the greatest depth of knowledge matched by the least opportunity for the use of such knowledge. A time of judgment about the beginning and middle. A time in which one is most hemmed in by ones prior choices. Think of the college student choosing a major. The possibilities! Think of the aged body sitting with whatever might have been saved and either satisfied or dissatisfied with whatever past instantiations of the self might have spent or saved. Think of the possibility of both being the cause and the effect. The end is the effect.
Do not be deceived by feeling. And know that feeling is modifiable. Feeling is modifiable indirectly by choice, but not directly. Feeling is closely tied to desire. Desire is closely tied to aim. Aim is closely tied to choice. Aim well, and don’t stop, and you will come to long for what you aim at. What is to be aimed at first and foremost? Virtue, righteousness. What will that feel like? In the beginning it will be exciting, but you have no clue. In the middle it will feel like work, maybe even boring. From “work” you may derive the rest of the feelings. In the end…