The excitement builds here. The mourning is done–not really, but in terms of focus of attention we bury mourning. Don’t ever stop feeling that way about what you lack. Don’t ever stop asking “Am I in union with the divine logos (contemplation), and am I feeling and responding well toward this and that (moral virtue)?”. When you note the lack, the distance from the ideal, mourn. To the degree that you find yourself dismissively rationalizing imperfection you know that the voice that is at that moment speaking is the devil, it is the bad daimon. What you want is eudaimonia, good spirit. It is up to you and me to banish the voice of the deceiver and to only listen to he who speaks well.
This listening well requires becoming familiar with the better voice. In the immature soul is a wild anarchy of voices demanding attention and to be fed. What you are looking for his guidance on how to tame this many-headed beast. Plato, in the Republic, pictures the human soul as tripartite: there is a many-headed beast, each head being a Medusa like snake writhing and demanding, there is a lion, and there is a man. The man-headed beast represents the hungry, demanding, needing, wanting, yearning for, driving force directing the soul toward whatever it moves toward. The lion is that part of the soul built for response to trouble. It is like the military in nation. It is the defender. But note, it may defend the many-headed beast or it may defend the man. If the many headed beast, it will have to split its time defending sloth, gluttony, pride, greed, etc. What a mess. The man is the smallest part of the soul, but it represents the rational capacity. It is that which must tame the beast and enlist, nay let us say lure, the lion to its aid.
The result of the taming process comes soon enough: blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Imagine the desiring part of the rational animal starving for righteousness, not shelter, sugar or sex. It is a wild picture. I, at least in my better moments, desire to desire righteousness above all else. The sage Jesus says, “Ask and you shall receive”. Do you believe? And if I have not received righteousness is that because what the sage said is false or have I not really asked? This raises the deep question of what it really means to ask. For now, let us move in the direction of moving from mourning to hunger and thirst for righteousness which culminates in purity of heart and seeing God–the beatific vision! Contemplation of deep reality! Unity with the will of the heavenly father!
Blessed are the meek. How are we to understand this next phase? What is the proper response to discovering deep lack and appreciating how significant that lack is? It is submission to that which fills lack. Meekness.
Meekness is most closely associated with submission. And here we must ask: “Submit to what?” But first, let us hold before our limited imperfect not yet fully happy minds the attitude and embodiment of meekness (submission), then we will work on the important “to what?” question. My sense is that the former question of embodiment of submission will be the greater challenge than the identification of “to what?”.
A justification for attention to embodiment of submission: we are potentially rational. But we are actually social animals. We are many-headed beasts defended by lions. The implication of this is that meekness will not appear natural to us. But this is because natural, like happiness, has two meanings: first, natural is whatever I am inclined toward. But this is not the notion of natural that is worth anything except in the measuring of where we are starting from. It is not an indication of that which we should be guided toward. The second and more important notion of natural is when a thing that can be in many states, and thus is susceptible to change, is in the best state it can be in. Thus, if I add to my being not only “social” and “animal” but in addition “rational” I get a claim about my nature that is a claim about what I can become in my fullness and thus what it is natural for my activity to direct toward. This is why submission is not natural in the former sense but natural in the latter. What drives the social animal is social status, shelter, sex, sugar. What drives the rational social animal is submission to rule by rationality. It is only in the conformity to that which would be best if it were instantiated that I become what it is natural for me to be: rational.
What do the ancients say? Do not be guided by feeling, passion. Do not be guided by honor or reputation. Socrates says it. Aristotle says it. Epictetus says it. And Jesus says it in his own Mount Sermon. He says not to be guided by lust or anger. They have their logical completion in adultery and murder. He says do not pray, fast or give charitably for the praise of men. This is a rejection of being motivated by social status, reputation and what others think.
Submission, at least for he who has just recently acknowledged poverty of spirit, involves a rejection of what the current “I” wants and the rejection of the currently strongest voice for guidance by the best. The voices of the many-headed beast will rage. They will even attempt rebellion, subterfuge, manipulation: “feed us a little and we will be quiet”. The one who submits must be ready for the difficulty of submission given that involves the rejection of everything that feels natural.
An example: think about what we call “addiction”. To the addict (to food, sex, money, gambling, adventure, chemicals, rest (sloth), power, praise) that which they seek is seen as good. Its being good to the addict is in its being sought. The content of goodness, to the individual, is always in what that individual seeks. To walk away from what appears good is unnatural. One must not ignore how difficult that task is. We know, from the difficulty in “treating” addiction how difficult the task is. The one who overcomes submits, no longer to the inner monstrous, demonic voice that rages (which will sound like his own voice). He will submit to “another”.
His submission must be complete else it is not submission. His submission must be total else it is not submission. What this amounts to is he who ultimately has power over choice and action choosing in a direction that the mob of inner voices rages against. Submission, in this sense, involves radical focus, determination, constancy, patience, endurance. And this is precisely the problem. He who is beginning on the road to blessedness likely lacks these as virtues. But he must begin in earnest and he must do everything in his power to minimize the feeding of the old self.
Finally, the experience of submission is the experience of death and murder. Turning the attention from the voice which has always spoken to the voice that is at best a whisper and all but drowned out by the mob and conforming activity to the whisper will begin to starve the old self. This is what the sage Jesus, in other moments, refers to as carrying the cross as equivalent to following him. The experience is utterly unnatural: it feels like suffocation and starvation. But everything is in the persistence and determination. I hardly want to hold out to he who begins any hope of peace that comes after this war, so cautious am I about his timing himself or persisting only so long and expecting relief. But anyone who has overcome will testify to the truth. The death of the raging mob of the many-headed beast inside is inevitable. How long will it take? How much persistence will it require? The answer to this question involves how much feeding and strengthening of the many-headed beast was done prior to the realization of poverty of spirit. But it is best submit in such a way that it is unconditional. To forever abstain from crack, or porn, or nicotine or excess anything, is better than to abstain under condition that it will get easy soon.
Now, submit to what? There is complexity here, but for the beginning there is also simplicity. The answer is submit to righteousness, to virtue to the best. The complexity is that from my imperfect, less developed and messy beginning it is not totally clear what the best looks like. So, let us set aside the necessity of full and complete articulation of perfect righteousness or perfect virtue. Even if it could be pointed out in its perfection it has to be taken in and digested by the individual, and given the imperfections in consumption and digestion it will likely not be perfect once processed.
It is best to be over-simple. He who has acknowledged poverty of spirit (inadequacy or lack) and mourned (weighed the significance) has identified a something which is not as it should be. It is most likely that he has involved a “Don’t!” rather than a “Do!”. “Don’t!” involves avoiding. “Do!” involves pursuing. It is not the case that direction of pursuit becomes clear simply by negation or avoidance. This is where submission becomes important. Here is my recommendation: submit to the “Don’t!” and only take on a “Do!” under reform of character. An example will help.
Kant, in his moral philosophy, articulates two fundamental absolute “Don’t!”. Do not commit suicide and do not make lying promises. Let us take them one at a time. What I hope to show is that one can avoid without it being clear what to pursue. But that doesn’t mean the what to pursue is blocked entirely. It just means “avoidance” is more clear at the beginning and so a good way to begin submitting.
“Don’t commit suicide” is equivalent to “Don’t act self-destructively”. One can start with not intentionally injecting deadly poison or cutting veins but these are only the most obvious “Don’t!”. Not acting self-destructively will involve an enriched knowledge of what one is in one’s best state. The closer the question of preserving life comes to this individual the more it will involve the nuances of this life. Can you have alcohol in moderation and not illegitimately use it to feed the raging starving monster? Submission to the “Don’t self-destruct” will look different for the two individuals given their different temperaments and developments.
“Don’t make lying-promises” is even more complex. While I can clearly never lie the rule does not help me with which promises I should make. So, I can start with “Say what you mean and mean what you say” or as the sage Jesus says, “Let you yes be yes and your no be no” without the much more complicated question of which promises to make when and under what conditions. It is enough to learn the seriousness of human relations and the significance of promise-keeping. There is enough work there without getting stuck in the intellectual quarrels possible about this or that promise. “Don’t make lying promises” is a negation. The opposite affirmation does not direct much. My sense is that direction will come with reform of character, and it is in this reform that clarity on pursuit and even further avoidance will be gained.
For now submit to what has been shown to you is inadequate. To he who does well with the little he is given more will be given. To he who squanders the little more will be taken. Do not ignore the submitting that is possible now, and further submission will become clear. In addition the development made with the little will prepare you for the more difficult task of greater submission.