CONTENTMENT AND THE MEANINGFUL LIFE – LATER THINKERS – PART II

“Though the tears flow, the mind remains unmoved.”AEneid, iv. 449.

 

 

Following the last post regarding Boethius on the achieving of tranquility in extreme adversity we leap forward ten centuries to Montaigne (1533-1592) to pick up again the trail of the great thinkers on contentment. In his essay On Constancy, Montaigne notes that all of us will encounter mischiefs and inconveniences that threaten us, and thus “all decent and honest ways and means of securing ourselves from harms, are not only permitted but moreover commendable and the business of constancy chiefly is, bravely to stand to, and stoutly to suffer those inconveniences which are not possibly to be avoided.”1  But using military examples as metaphors, he offers one particularly useful tool in adversity – that of retreat. In brief, equipoise is achieved by withdrawal from avoidable evils and by courageous engagement with unavoidable ones.

He goes on, using the Stoics as his guides, he says the soul of the philosopher need not be proof against all frights and disturbances, “provided his judgment remain sound and entire, and that the seat of his reason suffer no concussion nor alteration, and that he yield no consent to his fright and discomposure…The Peripatetic sage does not exempt himself totally from perturbations of mind, but he moderates them.”2 Clearly, tranquility is a process or rational encounters with the vicissitudes of life and self-control within in the face of misfortune. We are reminded of Marcus Aurelius and Boethius here.

In his essay On Solitude he goes further. Once we achieve the good we can in life, the time comes when we must withdrawal more fully from the world into solitude where contentment awaits us. He discourages the propensity to physical flight from our circumstances – “the principal vexations of life…ambition, avarice, fear, and inordinate desires, do not leave us because we forsake our native country.”3  At some point, “We have lived enough for others, let us at least live out the small remnant of our life for ourselves, let us now call in our thoughts and intentions to ourselves, and to our own ease and repose.” 4 Montaigne advises we cut off our obligations and learn to “soothe and caress” ourselves. In this way you will come “to be contented with yourself,; to borrow nothing of any other but yourself; to stay and fix your soul in certain and limited thoughts, where she may please herself, and having understood the true and real goods, which men the more enjoy the more they understand, to rest satisfied, without desire of prolongation of life or name.”

(continued next post)

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1Hutchins, Robert Maynard (editor), Montaigne. Encyclopaedia Britanica, 1952. The Great Books, Volume 25, page 20.

2Ibid., page 21-22.

3Ibid., page 107-108.

4Ibid., page 109.

3Ibid., page 112.

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