PracticalWisdom
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Getting Back to the Garden

Epicurus has shown that a simple, happy and serene life amongst friends is not only possible but that it is obtainable by anyone. Granted, no one will achieve the Epicurean good life overnight, but we can attain some benefits as soon as we make the decision to choose the good life over a life of fear and anxiety.  The first steps will be tenuous and may even be uncomfortable, but with practice they will become both confident and comfortable. As alluded to elsewhere, there are two primary ways to practice Epicureanism; through practicing The Four Part Cure and through practicing the control of unnecessary desires. Here we will examine each of these in turn and then take a brief look at ways to implement them into our daily lives. As we learned earlier, the Four-Part Cure states: Don’t fear god, Don’t worry about death, What is good is easy to get, and, What is terrible is easy to endure. The Four-Part Cure is the main reason that Epicureanism was denigrated and nearly driven to extinction by the Christians. It was in the interests of Christian leaders to keep the populace in line through fear of a vengeful god. Not fearing god does not necessarily preclude a spiritual life as many religions do not demand bowing to a vengeful god. Examples include the Eastern religions of Taoism and Buddhism as well as some of the more liberal versions of Christianity. For Epicurus—living in pagan Greece—the gods were simple stories to guide human actions. As eternal beings they had no interest in human activities and were not constantly watching and waiting for us to goof up so that they could seek retribution. For a rational being who views the universe as a natural creation there is nothing to fear from any god. It is impossible for someone to dispel his fears about the most important matters if he doesn't know the nature of the universe but still gives some credence to myths. So without the study of nature there is no enjoyment of pure pleasure. --Epicurus For Epicurus, there is no after life. Since we cease existing when we die and since there is no vengeful god, death should not be feared. In a letter, Epicurus wrote: "Death means nothing to us...when we exist, death is not yet present, and when death is present, then we do not exist." Much fear is created by wondering how we will be judged when we die, Epicurus urges us to give up this irrational fear. Ending the fear of death can even be accomplished by those with religious beliefs. If you believe in reincarnation then you must believe that you have had previous lives. Since you are not mourning your previous lives, then future carnations will not mourn your present one. Conversely, if you believe in an afterlife in heaven, then you will be in eternal bliss and there is nothing to fear. When discussing what is good and the ease of its procurement, I am tempted to quote Jesus from the book of Mathew; instead I will only direct the reader to Mathew 6:25-34. Epicurus, like Jesus, pointed to the animals as examples of the ease of acquiring the necessities of life. It is our desires beyond meeting our needs which leads to needless anxiety and suffering.  We will return our attention to this subject in the next section. In nature intense pain and suffering are of short duration or—if longer lasting—of less intensity. The final part of the Four-Part Cure offers us freedom from anxiety even when we are suffering intensely by reminding us that “this, too shall pass”, leading to a reduction in anxiety about future suffering which helps diminish current suffering. Memorizing the Four-Part Cure is easy and achievable in minutes for the majority of individuals. Setting aside a few minutes each day to contemplate the Four-Part Cure means it will be readily available to combat fear and anxiety when they eventually arise. Watching for ourselves to become restless or irritable allows us to respond pre-emptively with the Four-Part Cure. Epicurus distinguishes between three types of desires: natural and necessary desires, natural but non-necessary desires, and “vain and empty” desires which are neither natural nor necessary. Natural and necessary desires are easily obtained and achieving them decreases discomfort and is always beneficial. For a desire to be natural means that it is innate or essentially inherent in our make-up. For a desire to be necessary means for it to be needed to fulfill a flourishing life. Natural and necessary desires are such things as food, shelter and friendship; all easily obtainable and naturally limited. We should work to fulfill all natural and necessary desires as only then can we live a happy and serene life. Natural but non-necessary desires are also inherent in our make-up but these desires can be sated in simpler means. When hungry we may desire sweet food when a healthier snack will ease our hunger just as well. These desires should be preferred only if they do not interfere with our natural and necessary desires? These types of desires may involve wanting a better car than is necessary or a house in a better neighborhood or anything which involves more than necessary. Finally we have desires that are neither natural nor necessary, what Epicurus called vain and empty desires. These desires often interfere with our peace of mind because they are by their very nature insatiable. These are desires that include such things as fame, power, wealth, prestige, or anything that is not meant to fulfill our basic needs. Since these desires are not natural they can never be satisfied. Pursuing or even fulfilling these vain desires   leads to the neglect of the things that are truly necessary to a happy life. In the wish to advance empty desires we too often neglect truly necessary things like friendship and companionship. When we inevitably come up short in this pursuit of needless things we become incapable of finding peace in the fact that our necessary desires are fulfilled. The problem with vain desires is that there is always more, regardless of our wealth there is always more to be desired. We become anxious that we will not be able to maintain our prestige and lose our peace of mind. To gain control of our desires we must first become aware of them. When we find ourselves wanting something we should first stop and categorize the desire; the simple act of knowing if our desires are natural, necessary, or neither is the first step toward controlling them. Exercise yourself in these and related precepts day and night, both by yourself and with one who is like-minded; then never, either in waking or in dream, will you be disturbed, but will live as a god among men. For man loses all semblance of mortality by living in the midst of immortal blessings. --Epicurus As you continue to study the words of Epicurus many more opportunities for practicing his teachings will become apparent. Earlier in this book his 40 Principal Doctrines are listed, many find that memorizing them gives us fortitude when we are confronted with life challenges. It may seem impossible to memorize such a lengthy list but this can be made manageable by focusing on a few key points at first and then expanding as we go. Perhaps read the list and mark the 2 or 3 which seem most important to where you are today. Take a week and memorize them. Then re-read the doctrines, again choosing 2 or 3 that seem the most pertinent, this exercise will soon give us the ability to fortify ourselves against the challenges of life which seek to impair our serene wellbeing. There are a few simple meditations that can aid one in advancing along the Epicurean path. The first I will call the Materialism Meditation. This involves visualizing ourselves as made up of atoms and the void, relationships, genetic information, and natural processes that connect us with all other life and the ecosystem itself. Spending time with this visualization each day will help ground us in the material world and help ease anxiety. Next we have Eupathic Meditation, eupathea is the Greek word for “good feeling.” Here the focus would be on improving our mental attitude through establishment of gratitude for the simple joy we get from natural wealth (i.e. enough food to temper our hunger, water to temper our thirst, shelter to protect us from the weather, etc…) While the practices of Epicureanism will be as varied as those who practice, it is this practice that creates and maintains Epicurean happiness. Since we are left with only an outline of Epicurean practices, it is often useful to draw from other traditions those practices that help move us along our path. One such practice is Hedonic Calculus formulated by Jeremy Bentham the 18th century utilitarian. Bentham offers several variables to be weighed when considering pleasure: 1) Intensity, how strong is the pleasure? 2) Duration, how long will the pleasure last? 3) Certainty, how likely or unlikely is it that the pleasure will occur? 4) Propinquity, how soon will the pleasure occur? 5) Fecundity, the probability that the pleasure will be followed by similar pleasures? 6) Purity, the probability that the pleasure will be followed by sensations of the opposite kind? 7) Extent, how many people will be affected? What is the value that can be placed on a happy life? Is it worth a few minutes morning and evening to prepare for and then to review our day? The first step is to understand that pleasure is not frivolous, friends are not optional accessories, and an examined life is not a luxury; these are all pre-requisites for a happy life. For Epicurus the garden was not just a place to teach and relax, it was also a metaphor for a life of contemplative contentment. Limiting our desires to those that are good and natural, overcoming irrational fears, these are the things that can lead one to true happiness. To these Epicurus also adds the importance of friends and communion, independence and autarchy, and the contemplative analyzed life. Simple things, obtainable by everyone, a path back to the garden.
PracticalWisdom
© 2018 This site uses cookies for navigation and analytics only, no personal information is collected.

Getting Back to the Garden

Epicurus has shown that a simple, happy and serene life amongst friends is not only possible but that it is obtainable by anyone. Granted, no one will achieve the Epicurean good life overnight, but we can attain some benefits as soon as we make the decision to choose the good life over a life of fear and anxiety.  The first steps will be tenuous and may even be uncomfortable, but with practice they will become both confident and comfortable. As alluded to elsewhere, there are two primary ways to practice Epicureanism; through practicing The Four Part Cure and through practicing the control of unnecessary desires. Here we will examine each of these in turn and then take a brief look at ways to implement them into our daily lives. As we learned earlier, the Four-Part Cure states: Don’t fear god, Don’t worry about death, What is good is easy to get, and, What is terrible is easy to endure. The Four-Part Cure is the main reason that Epicureanism was denigrated and nearly driven to extinction by the Christians. It was in the interests of Christian leaders to keep the populace in line through fear of a vengeful god. Not fearing god does not necessarily preclude a spiritual life as many religions do not demand bowing to a vengeful god. Examples include the Eastern religions of Taoism and Buddhism as well as some of the more liberal versions of Christianity. For Epicurus—living in pagan Greece—the gods were simple stories to guide human actions. As eternal beings they had no interest in human activities and were not constantly watching and waiting for us to goof up so that they could seek retribution. For a rational being who views the universe as a natural creation there is nothing to fear from any god. It is impossible for someone to dispel his fears about the most important matters if he doesn't know the nature of the universe but still gives some credence to myths. So without the study of nature there is no enjoyment of pure pleasure. --Epicurus For Epicurus, there is no after life. Since we cease existing when we die and since there is no vengeful god, death should not be feared. In a letter, Epicurus wrote: "Death means nothing to us...when we exist, death is not yet present, and when death is present, then we do not exist." Much fear is created by wondering how we will be judged when we die, Epicurus urges us to give up this irrational fear. Ending the fear of death can even be accomplished by those with religious beliefs. If you believe in reincarnation then you must believe that you have had previous lives. Since you are not mourning your previous lives, then future carnations will not mourn your present one. Conversely, if you believe in an afterlife in heaven, then you will be in eternal bliss and there is nothing to fear. When discussing what is good and the ease of its procurement, I am tempted to quote Jesus from the book of Mathew; instead I will only direct the reader to Mathew 6:25-34. Epicurus, like Jesus, pointed to the animals as examples of the ease of acquiring the necessities of life. It is our desires beyond meeting our needs which leads to needless anxiety and suffering.  We will return our attention to this subject in the next section. In nature intense pain and suffering are of short duration or—if longer lasting—of less intensity. The final part of the Four-Part Cure offers us freedom from anxiety even when we are suffering intensely by reminding us that “this, too shall pass”, leading to a reduction in anxiety about future suffering which helps diminish current suffering. Memorizing the Four-Part Cure is easy and achievable in minutes for the majority of individuals. Setting aside a few minutes each day to contemplate the Four-Part Cure means it will be readily available to combat fear and anxiety when they eventually arise. Watching for ourselves to become restless or irritable allows us to respond pre-emptively with the Four-Part Cure. Epicurus distinguishes between three types of desires: natural and necessary desires, natural but non- necessary desires, and “vain and empty” desires which are neither natural nor necessary. Natural and necessary desires are easily obtained and achieving them decreases discomfort and is always beneficial. For a desire to be natural means that it is innate or essentially inherent in our make-up. For a desire to be necessary means for it to be needed to fulfill a flourishing life. Natural and necessary desires are such things as food, shelter and friendship; all easily obtainable and naturally limited. We should work to fulfill all natural and necessary desires as only then can we live a happy and serene life. Natural but non-necessary desires are also inherent in our make-up but these desires can be sated in simpler means. When hungry we may desire sweet food when a healthier snack will ease our hunger just as well. These desires should be preferred only if they do not interfere with our natural and necessary desires? These types of desires may involve wanting a better car than is necessary or a house in a better neighborhood or anything which involves more than necessary. Finally we have desires that are neither natural nor necessary, what Epicurus called vain and empty desires. These desires often interfere with our peace of mind because they are by their very nature insatiable. These are desires that include such things as fame, power, wealth, prestige, or anything that is not meant to fulfill our basic needs. Since these desires are not natural they can never be satisfied. Pursuing or even fulfilling these vain desires   leads to the neglect of the things that are truly necessary to a happy life. In the wish to advance empty desires we too often neglect truly necessary things like friendship and companionship. When we inevitably come up short in this pursuit of needless things we become incapable of finding peace in the fact that our necessary desires are fulfilled. The problem with vain desires is that there is always more, regardless of our wealth there is always more to be desired. We become anxious that we will not be able to maintain our prestige and lose our peace of mind. To gain control of our desires we must first become aware of them. When we find ourselves wanting something we should first stop and categorize the desire; the simple act of knowing if our desires are natural, necessary, or neither is the first step toward controlling them. Exercise yourself in these and related precepts day and night, both by yourself and with one who is like-minded; then never, either in waking or in dream, will you be disturbed, but will live as a god among men. For man loses all semblance of mortality by living in the midst of immortal blessings. --Epicurus As you continue to study the words of Epicurus many more opportunities for practicing his teachings will become apparent. Earlier in this book his 40 Principal Doctrines are listed, many find that memorizing them gives us fortitude when we are confronted with life challenges. It may seem impossible to memorize such a lengthy list but this can be made manageable by focusing on a few key points at first and then expanding as we go. Perhaps read the list and mark the 2 or 3 which seem most important to where you are today. Take a week and memorize them. Then re-read the doctrines, again choosing 2 or 3 that seem the most pertinent, this exercise will soon give us the ability to fortify ourselves against the challenges of life which seek to impair our serene wellbeing. There are a few simple meditations that can aid one in advancing along the Epicurean path. The first I will call the Materialism Meditation. This involves visualizing ourselves as made up of atoms and the void, relationships, genetic information, and natural processes that connect us with all other life and the ecosystem itself. Spending time with this visualization each day will help ground us in the material world and help ease anxiety. Next we have Eupathic Meditation, eupathea is the Greek word for “good feeling.” Here the focus would be on improving our mental attitude through establishment of gratitude for the simple joy we get from natural wealth (i.e. enough food to temper our hunger, water to temper our thirst, shelter to protect us from the weather, etc…) While the practices of Epicureanism will be as varied as those who practice, it is this practice that creates and maintains Epicurean happiness. Since we are left with only an outline of Epicurean practices, it is often useful to draw from other traditions those practices that help move us along our path. One such practice is Hedonic Calculus formulated by Jeremy Bentham the 18th century utilitarian. Bentham offers several variables to be weighed when considering pleasure: 1) Intensity, how strong is the pleasure? 2) Duration, how long will the pleasure last? 3) Certainty, how likely or unlikely is it that the pleasure will occur? 4) Propinquity, how soon will the pleasure occur? 5) Fecundity, the probability that the pleasure will be followed by similar pleasures? 6) Purity, the probability that the pleasure will be followed by sensations of the opposite kind? 7) Extent, how many people will be affected? What is the value that can be placed on a happy life? Is it worth a few minutes morning and evening to prepare for and then to review our day? The first step is to understand that pleasure is not frivolous, friends are not optional accessories, and an examined life is not a luxury; these are all pre-requisites for a happy life. For Epicurus the garden was not just a place to teach and relax, it was also a metaphor for a life of contemplative contentment. Limiting our desires to those that are good and natural, overcoming irrational fears, these are the things that can lead one to true happiness. To these Epicurus also adds the importance of friends and communion, independence and autarchy, and the contemplative analyzed life. Simple things, obtainable by everyone, a path back to the garden.