By Karen Barna
One of the most crucial writings I have read, one that effected me with understanding, and one that I felt enlightening to the human heart was Dante Alighieri’s Purgatorio. Like Judith Butler’s, “The Psychic Life of Power; Theories in Subjection,” it is a philosophical overview of man’s sinful spirit. The state that has befallen every man through his birth into this mortal life. His base human condition which Hegel philosophized about, and which is nicely critiqued in Judith Butler’s book, declares that all men are bound and tied to their fleshly bodies and desires and it is man’s constant struggle to defend against these human failings which create each and every individual man’s psychic life. Religion allows us the opportunity to recognized this, to bring it to man’s conscious awareness, but it is psychoanalysis that allows for individual deconstruction and explanation for each man’s individual human psyche. All of us have these psychic struggles, it’s just that some are bound to more licentious and insidious desires than most. For some it means the struggle in finding temperance not to eat that second piece of cheesecake, yet to another darker mind it’s the temperance not to take another life.
On of the truest lines that Dante wrote were spoken by Virgilius in Canto XXII, line 10 of his Purgatorio. It read, “The love kindled by virtue aye another kindles, provided outwardly its flame appear.” This line reflects Winnicott’s philosophical mirror. Spoken on the Terrace of Gluttony, whose opposite virtue by the way is Temperance, Virgil qualifies his idea and thought by implying that any other form of love is not love unless it is embodied with the virtue of a pure uncorrupted spirit in its leadership and lordship over another.
In Canto XXIV, line 133-154, Dante creates an imagery of what Temperance or Abstinence might provide;
“What go ye thinking thus, ye three alone?”
Said suddenly a voice, wherat I started
As terrified and timid beasts are wont.
I raise my head to see who this might be,
And never in a furnace was there seen
Metals or glass so lucent and so red
As none I saw who said “If it may please you
To mount aloft, here it behoves you turn;
This way goes he who goeth after peace.”
His aspect had bereft me of my sight,
So that I turned me back unto my Teachers,
Like one who goeth as his hearing guides him.
And as, the harbinger of early dawn,
The air of May doth move and breate out fragrance,
Impregnante all with herbage and with flowers,
So did I feel a breeze strike in the midst
My front, and felt the moving of the plumes
That breathed around an odor of ambrosia;
And heard it said: “Blessed are they whom grace
So much illumines, that the love of taste
Excites not in their breasts too great desire,
Hungering at all times so far as is just.”
At this juncture in Dante’s journey, the voice belongs to the Angel of Temperance and Abstinence, and, who happens to question Dante on his course, reminding him of the path he is traveling and that this path is, in fact, a path towards peace. A warning that is given to help remind the pilgrim of proper action. Remembering, of course, this is the second book of his trilogy, The Divine Comedy, in which the sinful souls of the pentinent spirits are receiving punishment in an attempt to make there way toward Terrestrial Paradise and which Dante is given a free excursion pass to witness what is going on behind the scenes. Dante describes this paradise as a combinations of the Garden of Eden from the Bible and any number of pleasance (loci amoeni)* that pastoral and love poets have celebrated in classical and medieval literature and that were associated with gardens, trees, breezes, and singing birds. The Angel of Temperance and Abstinence is one in which Dante describes most vividly as providing a pleasurable sensual experience describing the encounter as a “breathe of fragrance” brought on by a striking May breeze in which he encountered “an odor of ambrosia” all of these alluding to the pleasurable experience of peace or the attainment of loci amoeni or paradise.
It is my belief that it is exactly this metaphor, this symbol of speech that we try to create for ourselves in our daily lives through our selfless acts, behaviors, and kind actions toward others. However, it is the darkest heart; the most evil of hearts that, in turmoil with itself, cause others to fall (otherwise known as the skeptics), ones that prevent the fullest fulfillment and attainment of our individual earthy lives. This is where psychoanalysis and spirituality join together in helping us uncover and recover from our fixed psychic locations.
“What you want is tendentious, is reliable, is fixed, a compass needle that points true north to some hidden lodestone of conditioning experience”…..listen for stifled voices within , and eventually you will discover that what you so independently want follows from your past like an arrow from a bow. Anxiety acquired when one is a child, writes Skinner and equally, writes Freud survives into old age.”
It is our suffering through loss into the depressive mode in which we become freed and thus are allowed to accept the loss through introjection, that one is allowed to grow and develop fully.
It is the combination of psychoanalysis, the study of psychology, and through the study of spirituality which serve to help us remain in balance thought daily and weekly exercises that help to promote and maintain our well being. Our Terrestrial Paradise if you will, this representation of an expression. We can do this in the following ways:
In helping others (this fulfills and renews our conscious state of health)
Routine physical exercise (this helps renew or physical strength)
Healthy eating (this helps sustain and renew a healthy body)
Meditation and prayer (this helps renew and strengthen our spirit and helps to defend against stress)
Attending to our personal needs (routine daily requirements that sustain us in our health)
Dedication to the practice of continued learning (being open to new experiences, thoughts, and suggestions help to maintain our mental health through emotional growth)
Sharing your life with those who share in your beliefs and lifestyle choices (maintaining social contacts and connecting with those who are similar to yourself)
Anyone who has ever wondered, upon conscious awakening, about the reasons for their behaviors, must of, at some point, sought knowledge through acquired understanding so as to facilitate change. For it is when a human being comes into turmoil, either with themselves or someone else, that one must act in finding answers and solutions, should their be any possible solutions to the problem(s) they are experiencing. Through this act, one becomes capable of acquire understanding. This is, what I believe, many sages, including Aristotle, sought to find. Aristotle believed;
“We are born with a natural capacity for receiving virtuous impressions, and for forming virtuous habits; and his conception of the nature of this capacity is so high a one, that he does not hesitate to term it “natural virtue.” We are endowed with a moral sense, a perception of moral beauty and excellence, and with an acuteness on practical subjects, which when cultivated, is improved into prudence or moral wisdom. From all these considerations, therefore, it is plain that, according to Aristotle, virtue is the law under which we are born, the law of nature, that law which, if we would attain to happiness, we are bound to fulfill. Happiness, in its highest and purest sense, is our “being’s end and aim;” and this is an energy or activity of the soul according to the law of virtue: an energy of the purest of the capacities of the soul, of that capacity which is proper and peculiar to man alone; namely, intellect or reason. Designed, then, as man is for virtuous energies, endowed with capacities for moral action, with a natural taste and appreciation for that which is morally beautiful, with a natural disposition or instinct, as if were, to good acts; virtue, and therefore happiness, becomes possible and attainable. Had this not been the case, all moral instruction would be useless.”
*Loci amoeni is a derivative of the Latin phrase locus amoenus which literally refers to an idealized place of safety or comfort. Eden or Elysium. Locus amoenus will have three basic elements: trees, grass, and water.