You are not your body and hair-style, but your capacity for choosing well. If your choices are beautiful, so too will you be.”
Epictetus, Discourses, 3.1.39b-40a
It’s easy to confuse the image we present to the world for who we actually are…that’s what Stoics urge us to consider. Not how things appear, but what effort, activity, and choices they are the result of.
[Holiday and Hanselman, The Daily Stoic, New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2016, p. 87]
What is a beautiful choice? What choices lead to a beautiful life? Is it possible to tell from the outside whether or not someone is beautiful? In many ways, all of my daily meditations have asked these questions. Two of the other books I’ve read in recent weeks also ask these questions, just with a different vocabulary – Desmond Tutu’s and the Dalai Lama’s Book of Joy and Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**K.
The difference between appearance and reality, false self and true self is common to all these books. The authors range in age from thirty-something to eighty-something, the quotes stretching back to philosophers and seekers of holiness over thousands of years. Perhaps this is why some have named sources from all religions and philosophies as the Perennial Tradition – the basic questions don’t vary much, and the answers similar in gist if not vocabulary.
I don’t want to live a life devoted to maintaining a false self – hiding from myself and the world behind a mask of my own making. How do I make wise, holy, and beautiful choices?
I don’t think the answer is particularly complex. In fact, it’s fairly simple: love God, self, and neighbor. Remember that everything is holy and beloved, even when it’s damaged and hurting/hurtful.
But simple isn’t the same thing as easy…
The most beautiful people we have know are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths.These persons have an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross [Daily Peace, Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2015, March 19]
He has shown you, O Mortal, what is good. What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8 NRSV
Lord, give me the strength to live a truly beautiful life. Amen.