Meditating with Descartes

The Discourse on Method (1637) by René Descartes is a very concise and accessible work and I was struck most by its introspective passages. For example, “I know how much we are prone to be mistaken in those things that deeply affect us, and also how judgments made by our friends must be held suspect when those judgments are in our favor.” I suppose we never learn lessons from books proactively. It’s invariably after the fact that the insights of our conscience are confirmed or amended by what we read.

Among Descartes resolutions is firmness in activity; not to waver unless and until such time as such conduct is proven wrong. It’s like being lost in a forest, he says, where it is better to keep walking in a straight line until you safely emerge from the woods rather than to wander in circles, though it may seem that the straight path is not the ideal nor the easiest one. Another maxim is essentially Stoic: “always to try to conquer myself rather than fortune, to change my desires rather than the order of the world.”

Descartes admonishes us not to vocalize our problems too soon or too much. Commune with God first, then with oneself. File your thought away for awhile. Perhaps, after sufficient probation, consult with others, and then only to a limited extent. Often our crises are over before we need to vent about them (in which case the latter does more harm than good). And there does seem to be something about venting at all that discourages self-mastery.

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