Every New Year’s Eve since 2015, in the early hours of the evening before the fateful ball drops, I always find myself venturing over to Google Docs to take part in a personal tradition of mine: an annual letter to myself, marked for December 31st of next year. In the four, five, sometimes eight pages I allow myself to write to myself, I meander through moments of the previous year and yearn for the upcoming one, approaching protention. As Indian philosopher J. Krishnamurti states in his seminal piece “The First and Last Freedom,”: “To transform oneself, self-knowledge is essential; without knowing what you are, there is no basis for right thought, and without knowing yourself, there can be no transformation.”
The letter to myself, then, is an ultimate iteration of this self-knowledge, allowing me to mend and blend the past, present and prospective versions of myself and their vagaries through a mediated medium. Within these letters, I have often included a set of monthly goals and wishful resolutions which I cautiously copy, paste and periodically allow myself to look back upon.
Like many, my resolutions remain awfully ambitious, if not ludicrous. I resolve to write x many scripts, read x many books, exercise x many times a week, travel x many times a month, do this with them, that with whomever — whatever. When I reflect on the resolutions I do manage to achieve, I’m left with a fleeting sense of accomplishment that crumbles as quickly as the closing year does. With the triumph faded, I realized this year –– jaded by all I did not attain –– that it was time to refrain myself from setting any more material goals. I resolved to reject the resolution instead, realizing there is something much deeper that I’ve been yearning for year after year.
Our overwhelmingly individualistic agencies, seemingly secular society and the self-care industrial complex keep us stuck in the shackles of the resolution institution, indoctrinating us with the damning desires to aspire to egoistic improvements — physical gains to maintain a perceived image, social gains for much the same, intellectual gains out of capital pursuit rather than curiosity, and (maybe), if we’re spiritual, a couple trips to church.
In these often quantitative quests, we may resolve to do everything except question our own values, our own morality, the essence of our being. Lofty material goals keep us climbing up harrowing hills, missing out on a mountain of the highest Heavenly heights. It is this feat and feeling, this metaphysical connection to the divine, that I believe is the deeper yearning which we are always being ushered towards as we move away from our fleeting fixation on worldly attachments and their damning indictments. In doing so, we sow the seeds of a better tomorrow by seeking something else: virtue.
The “Catechism of the Catholic Church” comprises of Seven Heavenly Virtues, four which are cardinal (deriving from the mind) — prudence, justice, fortitude (courage) and temperance; and three that are theological (deriving from God) — faith, hope and charity (love). Similarly, in contrast to the widely known Seven Deadly (Capital) Sins of Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Envy, Wrath and Pride, the Seven Capital Virtues of Chastity, Temperance, Charity, Diligence, Kindness, Patience and Humility exist in respective opposition.
Despicably, the dictates of late-stage capitalism keep us in the damning niceties of vice. German theologian Paul Tillich deems capitalism as demonic, and we can understand in a very literal sense. The ideological framework of a system so tied up in degradation, oppression and violence is the very hallmark of our society’s collective and individual sin and suffering. Take the venereal exigencies expressed so vividly in the everyday by Lust. The pathological digital mediation of our sexuality through hook-up and dating apps algorithmically divorces us from authenticity. Sexual immorality and pornographic images are plastered throughout our mainstream media. This doesn’t even come close to addressing the role patriarchy, racialized violence and heterosexism — all essential attributes of capital society — play in making our modern-day world an unjust lustful place. Pridefully, capitalist ideology fuels our individualistic ego. Profit-maximizing material gain becomes a Greedy means to separate ourselves from others; thus, we become entrenched in a perpetual state of Envy, always making evaluative judgments about others. This system’s hyper-consumerism and mass production adds to our Gluttonous propensity for waste. Wrath rears its wicked head as we face the harsh consequences of objectifying dehumanization and otherization through capital exploitation. Ironically, in today’s times, we’ve been molded simultaneously into not only grind-and-hustle machines but also apathetic Sloths as we mindlessly fill our days scrolling through corporate-branded consumer-curated feeds. If we’re not doing that, then we’re hopelessly engaged in endless entertainment mediums of distraction, or binge-drinking and drugs to fill the void left by vice.
While we cannot free ourselves from vice, we can commit to strengthening our commitment to virtue. We can start by familiarizing ourselves with each virtue and its meaning. For instance, Prudence, which employs the use of reason, discernment and insight, can be fostered through a stronger commitment to intellectual exploration. I’m practicing prudence by devoting myself to critically reading towards comprehension rather than capriciously towards completion.
With Justice, we might re-assess our mantras and morals, ponder our positions in hopes to re-align them towards liberation. For me, this means devoting myself more fully to my studies and practice in my teaching program at the School of Education, noting the revolutionary aspects of being an educator. By aligning our virtues with our ventures, we might be able to see the underlying goodness (or lack thereof) in our everyday actions. For instance, I’m aligning the virtue of fortitude with my Improvisational comedy performance, recognizing the courage it takes to swim in the waters of spontaneity, reveling in uncertainty and anticipation.
In vitalizing our virtues, we soon realize their interminable intersectionality. Temperance entreats us with moderation. Commiting to moderation, such as regulating our engagement with sensuous pleasures, simultaneously enriches our relationship with Prudence, Justice and Fortitude. The cardinal becomes complete, and replete with interweaving reinforcement. Rather than hastily resolving to abstain from drugs or alcohol, to cut off all junk food, to over-indulge in any one activity to compensate for our incompleteness, Temperance easily evolves with efficacy, slowly eliminating our engagement with wordly pleasures.
We can find our own unique ways to build our own working systems that allow us to incorporate these septenary statutes into our lives. Beyond the Christian tradition, many other religions have similar paradigms fixated on fine-tuning values rather than accumulating fortune. Islam understands materialism as something which first emerges as means to satisfy basic needs and is then perverted into an individualizing desire to inflate the ego. In return, Islam calls for humility, piety and sincerty.
In Buddhism, the Noble Eightfold Path posits the eight practices which pave the way towards liberation. Of these, right speech, right action and right livelihood are the “moral virtues.” Buddhism also postulates the five hindrances as sensory desire, ill will, sloth-and-torpor, restlessness-and-worry and doubt. In addition to invigorating our virtues, we may also attempt to correct our shortcomings. In overcoming these hindrances, we’re allowed to roam in the divine states of loving-kindness (maitri), compassion (karunā), altruism (mudita) and equanimity (upeksha).
To J. Krishnamurti, it is not enough to simply work towards cultivating virtues. Instead, we must fully embody virtuousness. He asserts that, “Virtue is not the becoming of what is not; virtue is the understanding of what is and therefore the freedom from what is.” In this sense, virtuosity allows us to transcend. Worldly attachments lose their appeal as we acquire a newfound discernment.
Virtuousness can allow us to live more fluidly, no longer fastened to the restraints of the resolution institution. Resolutions keep us lingering in limbo, always attached to another outcome, in a state of perpetual dissatisfaction. Going away from goal-setting might fill us with fright at first, but when we veer towards virtue, we move nearer and nearer to our higher, holy self. It takes time. Practice. Persistence. Perseverance. And, of course, Patience — after all, it is a virtue.
MiC Columnist Karis Clark can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.