How to Keep Your Light Lit

“You become what you give your attention to.” – Epictetus

Exploring the multifaceted concept of love and its impact on our lives, this post delves into the idea of maintaining your inner light amidst challenges. Drawing inspiration from dreams, philosophical discussions, and personal experiences, discover how love can be both empowering and potentially limiting. Learn about the importance of boundaries, self-sufficiency, and maintaining your sense of self while navigating relationships and the complexities of human nature.

I wrote this article in August, 2022 after I was inspired by Sharon LeBell’s meet up on absurdity and evil in life. Also Brandon Tumblin’s interview with Sharron on Strong Stoic Podcast. It naturally followed the poetry I was writing and have now published on The Walled Garden.

I was reminded of a dream I had a while back when going through the “dark night of the soul.”

It was a dream about a book I imagined to be titled: “How to Keep Your Light Lit.” The pages of the book were filled with magical lanterns designed to keep a light from being blown out.

I later learned that this type of dream about a great book is a Shamanic motif, occurring spontaneously for individuals around the world and throughout the millennia. The most famous examples might be Moses and the stone tablets and Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, and his golden plates. Whether they actually acquired physical tablets or books, it sounds as if these were certainly visionary experiences.

I never knew exactly what my dream meant. But I felt it had something to do with the Sunday school song: “This little light of mine.”

This little light of mine,
I’m gonna let it shine.
This little light of mine,
I’m gonna let it shine.
Let it shine, shine, shine, let it shine.
Hide it under a bushel, no!
I’m gonna let it shine.
Hide it under a bushel, no!
I’m gonna let it shine.
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

Edith Edger’s Choice Therapy states that it is a CHOICE to choose:

  • Compassion
  • Humor
  • Optimism
  • Intuition
  • Curiosity
  • self-Expression

For some lucky individuals, it may not feel like a choice, rather an implicit assumption about life. We can only hope that more and more individuals can experience this. To be born and raised with the point of view to believe in and look for the best in others. 

It’s a much more difficult task to ask someone to choose these things. Given the evil in the world, why choose this “delusional pronoia?” The short answer is because things work out better in life when you do, as opposed to the opposite. There is a much longer answer, but I think that is an individual journey for each person to find.

My personal experience was to start life with hope and optimism, interestingly enough. Even though I also had a lot of challenges in my life. I mostly had a fortunate life.

But then why might someone start to question and lose their light? The dark night of the soul.

It’s not just a factor of being hurt. Or seeing horrors and tragedy in the world. A person with hope can bear these things.

Hurt people hurt people.

But you have to open yourself up to them. 

I’ve been working on speaking as a philosopher, from my own perspective. But three of the great ancient Stoic philosophers are particularly informative to my thinking on this topic.

“Souls that are naturally disposed towards self-control and justice –in a word, towards virtue– are obviously most suitable for marriage.” 

Musonius Rufus. Lecture #13

“Could a marriage be good without harmony? Could such a union be noble?” 

Musonius Rufus. Lecture #13

“Could wicked people be in harmony with each other? Could a good person be in harmony with a bad one? This could not happen, any more than a crooked piece of wood could fit together with a similar  crooked one or that two crooked pieces could fit together. (The crooked piece would not fit together with another similarly crooked piece and would fit even worse with its opposite, a straight piece.) A wicked man does not befriend a wicked man and does not get along with him. And a wicked man finds it even harder to get along with a good man.”

Musonius Rufus. Lecture #13

“Evil does not naturally dwell in the world. Evil is a byproduct of forgetfulness, laziness, or distraction [mindlessness; unmindfulness]. It arises when we lose sight of our true aim.”

Epictetus (Enchiridion 27)

“Don’t surrender your mind to any person who might influence you. Think twice before you give up your mind to someone who might revile you.” 

Epictetus (Enchiridion 28)

“Since we know not how to endure an injury, let us take care not to receive one: we should live with the quietest and easiest-tempered persons, not with anxious or with sullen ones: for our own habits are copied from those with whom we associate, and just as some bodily diseases are communicated by touch, so also the mind transfers its vices to its neighbours. … society will, if permitted, impair the morals even of robust-minded men.”

Seneca – On Anger. Book III. Chapter VIII.

“Virtues do the same thing in the opposite direction, and improve all those with whom they are brought in contact: it is as good for one of unsettled principles to associate with better men than himself as for an invalid to live in a warm country with a healthy climate. 

Seneca – On Anger. Book III. Chapter VIII.

“A proud man will offend you by his disdain, a talkative man by his abuse, an impudent man by his insults, a spiteful man by his malice, a quarrelsome man by his wrangling, a braggart and liar by his vain-gloriousness: you will not endure to be feared by a suspicious man, conquered by an obstinate one, or scorned by an ultra-refined one: Choose straightforward, good-natured, steady people, who will not provoke your wrath, and will bear with it.   If, then, we are conscious of an irascible disposition, let us especially choose for our friends those who will look and speak as we do.” 

Seneca – On Anger. Book III. Chapter VIII.

Seneca encourages that there is a balance.  Do not surround yourself with false “yes men” who “flatter [with] excessive obsequiousness”. Seek someone who can challenge you, yet also yield and be open to changing their own opinion. 

A straight stick cannot make a crooked stick straight. If anything, the straight stick will become crooked. And it is still likely the two will not be in alignment. This is as true for the nature of lumber as it is for people. 

The following are examples I think are instructive on how a person can “lose their light.”

Imagine yourself walking your dog down the street and a large pitbull runs out from the front door of a house. It is charging your smaller dog. You freeze. Although maybe you don’t exactly freeze, you stop and calculate. Is this pitbull a threat? If I fight it does it become more of a threat? If I run, do I become a target? If I pick up my dog do I become a target? Is it better for my dog to die or myself to be maimed? In the end, you talk in a calm and stern voice to the dog, try to keep the dogs separated, until the owner comes out and wrestles their dog into a collar.

A terrifying experience but everything worked out well.

Now imagine you are walking with your partner. “I can’t believe you froze! What would you have done if we were walking our child rather than our dog?” 

And then you start to internalize these messages. You respect and care for this person. Maybe there is something to what they’re saying. Maybe I didn’t know how to handle this situation. Am I confident I could have handled a much more dangerous hypothetical situation? 

Maybe I should be ashamed of myself for freezing.

A second situation:

You live in a home near a busy street. It is a peaceful neighborhood, there are no threats of violence. But there are sometimes loud trucks and cars driving by. You are not bothered by this and focused on your work, responsibilities, hobbies, and interests.

But your partner is bothered by these noises. The neighbors modify their trucks and cars to make more noise because they lack respect for others. You can’t protect yourself from these disruptive noises. It is unsettling to feel the engine noise and thumping bass of music in your chest. You are powerless to change these foolish neighbors and need to escape.

You start to believe in this distrust of humanity. They are foolish, ignorant, inconsiderate, hateful neighbors. Now I walk around a community of hateful, spiteful fools who are too stubborn to reform their ways. Rather than walking around my community of brothers and sisters in this fellow struggle through life, each of us finding our best path through. They are harming the person I care about, and I begrudge them for the harm this feeling causes me.

I’m a victim of life’s circumstances.

How did I get here?

It’s a lack of boundaries. It is necessary to open yourself up to others. It is also necessary to keep a clear divider between your own mind, what you think and feel about a situation, and what others think and feel. To maintain your ‘Inner Citadel.’ They can think and feel what they like, and they can change it if they choose to do so. But you can’t change it for them. And if you can’t beat them, join them. Or don’t. That’s the decision.  

It becomes paranoia rather than pronoia. Expecting the worst and malintent everywhere you go. 

It is the shadow of love. To care for another person so much that you want to agree with their worldview. That you lose yourself while trying to help them find their other-half. When they need to find that other-half for themselves. 

You can let your light radiate, maybe help someone else to light their own light.

But you can also risk putting out your light in the process. 

You need a container. A lantern. A citadel to maintain your light and re-ignite yourself.

Perhaps you need the space and time to do so. A vacation to “a warm country with a healthy climate” and surround yourself with “straightforward, good-natured, steady people, who will not provoke your wrath, and will bear with it.”

“Above all, keep a close watch on this— that you are never so tied to your former acquaintances and friends that you are pulled down to their level. If you don’t, you’ll be ruined. . . . You must choose whether to be loved by these friends and remain the same person, or to become a better person at the cost of those friends . . . if you try to have it both ways you will neither make progress nor keep what you once had.”

Epictetus, Discourses

“Step one is learning to have a self-sufficient mind, not so you can be self-sufficient, but so that when you engage with other people, you are not the problem, the burden. Instead you can be the augmentor.” “Giving back to the cosmos.”

Sharon LeBell, on The Strong Stoic Podcast. Talking about ‘why study philosophy?’

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David Alexander

New Mexico-based psychotherapist exploring Stoic Philosophy and Jungian psychology to understand human nature, aiming for self-discovery and empathy through integrated disciplines.

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