Temperance in modern use is generally described as moderation or voluntary self restraint. In classical iconography, the virtue is often depicted as a woman holding two vessels transferring water from one to another so what a better time to write this blog post as we are moving into the Aquarian cycle of the zodiac! This is the sign which is depicted as one pouring water (representing wisdom) out from an urn which is the main image for this post. Temperance is one of the cardinal virtues mentioned from Greek philosophy, and also in the ancient scriptures for religious and spiritual traditions including but not limited to Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and the Eastern traditions of Buddhism and Hinduism.
“Temperance is simply a disposition of the mind which binds the passion.”~Thomas Aquinas
Temperance includes restraint from revenge by practicing non-violence and forgiveness, restraint from arrogance by practicing humility and modesty, and restraint from rage or craving by practicing calmness and self-control. Let’s look at these areas more carefully.
REVENGE VS FORGIVENESS
Truly, there is no long-term satisfaction in revenge for an unkind word or action. The reason for this is that to do another unkind act is only to match or beat the first unkind action. To forgive such an action is to work from the opposite end of the action and only in this way is peace acquired (Mahatma Gandhi, Buddha and Christ were all wonderful examples of this thinking and practice).
Can you forgive a wrong that has been personally felt? I know that I have always been amazed by those who have been able to forgive an accidental wrongdoing. You know that even if done by mistake/poor judgement in a time, many people will carry a hurt or grudge for a very long time. Yet this does not help anyone. When I hear about a murder victim’s family forgiving the convicted offender for example, I am humbled by the strength of forgivers and this inspires me to be more forgiving.
Many times forgiveness can come from much simpler wrongs. Like when a promised promotion at work is given to a co-worker, when a lie has been discovered, or when a sibling is given favouritism. Yet even these grudges can be carried for many years. For what possible benefit I wonder? The hurt needs to heal, and healing can begin with forgiveness. Practice temperance.
ARROGANCE TO HUMILITY
I remember teaching naturopathic medical information to students in the Naturopathic Medical program, to a group of Nurses and to a large group of Medical Doctor residents. The group of nurses was the most humble in receiving the information I shared. In both of the other groups there was a mix of both sides of this spectrum. I believe that when we are learning from a curious “beginner’s mind” sort of perspective, we are able to receive information humbly and joyfully too. With arrogance, even the actual learning is lessened.
When I was working through the Naturopathic Doctor program myself, I had the pleasure of learning through a Palliative Care Doctor in Edmonton one summer. I will never forget the opportunity she provided in both the learning and through the kind manner in which she allowed me to share my Naturopathic suggestions for her patients. She humbly accommodated my learning and I humbly and gratefully appreciated the experience. Today, here I am working with many people experiencing chronic health care conditions who I know are benefitting from my learning through that doctor that day.
This is knowledge/learning based. What are the other ways people often show arrogance? Sometimes it’s in how they speak to “inferior” positions in the work place, sometimes with how they speak or even look at the homeless on the street. Humility helps us remember that no one wants to feel small – not intellectually, not socially, not personally. Practice temperance.
CRAVING VS SELF CONTROL
Now this is the beauty of contemplating with conscious intention, the words of the ancient scriptures. Craving may be simply the need to “be right” in a discussion that may change to an argument in an instant. Most often people may think of cravings as related to food or drink. Certainly all of the medical and spiritual scriptures I have read have encouraged moderation for good health. The health of the mind is no different. Avoiding an angry word in a moment of rage can often bring about gentle interactions from both sides.
We know that quick thoughts, words and actions often lead to dire consequences. Whether they create a tense interaction, lead to more harsh words or common experiences like road rage which can effect innocent people that may not have even contributed to the original rage. With meditative practice and mindful reflection, mystics, philosophers and sages have always mentioned this experience. You can give it a try for even a simple idea (chocolate? that extra drink? one less cigarette?). Remember that fasting from any craving allows for a “new” appreciation for the true pleasure of the experience when experienced. When we abstain from pleasures of the senses (this could be minutes of waiting for a meal to be served, days between enjoying a favourite drink, or a mindfully-present experience of human connection through words, music or intimacy planned once per week), the pleasure is heightened. And I suspect you all have experienced such pleasures. They are truly delightful!
This mastery of self control can be felt in all areas of our lives. Practice temperance. You, and the world around us all, needs this today more than ever.
Wishing you mindful-temperance in all that you do.