Imagine yourself in the airplane or in the back of the seat of the car, after 5 hour of flight/drive, everyone has gone quiet and contemplative. You have you headphones on, the music you are listening to has become really, really deep, you start to understand it on another level.
The music, the trip you’re making make you start to wonder about life, your life and what you are doing, your family, your girlfriend, your friends. You become contemplative and quiet.
Everyone single one of us has gone through a similar experience. It can happen when you are contemplating beautiful scenery you have never seen before. This state is no joke, you feel it in your bones.
Contemplative, solemn. This moments are very precious to us for they are meaningful and posses a depth that can be understood only personally. It can even be a sad moment, or a very happy one, but nevertheless we accept and enjoy it with our heart, for it makes the experience of life the more richer.
Why call it religious?
William James explains that a name (christian, buddhist) is irrelevant as any experience that makes a human being merge with existence and wonder of its paradoxes, can be considered a religious experience.
What does all of these has to do with stoicism? You may be thinking.
Later in his book: The Varieties Of Religious Experience: A Study In Human Nature he describes the stoics as merely accepting reality and bearing it. To cite him:
It makes a tremendous emotional and practical difference to one whether one accept the universe in the drab discolored way of stoic resignation to necessity, or with the passionate happiness of Christian saints. The difference is as great as that between passivity and activity, as that between the defensive and the aggressive mood.
James, William. Varieties of Religious Experience, a Study in Human Nature (p. 44). Kindle Edition.
William talks of the stoics as if they lived and bear life because of necessity, here is another passage:
The anima mundi, to whose disposal of his own personal destiny the Stoic consents, is there to be respected and submitted to, but the Christian God is there to be loved; and the difference of emotional atmosphere is like that between an arctic climate and the tropics, though the outcome in the way of accepting actual conditions uncomplainingly may seem in abstract terms to be much the same.
James, William. Varieties of Religious Experience, a Study in Human Nature (p. 45). Kindle Edition.
This last passage finishes in this point of view and explains it finally:
Marcus Aurelius agrees TO the scheme—the German theologian (christian) agrees WITH it. He literally ABOUNDS in agreement, he runs out to embrace the divine decrees.
James, William. Varieties of Religious Experience, a Study in Human Nature (p. 46). Kindle Edition.
So, the main difference between these religious experiences is the excitement to live. He argues that the ancient christian felt ecstatic by life, and that the stoics merely agreed to it, because they felt existence to be a power to yield to and obey.
I would digress here in that the stoics claimed Amor Fati, love of everything that happens, but I do see that William has a point on the differences in exaltation between the christian and stoic writers. Could the stoics learn something about those ancient christian writer, I believe so.
Bought are right, we have to live according to nature, the how is what interests me. This is where the christian writers have something to say.
How can we harness that ancient ability of living as if a fire burned inside ourselves? How can we harness that unreasonable fanatic outrage of will? The power of will ceases to be a necessity in such states, the frenezi of the religious experience takes hold of the person and he acts from a higher state. But, what is that state, how can you achieve it if you are not even religious?
That is a good question, and also a question of which there is no answers for like I said in the beginning, the religious experience is deeply personal.
What helps? I guess wondering more about yourself and the universe. Practice Amor fati, but really practice it and try to understand it. It’s very easy to say it, it’s extremely difficult to practice it. Maybe you’ll one day discover yourself what Albert Camus said:
“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”
― Albert Camus
I believe this is an open conversation, feel free to comment!
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