SOME RELIABLE TRAVELLING COMPANIONS
When travelling we must choose our companions carefully.
While there are many companions to recommend, this essay concerns only three. All of them, it turns out, are ancient Greeks. All are excellent travelers: never shrill, always wise.
The advice of this companion is subtle. It is not a harsh demand for relentless doubt. It is not a prohibition on belief. This would not be feasible.
Rather, this one suggests only that nothing can be known for certain. Not about the world, nor even about ourselves. There can be no certain knowledge of the nature of existence. There can be no certainty about the causes of our actions.
Recognizing this engenders what could be called “epistemological modesty”. Our senses might be mistaken; our reasoning might be flawed. With this in mind we step a tad more softly.
It is a curb not just on fanaticism, but on rashness and arrogance. We come to see the value of phrases such as “it is possible” or “it seems to be”. Our assertions become gentler, a bit more circumspect.
This companion recommends a reduction of suffering, and toward that end suggests the cultivation of equanimity.
The Latin roots of this term mean “evenness of mind”, and it refers to calmness or composure, especially in difficult circumstances. In the current context it refers to the honing of a skill: the maintenance of composure throughout daily life’s myriad and inevitable fluctuations.
The advice of this one is not an insistence on stony indifference or the absolute absence of feeling. Again, this would not be feasible.
But it is a suggestion, whenever possible, to put a little space between ourselves and our reactions. To allow flairs of frustration to sputter out on their own, as they always do, rather than stoking the fires. And to let go, a little sooner than usual, of the insistence that things go our way.
With so few complaints, this companion might turn out to be your favorite.
Here is a companion much misunderstood. This one’s advice is definitely not the unrestrained pursuit of pleasure. Overindulgence is not recommended.
It is true that for this traveler the absence of pain is the highest good. But the suggested path to that is modest, simple pleasures, ones without excess or complications.
This traveler might recommend, for example, the pleasures of reading, or of good friends and quiet conversation, or of satisfying but not extravagant meals.
It is easy to see how this companion could become your favorite.
Fortunately there is no need to pick and choose. All three travel exceedingly well together: the impossibility of certain knowledge, the importance of equanimity, and the value of simple pleasures.