On Familiarity and Isolation

I’m finding some remarkable concordance between Thomas a Kempis and Epictetus: Thomas warns about chattering and gossiping that leads to a bad conscience upon return to silence.  “When it is right and proper to speak, speak to edify.” We should not busy ourselves with what others say and do. We should have such complete trust in God that we don’t need men’s comfort. Nevertheless old habits are hard to give up.  “Remember always that you are an exile and pilgrim on this earth.”

In Discourses III.16, Epictetus says that those who associate freely with laymen either are compelled to become like them or bring them over to their own style of living.  He notes that Socrates could do the latter, but most of us do the former.  He attributes this to their constant strong judgments.  As a result, Epictetus warns that philosophers should withdraw from familiar company if it is necessary to overcome old habits.  In a new environment, it is easier to introduce new habits.

“If you have not yet acquired this state of mind [aligned with one’s moral purpose] flee from your former habits, flee from the laymen, if you would begin to be somebody sometime.”

Nevertheless, I feel terribly isolated! I feel the need of a supportive community or spiritual director or kindred soul….

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