Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Assume a virtue

Remember that letter I said I had to write a few weeks ago? Well, I didn’t actually write it, although I’ve been mentally composing it a lot.

I’ve been cherishing this response from a gentle reader:

I have really gotten a lot of help from your idea that Principle fills all space. Principle is already where that letter needs to go.

What a freeing thought that was. The idea Principle is there already, creator of both me and the other, uniting us in righteousness, is so comforting. I can see more clearly that this person wants to do right, to make things right. So the communication is more an invitation to do right, not an accusation of something wrong.

I’ve been trying to think in these terms, that no one really wants to be living with an unfulfilled obligation over their heads. I mean, on some level they must feel that wrongness, even if they try to cover it up with self-justification.

My favorite scene in Shakespeare’s Hamlet includes this line: “Assume a virtue if you have it not.” It’s the scene where Hamlet is earnestly trying to get his mother Gertrude to do the right thing and turn from her (what he considered) incestuous bed. He goes on to explain that by forming a new habit through the first abstinence, gradually abstinence from the wrong will become easier and natural. And at the end he offers to pray for her.

Queen: O Hamlet, thou hast cleft my heart in twain.
Hamlet: O, throw away the worser part of it,
And live the purer with the other half,
Good night—but go not to my uncle's bed.
Assume a virtue, if you have it not.
That monster, custom, who all sense doth eat
Of habits evil, is angel yet in this,
That to the use of actions fair and good
He likewise gives a frock or livery,
That aptly is put on. Refrain to-night,
And that shall lend a kind of easiness
To the next abstinence; the next more easy;
For use almost can change the stamp of nature,
And either exorcise the devil, or throw him out
With wondrous potency. Once more, good night;
And when you are desirous to be blest,
I'll blessing beg of you.

I can’t tell you how many times in my spiritual journey I’ve used that concept. I’ll know something is right and good intellectually, but won’t have the experience of that goodness to get over my fear of doing it. Perhaps it’s sticking up for someone else, perhaps it’s being honest when I’ve made a mistake. Hamlet’s advice to “assume a virtue if you have it not” has set me on the right path. I’ve steeled myself to do the right thing, then seen the better result. In this way, I’ve grown in righteousness.

I’m hoping that this is the opportunity I’m affording the one I have to write to, even though it’s turning out that it’s better to have the letter come from my lawyer. It’s a big step for me. But when I know that righteousness will bless everyone in ways we can’t imagine, I gain courage to move forward.

Your ideas and inspiration are welcome! Please comment below or Contact Laura.
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At 2/26/2012 04:16:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Laura, Yes, that advice, from the bard Assume a virtue if you have it not. . .
For use almost can change the stamp of nature,
And either exorcise the devil, or throw him out
With wondrous potency. is really excellent, isn't it? And it really works, despite the mind's objection that 'pretence' is false and hypocritical. Faking a virtue is quite difficult to achieve, so it becomes genuine, innit? :)

2/26/2012 04:14:09 PM

At 2/28/2012 02:47:00 PM, Anonymous Laura Matthews said...

Thanks for your comment! And I agree. It feels strange at first, but you can, in effect, "reprogram" yourself to whatever you've learned is a better way.



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