This year, I will reflect on the four cardinal virtues through daily practice and meditation, intentionally focusing on one per season. After starting the year with prudence, temperance, and justice – I now reflect on fortitude, or the deliberate exercise of strength and courage in the face of evil.
This week, I reflected on fortitude as ‘fitness’, or nurturing our readiness for action.
Fortitude requires vitality, and therefore, entails a measure of self-care. There was a minor controversy during the Melbourne Writers Festival: should self-care be considered an important part of activism? Yes, argued Laurie Penny from London – since without it, we lose the collective and personal capacity to move our ideas ahead.
On Monday, I sorted through the files of an old computer, which held copies of all the texts I have written since 2002: hundreds of documents, including an entire novel I had forgotten about, together with the text of a travel blog that I lost access too, and was taken off the Internet. I am unsure exactly what I will do with this fifteen-year portfolio, but arranging it felt like discovering a forgotten savings account from years ago, and realising, with pleasure, that accrued interest had meanwhile yielded a substantial sum – making more ambitious plans and projects a greater possibility.
Fortitude is preparation for death. To that extent, it closely relates with our own mortality, and our own sense of time. The two dimensions of fortitude reflect the two fundamental dimensions of time – chronos and kairos, or time as duration and time as critical moment. The virtue demands that we bear patiently with the resistance of the real, in the world and ourselves, resolutely building habits and accepting the need for sustained effort. The virtue demands – just as much – that we be ready for critical moments when decision action is required and, when the moment arrives, that we press ahead.
Temperance, as I discovered, was all about exploring pleasure, learning to derive satisfaction not from excess and gluttony, but a calm and moderate relationship with natural processes. In contrast, fortitude, at least in those early weeks, is entirely goal-driven. I experience the most profound boredom in conducting a daily routine of exercise, I resent the time required now and – as I project myself eleven weeks ahead – the time I will have to spend on self-strengthening, in line with my commitment, at the end of the season. Yet I stick with it, not for intrinsic enjoyment, but belief that the method is right, and the goal is worthy.
Over the season, I will systematically train mind and body. For this, I will do a daily set of 6 physical exercises, with particular focus on core muscles, adding 1 rep/day for each, execute a daily qi-gong routine based on the 5 elements, adding 1 rep/element every week, and practice meditation, adding 1 session of 30’ every week. This week’s exercise tally:
Back twists: 57
Qi-gong – 5-elements: 5 x 2 reps for each element
Meditation: 3 sessions of 30’ each. (I started only this week, and therefore caught up on a missed session from last week).