Fortitude – Week 4

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 the connection between fortitude and focus.

The boundary between fortitude and prudence is not clear. For if fortitude demands that we stand up when required while, other times, we patiently wait, then we must be conscious of what evil we face. Every Sunday, I spend an hour planning the week ahead. This week, I went through three ways of doing so. First, I made a to-do list – a discrete set of tasks I intend to complete, with a clear end-goal for each. In parallel, I gave myself a list of activities, with a commitment to spend a certain time on each. Finally, I listed the various areas where I wanted to make change over the week, personal and professional – then, two by two and, went through the list and asked, if I was to be very sick and could only do one, which would it be, thus ranking them in order of priority.

I am an avid reader: I start many books, and, sometimes, lose track of them. On Monday, I went through my bookshelves, and took out all the books I had started and left there. I held them for a moment, Maria Konde style, asking if they brought me joy. If they didn’t, I put them on a pile to give away. If they did, I made a commitment to finish them before the end of the year. In total, by the end of Monday, I had taken out seventeen books to finish, totalling over 7000 pages. This archive I will clear; doing so will require patience.

Physical exercise – and meditation – involves a rhythmic alternation: sit-up, lie down; push-up, come down; breathe in, breathe out. Movement involves a  pivot, left, right, forward, backward. A certain set of muscles tense, then relax, while another set take over. Exercise is not ‘tension’ followed by nothingness. Rather, it is the coordinated and deliberate tension of certain muscles while others relax – and the capacity to precisely control which will do what.

When, on Monday, I committed to finishing all the books I have in progress, it was like throwing a stone in muddy water. Soon, I was overcome with a sense of mild panic. I quickly finished two books that only had a few pages left – but found two more that I had forgotten about; so the page count increased. All the stories and arguments of those 17 books twisted in my head when I looked at them in a pile. I found myself picking books one by one, read a few pages, then pick up another, overcome with a sense of impossibility – how does one read 7000 pages? Even if all I did was read, it would take me nine or ten entire days to complete the task. So, I cut it up. Eight works of fiction, nine essays, I grouped them in matching pairs (one threesome), estimating the time I would need for each step. The task, analysed and ordered in this manner, had become manageable. I picked up Ismael Kadare’s autobiography, which had been sitting unfinished on my bookshelves for over nine years, and started over. Page by page.

The plight of Australia: wealth without a plan. This is, roughly, what Philip Kingston articulated at an event on Thursday. The thing most lacking in our country today is not money, talent or resources – but a compelling narrative, and strength of conviction. We sit on a goldmine, but we don’t know where we’re going. This resonated again on Friday, as I worked further on better presenting the work of Marco Polo Project. What is the precise outcome of our programs? Martial arts, and music, train us not to develop greater strength and stamina, but rather, extreme precision of movement. The same is true for the rest of our lives: courage is not only readiness to die, or brute capacity to forge ahead, but a willingness and capacity to say precisely: this is what I want, this is what I refuse, here is the precise boundary. And bravely face the prospect of getting it wrong.

Exercise tally

Push-ups: 129

Sit-ups: 129

Squats: 129

Dog-cows: 129

Bird-dogs: 129

Back twists: 129

Qi-gong – 5-elements: 5 x 4 reps for each element

Meditation: 4 sessions of 30’


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