Simone Weil, a french philosopher, mystic, and political activist, penned a list of temptations that she had identified as ever present within herself. She read this list to herself every morning to avoid falling into the traps of the human condition that lie latent inside every one of us.
Here is the list:
- Temptation of Idleness (by far the strongest): Never surrender to the flow of time or put off what you have decided to do.
- Temptation of the inner life: Deal only with those difficulties which actually confront you and allow yourself those feelings which are actually called upon for effective use or else are required by thought for the sake of inspiration. Cut away ruthlessly everything that is imaginary in your feelings.
- Temptation of self-immolation: Subordinate to external affairs and people everything that is subjective, but never the subject itself — i.e. your judgment. Never promise and never give to another more than you would demand from yourself if you were he.
- Temptation to dominate
- Temptation of perversity: Never react to an evil in such a way as to augment it.
- Refuse to be an accomplice. Don’t lie–don’t keep your eyes shut…
Yesterday I ate some bad carbonara for lunch. And by 3pm I was feeling the effects of it on my digestive system. I was sick and nauseous, and an hour later I threw up. I’m currently seven months pregnant, so add this in to the mix and I was feeling pretty down. After throwing up I started to feel better, but knew I should probably rest up and not work anymore that day.
So I lay down in my bed with a good book and relaxed for the rest of the afternoon and night until I went to sleep. But deep in the back of my head I was also dealing with this nagging feeling… I was blaming myself for resting because I felt I was being undisciplined.
I had decided to skip my afternoon writing session so I could rest and relax and recover from my upset stomach, but all along I was thinking about Simone Weil’s list of temptations and wondering whether or not I was falling into the first one, the temptation of idleness. Was I perhaps using my upset stomach as an excuse to not sit down and write? Was I making an obstacle out of it in order to get out from mentally exerting myself?
I decided that no, I am pregnant and I need to rest. Period. And it was the right decision at the time, because today I woke up feeling fine and could take on all my work and fulfill all the duties I had lined out for me in my schedule.
But I wasn’t exactly delirious or being overly critical of myself yesterday. Because for the longest time, before I got pregnant and regained some order into my life, I used to skirt my duties or put them off. I would evade responsibility. I know I have that demon inside of me… the temptation of idleness. I have lived through it and am aware of it, and I can say that productivity, being busy (business) and creative activity are so much more rewarding for the soul and mind. But if I hadn’t gotten pregnant, I don’t know if I would have cleaned up my act.
Perhaps I’ll go into detail about those dark years of my life sometime in the future, but for now suffice it to say that I am not proud of myself for being idle, and since I was so familiar once with this temptation, I am worried that a misstep will cause me to fall back into it… That’s why I’m being so consciouss of my schedule now and of keeping up with all my obligations to the best of my abilities. I am training myself and re-wiring my brain and the way I do things.
But when I get sick, I have to remind myself that it’s okay to be sick and rest… and that this doesn’t necessarily mean I am backsliding into my old habits. Especially when the next day I am able to wake up refreshed and ready to tackle a full day’s worth of work.
I also especially like how Weil described the second temptation, the temptation of inner life. People get so wrapped up in their own extraneous or made-up feelings, and it really creates a whole lot of internal drama and conflict that aren’t necessary for life. It’s draining. Worrying about what people think of you, or musing about your own failings and insecurities, or worse, day-dreaming about upcoming days of grandeur, all take you away from the present-life and what you must accomplish day to day, which is more real and important than all of those imaginary feelings.
I think this is something that we can all work on. The entire humanity would be better off and way more drama-free if everyone actively tried to focus on feelings that served external life, or esle that served truly inspired, creative thoughts and actions.
Bottom line is I learned to forgive myself for resting, recognizing it was the right choice at the moment, but I am also keeping an eye on myself. I am making sure to meditate each day, because I have found that this does wonders for my balance. I am way less prone to irritation and more patient and overall a kinder, gentler person when I meditate each day. And I am also keeping track of my internal life. The temptations Weil described will always be there, but we can be vigilant of them and of ourselves.
And with a little help and a-lot of patience, we can learn to keep them at bay.