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Saturday, 4 May 2013

A certain affectionate detachment


I like this Santayana quote - the emphasis on detachment chimes so well with other writers such as Aldous Huxley. We might wonder why it isn't merely conventional wisdom. Wisdom it is though, but I'm not so sure about the word affectionate. I'll work on that - there's still time.

A man is spiritual when he lives in the presence of the ideal, and whether he eat or drink does so for the sake of a true and ultimate good.

He is spiritual when he envisages his goal so frankly that his whole material life becomes a transparent and transitive vehicle, an instrument which scarcely arrests attention but allows the spirit to use it economically and with perfect detachment and freedom.

There is no need that this ideal should be pompously or mystically described. A simple life is its own reward, and continually realises its function.

Though a spiritual man may perfectly well go through intricate processes of thought and attend to very complex affairs, his single eye, fixed on a rational purpose, will simplify morally the natural chaos it looks upon and will remain free.

This spiritual mastery is, of course, no slashing and forced synthesis of things into a system of philosophy which, even if it were thinkable, would leave the conceived logical machine without ideality and without responsiveness to actual interests; it is rather an inward aim and fixity in affection that knows what to take and what to leave in a world over which it diffuses something of its own peace.

It threads its way through the landscape with so little temptation to distraction that it can salute every irrelevant thing, as Saint Francis did the sun and moon, with courtesy and a certain affectionate detachment.

George Santayana - The Life of Reason 

4 comments:

Roger said...

I reckon too much detachment is bad for your health, get down and dirty with life's rich harvest. Certainly remain detached from the foolishness on Thursday/Friday and its like. But how one's garden or ones painting or one's children are getting along - now there is something worthwhile.

I have not read Santayana but Aldous I know a bit about - off to the charity shop with him.

Sam Vega said...

I think detachment is wisdom, and not conventional as we are biologically and culturally programmed to consume and grab as big a slice of the pie as possible. The problem is that the pie is always disappointing; nature and culture care nothing for our long-term happiness. I think the affection comes in because it just feels better. Apathy and blanking things out are unpleasant, and take an effort.

Sackerson said...

The guiding star approach has a lot to commend it.

A K Haart said...

Roger - I think that's where "affectionate" comes in - as well as being a wider sentiment too. He placed a high value on a genial approach to life.

Sam - I agree, it feels better. One of life's essential lessons.

Sackers - yes, Santayana would have said guiding ideals.