The Purification And Reformation Of Oneself
Pierre is in a funk. If it was the twenty-first century he’d be couch-bound, eating tubs of Häagen-Dazs, and binge watching The Office on Netflix. Given that it’s only the nineteenth century, however, he’ll have to settle for being couch-bound, depressed, and entertained only by correspondence letters.
The first of these letters is from his wife, Helene. She reports that she shall soon return from abroad to Petersburg and that she’s worried about him. She wants to see him again. She misses him dearly and wants only to return to him so she may devote her whole life to him. All this is to say, I suspect, that she’s run out of his money. We’ll see.
He also receives a letter from a masonic brother imploring him to forgive his wife. Curiously, a third letter arrives, this time from Pierre’s mother-in-law, also about Helene. Surely, he suspects, some conspiracy is afoot.
At least this gets him on his feet again and out of the house. He goes to his masonic mentor Iosif Alexeevich. There he finds the old man in intolerable pain but uncomplaining. The two talk about the tenants of the Order and Alexeevich teaches Pierre that of the threefold aim of the Order the most important is the purification and reformation of oneself. He then provides Pierre with a notebook so he may use it to engage in reflective self-examination. This is something we’ve counseled here at A Year of War and Peace (here and here).
After a bit of this self-examination Pierre decides that he must forgive his wife and live with her once again. Though he does so only “spiritually.” Despite living once again with a person who has brought him such great pain, however, Pierre once again, perhaps due to his reflective self-examination, experiences a “happy feeling of regeneration.”
From this day forward, then, whenever we do anything wrong we will ascribe the blame only to the judgment from which we act; and we will endeavour to remove and extirpate that, with greater care than we would abscesses and tumours from our body. In like manner, we will ascribe what we do rightly to the same cause; and we will blame neither slave, nor neighbour, nor wife, nor children, as the causes of any evils that befall us, being persuaded that if we did not think that things were of such a nature, we would not perform the actions that follow from such judgments. Of these judgments we ourselves, and not externals, are the masters.
Epictetus, The Discourses