Tag Archives: Virtue

At the Root of Being

I was thumbing through a catalog today, and on the inner cover, the editor told of moving into a new house last fall and cleaning out the flower beds.   A neighbor stopped by when she was nearly done and commented that her discard pile of seeming detritus included the rhizomes of some of the most beautiful peonies on the block.  Yanked for discarding.  Ugh.  I can identify.  I did something similar when I moved into an older house fifteen years ago.  The yard had been neglected, with straggly Arbor Vitae, matted leaves from several autumns, and a dead Russian Olive tree.  It all seemed a total loss.  That spring, I pulled dozens of frilly-leaved plants out of the beds, until a straggler escaped to its full flowering.  Only then did I realized that I’d been systematically eliminating a mature bed of crimson oriental poppies.


I can feel the master gardeners cringing.


Some of us who deal with the psyche might similarly cringe when we hear someone make a cutting judgment of another, based solely on an observed behavior–and often a fleeting behavior, at that. Carl Jung reminded us to look deeper.


“Life has always seemed to me like a plant that lives on its rhizome.  Its true life is invisible, hidden in the rhizome.  The part that appears above the ground lasts only a single summer.  Then it withers away–an ephemeral apparition.  When we think of the unending growth and decay of life and civilizations, we cannot escape the impression of absolute nullity.  Yet I have never lost a sense of something that lives and endures underneath the eternal flux.  What we see is the blossom, which passes.  The rhizome remains.”  Memories, Dreams, Reflections.


Be kind to the various flowers of the psyche.  Some are beautiful.  Some are foul.  All ephemeral. Our highest truth and enduring life lies deeper, and sustains through the seasons of life.


. . . and as the tiny, unintended peonies springing up in my brand-new blueberry-bush garden this spring can attest:  even when we think we’ve completely pulled out the roots, even a tiny bit of rhizome in good earth promises resurrection.


Virtue is Medicine for Humanity

Since naming my business, I occasionally run into a quizzical expression about what virtue has to do with integrative medicine.  Even worse than a speculation of irrelevance is the rare worry that I will use dogmatic definitions of virtue as a weapon against tender souls.   But consider virtue in the Aristotelian sense . . .


Virtue is the conscious, conscientious realization of happiness, through the practice of our rich and complex capacities for human excellence. 


Have you thought lately about your capacities to be excellent?  


How about your disposition to be the very embodiment of human flourishing? 


Aristotle often says that the virtue of Medicine is health.  He means that the professional practice of Medicine has its perfect goal in realizing and facilitating a healthy body.  But he is referring to health in a narrow sense—as a physical body with plumbing in working order.  It is not a stretch, given a holistic appreciation of being fully human, to say that the virtue of human healing is actually VIRTUE itself.  That is, healers and healing should aim always at human flourishing and happiness, through the practice of our capacities to be excellent in mind, body, and spirit.


Imagine how different the healing space looks when physician and patient are engaged in the art of knowing and practicing the virtue of a full humanity. Now that’s a medical prescription worth writing!


“To say that happiness is the supreme good seems a platitude, and some more distinctive account of it is still required . . . . the good for man is an activity of the soul in accordance with virtue, or if there are more kinds of virtue than one, in accordance with the best and most perfect kind.  There is a further qualification:  in a complete lifetime.  One swallow does not make a summer; neither does one day.  Similarly neither can one day, or a brief space of time, make a man blessed and happy.”  Nichomachean Ethics, 1097b22-23, 1098a17-22


Isn’t that lovely?  None of us has come into the fullness of our power.  “One swallow does not make a summer.”  So, take heart, and call upon Courage!  Our virtue is to be practiced over time, with perseverance and compassion.