simone weil – detachment

simone weil gravity and graceAffliction in itself is not enough for the attainment of total detachment. Unconsoled affliction is necessary. There must be no consolation—no apparent consolation. Ineffable consolation then comes down.

To forgive debts. To accept the past without asking for future compensation. To stop time at the present instant. This is also the acceptance of death.

‘He emptied himself of his divinity.’ To empty ourselves of the world. To take the form of a slave. To reduce ourselves to the point we occupy in space and time—that is to say, to nothing.

To  strip ourselves of the imaginary royalty of the world.

Absolute solitude. Then we possess the truth of the world.

Two ways of renouncing material possessions:
To give them up with a view to some spiritual advantage.
To conceive of them and feel them as conducive to spiritual well-being (for example: hunger, fatigue and humiliation cloud the mind and hinder meditation) and yet to renounce them.
Only the second kind of renunciation means nakedness of spirit.

Furthermore, material goods would scarcely be dangerous if they were seen in isolation and not bound up with spiritual advantage.

We must give up everything which is not grace and not even desire grace.

The extinction of desire (Buddhism)—or detachment—or amor fati—or desire for the absolute good—these all amount to the same: to empty desire, finality of all content, to desire in the void, to desire without any wishes.

To detach our desire from all good things and to wait. Experience proves that this waiting is satisfied. It is then we touch the absolute good.

Always, beyond the particular object whatever it may be, we have to fix our will on the void—to will the void. For the good which we can neither picture nor define is a void for us. But this void is fuller than all fullnesses.

If we get as far as this we shall come through all right, for God fills the void. It has nothing to do with an intellectual process in the present-day sense. The intelligence has nothing to discover, it has only to clear the ground. It is only good for servile tasks.

The good seems to us as a nothingness, since there is no thing that is good. But this nothingness is not unreal. Compared with it, everything in existence is unreal.

We  must  leave  on  one  side  the  beliefs  which  fill  up  voids  and sweeten  what  is  bitter. The belief  in  immortality. The  belief  in the utility of sin: etiampeccata. The belief in the providential ordering  of  events—in  short  the  ‘consolations’  which  are  ordinarily sought in religion.

To love God through and across the destruction of Troy and of Carthage—and with no consolation. Love is not consolation, it is light.

The reality of the world is the result of our attachment. It is the reality of the self which we transfer into things. It has nothing to do with independent reality. That is only perceptible through total detachment. Should only one thread remain, there is still attachment.

Affliction which forces us to attach ourselves to the most wretched objects exposes in all its misery the true character of attachment. In this way the necessity for detachment is made more obvious.

Attachment is a manufacturer of illusions and whoever wants reality ought to be detached.

As soon as we know that something is real we can no longer be attached to it.

Attachment is no more nor less than an insufficiency in our sense of reality. We are attached to the possession of a thing because we think that if we cease to possess it, it will cease to exist. A great many people do not feel with their whole soul that there is all the difference in the world between the destruction of a town and their own irremediable exile from that town.

Human misery would be intolerable if it were not diluted in time. We have to prevent it from being diluted in order that it should be intolerable.

‘And when they had had their fill of tears’ (Iliad).—This is another way of making the worst suffering bearable.

We must not weep so that we may not be comforted.*

All suffering which does not detach us is wasted suffering. Nothing is more frightful, a desolate coldness, a warped soul (Ovid. Slaves in Plautus).

Never to think of a thing or being we love but have not actually before our eyes without reflecting that perhaps this thing has been destroyed, or this person is dead.

May our sense of reality not be dissolved by this thought but made more intense.

Each time that we say ‘Thy will be done’ we should have in mind all possible misfortunes added together.

Two ways of killing ourselves: suicide or detachment.

To kill by our thought everything we love: the only way to die. Only what we love, however (‘He who hateth not his father and mother . . .’ but: ‘Love your enemies . . .’).

Not to desire that what we love should be immortal. We should neither desire the immortality nor the death of any human being, whoever he may be, with whom we have to do.

The miser deprives himself of his treasure because of his desire for it. If we can let our whole good rest with something hidden in the ground, why not with God?

But when God has become as full of significance as the treasure is for the miser, we have to tell ourselves insistently that he does not exist. We must experience the fact that we love him, even if he does not exist.

It is he who, through the operation of the dark night, withdraws himself in order not to be loved like the treasure is by the miser.

Electra weeping for the dead Orestes. If we love God while thinking that he does not exist, he will manifest his existence.

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* Yet Jesus Christ said: ‘Blessed are they that mourn’. But here Simone Weil is only condemning the tears wrung from us by the loss of temporal goods— tears which man sheds over himself.  [Editor’s note.]
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Excerpted from Simone Weil‘s Gravity and Grace. First French edition 1947. Translated by Emma Crawford. English language edition 1963. Routledge and Kegan Paul, London.

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