Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XII: Of Repelling Grief - The Spiritual Physick
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CHAPTER XII: Of Repelling Grief - Rhazes, The Spiritual Physick 
The Spiritual Physic of Rhazes, trans. Arthur J. Arberry (London: John Murray, 1950).
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Of Repelling Grief
When the passion through the reason pictures the loss of a beloved associate, grief thereby follows. We need a very long and detailed discussion in order to make clear whether grief is an affection of the reason or the passion; but we have already stated at the beginning of this book that we shall not here enter into any discussion unless it be unavoidable in view of the purpose we have here been pursuing. On this account we shall leave aside the discussion of this theme and proceed straight to the purpose at which we have aimed in this book. Still, it may be possible for anyone with the slightest grasp of philosophy to deduce and extract this idea from the sketch we have made of grief at the beginning of the discourse. Now we will have done with that and leave it on one side in order to go after our principal purpose.
Since grief clouds the thought and reason, and is harmful alike to soul and body, it is our duty to endeavour to dismiss and repel it, or at any rate to reduce and diminish it as much as possible. This can be done in two different ways. The first is to be on one’s guard against it before it actually comes in order that it may not happen, or if it does, so that it will be as slight as possible. The second is to repel and banish it when it has occurred, either wholly or to the greatest possible extent, and to take precautions betimes either in order that it may not happen, or if it does, so that it will be slight and weak. This may be accomplished by reflecting on the ideas which I am now about to mention.
Since the substance out of which sorrows are generated is simply and solely the loss of one’s loved ones, and since it is impossible that these loved ones should not be lost because men have their turns with them and by reason of the fact that they are subject to the succession of generation and corruption, it follows that the man most severely afflicted by grief must be he who has the greatest number of loved ones and whose love is the most ardent, while the man least affected by grief is he whose circumstances are the reverse. It would therefore seem that the intelligent man ought to cut away from himself the substance of his griefs, by making himself independent of the things whose loss involves him in grief; and that he should not be deceived and deluded by the sweetness they impart while they remain in being, but rather keep in mind and image the bitterness that must be tasted when they are lost.
If it be objected that he who takes the precaution of not making and acquiring loved ones, because he is afraid of the grief of losing them, merely hastens forward the day of grief; the answer would be that even if his precautions and previsions do have this result, the grief such a man hastens forward is by no means equal to that he fears to fall into. A man who has no children cannot be so grief-stricken as the man who loses his child; this is true even if the childless man is of the sort that grieves because he has no child—I leave out of account those who do not trouble or care or grieve about such a matter at all. The grief of him who has no darling is nothing beside the grief of him who loses his darling.
It is said that someone remarked to a philosopher, “If only you took a child!” To this the philosopher replied, “The trouble and grief I have trying to keep this body and soul of mine in health tax me beyond my powers—how then should I add and join to them the like again?” I once heard an intelligent woman remark, “One day I saw a woman terribly distressed over the loss of a child—so much so that she was afraid to go near her husband for fear that she might find herself having another child on whose account she might suffer equal affliction.”
Because the possession of the beloved is agreeable and congenial to nature, and the loss thereof is contrary and repugnant to nature, the soul is bound to be more sensitive to the pain of losing the beloved than to the pleasure of having him. In the same way a man may be in good health for a long time and feel no pleasure in being so, yet if he is affected by sickness in one of his members he immediately feels severe pain there. So it is with all loved persons: so long as they are there, or one has their company for a long while, one ceases to feel such pleasure in their existence, but as soon as one loses them one is smitten by severe pain at their loss. It is for this reason that if a man has enjoyed for a long time the possession of a family and a precious child, and is then afflicted by the loss of both, he experiences in a single day, nay, a single hour, a sense of pain exceeding and obliterating the pleasure he formerly enjoyed in having them. This is because nature accounts and reckons all that long enjoyment as her due and right; nay, she counts it as yet less than her right, for even in those circumstances she is never without the feeling that what she possesses is very little, and is constantly and forevermore wanting to have more of it, being as she is so fond and avid of pleasure.
This being so—since the pleasure and enjoyment felt in having loved ones, while they are there, is something so poor, so obscure, so feeble and inconsiderable, whereas the grief, distress and anguish of losing them are so palpable, so huge, so painful and ruinous; what is one to do, but get rid of them altogether, or assert one’s independence of them, in order that their evil consequences, their train of hurtful, wasting griefs, may be destroyed or at least diminished? This is the highest level that can be reached on this topic, and the most effective in amputating the very substance of grief.
After this it follows that a man should picture and represent to himself the loss of his loved ones, and keep this constantly in his mind and imagination, knowing that it is impossible for them to continue unchanged forever. He should never for a moment give up remembering this and putting it into his thoughts, strengthening his resolve and fortifying his endurance against the day when the calamity happens. That is the way to train and gradually to discipline and strengthen the soul, so that it will protest little when misfortunes occur; because one has been little habituated and felt small trust and reliance in the survival of the loved ones during the time they were actually there, and one has frequently represented to the soul and inured and familiarized it with the picturing of those misfortunes before they occurred. It was in this sense that the poet said:
If however a man is excessively cowardly and extremely inclined to passion and pleasure, and he cannot trust himself to use anything of these twain devices, it is not necessary for him to endeavour to satisfy himself with one beloved out of his many, and to regard her as indispensable and irreplaceable; he should on the contrary adopt several, so as to have one always to stand in the stead (or come near to doing so) of any he may unfortunately lose. In this way it is possible for his sorrow and grief not to be extreme over the loss of any of them.
This is a summary of the precautions that may be taken against the fact and the occurrence of grief. As for the manner in which grief may be repelled or lessened when it has become a reality and has actually happened, we shall proceed to discourse on that subject now.
When the intelligent man examines and considers those things within this world which are affected by the alternation of generation and corruption, when he perceives that their element is changeable and dissoluble and fluid, that nothing is constant or permanent as an individual, but rather that all things pass away and perish and change and decay and vanish; when he reflects on all this, he ought not to take too much to heart or feel too outraged or stricken by the sudden deprivation of anything. On the contrary, he must reckon the period of their survival to be an advantage, and the enjoyment he has of them a positive gain, seeing that they will inevitably perish and cease to be. Then it will not seem so very terrible or important to him when the end comes, because that is a thing which must come upon them sooner or later. So long as he goes on desiring that they should survive for ever, he is yearning for the impossible, and by yearning for the impossible he is bound to bring grief upon himself, and follow the inclinations of his passion rather than his reason. Moreover the loss of those things that are not necessary to the continuance of life does not call for everlasting grief and sorrow; they are soon replaced and made good, and this leads on to consolation and oblivion; gaiety returns, and things come back to what they were before the misfortune happened. How many men we have seen struck down by a terrible and shocking calamity, and presently pick themselves up again, until they became exactly as they were before the blow fell, enjoying life to the full and entirely content with their circumstances!
It therefore behoves the intelligent man to remind himself, when the misfortune is upon him, how it will presently pass and give way and he will return once more to normality; he should present this picture to his mind, and stir within himself the desire for its realization, all the time drawing to himself what may preoccupy and divert his thoughts as much as possible, to speed his emergence into this settled state. The impact of grief can also be greatly lightened and assuaged by reminding oneself how many there are that share one’s misfortunes, and how scarcely a single man is free of them; by remembering too how others have been after the blow has fallen, and the various ways they have consoled themselves; and then by considering his own circumstances and how he has previously consoled himself, when and if misfortunes have come upon him before.
Furthermore, if it be true that the man most severely afflicted by grief is he who has the greatest number of loved ones and whose love is the most ardent, all the same the loss of one of them is bound to result in a corresponding diminution of grief; indeed such a loss relieves his soul of perpetual worry and anticipatory fear, so that he acquires a wariness and a fortitude to endure subsequent buffetings. In this way the loss of loved ones actually brings profit in its train, even though the passion may revolt against it; and while the sedative may be bitter to the taste, yet it does in the end afford relief. It was such an idea as this the poet had in mind when he wrote:
As for the man who prefers to follow the dictate of reason and to deny the call of passion, who has complete possession and control of himself, against grief he has one sure protection. The intelligent and perfect man never chooses to continue in a situation that is harmful to him, and therefore he is up betimes to reflect upon the cause of the grief whereby he has been visited. If it be a matter that can be repelled and put an end to, he substitutes for grieving a consideration of the means he may adopt to repel and put an end to that cause. If however it be a matter that cannot be treated after this fashion, he forthwith sets about diverting his mind from it and trying to forget it, striving to obliterate it from his thoughts and drive it out of his soul. This is because it is passion, not reason, that invites him to continue grieving in those circumstances; for reason only urges one towards a course that yields profit sooner or later. But to grieve over what yields no return whatsoever, but only immediate loss, is bound, so far from proving profitable, to lead to yet further loss in the long run too. The intelligent and perfect man follows only the dictate of reason, and never continues in any state unless he feels free to do so for a definite reason and with a clear justification; he will not follow or obey or go along with his passion when it would lead him in a contrary direction.