Epicureanism is a ubiquitous term, and yet I include myself in the presumable majority with little to no prior understanding of what it actually stands for. So it was interesting to find a book about epicureanism as an ancient set of ideas on how to live that can be applied to contemporary life and that actually gives insight into why we should approach our lives in a certain way. The book gives a good history of the movement, and provides the basic tenants of the belief system (although in a bit long-winded and wordy way).
The history tells of the man who gave the movement its name, Epicurus of Samos, and how various generations of thinkers and spiritual seekers have benefitted from his ideas throughout the centuries (with Julius Cesar and Thomas Jefferson to name the two most famous). I am particularly struck by the term garden to describe the set aside gathering place for epicureans.
“The fact that pleasure can be either selfish or can serve as the lubricant that binds friends, lovers, a mother to her child, etc. It can be both selfish and altruistic at once: we are often pleased to please our friends and loved ones” (p.21).
The basic ideas of epicureanism:
- Do not fear the gods/fates
- Do not worry about death
- What is good is easy to get (food/drink, protection/shelter, solitude/boundaries, association with others)
- What is terrible is easy to endure (physical pain/mentual anguish exist and difficulties will crop up in life).
What emerges in Hiram Crespo’s book is that, in terms of our approach to pleasure, we should seek to be reflective and to balance ourselves to avoid too much or too little pleasure, both of which can be harmful. Also, it makes sense that it is up to each individual to determine what that balance should be for ourselves.
Epicureanism as a contextual framework for self-improvement is a very thoughtful idea. Indeed, the section of the book most applicable to most of us, V. Epicurean therapy, details ways to use the principles and teachings to heal ourselves from moral, psychological and physical distresses. The prescriptions it offers may not be that revolutionary in themselves (mediation, healthy foods, journaling, therapy, etc.) but in giving reasons for why they are helpful within the context of epicurean balance, the reader has a new way to look at why we should adopt healthy habits into our lives, and how those healthy habits can coexist alongside the more traditionally pleasurable things we long for. The discussion of using and treating anger in our lives seems particularly needed in our time, where we have become so afraid of anger that we tend to let it grow within ourselves unchecked until it does a great deal of harm. All in all, I think this book deserves a look from anyone, of any background or prior belief system, that would like to find greater balance in his or her life.
Crespo, Hiram (2014). Tending the Epicurean Garden. Washington, DC: Humanist Press. ISBN:978-0-931779-53-4 Paperback: $14.99 Ebook: $9.99