I’ve been mulling this idea for quite some time now. I have to, it won’t leave me alone. What can Living Well is the Best Revenge mean? “Living well” is easy to understand. Paired with “Revenge?” Dissonance roiling in my mind! How do we justify “living well” and “revenge” in the same thought and in the face of the Golden Rule? Doesn’t this mindset shackle us to the past in an on-going destructive cycle? Revenge on what? How revenge? Why revenge? Really, an eye for an eye and so on? How to administer cyber crime in this context? Accidental vs intentional transgressions?
So I cultivate tactics and perspectives to bring something into focus and sense I can grasp within this miasma. All the while, myriad eddies and streams spin off out of the chaos, each leading to a distinct facet of the whole concept. It was at a memorial service for a dear sweet friend, suddenly departed, I found a foothold and the path forward. The path is long and winding; here’s the first report from the road.
Two things have been clear from the outset. I wasn’t going to get away without really understanding what the word revenge means. I think we all have a sense of it, but what are its language roots? What is the fundamental energy template encoded in that word? In TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) parlance, what is the Original Qi (Yuan Qi, or prenatal qi) signature of the word? All etymological roads here lead to Rome: Latin vindex, vindicare, vindico all have to do with the idea of avenge and relate to our word revenge (look up difference between revenge and avenge on your own time please). From back over a couple millenia there comes a sense of not only defending against injustice but also restoration after injury at the root of revenge. Not wanton aggression or disproportionate blind rage. Justice in a return to balance and liberation from an injured state, for oneself or another.
The other thing was understanding where the phrase came from. Again, looking for foundation. Who said it and why? What did George Herbert (1593-1633, English poet) mean? Was he imagining a hedonistic 3 year old prince? Was this a poverty pipe dream of the oppressed? Was he a stone misanthrope, stepping on anyone and everyone to get ahead to get his? Have we totally co-opted an older sentiment to fit contemporary purposes?
Looking back at Herbert’s life (Poetry Foundation.org Bio), we see words like contemplative, humility, local, devotional used to describe the man. It seems Mr. Herbert was operating from a place of integrity and generosity of (Christian) spirit. I’m put in mind of the Chinese word zheng 正, simply translated as upright or correct. This online citation includes the meanings “centrally-located” and “pure.” We see zheng in TCM as zheng qi, the aggregate of processes keeping the person whole, well and functioning correctly. That includes the condition of your Yuan Qi, among other aspects. As TCM is more about relationships than absolutes, we must consider here xie qi as well, usually thought of as disruptive or pathogenic influences. Ah, it seems Herbert was saying a life righteously lived was the best response to the inevitable slings and arrows of human experience.
Ok. So what was it about this gathering of people from the many iterations of my friend’s life? It was this: each story told in rememberance was the same one. Of course the particulars varied. Gosh, that’s exactly what makes it all so interesting! The story was of her love and elan for each of us. Well, yes, I know what you’re saying. Yes, everyone is “zheng” at their memorial. But you know people like her: “good” people, ones who make you feel grand and special and joyful and even healthy. They’re not a dime a dozen and we’re lucky to know them. But what finally clarified, crystallized was the understanding she embodied and lived “Anti-Pain” even though she herself had more than her share of on-going Pain. It is the ability for each of us to hold opposites within that makes us whole. In fact, death comes when our own Yin and Yang separate. Pain was one thing with which she seemed to be stingy; she did not share and put it off on to others. This was the story told over and over: her generosity of spirit, enthusiasm, joy and love. One of the definitions of vindico is to liberate and deliver. It is through friendship and sharing of our true spirits we protect (by nourishing the zheng qi) and restore one another. Is that not a good way of revenge? How can we not?
“Friendship is a sheltering tree” (Samuel Taylor Coleridge)