Dante Alighieri as Life Coach

My dear friend Creed Branson has decided to enter the life-coaching profession and I’m confident that he will be a great success at it.  That certainty is based on observing his skill in managing his own life and his history of success in prior pursuits.  Personally, I’ve never had a life coach — not that one couldn’t have helped me along the way.  Perhaps the first step in successful living is getting a firm enough grip on one’s self that you have a schedule and the financial resources compatible with retaining the services of a coach.  Another friend, Val August, speaks very highly of her experience with a life coach as she emerged successfully from a difficult period in her life.  So, when I came upon the following article by Rod Dreher which appeared at: washingtonpost.com as: 10 commandments for a successful life, according to Dante I took notice.  I remember studying Dante’s Divine Comedy back in Mr. Hampton’s English class when a freshman (Thanks Johnny Williams for helping me date this) at Hopkinsville High School, but don’t recall taking away any life lessons other than that I would do well to avoid hell.  Anyway, this article caught my attention and it seems well to share it with the couple of readers who might come across the blog.  Incidentally, Rod Dreher is a senior editor and blogger at The American Conservative.  RMF

10 commandments for a successful life, according to Dante

By Rod Dreher

Dante

Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher

Detail of the statue of Dante Alighieri in Santa Croce’s square in Florence, Italy.
Most people think of Dante’s “Divine Comedy” as a medieval literary artifact, a classic more admired than read. Believe it or not, it’s the greatest self-help book of all time.

Two years ago, lost in a serious personal crisis, I stumbled upon the “Commedia,” as it is called in the original Italian, while browsing in a bookstore. I’m not much of a poetry reader, and Dante’s 14,000-line work is the last place I would have thought to look for life coaching.

How very wrong I was. Dante Alighieri (usually shortened to just Dante) wrote the poem out of his own shattering experience in the “dark wood” of exile, and how he put his life back together and drew closer to God. The wisdom in the “Commedia” saved my life by revealing my own heart to me, and showed me how to fix what was broken.

Threaded through some of the most beautiful poetry ever written, and embedded within a riveting adventure story set in the afterlife, are deeply practical lessons that really do fulfill what the poet said was his intention for the work: to bring ordinary people from a state of misery to one of happiness. 

All of us will find ourselves in a personal dark wood at some time in our lives. Here are Ten Commandments from the epic poetic trilogy that includes “Inferno,” “Purgatorio” and “Paradiso” that can help us find our way out.

1. Be honest with yourself about your failings.

The pilgrim Dante begins his journey by entering the “Inferno.” The journey symbolizes taking a hard look at the reality of sin, and taking ownership of your sinfulness. It’s painful and difficult, but there can be no spiritual progress without self-knowledge and accountability.

2. Do not make wealth and accomplishment the measure of your success, but rather virtue and compassion.

Hell is full of the brave, the famous and the powerful, all damned because they used their gifts to serve their own egos. The heaven-bound penitents in Purgatory realized late in life that love of God and neighbor are the only things truly worth living for.

3. Cultivate humility and gratitude.

Pride is the root of all sin. No one can climb toward God up the holy mountain — an allegory of the Christian’s walk through the mortal life — toward God without first girding himself or herself with humility. All is grace, a gift of God. What’s more, the humble penitent learns, as the pilgrim Dante does on the holy mountain, that he or she cannot ascend without giving and receiving the loving fellowship of others.

4. Harmony is more important than equality.

Not everyone has the same gifts, or the same responsibilities. Do not envy what others have, but accept with gladness the part God gave you to play in the grand drama of life. Love is more important than justice. God doesn’t want you to be just like everybody else; he wants you to be the person he made. Trust him, as does the nun Piccarda, who tells Dante, “In His will is our peace.”

5. Acknowledge limits, and live by them.

Our culture encourages boundary-breaking, and calls it liberation. But the wise know that “liberation” is often the way of death. The quest for knowledge and experience can be noble, but as Dante’s meeting in hell with Ulysses demonstrates, to exceed reasonable limits to fulfill desire often leads to the destruction of ourselves and those in our care.

6. Reconcile yourself to the truth that some questions can never be satisfactorily answered.

As he nears the end of his pilgrimage, Dante learns that there are some things of the eternal and infinite God that the mortal, finite human mind can never understand. This is hard for us to accept, but it is no less true for that fact. We can know God only partially through our minds; we are meant to know him through our hearts.

7. Think of sin as a failure of love.

Most of us conceive sin as the breaking of rules. Dante says it’s far more complex than that. We sin when we love the wrong things, or love the right things in the wrong way. The legalistic model of sin disguises the way ego and desire work on our hearts and minds, and can discourage us from making spiritual progress by providing an unrealistic standard to meet.

8. Master your passions, or they will master you.

If sin is disordered desire, then yielding too much to any passionate longing will make us captive to sin. The ravenous ego will turn even passion for good things into occasions of our own spiritual destruction. Oderisi, an painter Dante meets in Purgatory, was so devoted to being the best artist of his generation that he nearly lost his soul.

9. Don’t mistake icons for idols.

All of creation is an imperfect window onto divine reality. God shines through all things — some more, some less. His quest teaches Dante that his fundamental error was to make idols out of icons. That is, he believed that he could find perfect happiness in created things: first, the love of a woman, and then the pursuit of literary fame, political power, and so forth. In truth, Dante was searching for God in all the wrong places, expecting satisfaction from things that can never satisfy.

10. Follow trusted teachers and mentors.

Dante’s sins and passions led him off the straight path and into the dark wood. They were so strong in him that he lost all sense of direction. God sent him the poet Virgil, and later, his true love Beatrice, who died young, to guide him out of danger. The reluctant pilgrim knew he was in trouble, knew he couldn’t find his way out on his own — and, crucially, knew that he could trust these guides.

Dante’s deliverance depended on his ability to trust and to follow. And he reasoned that by the fruits of their lives and their loves that Virgil and Beatrice were reliable leaders. Because we all suffer from spiritual blindness to some degree, we all need Virgils and Beatrices to show us the way out of the darkness and into the light.

I could not possibly have imagined that Dante Alighieri would be my Virgil. In my own blindness, it never occurred to me that a long poem written seven centuries ago by a man who had lost everything would contain within it the map out of depression and despair. The “Commedia” washed ashore in my life like a message in a bottle, and was a vessel of grace that God used to rescue me from my shipwreck.

I am confident that he will use this miraculous poem to save many other wayward pilgrims, dwelling on the other side of the ocean and far across the sea of time from its 14th century Tuscan author, but shipwrecked all the same.

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About ronfurg

Former naval officer, federal investigator, forensic scientist, senior executive service member and pastor. In retirement serves as volunteer and life group leader at New Life Christian Church (www.newlife4me.com). Devoted to beautiful wife, kids and grandkids. Looking forward to the time when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord of all and that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
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