One of the best parts of collaborations is learning new words. This was the case with Natalie and sophrosyne, or the opposite of hubris. What a gift to meditate on this word in the new year.
I first stumbled across the word “sophrosyne” about two years ago, defined as “a healthy state of mind characterized by self control, moderation, and a deep awareness of oneself, resulting in true happiness.” And that was it - I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
There are traces of sophrosyne’s etymology woven through content from all over the world. While there is no direct translation for it in English, there are entire books and philosophies devoted to dissecting it. In Greek myth, sophrosyne was one of the “eduaimonia” or good spirits that escaped from Pandora’s box when she opened it. Aristotle described that this good spirit enabled one to “live well and do well.” The Greeks believed you had to work to achieve sophrosyne in your life by striving to be safe, sound, and whole through integrity and humility. Socrates saw this spirit as emphasizing all passions of the soul with balance and harmony. As the opposite of hubris (arrogantly believing you are equal to the gods), those with sophrosyne humble themselves before God. Over time Catholic scholars adopted this theory and invested in the meaning even further, illustrating that sophrosyne is about striving toward the imitation of or a sense of union with God.
Sophrosyne resonates with me so deeply because my parents raised my two sisters and me to have innate self-respect, but simultaneously taught us that we are not the center of the universe. As a result, I’ve become a bit stubbornly self-assured. I know what I want and am willing to work very hard to achieve it.
These past few years, however, have been more challenging for me than I ever could have anticipated. On more than one occasion I have compromised that self-respect I always strive for. It often felt that no matter what I did, nothing was working out the way I had hoped or planned - that I had no control over my own life. I felt out of place in my own skin; unsettled and irritated and unfulfilled. So I turned to sophrosyne, allowing myself to trust that I will find what I need (even if it’s not what I want).
Mara’s calligraphy, with its graceful and fluid movement, is truly a work of art; I knew right away that if I was going to have something imprinted onto my body forever, it was going to be her pen that would do it.
What I love most about tattoos is their permanence; they cannot be lost or stolen. This was years in the making and I’m obsessed with how it all turned out. Now that it’s done I feel as if I’ve always had it, that it’s always been a part of me, its rich complexity motivating me daily.
Sophrosyne is a strictly divine gift, not simply a human attitude. I can’t achieve it on my own, but now it is etched into my skin reminding me to stay humble and hustle hard - trust and self-acceptance will follow.