Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B1.16 - Marcus' Adoptive Father (Antoninus Pius)

i will use a slightly different format for this passage, due to the length.  also, this one 'verse' will suffice for the entire week.  next update will be monday april 3.

From my [adoptive] father: gentleness, and an immovable adherence to decisions made after full consideration - be good natured (gentle) and kind.  think fully and well; decide - that is all.

no vain taste for so-called honours - he was humble and did not 'get a big head' about his power.

stamina and perseverance - having the ability to stick to something; the term i've heard often these days is "grit"; not backing down and staying with something to the end

a ready ear for anyone with any proposal for the common good; to reward impartially, giving everyone their due; experience of where to tighten, where to relax - as emperor, i'm sure marcus had lots of people approach him with proposals.  he did his best to execute justice for all; giving people a chance - giving them a fair shake.

putting a stop to homosexual love of young men - not much to say here; have self-discipline

a common courtesy, excusing his court from constant attendance at dinner with him and the obligation to accompany him out of town, and those kept away by some other commitment always found him no different towards them - he was not a prima-donna.  he did not demand constant attention.  he was not haughty.

focused and persistent in deliberation in council, never satisfied with first impressions and leaving a question prematurely - i find this counsel good in today's attention-deficit-disorder world, where we can't keep our attention focused on something for more than five minutes.  marcus learned from his adoptive father to be focused on a task at hand until it was completed.  he was not content with just hearing the talking points - he delved into topics and did not leave a question too early.

the concern to keep his friends, with no extremes of surfeit or favouritism - he was just with this friends and aquaintance

his own master in all things, and serene with it - had self-discipline and was content.

foresight for the longer issues and unfussy control of the least detail - this really rings true for the line of work i currently do.  we call it "general interest" in my line of work.  some people we deal with want to "haggle" about smaller amounts and they lose sight of the bigger picture.  for example, on a $1 million project, there is no point in chasing down $10 issues; you should be focused on $50K or even $100K issues.

the check he put in his reign on acclamations and all forms of flattery - he did not let power get to his head; was not flattered.

his constant watch on the needs of the empire, his stewardship of its resources, and his tolerance of some people's criticism in this area - he did his duty and was a good steward.  he allowed people to give him feedback and probably accepted some of it.

no superstitious fear of the gods, nor with men any populism or obsequious courting of the mob, but a sober steadfastness in all things, and nowhere any vulgar or newfangled taste - he acted according to nature; and man's nature is to act with reason.  therefore, he did not give into superstitions nor was he swayed by the popular sentiment of the day - which is here today, gone tomorrow.  he focused on timeless values and reason and logic that was permanent.

In those things which conduce to the comfort of life - and here fortune gave him plenty - to enjoy them without pride or apology either, so no routine acceptance of their presence or regret in their absence - he knew his position, and did not apologize for it, or feel guilty of it, not did he flaunt it before others.  he accepted his fate.

the fact that no one would ever describe him as a fraud or an impostor or a pedant, but rather as a man of mellow wisdom and mature experience, beyond flattery, able to take charge of his own and others' affairs - he was genuine and not two-faced.  again, he did not let his power and position get to his head.  he simply did his duty.

Further, his high regard for genuine philosophers - for the other sort he had no hard words, but easily saw through them - to me, this speaks of the ability to see through charlatans (definition: a person falsely claiming to have a special knowledge or skill; a fraud), whereas someone who is a true philosopher is one who genuinely is searching for rock-solid truth

sociability, too, and a sense of humour, not taken to excess; sensible care of his own body, neither vain nor valetudinarian, but not neglectful either, so that his own attention to himself left very little need for doctors, doses, or applications - he was social; we are social beings and have a need and a duty to interact with others regularly.  our social-ability improves when we have a smart sense of humor (not too dry and not in excess, but just right).  sensible care of the body would mean finding the right balance.  there are those who would spend hours in the gym; or hours prepping and eating the best foods.  then there are those who would spend no time in the gym and eat only twinkies.  both approaches to care for the body are not within reason.  definition of valetudinarian: a  person who is unduly anxious about their health.

Most importantly, his readiness to defer ungrudgingly to those with some special ability - it might be in literary expression, or the study of laws or customs or any other subject and to give them his own active support to reach acknowledged eminence in their own specialities - some people want to be the know-it-all and will be such a know-it-all, they begin to misrepresent the truth.  the concept here is that we can and ought to defer to experts.  with that said, it would be wise to collect 360-degree feedback, to ensure as much relevant data and information has been collected.  the point here is to not be an expert in all things.  leverage others' knowledge.

Acting always in accordance with tradition, yet not making the preservation of tradition an overt aim - when living in guatemala, often i would visit homes where on the door it said, "we were born catholic, we are catholic, we will die catholic."  there is no sense in preserving something that does not need to be preserved for its own sake.  if i were to amend that sentiment, i would say, "i was born to find truth, i seek the truth, i will die yearning for the truth."  we should ever be seeking and amending our outlook and philosophy on life in accordance with reason and should not hold on to anything just for the sake of tradition.

further, no liking for change and chance, but a settled habit in the same places and the same practices - as the march 28th Daily Stoic entry says, "chaos ensues from not having a plan."  stoics accept and even love their fate (amor fati), but that does not mean they leave life to chance.  in every aspect, if they have control and wish to make the world a better place, they do so.  excellence comes with habits, so build good ones.

to resume instantly after attacks of migraine, fresh again and vigorous for his usual work - truly an impressive ability; to be able to suffer from illness or setbacks, but when addressed and rectified, having the ability to start anew.  many suffer from loss of momentum when setbacks happen.

not to keep many matters secret to himself, only a very few exceptional cases and those solely of state concern - transparency is the name of the game these days in the year 2017.  too often our society has learned hard lessons when people keep things in the dark.  granted, there are times when discretion is needed, but the more light and transparency while managing the risk, the better society is.

sense and moderation in such things as the provision of shows, contracting of public works, doles and distributions - the acts of a man with an eye for precisely what needs to be done, not the glory of its doing - doing things for the right reason instead of for fame or recognition.  this is sound reasoning.

He was not one to bathe at all hours; he had no urge to build houses; he was not particular about food, the material and colour of his clothes, or youthful beauty in his slaves; the fact that his dress came from Lorium, sent up from his country house there; the many details of his way of life at Lanuvium; how he handled the apologetic customs officer in Tusculum, and all such modes of behaviour - related to the care of the body, he did not take these matters to excess.  he did what was prudent.  he may have been a minimalist.

Nothing about him was harsh, relentless, or impetuous, and you would never say of him that he 'broke out a sweat': but everything was allotted its own time and thought, as by a man of leisure - his way was unhurried, organized, vigorous, consistent in all - in a word, he was deliberate.  in another word, he was ordered (in all aspects of his life).

What is recorded of Socrates would apply to him too: that he could regulate abstinence and enjoyment where many people are too weak-willed to abstain or enjoy too indulgently - it is a sad state of affairs that some people seem to ruin the fun for everyone else.  one of the key concepts i learned from my humanities and history if civilization courses in college was: moderation in all things.  if more people were moderate in their consumption, we would not have the ills that society has today.  there would be no drunk driving or binge drinking or pollution in the ocean.

Strength of character - and endurance or sobriety as the case may be - signifies the man of full and indomitable spirit, as was shown by Maximus in his illness - endure life and all trials well; your attitude and strength of your character is everything.  never give up; be persistent.  be sober.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B1.15

15. From Maximus: self-mastery, immune to any passing whim; good cheer in all circumstances, including illness; a nice balance of character, both gentle and dignified; an uncomplaining
energy for what needs to be done; the trust he inspired in everyone that he meant what he said and was well-intentioned in all that he did; proof against surprise or panic; in nothing either hurried or hesitant, never short of resource, never downcast or cringing, or on the other hand angry or suspicious; generosity in good works, and a forgiving and truthful nature; the impression he gave of undeviating rectitude as a path chosen rather than enforced; the fact that no one would ever have thought himself belittled by him, or presumed to consider himself superior to him; and a pleasant humour.

self-mastery, immune ... - one of the most important and most difficult virtues to master - temperance.  marcus is grateful to maximus for having learned that virtue.  self-mastery in all forms, is the gateway to finding contentment.  if you are constantly swayed by the whim of appetite, when a famine comes, you will be sad (a lot). if you are constantly swayed by looking at your smartphone all the time, when you lose your phone, you will be anxious (a lot).  master your ability to withstand desires; and master your ability to command yourself in fulfilling duties.

good cheer ... - some things are in our control and others are not.  when things are out of our control, the only thing we do have control of is our attitude.  and our attitude and perception of the situation is entirely in our control!  so change your attitude and you change the situation!

nice balance ... energy for what needs to be done - continuing with the theme of having a good attitude.

trust he inspired ... in all that he did - be a man or woman of your word.  if you say you are going to do something, do all that you can to keep that commitment.  be genuine in your words; do not inflate and downplay your perception.  speak of things as they are.  intend the best, no matter what.

proof against ... angry or suspicious - just as something can be water-proofed so that the object is not easily damaged by water, so too we can be surprise-proofed and panic-proofed.  we should train our mind and attitude to not be surprised or panicked by anything.  nothing should surprise or shock you - especially if you are 40 years old or older (for you will have generally 'seen it all').  be reserved and steady in your reactions so as to be able to apply reason and logic to any circumstance.  do not be hurried or hesitant, rather be deliberate in your thought and actions.  be resourceful and always upbeat in your attitude (don't be downcast or wring your hands or angry or doubtful of everyone's motivations).

generosity ... truthful nature - when i eat ice cream, i want a generous bowl :-) ... so too we should be generous with our good works.  forgive quickly and frankly and do not hold any grudges (forget it and move on).  be honest in all you do.

undeviating rectitude ...enforced - be a moral person and choose the right path ... don't go down the wrong path and then be forced to choose the better part.

the fact ... humor- in summary, act in a way that other people will have nothing bad to say about you.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B1.14

14. From Severus: love of family, love of truth, love of justice; to have come by his help to understand Thrasea, Helvidius, Cato, Dio, Brutus; to have conceived the idea of a balanced constitution, a commonwealth based on equality and freedom of speech, and of a monarchy which values above all the liberty of the subject; from him, too, a constant and vigorous respect for philosophy; beneficence, unstinting generosity, optimism; his confidence in the affection of his friends, his frankness with those who met with his censure, and open likes and dislikes, so that his friends did not need to guess at his wishes.

love of family - one of the center pieces of discipline of action.  we are placed with our closest friends - our family.  and we love and serve them foremost.

love of truth / justice - the only good is moral good and squared with that is the love of truth and justice.  truth is not easy; it takes time and effort to arrive at it.  and love of justice is nothing other the love of others.  the less we are centered on ourselves and more on others, the closest to justice we move.

balanced constitution ... liberty of the subject - equality and freedom of speech; pillars in our modern-day Republic.  i have just begun to read a book about cato (Rome's Last Citizen) and i don't find it surprising that marcus is appreciative of cato and how is uses his name in the same sentence as commonwealth, constitution, equality and freedom and liberty.

vigorous respect for philosophy - too many people just float through life; aimless.  letting other guide and persuade them without thought.  i would encourage everyone to come up with some philosophy, whether they study and practice one of the greek philosophies, one of the modern religious philosophies or a eastern philosophy.  then, let's have a discussion - let's talk about what your philosophy says and preaches.  let us use our reason and logic to discuss and defend our way of thinking way of life.

beneficence, unstinting generosity - learn to do good; learn to serve others.  be generous with your riches and time.  look to improve our community, our state, our nation, our world, our universe.

optimism - be positive; optimism doesn't cost a thing; you can have an optimistic attitude; you can think the best of the situation and people.

confidence ... wishes - good advice for having and keeping friends and "enemies".  be frank (forthcoming), but you don't have to be a jerk.  you can be direct with respect.  be open - you don't be have to be coy at everything - speak up, let your thoughts be known.


Friday, March 24, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B1.13

13. From Catulus: not to spurn a friend's criticism, even if it may be an unreasonable complaint, but to try to restore his usual feelings; to speak of one's teachers with wholehearted gratitude, as is recorded of Domitius and Athenodotus; and a genuine love for children.

not to spurn ... usual feelings - it would seem the advice and lesson here is that friendship is greater than the friend's criticism (of you).  the way i read this, is we ought to look past shortcomings and "bad behavior" of our friends.  this is not to say we should associated with bad people and ignore all the bad they do, rather we should associate with good (virtuous) people and on occasion, they may not be perfect and we ought to overlook it.

speak of one's teachers with ... gratitude - parents, teachers, mentors, supervisors, managers - they do so much to help us.  we should respect them and be grateful for them.

genuine love for children - similar to jesus' admonition; we should love children - they are humans who are learning.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B1.12

12. From Alexander the Platonist: rarely, and never without essential cause, to say or write to anyone that 'I am too busy'; nor to use a similar excuse, advancing 'pressure of circumstances', in constant avoidance of the proprieties inherent in our relations to our fellows and contemporaries.

i am too busy ...

jill and i used to have a running joke about making each other feel a little guilty every time we had to decide between carrying out a duty and spending time with family.  whenever one of those conflicts would come out, we'd sing "and the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon ..."  if you don't understand that, then watch this video first: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7OqwKfgLaeA

the gist of the song is that the dad is too busy to spend time with his kid and then eventually, when the kid is all grown up, the dad wants to spend time with the kid and the kid is too busy for the dad - it's a sad song and it's meant to give us all a major guilt trip.

without too much sappiness and guilt, the message is clear - make time with those closest to you - invest in your most important relationships; and don't let busy-ness be an excuse.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B1.11

11. From Fronto: to understand the effect of suspicion, caprice, and hypocrisy in the exercise of absolute rule; and that for the most part these people we call 'Patricians' are somewhat short of human affection.

definitions

suspicion: in the way the word is used here, it means "cautious distrust"

caprice: a sudden and unaccountable change of mood or behavior

hypocrisy: the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one's own behavior does not conform; pretense

patrician: an aristocrat or nobleman

think of a time when someone treated you with suspicion.  they didn't trust you and perhaps there was no reason for them to mistrust you.

think of the time when a friend or a teacher or coach went from being happy to super grumpy.

think of a time when someone tells you to do one thing, but they in turn violate their own instruction.

in each of these cases, you probably don't feel much friendship or trust toward the other person.

having identified how these things are not virtuous, don't be that way!

as marcus aurelius says at the end, these people are "short of human affection"

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B1.10

10. From Alexander the grammarian: not to leap on mistakes, or captiously interrupt when anyone makes an error of vocabulary, syntax, or pronunciation, but neatly to introduce the correct form of that particular expression by way of answer, confirmation, or discussion of the matter itself rather than its phrasing - or by some other such felicitous prompting.

this passage is all one thought; and it is about giving feedback - or coaching.

in a word, this passage is about tact.

definition of tact is: sensitivity in dealing with others or with difficult issues.

if someone makes a mistake (in this case a grammatical mistake), don't be that "know-it-all" and immediately jump all over the person.

think of Hermione and how she somewhat arrogantly corrects Ron: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fx2zLgdkJpk


Monday, March 20, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B1.9

9. From Sextus: a kindly disposition, and the pattern of a household governed by the paterfamilias; the concept of life lived according to nature; an unaffected dignity; intuitive concern for his friends; tolerance both of ordinary people and of the emptily opinionated; an agreeable manner with all, so that the pleasure of his conversation was greater than any flattery, and his very presence brought him the highest respect from all the company; certainty of grasp and method in the discovery and organization of the essential principles of life; never to give the impression of anger or any other passion, but to combine complete freedom from passion with the greatest human affection; to praise without fanfare, and to wear great learning lightly.

kindly disposition - definition of disposition is "a person's inherent qualities of mind and character"  this alludes, again, to the fact that stoicism focuses on virtue and excellence of character (arete)

pattern ... paterfamilias - a conservative approach to family-life; where the father provides leadership in the home.

life lived according to nature - animals think nothing other than eating, sleeping, defecating, procreating.  humans think of these things too, but also much, much more.  we write, think philosophically, ponder our existence.  this is our nature - we live a higher state and as such, we should spend our effort's on living the best life.

unaffected dignity - definition of dignity is "the state or quality of being worthy of honor or respect" therefore we ought to live dignified, but not be pretentious ("attempting to impress by affecting greater importance, talent, culture, etc., than is actually possessed")

intuitive concern for his friends - caring for other; justice, not treating friends unkindly.

tolerance ... opinionated - there is that word again - tolerance.  so much in life is based on our attitude.  if we are intolerant, than we choose to be annoyed and mean about what others are doing.  this is the same as letting others control our attitude.  tolerance and the discipline of assent are closely related.

agreeable manner ... company - in summary, be a good person.  be mindful of how you comport yourself.  no one enjoys a grump or a pompous ass.  so be agreeable - be reasonable in your interactions with others.  have some civility.

certainty of grasp ... principals of life - this quality speaks of being cognizant of how life works - being curious.  so much in today's world is given to us on a platter.  we don't put in the work to truly discover something on our own.  be curious!  hang with it long enough to understand and grasp it!

never to give the impression of anger ... human affection - this is related to living steadily and not so wildly passionately.  too many times people give into their anger and passion.  be temperate in your emotions.

praise without fanfare ... wear great learning lightly - give praise, but not excessively.  and when you are smart (learned), be so humbly.  don't be a braggart.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B1.8

8. From Apollonius: moral freedom, the certainty to ignore the dice of fortune, and have no other perspective, even for a moment, than that of reason alone; to be always the same man, unchanged in sudden pain, in the loss of a child, in lingering sickness; to see clearly in his living example that a man can combine intensity and relaxation; not to be impatient in explanation; the observance of a man who clearly regarded as the least of his gifts his experience and skill in communicating his philosophical insights; the lesson of how to take apparent favours from one's friends, neither compromised by them nor insensitive in their rejection.

moral freedom ... reason alone - the bookends of this statement say it all.  if you want moral freedom, use reason.  you do not have to let your fears and worries dwell on chance.  you can use your god-given faculty and reason to free your mind.

always the same man ...sickness - i long for steadiness.  i yearn to be the same in temperament all the time.  people of passion who are swayed by the slightest of moral breeze are fascinating to observe, but can be tiresome and unpredictable.  how unreliable these people can be - like dealing with a car that constantly breaks.

intensity and relaxation - admirable qualities; to be able to be that focused and intense, yet at ease on those situations.

not impatient in explanation - how appropriate in today's day and age of the "tweet"  if it can't be said in 140 characters, then it's not worth saying.  we have lost patience and focus in our age of ADD.  think on that: Attention Deficit Disorder.  we cannot focus anymore; it is a quality that is beginning to be lost.  can you sit and stay focused for hours at a time?  what about one hour?  if not, then work on becoming better!

the observance ...insights - honestly, i'm not entirely sure what to make of this part of the passage, other than it has the air of counsel about humility.

the lesson ... rejection - this passage speaks of being even-headed.  you are neither overly swayed by favors nor are you a jerk in receiving them.  you are simply graceful in gratitude.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B1.7

7. From Rusticus: to grasp the idea of wanting correction and treatment for my character; not to be diverted into a taste for rhetoric, so not writing up my own speculations, delivering my own little moral sermons, or presenting a glorified picture of the ascetic or the philanthropist; to keep clear of speechifying, versifying, and pretentious language; not to walk around at home in ceremonial dress, or do anything else like that; to write letters in an unaffected style, like his own letter written to my mother from Sinuessa; to be readily recalled to conciliation with those who have taken or given offence, just as soon as they themselves are willing to turn back; to read carefully, not satisfied with my own superficial thoughts or quick to accept the facile views of others; to have encountered the Discourses of Epictetus, to which he introduced me with his own copy.

wanting correction and treatment for my character - feedback is a gift.  the sooner we accept this concept, the sooner we achieve improvement and progression.

not to be diverted ... anything like that - in this section, i like to summarize all of this advice into a few words: don't be a pompous ass.  the urban dictionary does a good job defining what a pompous ass is: a person who seems full of themselves and who grabs every opportunity to let others know of their feelings of superiority.

you should be humble; don't think of yourself as so special.  no one likes those kinds of people.  rather, be down-to-earth, level-headed.

write letters in an unaffected style - similar to the above idea, one should write plainly, should speak plainly, succinctly and to the point.

readily recalled to conciliation ... turn back - similar to the teaching of jesus found in matthew 5:25, we should maintain good and healthy relationships with all people.  if something is broken, we should fix it quickly.

to read carefully ... views of others - in other words, don't jump to conclusions.  use sound reason and logic.  study it out carefully.  my senior high school english teacher mr. puckett loved to say "don't assume, because it will make an ass out of u and me.

epictetus - yes, read epictetus, just as much as you read marcus aurelius.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B1.6

6. From Diognetus: to avoid empty enthusiasms; to disbelieve all that is talked by miracle-mongers and quacks about incantations, exorcism of demons, and the like; not to hold quail-fights or be excited by such sports; to tolerate plain speaking; to have an affinity for philosophy, and to attend the lectures first of Baccheius, then of Tandasis and Marcianus; to write essays from a young age; to love the camp-bed, the hide blanket, and all else involved in the Greek training.

empty enthusiasm - i take this to mean "all talk, no walk"  if you are genuinely going to do something, then do it.  do not talk about it.  don't talk of being enthusiastic about something; rather, demonstrate it! (see this tweet)

there are many who want to convince you of their power; and they will do so by "miracles" and "exorcisms" and "incantations"  just know these are fruitless.

quail-fights - i can't be sure, but i suppose this could be similar to cock-fighting.  this is all wasted time and money.  this does nothing to improve the person.  as for entertainment value - it's all sugar and no nutrition.

tolerate plain speaking - to me, it means to let people speak bluntly (un-politically correct).  to be sure, we should speak with respect and intelligence.  but we should also allow others to speak plainly.

philosophy and essays - philosophy is none other than finding a good way to live this life.  and i can think of no better philosophy than what the stoics endorse.  reading and writing about philosophy helps us to think about what it all means and how to live it.

the camp-bed / Greek training - good advice.  learn to be uncomfortable.  learn to tolerate camping, hot and cold weather, sleeping on the ground, cold showers.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B1.5

5. From my tutor: not to become a Green or Blue supporter at the races, or side with the Lights or Heavies in the amphitheatre; to tolerate pain and feel few needs; to work with my own hands and mind my own business; to be deaf to malicious gossip.

to tolerate pain is impressive.  how many times have you seen someone who cries out in pain and in a sense it is a bit annoying.  there is a part of us that wants to be courageous when it comes to pain.  think of the times you've experienced pain.  sometimes you just have to endure it.  i've learned to try to "step outside of my pain" - to look at your pain from an outside perspective.  it helps me endure it better.

to feel few needs reminds me of another stoic thought from crates of thebes.  he noted that there is a scale of "needs" in people and all the way to the gods - who need little.  you can read this thought here.

learn to work with your hands; clean up after yourself.  do yard work, get dirty.  this will help you appreciate a career.

mind your own business - this could mean one of two things.  it could mean to "manage your own business - try to do much for yourself" or it could mean the traditional sense of don't be nosy.  in either case, it is sound advice.

deaf to malicious gossip - we do not have control over what others think or say.  so-and-so has said this about you - that is all. leave it at that.  hold no ill will and seek the higher ground.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B1.1-4

Book 1 is Marcus' 'gratitude' book and how he has observed the life of others and their qualities.

These are qualities he tries to emulate.

1. From my grandfather Verus: decency and a mild temper.

2. From what they say and I remember of my natural father: integrity and manliness.

3. From my mother: piety, generosity, the avoidance of wrong-doing and even the thought of it; also simplicity of living, well clear of the habits of the rich.

4. From my great-grandfather: not to have attended schools for the public; to have had good teachers at home, and to realize that this is the sort of thing on which one should spend lavishly.

Definitions are in order ...

Decency - behavior that conforms to accepted standards of morality or respectability; modesty and propriety

Mild Temper - calm, forgiving, gentle, quiet, tolerant

Integrity - the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness; the state of being whole and undivided

Manliness -  Of, relating to, or characteristic of men, especially when considered traditionally masculine, as in being courageous or direct

Piety - the quality of being religious or reverent

Generous - (of a person) showing a readiness to give more of something, as money or time, than is strictly necessary or expected; showing kindness to others

Wrong-doing - illegal or dishonest behavior

Simplicity of Living - minimalistic living; living with few needs or wants; avoidance of extravagance

right out of the gate, marcus aurelius gives us a lot to chew on and to ponder.

you could live your whole life following the first four "verses" of meditations and you will have lived a very good life.

all of these qualities fall under the umbrella of virtue.  in stoicism, virtue is the only good.  i would encourage you to spend some time on your own thinking about virtue (arete) which simply means "excellence of character."

the four major virtues are: wisdom, justice, courage, temperance.

you could even flip these virtues into questions to see where you stand in your development as a good human being.

  • am i a decent person?
  • do i have a mild temper or do i get angry and upset all the time?
  • am i honest?  do i demonstrate integrity?  or do i "divide" myself (am i two-faced?)
  • am i courageous and direct?  or do i sometimes waffle?
  • do i love God?  am i reverent?
  • am i generous with my time and money?  do i use my time, money and resources to help others?
  • do i live simply?  or do i spend too much time on things that don't really matter (material possessions)?

if you're doing good in a few of those areas, congratulations!  keep it up!

if you fall short, then make some plans to focus on becoming better.  use your daily reflection or personal journal to think about how you can improve.

lastly, marcus appreciated his grandfather and how he felt it important to spend "lavishly" on education - at least that is how i understand this.  we can't all afford Harvard, but the principal remains: do all in your power to get as much education as you can.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Intro: Commentary on Meditations

The thought occurred to me earlier last week, while on one of my long early morning walks: read Meditations and commentate and share.

It is largely born out of a desire to teach and share stoic thoughts with my own family - my wife and four children.  Perhaps, this blog could "be there" for them at some future date when I am not readily available to chat with them.

It would also help me in my work to dissect and make Stoicism applicable to my own life - as I look for "affirmations" every day.

It would be open for feedback and discussion - should anyone wish to comment.

I don't see any downsides to my investing this time.

I will simply dive into this project and adjust as needed.  At first, I think I will largely try to fit each of Aurelius' passages into one of the disciplines of stoicism (assent, desire, action) or into one of the main categories of virtue (justice, wisdom, temperance, courage).

Should I have an experience to tell related to the matter, I'll do so.

Let's begin!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

february in review

starting weight: 191.2
ending weight: 189.8 (as of sunday feb 25)

big events
ben's bball season wrapped up; the HS big win over rival w/ last second shot.  beach trip w/ jeff, fno reviews all done, starting up listening to podcasts (mt, ms), time w/ family, record heat, copperhead bite

february was a month of gains and slight improvements and getting back to the schedule of things.

it ended with a bang when i was bitten by a copperhead snake.  i think this 'obstacle' will prove to be a boon in dealing with some medical issues i've been dealing w/ the last 10 years.  march will see to that.

february had the potential to be very busy with lots of deadlines and issues.  but i dealt with them with calm and focus.

the snake bite proved to me that stoicism is helping.  i cannot think that myself of a few years ago could have been dealt that 'obstacle'

Monday, February 27, 2017

bitter cucumbers and copperhead snakes

it happened.

what i thought was a prick to my palm due to a thorn on a weed, was in fact the fang of a copperhead snake.  after the prick, i looked down and saw two things: a thorn among the dead leaves and a copperhead snake slithering off.

copperheads are not easy to spot
my 12 year old son was helping me clean up the leaves.  we both went inside the house.  i washed off the bite and then had my 15 year old son accompany me to the emergency room.  i have been trained in first aid and after all my training, the one thing i remembered was to stay calm.  during those training sessions, i used to think to myself, 'how can a person stay calm in these situations?'  i could not comprehend how one can control their calm factor.  after the snake bit me, the only thought i had was, 'you must stay calm or the venom will spread more quickly.'  i breathed and tried to control my heart rate and stay focused on what i had to do.

the bite was at noon.  my son and i drove and arrived at the emergency room by 12:25pm.  they admitted me, introduced an intravenous (IV) to my left arm.  my wife later arrived and provided excellent support.  about one hour after the bite, the pain was excruciating.  i was given morphine.  two hours later, the anti-venom was ready and administered to me and three hours later, the swelling to my hand and arm ceased.

during the many hours of waiting, one verse rang through my head, over and over again.
a bitter cucumber?  throw it away.  brambles in the path?  go around them.  that is all you need, without going on to ask, "so why are these things in the world anyway?"  that question would be laughable to a student of nature, just as any carpenter or cobbler would laugh at you if you objected to the sight of shavings or off-cuts from their work on the shop floor. (meditations book 8.50)

it would do me no good to re-live that moment and be angry at that snake.  yes, i could have worn more protection, but what was done was done.  and if i wanted to move on from this, i needed to focus on the present and keep a positive attitude.  and that quote above helped me to focus on the true nature of the situation and keep myself focused on the medical attention i needed.

after a two-night stay in the intensive care unit, the swelling went down and i was released from the hospital.  the swelling won't recede fully for perhaps several more days or even weeks.  but i have the use of my hands and can type and mouse - which means i can do my work.  for that, i am grateful.

furthermore, i am grateful for Stoicism, which, in my estimation, helped me remain calm and focused through the whole ordeal.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

january in review

the stoic journal

after thanksgiving, i started a stoic journal.  i would write a few things to be more mindful.  over the next several weeks between thanksgiving and new years, i refined my approach to something i think works well for me.

in the morning, i start by spending a few minutes thinking about something for which i'm grateful and then jotting that down.  next, i spend time thinking ahead - about my day - what will i do, challenges i may face and how to approach them.  then i'll spend some time reading stoic quotes or articles or affirmations ... then i summarize what i've read and write my daily affirmation.  this daily affirmation focuses on the three disciplines of stoicism (assent, desire, action).  i focus on one discipline all week then rotate to the next discipline the following week, etc.

then at night, i review the day and jot a few thoughts about what went amazing that day as well as what i could have done better or differently.  recently, i've decided to also write about how i've helped someone that day.

i keep my daily journal on evernote.  at first, i wrote in a hard-bound journal book and then sync it with evernote, but now i just input everything directly into evernote via the iPhone app.

i am still making minor tweaks, but by and large, it's a habit and it's working well for me.

reviewing the past month is another part of the process.  at the end of the month, i'll read my entries and pull out any themes or learnings and synthesize them into a blog post.

january review

starting weight: 194.4
ending weight: 190.8

big events: camille sick, football games, skinned knee, broken iPhone, started helping erick with his own stoic journal to help with his anxiety, uit f&o, urc f&o, turnover w/ phil, target distribution, in-laws visit for 3 weeks, family reunion surprise, housley book, phone conversation w/ oliver

at the beginning of the month, i was a little stressed with my weight gain from the holidays and the f&o process and some other seemingly pressing issues at work.  camille was sick - jill had to take her to the er; erick got really anxious about going back to school and also when his grandparents left.

looking back - camille got better; the weight returned to normal; f&o went off successfully (KKS & Ulka sent appreciative kudos to me) and the "story" is done as of today.  urc f&o went great, turnover w/ phil went great; erick has managed his anxiety.

highlights of the month were the morning walks (LL) and reading meditations and other books in the cold winter sunlight.

improvements; need to eat better (am in the process of getting better at this now).  need to not give in to negative assents so quickly - pause, evaluate, be mindful.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

perilous journey the the house of the lord by mark housley and gordon allred

background & context
i served an lds mission to guatemala in the mid-90s; spending almost the entire time in the alta verapaz region; including 12 months in the polochic valley.

the polochic valley is comprised largely of kekchi natives.  the vast majority of them do not speak spanish and only know their native tongue.

the kekchi are poor farmers who work the land producing maize, coffee, cardamom, rice, beans and other crops.  interspersed among the poor are plantation owners who are guatemalans of spanish and german descent.  the kekchi are extremely humble and superstitious - child-like, in my opinion.

almost all mormon male missionaries know the rule of "lock your heart" during missionary service.  this stems from a discourse given by spencer kimball in the late 1960s.  it's understandable for a male missionary to 'fall in love', sometimes, during his mission and in some cases missionaries return to their mission, after their service has been completed and court a girl they met there.  and sometimes male and female missionaries will court after their service is finished.  all that is conceivable.  however, when it comes to missionaries marrying kekchis - the idea becomes twisted.

what i mean by that is - kekchis are very child-like.  they are aboriginal, uneducated, easily swayed, etc.  and for a white american lds missionary to marry a kekchi girl - it 'triggers' a negative response in most people who understand the context.  it's not unlike a 50 year-old man marrying a girl who is barely 18 years old or younger.

mark housley is that white american lds missionary who returned to polochic valley and persuaded a kekchi girl to marry him.  i was one of those missionaries who disliked the whole situation.  and there were other missionaries, closer to housley, who disliked the situation even more.

one of my fellow missionaries, who was my local missionary leader (zone leader), passed a sealed envelop to me and instructed me to pass it to the kekchi girl who housley was intending to propose to (this was december of 1995).  the letter was not written by him, rather it was written by a former companion to housley.  still being somewhat naive and not knowing the whole situation, instead of passing it along, i decided to open the envelop and read the letter.  the contents said, "this is a letter to say that if you do anything with angelina - or with any other kekchi - i will kill you!  this is not your culture - go home you loser!  there are people who will inform me if you did something with her - and i will kick your ass! you have no friends - no life - no brains!  repent you asshole!  never come back!"  i didn't pass it along as instructed.  i think i ended up burning the letter.  but this gives a sense of the kinds of opinion people had of housley.

mark housley and his parents visited guatemala in december of 1995 and fairly often between then and june of 1996.

by june of 1996, i was no longer living in la tinta (the town angelina kukul and her family were living in) and instead was serving in canlun - a small village on the other side of the river from teleman.  we knew mark and his family were coming to guatemala that day.  we knew they were going to get married in senahu (civilly) and then drive to guatemala city to be 'sealed' in the mormon temple.

the day was epic.  mark, along with gordon allred, later wrote a book (perilous journey to the house of the lord) about that day and the events leading up to it and the events after it.  the book also describes mark's mission years in guatemala.

book review
- the housley family flies to guatemala for the marriage
- they are detained at the airport (unusual)
- they drive from guatemala city to polochic
- along the way, bandidos fire at them with ARs
- kekchi farmers cut a ceiba tree down, blocking the road
- the road to polochic is blocked all day long
- the road to senahu washes out due to a biblical rain storm
- mark & angelina encounter many, many bureaucratic roadblocks
- mark's mom is detained by the guatemalan government several weeks after the marriage

that's a summary of the events surrounding the fateful day in june 1996.  as a missionary, the only events i observed were seeing the ceiba tree come crashing down on the one road in and out of polochic valley and then meeting the housley's in the long line of cars and hearing of their bandido attack and then later that night observing the most unbelievable rain storm i had ever seen in my life.

having only that bit of context, i later learned mark held firesides and then wrote a book about the whole experience.  i finally ordered the book and read it.

as a whole, it was a very enjoyable read.  it brought back so many memories of guatemala, the culture and the land.

my opinion of mark didn't really improve after reading the book.  quite frankly, i wonder if he isn't a little ... i don't know quite the word to use ... but the one word that comes to mind is 'autistic.'  and i don't know if that word quite fits the description.  honestly, i'm still trying to put my finger on it, but that is all that is coming to me now.  mark is quite brilliant (finished medical school, graduated with honors, etc), but also seems to lack some nuances of social interaction and appropriateness.  how else could he so easily have become fixated on a kekchi girl he saw in passing on the road?

my final reaction to the mark & angelina marriage, after reviewing my missionary experiences and reading the book is to say - the world is a very big place and anything can happen - including what happened to mark, his family and the kukuls.

it is also worth noting, about 10 years ago, i emailed the missionary who wrote that letter to mark, which i never gave to angelina.  if i recall correctly, i told him i didn't pass the letter along.  he was ok with that.  he had even 'forgiven' mark, in a sense.  i think he had visited mark and angelina in odgen.  also, i understand other missionaries have visited mark and angelina and say she wears jeans and speaks english.  i think her and mark have four boys - i would imagine the oldest is mission-age about now.

the other part of the book - the part he discusses his mission - i quite enjoyed.  i was very familiar with all the areas in which he served and visited, except his first area (galilea) and semarac and seritquiche - the last two areas i always wanted to badly visit, but never had the opportunity.  i was even familiar with chicoj and tanchi.  when i was serving in coban, my companion and i would visit the missionaries serving in the chicoj/tanchi area.  matter-of-factly, i sometimes wish i could have served there, but every one has told me it's not great there (cold, drizzly all the time and the people there are tough socially).

i enjoyed his telling of his first christmas in senahu and the obsession guatemalans have with fire and fireworks.  he did a great job describing the long, long hikes in the jungles - the heat - the mud - the rain - the cold; being stranded on those hikes and sleeping on beds of bamboo or cement.  i laughed at the lack of privacy people have in polochic - kids talking to you as you go to the bathroom!  all fond memories in my opinion.

i sometimes miss polochic valley.  i definitely miss coban - i love that place with all my heart.  and being able to re-live those memories of guatemala was indeed the best of this book.

Friday, November 25, 2016

choosing to be temperate

on my six mile walk this morning, i was reflecting on the amount of food i ate yesterday (thanksgiving holiday) and how i felt ill from all the food.

to be honest, i don't feel i ate all that much.  but i did get a headache after the big dinner.  i drank lots of water after eating, but still the headache persisted.

my next thought was: i get headaches when i don't eat and when i do eat; so why not simply choose not to eat (so much) and endure the headache anyway; why the need for the double-injury?

i won't die if i eat so little.  i can choose not to eat.  i can choose contentment when presented with food.  simply put, eating won't make me happy.  like charlie brown, lucy and the football - i know i'll be betrayed for eating.

spend time reading a book; walking; playing chess; playing with your children; listening to music.

there is so much to do with time rather than spending it in the kitchen "wallowing in pickles, sweets and sauces."

eating does not make you good.

restraint and moderation are virtues.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

thoughts on temperance

Temperance
be discrete
avoid excess
be organized
be modest
be self-discipline

a man who has great self-discipline or restraint isn't someone who feels no inkling of desire but someone who overcomes his cravings, by abstaining from acting upon them.