Monday, June 26, 2017

Meditations B4:3 The Inner Citadel

Men seek retreats for themselves - in the country, by the sea, in the hills - and you yourself are particularly prone to this yearning. But all this is quite unphilosophic, when it is open to you, at any time you want, to retreat into yourself. No retreat offers someone more quiet and relaxation than that into his own mind, especially if he can dip into thoughts there which put him at immediate and complete ease: and by ease I simply mean a well-ordered life. So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself. The doctrines you will visit there should be few and fundamental, sufficient at one meeting to wash away all your pain and send you back free of resentment at what you must rejoin.

And what is it you will resent? Human wickedness? Recall the conclusion that rational creatures are born for each other's sake, that tolerance is a part of justice, that wrongdoing is not deliberate. Consider the number of people who spent their lives in enmity, suspicion, hatred, outright war, and were then laid out for burial or reduced to ashes. Stop, then. Or will you fret at your allocation from the Whole? Revisit the alternatives providence or atoms - and the many indications that the universe is a kind of community. But will matters of the flesh still have their hold on you? Consider that the mind, once it has abstracted itself and come to know its own defining power, has no contact with the movement of the bodily spirit, be that smooth or troubled: and finally remember all that you have heard and agreed about pain and pleasure.

Well then, will a little fame distract you? Look at the speed of universal oblivion, the gulf of immeasurable time both before and after, the vacuity of applause, the indiscriminate fickleness of your apparent supporters, the tiny room in which all this is confined. The whole earth is a mere point in space: what a minute cranny within this is your own habitation, and how many and what sort will sing your praises here!

Finally, then, remember this retreat into your own little territory within yourself. Above all, no agonies, no tensions. Be your own master, and look at things as a man, as a human being, as a citizen, as a mortal creature. And here are two of the most immediately useful thoughts you will dip into. First that things cannot touch the mind: they are external and inert; anxieties can only come from your internal judgement. Second, that all these things you see will change almost as you look at them, and then will be no more. Constantly bring to mind all that you yourself have already seen changed. The universe is change: life is judgement.

The great passage from Meditations is Book 4.3.  In this, Marcus lays out all that is needed for your Inner Citadel.

People experience anxiety and stress from work and the busyness of life.  They think they need an escape or vacation.  People will drown their cares in alcohol or eating or drugs or time away from work - a week in Europe or in the mountains or on a white-sand blue-water beach, or at Disney World.  They seek to "get away from it all".  Marcus tells them and us, that if you want this reprieve, it is already there in your mind.  A quick trip to your mind, a re-cap of your doctrines and voila, you are ready to rejoin society.  And you can do this anytime; no need to schedule your escape.

Next he tells us how to quickly revisit those doctrines.  Do you hate, resent, are frustrated with, are bothered by or are disgusted with someone?  Remind yourself that rational beings are meant for each other (discipline of action).  Work with the other person; have compassion and understanding towards others.  Most likely, they are not acting out of mal-intent.  And what if they were acting with malice?  That is out of your control.  Either the other person is acting in accordance with the universe or they are acting randomly.  If they are acting in accordance with the universe, accept it.  If not, then don't you act badly or randomly - an ordered life is a content life.

Does fame (or lack of it) bother you?  Soon you and all those who you would want to cheer you on will be gone.  This world a speck in the vast universe.  This lifetime a blip on the infinite.  Fame is pointless.

Lastly, the two "most immediately useful thoughts" you should have while in your Inner Citadel are:

1) Peoples' opinions, actions, world events, elections, wars, natural disasters - they cannot touch the mind.  All the good or bad you place on these externals come from your mind.  It is your attitude that determines if things or good or bad or indifferent (discipline of assent).

2) Change is constant - the universe is change and life is all about how you view it (attitude / judgement).  At the very least, if you don't like something, eventually it or you will change.  Accept this constant; accept what the universe doles out to you and everyone else; accept your lot in life (discipline of desire).

(see Citadel p. 38-42, 53, 55, 105, 147, 149, 176, 265, 291)

Friday, June 23, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B4:1-2

Wherever it is in agreement with nature, the ruling power within us takes a flexible approach to circumstances, always adapting itself easily to both practicality and the given event. It has no favoured material for its work, but sets out on its objects in a conditional way, turning any obstacle into material for its own use. It is like a fire mastering whatever falls into it. A small flame would be extinguished, but a bright fire rapidly claims as its own all that is heaped on it, devours it all, and leaps up yet higher in consequence.

No action should be undertaken without aim, or other than in conformity with a principle affirming the art of life.

Ryan Holiday's book The Obstacle is the Way is based off the premise of this passage.

The true key to resiliency is attitude and how you view the world.  Each of us has a "ruling power" - the essence of what makes us human - the ability to choose how we think, feel and act.  And this ruling power is flexible.  That is the secret sauce - we are not some robot made of some rigid set of rules that we never deviate from.  We can change our perspective regardless of circumstances, events and other peoples' actions and attitudes.

As Hadot quotes Seneca in The Inner Citadel, he says, "A good person dyes events with his own color ... and turns whatever happens to his own benefit." (p. 199).

I used to be ticked off whenever my manager or leadership would talk about challenges as opportunities.  I used to think it was just spin.  Well, it is spin, but also more - it is an attitude adjustment; it's a way to look at all events as opportunities to grow.

The other concept to remember about turning obstacles into opportunities is to view everything as practice.  Earthquakes, bad presentations, little sleep, a car wreck, health problems ... all can be seen as opportunities to improve your resiliency - opportunities to show your mettle.

To conclude, let me share a favorite movie scene from Batman Begins.  Bruce Wayne is in a foreign prison and is about to be beat up.  The big dude about to bust his chops threatens him, to which Bruce responds, "you're not the devil, you're practice."

(see also Citadel p. 198)

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B3:15-16

They do not know all the meanings of theft, of sowing, of buying, of keeping at rest, of seeing what needs to be done - this is not for the eye, but for a different sort of vision.

Body, soul, mind. To the body belong sense perceptions, to the soul impulses, to the mind judgements. The receipt of sense impressions is shared with cattle; response to the puppet-strings of impulse is shared with wild beasts, with catamites, with a Phalaris or a Nero; having the mind as guide to what appears appropriate action is shared with those who do not believe in the gods, those who betray their country, those who get up to anything behind closed doors.

So if all else is held in common with the categories mentioned above, it follows that the defining characteristic of the good person is to love and embrace whatever happens to him along his thread of fate; and not to pollute the divinity which is seated within his breast, or trouble it with a welter of confused impressions, but to preserve its constant favour, in proper allegiance to god, saying only what is true, doing only what is just.

And if all people mistrust him, for living a simple, decent, and cheerful life, he has no quarrel with any of them, and no diversion from the road which leads to the final goal of his life: to this he must come pure, at peace, ready to depart, in unforced harmony with his fate.

The ability to separate impression from reaction is a uniquely human trait.  Dumb animals cannot do this.  Humans can experience an impression, but they can also pause and think about something before deciding to react to an impression.  This is what a human was designed to do - to think about things and take appropriate action.  And not only can a human do this, but they can truly love the fate directed at them - the fate from ancient time woven to this moment in time.

And a person who does this well (the disciplines of assent, desire and action) will live a fulfilling and simple life and will enjoy contentment.

(see also Citadel p. 113, 123, 138)

Monday, June 19, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B3:14

No more wandering. You are not likely to read your own jottings, your histories of the ancient Greeks and Romans, your extracts from their literature laid up for your old age. Hurry then to the end, abandon vain hopes, rescue yourself, if you have any care for yourself, while the opportunity is still there.

Good advice for someone trying to learn Stoicism.  Too much reading and not enough action and practice.  How much time do you spend reading The Inner Citadel or Meditations or Seneca or Facebook and Reddit?  Read daily, then put it in practice.  Ensure the balance is tipped to action and practice and not reading and learning.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B3:13

Just as doctors always have their instruments and knives at hand for any emergency treatment, so you should have your doctrines ready for the recognition of the divine and the human, and the performance of every action, even the smallest, in consciousness of the bond which unites the two. No action in the human context will succeed without reference to the divine, nor vice versa.

Simply put, study philosophy and be ready to re-act to life's events.  Accept and love the bond you have with the universe.  Your job is to live life well.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B3:12

If you set yourself to your present task along the path of true reason, with all determination, vigour, and good will: if you admit no distraction, but keep your own divinity pure and standing strong, as if you had to surrender it right now; if you grapple this to you, expecting nothing, shirking nothing, but self-content with each present action taken in accordance with nature and a heroic truthfulness in all that you say and mean then you will lead a good life. And nobody is able to stop you.

Focus on the now.  You have a task to do now; so give it 100% of your attention.  If you are distracted with a hundred other things, make a list.  And once you've made a list, direct all your attention to the task at hand.

(see also Citadel p. 123 and this tweet)

Monday, June 12, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B3:11

One addition to the precepts already mentioned. Always make a definition or sketch of what presents itself to your mind, so you can see it stripped bare to its essential nature and identify it clearly, in whole and in all its parts, and can tell yourself its proper name and the names of those elements of which it is compounded and into which it will be dissolved.

Nothing is so conducive to greatness of mind as the ability to subject each element of our experience in life to methodical and truthful examination, always at the same time using this scrutiny as a means to reflect on the nature of the universe, the contribution any given action or event makes to that nature, the value this has for the Whole, and the value it has for man - and man is an inhabitant of this highest City, of which all other cities are mere households.

Ask then, what is this which is now making its impression on me? What is it composed of? How long in the nature of things will it last? What virtue is needed to meet it - gentleness, for example, or courage, truthfulness, loyalty, simplicity, self sufficiency, and so on? So in each case we must say: This has come from god; this is due to a juncture of fate, the mesh of destiny, or some similar coincidence of chance; and this is from my fellow man, my kinsman and colleague, though one who does not know what accords with his own nature. But I do know: and so I treat him kindly and fairly, following the natural law of our fellowship, but at the same time I aim to give him his proper desert in matters which are morally neutral.

The discipline of assent, in my estimation, is all about attitude adjustment.  Properly seeing the world as it is and clearly seeing the difference between what is in my control and what is out of my control, enables a person to effectively deal with anxiety, fear, zealousness any other emotions.

At the time of this writing, my wife and I are dealing with a bathroom that needs repair.  In our estimation, the best course of action (in light of our long-term strategy) is to repair and upgrade the bathroom.  However, this would require us incurring some more debt.  At this same time, our children are growing older and the cost of additional vehicles and college are looming over us.  We have the means, but getting over that hump of spending the money is difficult.  To a large extent, these things are out of my control.  And so I choose not to get overly worked up about it.  I concentrate on the positive side of things and I strive to embrace the fate dealt me at this time.

This concept is applicable and scaleable to any situation.  A month ago, my father-in-law passed away, very unexpectedly.  A quick change in plans during a very busy work season as well as towards the end of the school year, had a significant impact our me and my kids' finals.  But we put on a stiff upper lip, adjusted our attitudes, made the trip to be with my wife's family and mourned with my mother-in-law and my wife's siblings.  The death of my father-in-law gave me the opportunity to meditate on the shortness of life and it gave me a very profound appreciation for what I have in my life now.

Don't just let your emotions run your life.  Make an assessment of the situation; challenge yourself to meet fate with the proper attitude and reaction.  Every turn of event is an opportunity to improve yourself.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Eternity is Now

I was raised as a Christian to believe that humans lived with God (in a spiritual sense) before we took on a corporeal form on earth.  Then we had just this lifetime to "prove to God" that we could be worthy to return to him and live with him for eternity.  Eternal salvation depended on this minute moment on the eternal timeline.  Therefore the concept of eternity, for me, was in the future as it were - post Judgement Day.

Then a couple of passages I read from Pierre Hadot's The Inner Citadel began to change my perspective.

The first passage from page 135: "When we view things from the perspective of death, it is impossible to let a single one of life's instants pass by lightly.  If, like Marcus and the Stoics, we believe that the only good thing is moral action and a perfectly good and pure intent, then we must transform our way of thinking and of acting in this very instant.  The thought of death confers seriousness, infinite value, and splendor to every present instant of life.  'To perform each of life's actions as if it were the last' means to live the present instant with such intensity and such love that, in a sense, an entire lifetime is contained and completed within it."

"Most people are not alive, because they do not live in the present, but are always outside of themselves, alienated, and dragged backwards and forwards by the past and by the present.  They do not know that the present is the only point at which they are truly themselves and free.  The present is the only point which, thanks to our action and our consciousness, gives us access to the totality of the world."

The second passage, Hadot quotes Wittgenstein on page 147: "If we understand by 'eternity' not an infinite temporal duration, but a lack of temporality, then he who lives within the present lives eternally."

To me, this all simply means that I need to be mindful and focus on ensuring my attitude and actions are directed at good moral intent.  If I can shove all my thoughts and actions through that filter and strive constantly to "chasten" and "clean" my thoughts (see Meditations 3:8) with that perspective and ensure I do it now, then I am living eternally now - I have lived up to the potential of my design.

Below are various people (I've only heard of two of them before today) who seem to grasp this concept of the eternal now.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B3:10

So discard all else and secure these few things only. Remind yourself too that each of us lives only in the present moment, a mere fragment of time: the rest is life past or uncertain future. Sure, life is a small thing, and small the cranny of the earth in which we live it: small too even the longest fame thereafter, which is itself subject to a succession of little men who will quickly die, and have no knowledge even of themselves, let alone of those long dead.

Truly, the only control we have over all the vastness of time is now.  We cannot change or re-live the past.  We cannot control with 100% certainty the future.  What we do have control over is what we do now and what attitude we choose to have now.

Furthermore, embrace the fact and remind yourself of it every day, that we all die.  Whether we die as a child or as an old man, we all share the same fate.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B3:9

Revere your power of judgement. All rests on this to make sure that your directing mind no longer entertains any judgement which fails to agree with the nature or the constitution of a rational being. And this state guarantees deliberate thought, affinity with other men, and obedience to the gods.

Our mindfulness and judgements (discipline of assent) should align with the nature of the whole in that we should love our fate (discipline of desire).

Deliberate thought (discipline of assent); good social interaction (affinity with others) and loving what happens to us (that is out of our control).

Monday, May 29, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B3:8

In the mind of one who is chastened and cleansed you will find no suppuration, no simmering ulcer, no sore festering under the skin. Fate does not catch him with his life unfulfilled, as one might speak of an actor leaving the stage before his part is finished and the play is over. Moreover you will find nothing servile or pretentious, no dependence or alienation, nothing to answer for, no lurking fault.

In a word, Marcus says the examined life is a life without guilt; a life with a clear and clean conscience.

We ought to examine our life and we ought to be mindful.  And as we examine our life and keep mindful, we will be quick to clean any wounds or ulcers.

Years ago, I heard that this daily practice of being mindful and keeping a clean conscience is like brushing your teeth.  You ought to do it every day.  You cannot simply say you'll brush once a week and be alright - it just doesn't work that way.

Practice the examined life (exercise the discipline of assent) and be mindful.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B3:7

Never regard as a benefit to yourself anything which will force you at some point to break your faith, to leave integrity behind, to hate, suspect, or curse another, to dissemble, to covet anything needing the secrecy of walls and drapes. A man who has put first his own mind and divinity, and worships the supremacy of the god within him, makes no drama of his life, no handwringing, no craving for solitude or crowds: most of all, his will be a life of neither pursuit nor avoidance, and it is of no remote concern to him whether he will retain the bodily envelope of his soul for a longer or a shorter time. Even if release must come here and now, he will depart as easily as he would perform any other act that admits of integrity and decency. Throughout all his life his one precaution is that his mind should not shift to a state without affinity to a rational and social being.

For this passage, I will take the advice Marcus gives to himself and make it an affirmative statement.

Have faith. Embrace integrity. Love.  Give others the benefit of the doubt.  Praise another.  Be transparent (without guile).  To not want anything that has to be kept behind closed doors or secret.

The rest of the passage speaks of what a sage would look like.  There is no drama, no anxiety, no wanting to escape, no seeking of pleasures nor avoidance of pain.  He does not care when his last day is - he does not grasp at his life because he lives every day to the fullest and always acts with integrity and decency (he has no regrets, no death-bed repentance).

His only concern or fear is that he ceases to act as a rational and social being.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B3:6

If you discover in human life something better than justice, truth, self-control, courage - in short, something better than the self-sufficiency of your own mind which keeps you acting in accord with true reason and accepts your inheritance of fate in all outside your choice: if, as I say, you can see something better than this, then turn to it with all your heart and enjoy this prime good you have found. But if nothing is shown to be better than the very god that is seated in you, which has brought all your own impulses under its control, which scrutinizes your thoughts, which has withdrawn itself, as Socrates used to say, from all inducements of the senses, which has subordinated itself to the gods and takes care for men - if you find all else by comparison with this small and paltry, then give no room to anything else: once turned and inclined to any alternative, you will struggle thereafter to restore the primacy of that good which is yours and yours alone. Because it is not right that the rational and social good should be rivalled by anything of a different order, for example the praise of the many, or power, or wealth, or the enjoyment of pleasure. All these things may seem to suit for a little while, but they can suddenly take control and carry you away. So you, I repeat, must simply and freely choose the better and hold to it. 'But better is what benefits.' If to your benefit as a rational being, adopt it: but if simply to your benefit as an animal, reject it, and stick to your judgement without fanfare. Only make sure that your scrutiny is sound.

The four virtues, as Marcus notes here are:
- justice
- truth (wisdom)
- self-control (temperance)
- courage

Practicing and living these virtues is how you find contentment and happiness.

Furthermore, practicing the three Stoic disciplines, where are:
- self-sufficiency of your mind (discipline of assent)
- act in accord with true reason (discipline of action)
- accept your inheritance of fate (discipline of desire)

will bring you contentment and happiness.

Marcus boldly tells himself, if he can find anything better than these virtues and disciplines, he should turn to it with all his heart.  But if nothing is better than the god within, which has controlled his impulses and which has helped him scrutinize (examine or inspect closely and thoroughly) his thoughts and has helped him "take care of men", then he should not give any room for other philosophies.

He says it isn't right that rational and social good should be "rivaled" by any different order - such as vanity, power, prestige, money and pleasure.  All these pursuits may bring short-term happiness and joy, but ultimately they control you and carry you away to a place that ends in dejection and a life of emptiness.  (This is why Stoicism wins over Hedonism).

Arriving at this conclusion, what is left?  To "simply" and "freely choose the better and hold to it."

(See also Citadel pp. 124, 179, 186, 237-238, 242, 265)

Monday, May 22, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B3:5

You should take no action unwillingly, selfishly, uncritically, or with conflicting motives. Do not dress up your thoughts in smart finery: do not be a gabbler or a meddler. Further, let the god that is within you be the champion of the being you are a male, mature in years, a statesman, a Roman, a ruler: one who has taken his post like a soldier waiting for the Retreat from life to sound, and ready to depart, past the need for any loyal oath or human witness. And see that you keep a cheerful demeanour, and retain your independence of outside help and the peace which others can give. Your duty is to stand straight - not held straight.

Marcus reminds himself of his duties.  The sense I get from this passage that a person should develop this inner sense to desire to fulfill all duties and obligations willingly.  All action should be of your own free will.  All action should be unselfish.  All action should be critically analyzed and all action should be carried out with integrity.

Furthermore, Marcus reminds himself that not only should his actions meet the above standards, but his thoughts should not be dressed up and he should not be meddling.

He speaks of his inner divinity or daimon as his guiding light.

He should be cheerful and self-sufficient.

Lastly, he is to act in duty and not wait to be acted upon or commanded to carry out his duties.

(See also Citadel pp. 123, 265, 289)

Monday, May 15, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B3:4

Do not waste the remaining part of your life in thoughts about other people, when you are not thinking with reference to some aspect of the common good. Why deprive yourself of the time for some other task? I mean, thinking about what so-and-so is doing, and why, what he is saying or contemplating or plotting, and all that line of thought, makes you stray from the close watch on your own directing mind. No, in the sequence of your thoughts you must avoid all that is casual or aimless, and most particularly anything prying or malicious. Train yourself to think only those thoughts such that in answer to the sudden question 'What is in your mind now?' you could say with immediate frankness whatever it is, this or that: and so your answer can give direct evidence that all your thoughts are straightforward and kindly, the thoughts of a social being who has no regard for the fancies of pleasure or wider indulgence, for rivalry, malice, suspicion, or anything else that one would blush to admit was in one's mind.

A man such as this, if he postpones no longer his ready place among the best, is in some way a priest and minister of the gods. He responds to the divinity seated within him, and this renders the man unsullied by pleasures, unscathed by any pain, untouched by any wrong, unconscious of any wickedness; a wrestler for the greatest prize of all, to avoid being thrown by any passion; dyed to the core with justice; embracing with his whole heart all the experience allotted to him; rarely, and only when there is great need for the common good, wondering what others may be saying or doing or thinking. He has only his own work to bring to fulfilment, and only his own fated allocation from the Whole to claim his constant attention.

As for his work, he makes it excellent: as for his lot, he is convinced it is good. And each person's appointed lot is both his fellow-passenger and his driver.  He bears in mind too the kinship of all rational beings, and that caring for all men is in accordance with man's nature: but that nevertheless he should not hold to the opinions of all, but only of those who live their lives in agreement with nature. He will constantly remind himself what sort of people they are who do not lead such lives - what they are like both at home and abroad, by night and by day, they and the polluting company they keep. So he disregards even the praise of such men these are people who are not even satisfied with themselves.

This passage has it all.  Let me summarize with tweet-like thoughts:

Don't worry about what others are thinking or saying or doing.

Your thoughts should be centered around what is in your control.

What is in your control are your actions and your attitude.

Your actions should be social and for the benefit of the community.

Lead a life of grit!  Don't give in to pleasure or pain; be morally good.

Love your fate - what the universe/God has dealt you.

Choose your friends wisely; you become like the company you keep.  If you wallow in the mud with the pigs, you will smell like a pig.  If you walk in the rose garden, you will smell like roses.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B3:3

Hippocrates cured many diseases then died of disease himself. The Chaldean astrologers foretold the deaths of many people, then their own fated day claimed them. Alexander, Pompey, Julius Caesar annihilated whole cities time after time, and slaughtered tens of thousands of horse and foot in the field of battle, and yet the moment came for them too to depart this life. Heraclitus speculated long on the conflagration of the universe, but the water of dropsy filled his guts and he died caked in a poultice of cow-dung. Vermin were the death of Democritus, and vermin of another sort killed Socrates. What of it, then? You embarked, you set sail, you made port. Go ashore now. If it is to another life, nothing is empty of the gods, even on that shore: and if to insensibility, you will cease to suffer pains and pleasures, no longer in thrall to a bodily vessel which is a master as far inferior as its servant is superior. One is mind and divinity: the other a clay of dust and blood.

Every day death should be before us - we should think about it and embrace it as our fate.  We should love our fate of death.  Accepting death leads to greater appreciation for the life we do have at this very moment.  Greater appreciation for life at this moment leads to greater impetus to make the most out of what we have - to truly live life - carpe diem!

In this passage, Marcus reminds himself of "great" people who all succumbed to death.  Then he reminds himself to think nothing of it.  We got on the boat, set sail, arrived at the port, we go ashore.  We should not have anxiety over this; rather we should enjoy the journey.

He further analyzes if there be gods and an afterlife or not.  This too is out of his control and he exercises his discipline of assent to adjust his attitude accordingly.  If we go on to another life, so be it.  If we die into nothingness, then no more pain or pleasures.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

"Might as well be you; might as well be now."

This post comes from the Daily Stoic email that showed up in my inbox today.  I loved it so much, I printed it off and hung it on our kitchen wall for the whole family to see.  I made one modification to the email; changing the very last word from "today" to "now"

"Before the U.S Civil War, Ulysses S. Grant was a down-and-out officer working in his father’s leather goods store. By the end of the war, he was the highest ranking general in the country and soon enough would be the president. He would say at one point, faced with the incredible difficulty of that war, “The task is a big one and has to be performed by someone.” And so he did it. Simple as that.

"It’s doubtful that Grant ever read the Stoics. He was a simple, straightforward man. But he was Stoic in almost everything he did. We’d all do well to pick up a bit of that attitude for the difficulties we face: Our relationship had been neglected and begun to fall apart. Our company needs to be turned around. Our grades are in the toilet. Our house is filthy and needs to be cleaned. The answer: “The task is a big one and has to be performed by someone.” And then do it.

"No more, no less. Someone has got to do it. Might as well be you. Might as well be now."

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B3:2

We should also attend to things like these, observing that even the incidental effects of the processes of Nature have their own charm and attraction. Take the baking of bread. The loaf splits open here and there, and those very cracks, in one way a failure of the baker's profession, somehow catch the eye and give particular stimulus to our appetite. Figs likewise burst open at full maturity: and in olives ripened on the tree the very proximity of decay lends a special beauty to the fruit. Similarly the ears of corn nodding down to the ground, the lion's puckered brow, the foam gushing from the boar's mouth, and much else besides - looked at in isolation these things are far from lovely, but their consequence on the processes of Nature enhances them and gives them attraction. So any man with a feeling and deeper insight for the workings of the Whole will find some pleasure in almost every aspect of their disposition, including the incidental consequences. Such a man will take no less delight in the living snarl of wild animals than in all the imitative representations of painters and sculptors; he will see a kind of bloom and fresh beauty in an old woman or an old man; and he will be able to look with sober eyes on the seductive charm of his own slave boys. Not all can share this conviction - only one who has developed a genuine affinity for Nature and her works. For him there will be many such perceptions.

Book 3, passage 2 is classic Aurelius waxing strong in the discipline of desire.

Everything which ordinary people might consider undesirable, Marcus tries to see the beauty.  He loves natural processes and sees bloom and delight.

I love this passage from Hadot, who describes the purpose of the discipline of desire:
Humans are unhappy because they desire things which they consider good, but which they may either fail to obtain or else lose; and because they try to avoid things which they consider as evils, but which are often inevitable. The reason is that these apparent goods and evils-wealth and health, for example, or on the contrary poverty and sickness-do not depend on us. Thus, the exercise of the discipline of desire will consist in gradually renouncing these desires and aversions, so that we may finally desire only that which does depend on us-in other words, moral good-and may avoid only that which depends on us-in other words, moral evil. That which does not depend on us is to be considered as indifferent, which means that we are not to introduce any preferential order among such things, but accept them as willed by the will of universal Nature, which Epictetus sometimes designates by the term "gods" in general. To "follow the gods" means to accept their will, which is identical with the will of universal Nature (I, 12, 8; I, 20, I 5). The discipline of desire thus has as its object the passions (pathe), or the emotions which we feel when events present themselves to us. (Citadel p. 87)
Old age and death is nothing to fear.  A large portion of my life was lived in a bit of sadness because being the youngest in a large family, I knew my parents would be too old to travel and see my children grow up.  As a young child and teenager, I often went on trips with my parents to visit my siblings and their children, knowing full well that my parents would most likely not be able to do the same for my children.  Now that that day is here, I no longer am sad.  I take opportunities to visit them and we FaceTime with my parents so they can visit my kids.  I love my fate and try to see the beauty of my well-aged parents.  I know several people and close friends who lost their parents to death at a much younger age.  I simply try to be grateful now for what I can enjoy.

(See also Citadel p. 55,  168-169, 259)

Monday, May 8, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B3:1

We must take into our reckoning not only that life is expended day by day and the remaining balance diminishes, but also this further consideration: if we live longer, there is no guarantee that our mind will likewise retain that power to comprehend and study the world which contributes to our experience of things divine and human. If dementia sets in, there will be no failure of such faculties as breathing, feeding, imagination, desire: before these go, the earlier extinction is of one's proper use of oneself, one's accurate assessment of the gradations of duty, one's ability to analyse impressions, one's understanding of whether the time has come to leave this life - these and all other matters which wholly depend on trained calculation. So we must have a sense of urgency, not only for the ever closer approach of death, but also because our comprehension of the world and our ability to pay proper attention will fade before we do.

Now is the only time we have to act.  And the more we meditate on the vast amount of time that has past and how we truly don't know when we will "leave the stage", we ought to act with urgency on becoming a good man.  We ought to be a good man now.

Good coaches realizes he needs to take every opportunity to coach and to help his players improve.

Do it now.  As Epictetus says, "the contest is now."

Friday, May 5, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B2:17

In man's life his time is a mere instant, his existence a flux, his perception fogged, his whole bodily composition rotting, his mind a whirligig, his fortune unpredictable, his fame unclear. To put it shortly: all things of the body stream away like a river, all things of the mind are dreams and delusion; life is warfare, and a visit in a strange land; the only lasting fame is oblivion. What then can escort us on our way? One thing, and one thing only: philosophy. This consists in keeping the divinity within us inviolate and free from harm, master of pleasure and pain, doing nothing without aim, truth, or integrity, and independent of others' action or failure to act. Further, accepting all that happens and is allotted to it as coming from that other source which is its own origin: and at all times awaiting death with the glad confidence that it is nothing more than the dissolution of the elements of which every living creature is composed. Now if there is nothing fearful for the elements themselves in their constant changing of each into another, why should one look anxiously in prospect at the change and dissolution of them all? This is in accordance with nature: and nothing harmful is in accordance with nature.

Book 2 wraps up with classic Marcus Aurelius.  He reminds us that change is the only constant.  Our bodies are constantly dying and deteriorating, our minds unfocused, our fortunes and future un-knowable and the ultimate state we will all assume is oblivion.

What can help us in this seemingly chaotic state?  Philosophy - "a theory or attitude held by a person or organization that acts as a guiding principle for behavior."

Marcus goes on to counsel himself (and us) that we are keep our mind pure and full of integrity (discipline of assent), doing nothing without a good purpose (discipline of action), and accepting all that is out of our control and for our improvement - whether to help us act better or to help us strengthen our virtue (discipline of desire).

(see also Citadel p. 35, 113, 123, 264)