Sunday, December 17, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B8:47

If your distress has some external cause, it is not the thing itself that troubles you, but your own judgement of it - and you can erase this immediately. If it is something in your own attitude that distresses you, no one stops you correcting your view. So too if you are distressed at not achieving some action you think salutary, why not carry on rather than fret? 'But there's an obstacle in the way too solid to move.' No cause for distress, then, since the reason for failure does not lie with you. 'But life is not worth living if I fail in this.' Well then, you must depart this life, as gracious in death as one who does achieve his purpose, and at peace, too, with those who stood in your way.

Don't let life and the external events stick to you.  Things cannot actually and literally enter your mind and make you think and feel a certain way.  Things don't cause you anxiety; you cause yourself to have anxiety.  You intend something to happen and it does not happen.  Then find a solution.  If there is no solution, what more can you do?  Fretting, wringing your hands, worrying, stewing ... all of that kind of activity does not accomplish what you intended to do.  So why spend time an effort doing that?

Marcus goes so far as to say you should depart this life if life is not worth living over these things.  Indeed, many do take their own life over big and little matters.  People take their life because they cannot endure torture and people take their life because they cannot endure bullying.  Each of us has to face that reality of whether you can endure what life throws at you or not.  If not, be gracious in death as if you had fulfilled your intended desires.

(see also Citadel p. 41, 107, 270)

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B8:45-46

Pick me up and throw me where you will. Wherever I land I shall keep the god within me happy - satisfied, that is, if attitude and action follow its own constitution. Is this present thing any good reason for my soul to be sick and out of sorts - humbled, craving, shackled, shying? Will you find any good reason for that?

Nothing can happen to any human being outside the experience which is natural to humans - an ox too experiences nothing foreign to the nature of oxen, a vine nothing foreign to the nature of vines, a stone nothing outside the property of a stone. So if each thing experiences what is usual and natural for it, why should you complain? Universal nature has brought you nothing you can't endure.

What an amazing goal and perspective to have.  Is there any better definition of grit and tenacity than: "Pick me up and throw me where you will.  Wherever I land I shall keep the god within me happy"?  This house construction that is going on in my life right now; and all the errors made (bathroom faucet six inches too short; kitchen hood twelve inches too short; outlets not installed in the right spot; etc. etc.) - is any of that a good reason to be upset?  My heavens!  These are certainly first world problems!  Kids in Mexico are without a school and home and a city because of the recent earthquake.  The entire island of Puerto Rico is trying to get electricity back.  In the grand scheme of things, are these things any cause for concern?  No!  Does that mean you leave the errors?  No; but simply go about making arrangements to fix them and spend no effort or time wringing your hands over any of this!  No need to let your "soul ... be sick and out of sorts" over this mundane issue.  Annoying?  Indeed, but only if you allow it to be annoying.

This human experience is broad.  Much; so much, has happened to so many people.  If it can happen to others, it can happen to you and if and when it does, you must accept it.  You'd do well to heed Marcus' advice when he says, "Universal nature has brought you nothing you can't endure."  In other words, what life sends you, you can endure it.  If you can't, then leave this life.  But no need to complain.

(see also Citadel p. 265)

Friday, December 15, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B8:43-44

Joy varies from person to person. My joy is if I keep my directing mind pure, denying no human being or human circumstance, but looking on all things with kindly eyes, giving welcome or use to each as it deserves.

Look, make yourself a gift of this present time. Those who are more inclined to pursue fame hereafter fail to reckon that the next generation will have people just like those they dislike now: and they too will die. What, anyway, is it to you if this is the echo in future voices and this the judgement they make of you?

Life is opinion.  I believe that many think the way to contentment and joy is through money, fame, ease, pleasure or something similar.  For Marcus, joy meant being constant and unaffected by the desires and externals that surround and bombard us.  To keep his "directing mind" pure from wanting these externals by perpetually exercising the discipline of assent (breaking everything down and seeing things for what they are).  Furthermore, he simply wanted to be kinds to others and mete out justice as they deserved.

Be content with the present and avoid the anxiety of trying to be remembered.  So many wan to "make their mark in life" and Marcus rightly points out that any mark made by someone in this life will soon fade.  Politics, culture, fashion ... all of it is an endless cycle and never stops changing.  If you do "make a mark" in this life, more likely someone will come along and think that "mark" wasn't so great to begin with and will go about to overwrite it.  Conclusion: live your life in justice with those that share this time and space with you.  Don't ever be anxious about lack of fame, fortune or pleasure.  It's all vanity.

(see also Citadel p. 216)

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B8:38-42

If you have sharp sight, use it: but, as the poet says, add wise judgement.

In the constitution of the rational being I can see no virtue that counters justice: but I do see the counter to pleasure self-control.

If you remove your judgement of anything that seems painful, you yourself stand quite immune to pain. 'What self?' Reason. 'But I am not just reason.' Granted. So let your reason cause itself no pain, and if some other part of you is in trouble, it can form its own judgement for itself.

An obstacle to sense perception is harmful to animal nature. An obstacle to impulse is likewise harmful to animal nature. (Something else will be similarly obstructive and harmful to the constitution of plants.) It follows that an obstacle to the mind is harmful to intelligent nature. Now apply all this to yourself. Is pain or pleasure affecting you? That is for the senses. You have formed an impulse and then met some obstruction? If this was an unconditional aim, then, yes, the obstruction harms your rational nature: but if you accept what is common experience, no harm is yet done or hindrance caused. You see, no one else will impede the proper functions of the mind. The mind cannot be touched by fire, steel, tyranny, slander, or anything whatever, once it has become 'a perfect round in solitude'.

I have no cause to hurt myself: I have never consciously hurt anyone else.

If you are going to judge, then judge well.

There appears to be some debate about what justice is.  Kids seem to have a concept of justice in that they want to ensure fairness is enforced.  But therein lies the rub: what is fair?  Being kind and selfless to others is a start.  If you have some candy and are eating it in front of others, it would be kind and just to offer to share it.  If you have four children and you give one a birthday present, it's only fair that you give a present to the other three on their birthday too.  And the present ought to be special to them and you ought to put some thought into it.  Carrying out justice on a micro and macro scale is not an easy task.  Often when one person tries to carry out justice, another person thinks it unfair.  So what is to be done with exercising the virtue of justice?  Learning and talking about it is a start.  Debating examples and finding a golden mean is also a worthy exercise.  In any case, putting some thought and logic and rationale behind your judgement and action is always a good idea.

From passage 40 in Book 8, Marcus says that judgement about pain makes it so.  You can be immune to pain if you change your opinion.  This week, on Reddit, I read a quote from Seneca that said something very similar.
"But do not of your own accord make your troubles heavier to bear and burden yourself with complaining. Pain is slight if opinion has added nothing to it; but if, on the other hand, you begin to encourage yourself and say, "It is nothing, – a trifling matter at most; keep a stout heart and it will soon cease"; then in thinking it slight, you will make it slight. Everything depends on opinion; ambition, luxury, greed, hark back to opinion. It is according to opinion that we suffer" -Seneca, Moral Letters
In passage 41, Marcus continues the logic behind how true pain is all opinion.  No one or no thing can harm your mind or your opinions.  Your mind and the opinion you form are your own and they are in your control.  It is a breath of fresh air to think the mind truly cannot be touched by "fire, steel, tyranny, slander or anything whatever, once it has become 'a perfect round in solitude.'"  Getting to that point is not so easy, though.

Next, Marcus reminds himself of his duties to others and to himself.  No harm needed for either.

(see also Citadel p. 41, 103, 270, 287)

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B8:36-37

Do not let the panorama of your life oppress you, do not dwell on all the various troubles which may have occurred in the past or may occur in the future. Just ask yourself in each instance of the present: 'What is there in this work which I cannot endure or support?' You will be ashamed to make any such confession. Then remind yourself that it is neither the future nor the past which weighs on you, but always the present: and the present burden reduces, if only you can isolate it and accuse your mind of weakness if it cannot hold against something thus stripped bare.

Is Panthea or Pergamus still sitting by the coffin of Verus? Or Chabrias or Diotimus by Hadrian's? Ridiculous! And if they were still sitting there, would the dead be aware? And if they were aware, would they be pleased? And if they were pleased, would that make their mourners immortal? Was it not their fate also first to grow old - old women and old men like any others - and then to die? And with them dead, what would those they mourned do then? It is all stench and corruption in a bag of bones.

The White Stripes have this really neat song called Little Acorns.  The first minute of the song is a narrator, who sounds like a 1950's Leave It to Beaver instructional video voice, talking about a woman who faces mounting life problems.  At her lowest point, she noticed a squirrel storing nuts for the winter one at a time.  This helps her see that she too can face her problems one at a time.  It is quite a Stoic concept; you can't control the past or future; you only have the present; and when you break down your present concerns (one by one) and tackle them (one by one), you are simply performing your duty as a human being.  All else is needless anxiety.

Again - more reminders of death.  This time, Marcus paints an unusual picture of mourners sitting by the grave of loved ones who have died.  He asks if by them sitting there, if the dead are aware and if so, would that make the dead happy?  And if so, does that make anyone immortal?  Indeed, it seems heartless and cold, this line of thinking.  But let's suppose that the dead (perhaps in spirit form) do see us sitting by their grave mourning their loss.  Does that mean the dead sit by their burial spot all the time?  Are they confined there?  If so, that must be hell for them.  And if they are there and can hear us speak and mourn for them, what is the purpose?  Does this make the dead happy?  How would we know?  The more I think about it all, the more I realize all this is speculation.  No one knows what really happens after death.  And if we did, what difference would it really make?  Recall the logic of Gods or Atoms; the end result is the same: we must live each day and each moment the best we can.  We must love and help others.  We must live, striving for virtue.

Leave the dead where they lay and preserve their memory in your mind and live your life to the fullest.  Another great philosopher said, "let the dead bury the dead."  And similarly, I've always loved the point Gandalf made in The Return of the King (movie) when he explained to Pippen why Gondor was not as great as it used to be.
The old wisdom that was borne out of the West was forsaken. Kings made tombs more splendid than the houses of the living and counted the names of their descent dearer than the names of their sons. Childless lords sat in aged halls musing on heraldry or in high, cold towers asking questions of the stars. And so the people of Gondor fell into ruin. The line of Kings failed, the White Tree withered, and the rule of Gondor was given over to lesser men.
We, who live now, must live.  We do not attain more virtue by worrying about the dead.  If the dead were alive, they would act like us who are alive; and they would tell us to live each day and count it precious.  This is what Marcus means when he says, there's no glory in constant mourning of the dead as "it is all stench and corruptions in a bag of bones."  This is what Jesus means when he said, "let the dead bury the dead."

(see also Citadel p. 30, 48, 132, 196, 206, 270, 276-277)

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B8:34-35

If you have ever seen a severed hand or foot, or a head cut off and lying some way away from the rest of the body - analogous is what someone does to himself, as far as he can, when he will not accept his lot and severs himself from society or does some unsocial act. Suppose you have made yourself an outcast from the unity of nature - you were born a part of it, but now you have cut yourself off. Yet here lies the paradox - that it is open to you to rejoin that unity. No other part has this privilege from god, to come together again once it has been separated and cut away. Just consider the grace of god's favour to man. He has put it in man's power not to be broken off from the Whole in the first place, and also, if he has broken off, to return and grow back again, resuming his role as a member.

Just as the nature of the Whole is the source of all other faculties in every rational creature, so it has given us this power too. In the same way that nature turns to its own purpose anything obstructive or contrary, placing it in the fated scheme of things and making it part of itself, so the rational being can also convert every obstacle into material for his own use, and use it to further whatever his original purpose was.

Marcus takes the view that humans are to be as a whole, just a body is not whole unless it has a head, two arms, two hands, two legs, two feet, and a torso.  He witnessed savage war and saw heads and body parts severed and laying a part from the body.  And he draws the comparison of a body part severed from the body to a human being separating himself or herself from society.  The wonderful thing about being human is the ability to separate oneself from society and still have the ability to rejoin it.  You, as a human, were meant to be a part of society.  If you are apart from it, you can still rejoin it - count this as a blessing!

Humans - rational beings - have the ability to make events work to their advantage.  Events happen, other human beings act contrary to what we expect.  We do not have to be frustrated by these "externals" (things entirely out of our control).  Rather, we can accept them for what they are, and pivot.  We can pivot in action or we can change (also a pivot) our attitude about those events.  This is how "the rational being ... convert[s] every obstacle into material for his own use, and use it to further whatever his original purpose was."  Let me give one example, from my life, of this mindset.

I used to really, really love playing basketball.  I knew I was not the best, but it didn't matter.  As long as I got to play, I was content.  I played 3 to 4 times a week with my dad and friends.  I made the freshman, sophomore and junior varsity teams in 9th, 10th and 11th grades.  Between my junior and senior year, I practiced a lot and went to a basketball camp.  It was my aim, that year, to make the varsity team and play.  I tried out, practiced hard, hustled and made every effort possible.  My coach recognized the effort, but in the end, decided I would be cut.  Knowing what my real intentions and desires were (just wanting to play basketball), I asked the coach if I could still practice with the team.  He allowed it.  I later realized it was the perfect scenario for me!  I got to practice, play basketball without any pressure, and then sit in the stands with my friends and cheer on the team.  I also was able to play in another league, outside of school, and found it extremely rewarding.  At the moment I was cut from the basketball team, I could have been very sad and griped and complained about this obstacle.  But knowing the real desires in my heart, I pivoted and looked for a way to turn this obstacle into my advantage.

I've heard a quote before, sometimes attributed to Michael Jordan, which goes something like this: "I've either won or learned."  It's that mindset of "always winning and never losing" that looks at so-called obstacles and makes those obstacles work to our advantage.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B8:31-33

The court of Augustus - wife, daughter, grandsons, step-sons, sister, Agrippa, relatives, household, friends, Areius, Maecenas, doctors, diviners: an entire court dead. Go on now to other cases, where it is not the death of just one individual but of a whole family, like the Pompeys. And there is the inscription you see on tombstones: 'The last of his line'. Just think of all the anxiety of previous generations to leave behind an heir, and then one has to be the last. Here again the death of a whole family.

You must compose your life action by action, and be satisfied if each action achieves its own end as best can be: and no one can prevent you from that achievement. 'But there will be some external obstacle.' No obstacle, though, to justice, self-control, and reason. 'But perhaps some other source of action will be obstructed.' Well, gladly accept the obstruction as it is, make a judicious change to meet the given circumstance, and another action will immediately substitute and fit into the composition of your life as discussed.

Accept humbly: let go easily. 

Why all this talk of death?  Here again, in Book 8, passage 31, Marcus describes the end of an entire family blood-line.  Isn't this all so depressing?  It can be, if you let it.  Would you rather live this life with eyes wide open, knowing full well that you and anyone you know can die at any moment and embrace that fact?  Or would you rather bury your head and not ever think about death and then have your whole world come crashing down when dear, loved ones die around you?  In both cases, death is constant; death is a reality.  But those who are resilient and persist in life with a clear mind are those who accept the fact of death.  Marcus points out all the anxiety suffered in previous generations, when they didn't have to have that anxiety!  The results were the same whether they experienced anxiety or not.  Therefore, all that anxiety suffered was self-imposed.

All that we have now is the present and what we do with the present.  We can act now.  Therefore, carry on living your life action by action.  And be sure that you give each action proper and whole effort.  If you can achieve that, then you will have success.  And if there are obstacles preventing you from carrying out your intentions, accept it and adapt.  More succinctly, accept and pivot.  Another way will be shown and you may pursue that path.

Lastly, whatever fortune comes your way, accept it humbly.  Whatever fortune leaves you, let go of it quickly and easily.  Don't reach out or hold on to things that truly are not in your control.

(see also Citadel p. 47, 195-196, 237, 258, 270)

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B8:28-30

Pain is an evil either to the body - so let the body give its evidence - or to the soul. But the soul can preserve its own clear sky and calm voyage by not assessing pain as an evil. Every judgement, every impulse, desire and rejection is within the soul, where nothing evil can penetrate.

Erase the impressions on your mind by constantly saying to yourself: 'It is in my power now to keep this soul of mine free from any vice or passion, or any other disturbance at all: but seeing all things for what they are, I can treat them on their merits.' Remember this power which nature gives you.

When you speak in the senate or to any individual, be straightforward, not pedantic. Use language which rings true.

These three passages all seem to deal with the discipline of assent.  We are bombarded with impressions from our bodies, other people, environmental events and news.  Without thought we might think something is good or bad.  As rational, social beings, we need to use our unique qualities and think about things before we give or withhold assent or agreement.  There is a gap between event and reaction.  The discipline of assent aims to widen that gap to allow us to think about things before reacting (or not reacting).

Pain is an external event.  Most types of pain can be dealt with without having the need to add on top complaining and grumbling.  Even in some extreme cases of pain, we can still separate the the mind from the bodily pain and keep ourselves from complaining.

As impressions enter your mind, you can remind yourself that you don't have to agree with them.  A very recent example was my wife was passing some information on to a friend.  Mid-way through the conversation, the friend stopped her and said, "don't tell me anything else; I've had a bad day."  My wife could have easily assumed she offended the neighbor by something she said.  But she took it a face value and simply said the neighbor had a bad day and left it at that.  Nothing 'bad' was added on top of the statement.

When speaking with others, plain speech is best.  To be pedantic means to use precise, technical, legalistic language, which is cold and doesn't facilitate good communication.  No one likes or enjoys speaking technically all the time.  And, whenever someone says, "technically speaking" it means they are trying not to be straight forward with you - there is some narrow definition that they want to constrain the conversation through.

(see also Citadel p. 30, 41, 70, 103, 216, 270)

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B8:26-27

Man's joy is to do man's proper work. And work proper to man is benevolence to his own kind, disdain for the stirrings of the senses, diagnosis of the impressions he can trust, contemplation of universal nature and all things thereby entailed.

Three relations. First, to your environment; second, to the divine cause which is the source of all that happens to all men; third, to your fellows and contemporaries.

In this first passage, Marcus outlines all three disciplines of Stoicism.  First, the discipline of action - which is to do "proper work".  Proper work is to be kind to others and to exercise the discipline of assent and desire.  And what are the disciplines of assent and desire?  He explains the discipline of assent is to disdain (or have contempt for) the stirrings (or impulses) of the senses; and to identify and understand impressions.  Lastly, he explains the discipline of desire as accepting the universal nature of things.  Ultimately, things in the universal domain are out of our control and therefore we have to accept them for what they are.

In the second passage, he talks about our relationship with our environment; our relationship to change and our relationship to our fellow men.  With regard to the environment, we always need to delineate between things in our control and things out of our control.  And then to the divine - we have to accept and love what the Gods or Universe mandate; else we will be frustrated.  And lastly, we have to work with others; help where we can and not blame those who are not enlightened.

(see also Citadel p. 173, 240)

Friday, December 8, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B8:25

Lucilla buried Verus, then Lucilla was buried. Secunda buried Maximus, then Secunda next. So with Epitynchanus and Diotimus, Antoninus and Faustina. The same story always. Celer saw Hadrian to his grave, then went to his own grave. Where are they now, those sharp minds, those prophets or prigs? Certainly Charax, Demetrius, Eudaemon, and others like them were sharp minds. But all creatures of a day, long dead. Some not remembered even briefly, some turned into legend, and some now vanishing even from legend. So remember this, that either the poor compound of your body must be scattered, or your frail spirit must be extinguished, or else migrate and take its post elsewhere.

All die.  Even the famous people of today, with passage of time, will be long forgotten.  The great flow of time and space ensures all pass into obscurity.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B8:21-24

Turn it inside out and see what it is like, what it becomes in age, sickness, death. Life is short both for praiser and praised, for the remembering and the remembered. And this, moreover, in just a cranny of one continent: even here not all are attuned to each other, or even an individual to himself. And the whole earth is a mere point in space.

Concentrate on the subject or the act in question, on principle or meaning. You deserve what you're going through. You would rather become good tomorrow than be good today.

Doing something? I do it with reference to the benefit of mankind. Something happening to me? I accept it in reference to the gods and the universal source from which all things spring interrelated.

Just as you see your bath - all soap, sweat, grime, greasy water, the whole thing disgusting - so is every part of life and every object in it.

When you observe the totality of life, especially in the context of the vastness of time and space, life indeed is short.  When viewed from this perspective, how puny it seems for someone to seek praise and to be remembered.

The only life you truly have is the one you have at this very moment.  Therefore, concentrate on the subject or matter at hand.  Marcus chided himself for wanting to become good tomorrow rather than being good today.  I am guilty of this too.  Carpe diem - seize the day!  Do it now!  Don't make plans to be better - be better!

With regard to action, always act with the purpose of benefiting others.  With regard to something happening to you, accept it.  A meeting location changed on you - if the change in location is not up for debate, then accept it and move on.  But if you think you have control over changing the location again, by all means use your ability to think and act.  Always view things in two buckets: things in your control and things out of your control.  If anything that happens to you is out of your control, don't complain; pivot and move on.

Marcus really tries to suck all his desire for things out of his control.  One of the ways he does this is to view the sum of life.  In a sense, he's simply saying don't get attached to all the things in life.  What happens in life is for your use in becoming better.  And in that process, don't get so attached to life, health, wealth, fame, etc.  Rather view life as a scrubbing.  The materials and leftovers are disgusting, but the product (you) ought to be clean.

(see also Citadel p. 38-40, 45, 49, 164-165, 185, 270)

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B8:18-20

What dies does not pass out of the universe. If it remains here and is changed, then here too it is resolved into the everlasting constituents, which are the elements of the universe and of you yourself. These too change, and make no complaint of it.

Everything has come into being for a purpose - a horse, say, a vine. Does this surprise you? Even the sun will say, 'I came into being for a purpose': likewise the other gods. For what purpose, then, were you created? For your pleasure? Just see whether this idea can be entertained.

Nature's aim for everything includes its cessation just as much as its beginning and its duration - like someone throwing up a ball. How can it be good for the ball on the way up and bad on the way down, or even when it hits the ground? How can it be good for a bubble when it forms, and bad when it bursts? A candle is a similar example.

Without commenting on whether the soul is eternal or not, one has to agree with Marcus with regard to physical things.  All things die and change states.  God says so much in the Bible, "you are dust, and to dust you shall return" (Genesis 3:19).  You can do nothing but accept this fate.  You have absolutely no control over this.

You have to ask yourself what your purpose is.  It takes a lifetime for some to find out.  For others, they know what they are supposed to do.  But philosophically, you must ask yourself if you exist to only eat, sleep, pee and poop or if there are more interesting things you were meant for.  What makes us humans unique is our brain, our capacity to act and be creative.  I think somewhere in that space you and I can find our purpose.  If nothing else, find a person or a few people who you love and make their life better for having known you.

Marcus, reminds himself, again, that all things die and that there is no need to be upset by these things.  A ball goes up, it comes down.  A bubble forms, it pops.  A human is born, he dies.  I too will repeat myself ... You can do nothing but accept this fate.  You absolutely have no control over this.

(see also Citadel p. 43, 270)

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B8:16-17

Remember that to change course or accept correction leaves you just as free as you were. The action is your own, driven by your own impulse and judgement, indeed your own intelligence.

If the choice is yours, why do the thing? But if it is another's choice, what do you blame - atoms or gods? Either is madness. There is no blame. If you can, put him right: if you can't, at the least put the matter itself right. If that too is impossible, what further purpose does blame serve? Nothing should be done without purpose.

When it comes to action and feedback, you can either assent to the feedback (the correction) and change course or remain unchanged.  You are given the gift of reason to decide what is best.  No need to complain: just act or carry on.

When others' actions are involved and you think correction is needed, then do your best to persuade and convince the other person.  The other person will either agree with you or not.  If not, then don't cast blame on them; let it go.  All actions should have a purpose.

(see also Citadel p. 203-204, 286, 301)

Monday, December 4, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B8:13-15

Constantly test your mental impressions - each one individually, if you can: investigate the cause, identify the emotion, apply the analysis of logic.

Whenever you meet someone, ask yourself first this immediate question: 'What beliefs does this person hold about the good and bad in life?' Because if he believes this or that about pleasure and pain and their constituents, about fame and obscurity, death and life, then I shall not find it surprising or strange if he acts in this or that way, and I shall remember that he has no choice but to act as he does.

It would be absurd to be surprised at a fig-tree bearing figs.  Remember that there is as little cause for surprise if the world brings forth fruits such as these when the crop is there. Equally absurd for a doctor or ship's captain to be surprised at fever in a patient or a head-wind springing up.

These three passages largely deal with the discipline of assent.  The discipline of assent - your inner citadel where you make decisions about impressions - should be an on-going, everlasting dialogue with yourself.  It should be the better half of yourself that knows better and knows the right path and the other half of yourself that aligns with who you are on the outside.

The process follows thusly: an external event occurs (a loud banging sound, your boss yelling at you, the moment you realize you've been bitten by a venomous snake, the moment you learn your child has been in a car accident, a death of a loved one).  Then comes a gap between your mind processing the external event and the real you arriving at a decision to be impressed or not.  It is in that split second of a gap where the discipline of assent aims to fix and widen.  If you have an on-going dialogue in your mind, you are able to extend that gap slightly and allow yourself time to process the external event before reacting.  One of the practices that Stoics teach is to simply break everything down so as to break impressions that have already formed.  Are you naturally inclined to be impressed by delicious food?  Then break the food down into components.  It is not sizzling, crackling, steak that is so sumptuous to the taste; rather, it is a dead animal, that has been slaughtered, guts split, blood emptied, sliced into chunks of flesh, and cooked over a skillet.  In short, it is a piece of dead animal.  If successful, you have broken the allure of steak and now you can choose whether it is good to find contentment in eating that dead animal or not.  The more one practices this "breaking of things down" the wider the gap is between external event and impression.  Hopefully, you can logically choose your impression rather than automatically choosing based on your animal instincts.

Included in the category of externals are people.  You do not have control over other people, therefore they are in the domain of externals.  And when you deal with other people, it helps to analyze them to understand where they place their contentment.  Do they seek contentment in externals (do they seek pleasure and avoid pain?  Do they seek fame and are worried about being obscure?  Do they fear death?)  If so, then it should not surprise you when they act badly.

Lastly, don't be surprised by kids acting like kids and unphilosophical people acting unphilosophically.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B8:10-12

Regret is a censure of yourself for missing something beneficial. The good must be something beneficial, and of concern to the wholly good person. No wholly good person would regret missing a pleasure. Therefore pleasure is neither beneficial nor a good.

What is this thing in itself, in its own constitution? What are its elements of substance and material, and of cause? What is its function in the world? What is its duration?

When you are reluctant to get up from your sleep, remind yourself that it is your constitution and man's nature to perform social acts, whereas sleep is something you share with dumb animals. Now what accords with the nature of each being is thereby the more closely related to it, the more in its essence, and indeed the more to its liking.

You should regret not having courage, integrity, being kind to others.  When you experience regret in these circumstances, it may be a good sign of your progression on becoming a good person.  A wholly good person does not regret opportunities to experience more pleasure.

Define everything; break it all down; strip it of its appearances.  Do this especially for fame, the desire to be immortal, for riches, wealth and fame.  Describe it in plain, unpolished, bare-to-the-bones terms.  You will then see its worth.  Ice cream is liquid from a cows teats, with fat and sugar.  The fat and sugars attach themselves to your body and provide low-grade energy.  A house is made of sticky dirt and rocks, with some wood, wires and plaster.

When you wake, remember you were born to be in the world - up, moving, doing, interacting, thinking, changing things.  Indeed, you and dumb animals share the attribute of 'sleep'.  Animals, when they wake, carry on for what they were designed to do: eat, grow fat, produce wool, etc.  What were you designed to do?  To be social, to partake in the great effort of changing the world.

(see also Citadel p. 286)

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B8:7-9

Every living organism is fulfilled when it follows the right path for its own nature. For a rational nature the right path is to withhold assent to anything false or obscure in the impressions made on its mind, to direct its impulses solely to social action, to reserve its desires and aversions to what lies in our power, and to welcome all that is assigned to it by universal nature. Because it is a part of universal nature just as the nature of the leaf is part of the plant's nature: except that in the case of the leaf its nature partakes of a nature which lacks perception or reason and is liable to impediment. Whereas man's nature is part of a nature which is unimpeded, intelligent, and just - in that to each creature it gives fair and appropriate allocations of duration, substance, cause, activity, and experience. But do not look to find a one-to-one correspondence in every case, but rather an overall equivalence - the totality of this to the aggregate of that.

Not possible to study. But possible to rein in arrogance; possible to triumph over pleasures and pains; possible to rise above mere glory; possible not to be angry with the unfeeling and the ungrateful, and even, yes, to care for them.

Let nobody any more hear you blaming palace life: don't hear yourself blaming it.

The nature of humans is to be (think and act) rational.  We are rational when we exercise the discipline of assent.  What does this mean?  We will receive impressions from our environment and other people.  We don't have to constantly react without thinking.  We can identify things that are in our control and out of our control.  Once we've made that identification, we can then base our contentedness on things that are in our control.  Otherwise, if we think we will be happy by seeking for something out of our control, we put ourselves at risk of being sad and depressed.  Therefore, we can do as Marcus counsels himself - we can withhold our assent (agreement) to anything false or obscure (vices and things out of our control).

Furthermore, as rational creatures, we can accept Universal nature - or those things that happen in the world and universe.  We can't control them, but we have to accept and live with them.  Death is a great example of something that is universal and it is something we all have to accept.

Humans can "triumph over" things out of our control.  We can extend our desires to living virtuously as opposed to living for pleasure or striving for pain avoidance.  It is all about pointing our desires to virtue.  It is possible to not want fame.  It is possible not to be angry with mean people.  It is even possible to care for the mean-spirited people.  Jesus said this with some very powerful words: "turn the other cheek."

In the last passage, Marcus chides himself to not complain about palace life.

(see also Citadel p. 29, 44, 70, 138, 219, 221, 241, 269-270, 286, 291)

Friday, December 1, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B8:5-6

First, do not be upset: all things follow the nature of the Whole, and in a little while you will be no one and nowhere, as is true now even of Hadrian and Augustus. Next, concentrate on the matter in hand and see it for what it is. Remind yourself of your duty to be a good man and rehearse what man's nature demands: then do it straight and unswerving, or say what you best think right. Always, though, in kindness, integrity, and sincerity.

The work of universal nature is to translate this reality to another, to change things, to take them from here and carry them there. All things are mutations, but there is equality too in their distribution. All is familiar: no cause then for fear of anything new.

Your desires must align with the desire of the whole; this is the discipline of desire.  If you desire things that you have no control over, you will become discontented.  You must accept the fact that what happens in the Whole is reality.  And one key aspects of that reality is that all before you have died and their fate will be your fate soon.

As for your actions: it is your duty to be a good person (to help and serve others as best and as often as you can - especially those who you come in contact with).  Remind yourself of this duty often and be sure to carry out your duty.  Always be kind; always have integrity; always be sincere.

That only constant is change.  The universal nature of the Whole is to take things as they are now and change them into the next version.  Everything changes - including you.  Accept this; embrace change!

(see also Citadel p. 48, 210)

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B8:2-4

Ask yourself this about each action: 'How does this sit with me? Shall I regret it?' In a short while I am dead and all things are gone. What more do I want, if this present work is that of an intelligent and social being, sharing one law with god?

Alexander, Julius Caesar, Pompey - what are they to Diogenes, Heraclitus, Socrates? These men saw into reality, its causes and its material, and their directing minds were their own masters. As for the former, they were slaves to all their ambitions.

Even if you burst with indignation, they will still carry on regardless.

Do you ever want to know how important something is in the grand scheme of things?  Marcus provides some advice:  how will this decision I make (each action) sit with me?  Will I regret it later?  If so, then don't do it.  Also, remember that you will shortly be dead and everything will return to dust.  When I visited my therapy counselor in 2014, she gave me similar advice.  How will this action or decision impact or matter one day from now?  One week?  A month?  A year?  Looking at actions and impacts of actions from that lens is quite helpful with decision making.  One other thing, however; be mindful of the present and small, daily actions.  Those turn into habits which then determine your character.

Marcus looked not to Alexander, Caesar and Pompey; rather he looked to Diognenes, Heraclitus and Socrates as sages and examples to follow.  They were in charge of their directing mind and were not swayed by their monkey brains.

The last section above is an excellent point.  Perhaps bursts of indignation can and do help change minds.  But more often than not, "weeping in the hallways" and having outbursts does not change minds.  Better to focus on action and what you can do rather than spending effort and time on complaining.  I love this video below because Spock's reaction to his planet being destroyed is quite Stoic.  Rather than weeping in the hallways, he chooses to act or focus on what is in his control.

(see also Citadel p. 295, 305)

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B8:1

This too is a counter to pretension, that you have lost now the chance to live your whole life, or at least your adult life, as a philosopher: indeed it has become clear to many, yourself included, that you are far from philosophy. You are tarnished, then: difficult for you now to win the reputation of a philosopher, and besides your station in life is a contrary pull. So if you have a true perception of how things lie, abandon any concern for reputation, and be satisfied if you can just live the rest of your life, whatever remains, in the way your nature wishes. You must consider, then, what those wishes are, and then let nothing else distract you. You know from experience that in all your wanderings you have nowhere found the good life - not in logic, not in wealth, not in glory, not in indulgence: nowhere. Where then is it to be found? In doing what man's nature requires. And how is he to do this? By having principles to govern his impulses and actions. What are these principles? Those of good and evil - the belief that nothing is good for a human being which does not make him just, self-controlled, brave, and free: and nothing evil which does not make him the opposite of these.

Where is the good life?  Does it lie with fame?  Wealth?  Ease and relaxation?  World travels and adrenaline thrills?  Indulgences and pleasure?  I'd wager, given enough time, any one of these would eventually cause boredom and discontent.  Indeed, for some, the time it takes to become discontent may take longer, but I'd wager eventually any person would not be fully satisfied with endless fame, wealth, ease, relaxation, travels, thrills, indulgences and pleasures.

Marcus too, tried a life of logic, wealth, glory and indulgence and was never satisfied.  He finally was convinced that satisfaction and contentment was in living a life according to nature.

What does a life lived according to nature look like?  It is the application of the discipline of assent (we don't give into impulses; rather we meditate and work to widen that gap between impulse and thoughtless action).  A life lived according to nature is a life of virtue and pursuit and attainments of excellence of character (arete).  Virtue is the sole good; the virtues being wisdom, justice, temperance and courage.  These virtues and principals are what ought to govern our impulses to action.  Furthermore, it is a life lived in service to others (social duties in the application of the discipline of action).  And lastly it is a life that accepts that God, the Gods, Fate or the Universe sends to him or her.  It is a life in which he or she truly loves his or her fate.

(see also Citadel p. 270)

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B7:73-75

When you have done good and another has benefited, why do you still look, as fools do, for a third thing besides - credit for good works, or a return?

No one tires of receiving benefit: and action in accordance with nature is your own benefit. Do not then tire of benefit gained by benefit given.

The nature of the Whole sets itself to create a universe. So now either everything that comes into being springs from that as logical consequence, or else even the primary aims to which the directing mind of the universe sets its own impulse are irrational. Reminding yourself of this will help you to face much with greater tranquility.

Bragging or even wanting recognition for service rendered is not aligned with nature.  Elsewhere in his Meditations, Marcus mentions horses that run, dogs that track, vines that produce grapes, and bees that make honey.  When they have done what they were supposed to be doing, they are not conscious of it.  So too, a human ought not to be conscious of simply doing their duty by serving others (social action; see also Book 5:6).

Just as you probably don't tire of receiving benefits when others serve you, do not tire of giving benefit to others by constantly serving.  In short, don't ever get tired or think you are tired of service.  The Christian adage of this same thought is, "do not grow weary of doing good" (see Galatians 6:9).

Reminding yourself that anything that can happen in the Universe, in turn, benefits the Universe can help you be at greater peace with events that are beyond your control.

(see also Citadel p. 43, 160, 200-201)