Sunday, January 21, 2018

Commentary on Meditations: B10:11-12

Adopt a systematic study of the way all things change into one another: pay constant attention to this aspect of nature and train yourself in it. Nothing is so conducive to greatness of mind. One so trained has divested himself of his body: recognizing that in almost no time he will have to leave all this behind and depart from the world of men, he has devoted his entire self to justice in his own actions and to the nature of the Whole in all things external. He does not even give a thought to what others will say or suppose about him, or do against him, but is content to meet these two conditions - his own integrity in each present action, and glad acceptance of his present lot. He has abandoned all other preoccupations and ambitions, and his only desire is to walk the straight path according to law and, in so doing, to follow in the path of god.

What need of prompt or hint when it is open to yourself to discern what needs to be done - and, if you can see your way, to follow it with kind but undeviating intent. If you cannot see the way, hold back and consult your best advisers. If some other factors obstruct this advice, proceed on your present resources, but with cautious deliberation, keeping always to what seems just. Justice is the best aim, as any failure is in fact a failure of justice. A man following reason in all things combines relaxation with initiative, spark with composure.

If you constantly recognize how much and how often things and people change, you really begin to see how fragile and fleeting this life is.  There are a couple of reactions to this: you may decide life and all in it is just a joke and you're going to go do whatever you want - sex, drugs, rock and roll!!  Or maybe you decide that so much in life really isn't important, and therefore what you should devote yourself to is virtue - justice, wisdom, courage, temperance.  And you won't care what others say or think about you, because you know that you have found real truth and you are focused on what truly matters.  You have found the one path that matters and your only desire is to follow it - to follow the true, undeviating nature - the one that won't disappoint you at the end of it all.

Now that you have found the way - you have dug deep and have found solid rock - you should not need to be reminded and prompted as to what you should do.  If, however, you come at a crossroads, you should have enough information to decide which path to take.  But if not, then seek advice from "your best advisers."  But if even your best advisers cannot help, then proceed with what information you have.  If your decision is defensible in the context of justice, what more can you ask for?  At ease, but with initiative; a spark of action, but under control and with composure.

(see also Citadel p. 209-210)

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Commentary on Meditations: B10:9-10

Farce, war, frenzy, torpor, slavery! Day by day those sacred doctrines of yours will be wiped out, whenever you conceive and admit them untested by natural philosophy. Every perception, every action must both satisfy the circumstantial and exercise the theoretical, so that you preserve the confidence of precise knowledge in every particular - this confidence unobtrusive, but not concealed. 

Because when will you take your pleasure in simplicity? When in dignity? When in the knowledge of each individual thing - what is its essential nature, its place in the world, its natural span of existence, what are its components, to whom can it belong, who can give it and take it away?

A spider is proud to trap a fly. Men are proud of their own hunting - a hare, a sprat in the net, boars, bears, Sarmatian prisoners. If you examine their motives, are they not all bandits?

Live an examined life.  Test your assumptions.  Soon those things you have held dear or those things you have feared, will disappear.  Develop the theory of Stoic philosophy, then put it to the test.  See if the theories work in every circumstance.

There is nothing really special about hunting; it's simply theft, when you think about it.  However, I'm not entirely convinced it's bad to eat a nice, juicy, tender steak.

(see also Citadel p. 42, 48, 258, 259)

Friday, January 19, 2018

Commentary on Meditations: B10:8

Claim your entitlement to these epithets - good, decent, truthful; in mind clear, cooperative, and independent - and take care then not to swap them for other names: and if you do forfeit these titles, return to them quickly. Remember, too, that 'clarity of mind' was meant to signify for you discriminating attention to detail and vigorous thought; 'a cooperative mind' the willing acceptance of the dispensation of universal nature; 'independence of mind' the elevation of your thinking faculty above the calm or troubled affections of the flesh, above paltry fame or death or any other indifferent thing. So if you keep yourself true to these titles, not just grubbing for this acclamation from others, you will be a new man and enter a new life.

To continue the same man as you have been up to now, to be torn apart and defiled in this life you live, is just senseless self-preservation like that of half-eaten gladiators who, mauled all over and covered in blood by the wild beasts, still plead to be kept alive for the next day, when in their same state they will meet again those same claws and teeth.

Launch yourself, then, on these few claims. If you can stay within them, stay there like a man translated to some paradise, the Islands of the Blest. But if you feel yourself falling away and losing control, retire in good heart to some corner where you will regain control - or else make a complete exit from life, not in anger, but simply, freely, with integrity, making this leaving of it at least one achievement in your life.

A great help to keeping these claims to virtue fresh in your mind will be to keep your mind on the gods, remembering that what they want is not servile flattery but the development of all rational beings into their own image: they want the fig-tree to do the proper work of a fig-tree, the dog of a dog, the bee of a bee - and man the proper work of man.

"Epithet" is just a fancy way of saying "nickname."  Also, don't be confused between epithet and epitaph (see here if you need a quick lesson).  Marcus wants to be nicknamed "good" or "decent" or "truthful" or "clear in mind" or "cooperative" or "independent."  Said slightly differently, these are the things he wants to be known for - he wants these things to represent his unique character.  Could I say the same?  It is a good exercise to see if you could be nicknamed after any of these virtues.  Marcus further elaborates on 'clarity of mind' - which is nothing more than the ability to being able to pay attention to the correct details.  How many people do you know who are versed in mindless, useless, details (sports trivia, entertainment, etc)?  Now compare them with someone who remembers details of peoples' lives - people who they interact with every day (family, friends, neighbors, co-workers).  A 'cooperative mind' is one that loves its fate.  An 'independent mind' is one that is not enslaved by thinking of desires (food, sex, money, fame) all the time.

Next he likens a person who is constantly torn between the cares for indifferents and the cares of living a life of virtue, to a gladiator who has been half-eaten but wants to keep on living.  Why all the self-torture?  Better to strive for commitment to a life of virtue than to constantly be splinched between wanting to be good, but also wanting fame, sex, drugs, rock and roll.

Better to "launch yourself" - give it all you've got - to live a life of virtue.  Epictetus teaches this concept early in the Enchiridion when he says,
As you aim for such great goals, remember that you must not undertake them by acting moderately,1 but must let some things go completely and postpone others for the time being. But if you want both those great goals and also to hold public office and to be rich, then you may perhaps not get even the latter just because you aim at the former too; and you certainly will fail to get the former, which are the only things that yield freedom and happiness.
Lastly, Marcus offers some council for keeping virtues in the forefront of your mind: "keep your mind on the gods" not to solely worship or flatter them, but to reach the goal they have set for you - which is to become sages, to be made in the image of them.  The gods created fig trees to make figs.  They created dogs to act like dogs - to be loyal, protective, etc.  They created bees to be like bees - to make honey, to spread pollen.  They created humans to be like humans - to be rational and social.

(see also Citadel p. 246)

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Commentary on Meditations: B10:7

The parts of the Whole, all that form the natural complement of the universe, must necessarily perish - and 'perish' should be taken in the sense of 'change'. Now if nature made this 'perishing' of the parts detrimental to them as well as necessary, the Whole would be poorly maintained when its parts are always on the way to change and specifically constituted to perish. Did nature deliberately undertake to harm the parts of herself, to render them both exposed to harm and necessarily condemned to fall into harm, or did she not notice these consequences? Hard to believe either.

But if someone abandons the concept of nature and explains these things as 'just the way they are', how absurd it is to combine the assertion that the parts of the Whole are naturally subject to change with surprise or resentment as if this change was something contrary to nature - especially as the dissolution of each thing is into the elements of which it is composed. Dissolution is either a scattering of the component elements or the change of solid to earth and spirit to air, so that these too are subsumed into the Reason of the Whole, whether the Whole is periodically turned to fire or renews itself through eternal mutations.

And do not imagine that this solid and this spirit are the same as at original birth. All this was gathered only yesterday or the day before from the influx of food consumed and air breathed in. So what changes is the gathered influx, and not what your mother bore. Suppose now that this influx has close implication in your individual self: that, I think, has no bearing on the present argument.

I had to really read this passage a few times to try to understand what Marcus is saying here.  In the first part of chapter 7 of Book 10, all he's really saying is he doesn't believe the the Universe was designed to be in a constant "detrimental" change state or to be condemned to simply "perish".  Rather, he is alluding that the Universe has a greater end goal in mind - or at least it has determined that change and perishing are good for the health of the Universe (self-sustainment).  And to further get at the heart of the matter: he is alluding there is a directing mind behind the Universe.

In the second part, he clearly thinks it is "absurd" that some people are so surprised at (and resent) events while simultaneously believing the Universe is random mix of events.

The last part - what I get out of it is: we as individuals, are a series of different people.  We only ever live in the now.  So the at-birth version of you is way different than the 40-year old version of yourself, which is different than the 50-year old version of yourself.  All that matters is now.

(see also Citadel p. 149)

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Commentary on Meditations: B10:6

Whether atoms or a natural order, the first premise must be that I am part of the Whole which is governed by nature: the second, that I have some close relationship with the other kindred parts. With these premises in mind, in so far as I am a part I shall not resent anything assigned by the Whole. Nothing which benefits the Whole can be harmful to the part, and the Whole contains nothing which is not to its benefit. All organic natures have this in common, but the nature of the universe has this additional attribute, that no external cause can force it to create anything harmful to itself.

So remembering that I am part of a Whole so constituted will leave me happy with all that happens to me. And in so far as I have some close relationship with the other kindred parts, I shall do nothing unsocial, but rather look to the good of my kin and have every impulse directed to the common benefit and diverted from its opposite. All this in operation guarantees that life will flow well, just as you would judge a citizen's life in proper flow when he moves on through acts which benefit his fellow citizens, and welcomes all that his city assigns him.

Two absolutes exist.

First, that we are part of the whole Universe (regardless of whether you believe there is a God or Gods or if all of it is just a random conflagration of atoms bouncing around in a constant flux).  There is no denying that there are some things ultimately out of your control and no matter how much you love it or how much you complain about it, whatever "it" is, will not change.  You simply must accept it.  Stated differently, amor fati.  In Stoic terms, this falls under the discipline of desire.

Second, we must recognize that humans are different than the vast majority of other living organisms.  What makes humans unique is our ability to reason coupled with our ability to be social. To a large degree, we have a duty to be social - to help others where we can.  This duty to help others falls under the Stoic discipline of action.

In my opinion, these two core ideas and disciplines are akin to the two great commandments in Christianity: 1) love God and 2) love neighbor.  And as long as we can keep these two ideas in the forefront of our minds and attempt to live accordingly, our "life will flow well" as Marcus states above.

(see also Citadel p. 43-44, 241) 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Commentary on Meditation: B10:4-5

If he is going wrong, teach him kindly and show him what he has failed to see. If you can't do that, blame yourself - or perhaps not even yourself.

Whatever happens to you was being prepared for you from everlasting, and the mesh of causes was ever spinning from eternity both your own existence and the incidence of this particular happening.

If others go wrong (morally speaking or otherwise) either tolerate or teach.  If you venture to teach, do so kindly and use reason and logic.  Also, be willing to listen and learn yourself.  It is entirely possible that you may be in the wrong.

Next, Marcus reminds himself and us, that whatever happens to us know is due to a complex weave of causes and effects, including his and our existence.  Regardless, whatever happens now, we must accept.  It is uniquely our fate and destiny and we must do our best to love it (amor fati).

(see also Citadel p. 140, 162,  221, 225-226)

Monday, January 15, 2018

Commentary on Meditations: B10:2-3

Observe what your physical nature requires, as one subject to the condition of mere life. Then do it and welcome it, as long as your nature as an animate being will not be impaired. Next, you should observe what your nature as an animate being requires: again, adopt all of this, as long as your nature as a rational being will not be impaired. And rational directly implies social. Follow these rules, and no further fuss.

All that happens is an event either within your natural ability to bear it, or not. So if it is an event within that ability, do not complain, but bear it as you were born to. If outside that ability, do not complain either: it will take you away before you have the chance for complaint. Remember, though, that you are by nature born to bear all that your own judgement can decide bearable, or tolerate in action, if you represent it to yourself as benefit or duty.

Chapter 2 of Book 10 is a little cryptic.  But all Marcus is really saying is along the lines of: do what you must to care for and live after the duty of the mortal body.  The physical nature of your body requires you to eat and drink to stay alive.  Do this, within reason.  And that is the key idea - you don't have to live for the body, but rather your body lives for you and you, as a rational being, should focus on performing every act rationally.  Rational, as Marcus points out, implies being social.  My father often used to tell me, "do you live to eat, or eat to live?"  His implication was that I needed to not eat for pleasure, or overeat, but rather I should eat for sustenance.  As a side-note, a year or so ago, I learned it was Socrates who coined the phrase my father would often recite to me.

Chapter 3 of Book 10 is a fancy and roundabout way of saying, "don't complain - ever!"  Marcus believes that with the proper perspective, we can bear anything without complaint.  Personally speaking, I think we all need to vent every once in a while, but after venting, we should not stray too far from reason and realize that our attitude needs to be adjusted and we need to do our best to endure nobly; to suffer well.

(see also Citadel p. 184)

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Commentary on Meditations: B10:1

My soul, will you ever be good, simple, individual, bare, brighter than the body that covers you? Will you ever taste the disposition to love and affection? Will you ever be complete and free of need, missing nothing, desiring nothing live or lifeless for the enjoyment of pleasure? Or time for longer enjoyment, or amenity of place, space, and climate? Or good company? No, will you not rather be satisfied with your present state and take pleasure in all that is presently yours? Will you not convince yourself that all your experience comes from the gods, that all is well and all will be well for you, all that the gods see fit to give you, now and hereafter, in the maintenance of that perfect Being which is good and just and beautiful, which generates all things, sustains and contains all things, embraces all things as they dissolve into the generation of others like them? Will you ever be such as to share the society of gods and men without any criticism of them or condemnation by them?

In chapter 1 of Book 10, Marcus opens up and, as if with a sigh, wonders if he'll ever make moral progress.  He makes a really good outline, in the form of a question, as to what he thinks the ideal is.

What makes that ideal soul?

Being good and simple; having integrity and being positive.  It is a disposition of love and affection for others.

The ideal soul does not desire anything - no needs, no passionate desires, no pleasures, no coveting of a better place or space or climate, no wish for good company - other than simply desiring things as they are.  The ideal soul loves what is, without extending the reach of desire for anything else.

The ideal soul loves its fate (amor fati) and all that life sends to it.  The ideal soul embraces what the Gods sends to it.  The ideal soul loves the Gods or the Universe or Fate.

The ideal soul gladly accepts change in all forms.

The ideal soul never criticizes the gods or men.

To me, this passage is exceptionally close to the notion Friedrich Nietzsche tried to capture when he said, "My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it...but love it”

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Commentary on Meditations: B9:42

Whenever you are offended at someone's lack of shame, you should immediately ask yourself: 'So is it possible for there to be no shameless people in the world?' It is not possible. Do not then ask for the impossible. This person is just one of the shameless inevitably existing in the world. Have the same thought ready for the rogue, the traitor, every sort of offender. The recognition that this class of people must necessarily exist will immediately make you kinder to them as individuals.

Another useful thought of direct application is the particular virtue nature has given us to counter a particular wrong. Gentleness is given as the antidote to cruelty, and other qualities to meet other offences. In general, you can always re-educate one who has lost his way: and anyone who does wrong has missed his proper aim and gone astray. And what harm have you suffered? You will find that none of these who excite your anger has done anything capable of affecting your mind for the worse: and it is only in your mind that damage or harm can be done to you - they have no other existence.

Anyway, where is the harm or surprise in the ignorant behaving as the ignorant do? Think about it. Should you not rather blame yourself, for not anticipating that this man would make this error? Your reason gave you the resource to reckon this mistake likely from this man, yet you forgot and are now surprised that he went wrong.

Above all, when you complain of disloyalty or ingratitude, turn inwards on yourself. The fault is clearly your own, if you trusted that a man of that character would keep his trust, or if you conferred a favour without making it an end in itself, your very action its own and complete reward. What more do you want, man, from a kind act? Is it not enough that you have done something consonant with your own nature - do you now put a price on it? As if the eye demanded a return for seeing, or the feet for walking. Just as these were made for a particular purpose, and fulfil their proper nature by acting in accordance with their own constitution, so man was made to do good: and whenever he does something good or otherwise contributory to the common interest, he has done what he was designed for, and inherits his own.

What should your reaction be to shameless people, to rogues (dishonest or unprincipled people), traitors and people with little to no virtues?  Marcus says, you should ask yourself a question.  Is it possible for these type of people not to exist in the world?  The answer is: no.  In other words, there will always be people in the world with little to no virtue.  And this doesn't mean those people are condemned to live a virtue-less life, rather perhaps, they don't know better and have yet to learn.  Again - give people the benefit of the doubt; all our journeys are different.

This leads to the next point Marcus makes with regard to dealing with people who lack virtue.  Marcus suggests being gentle and attempting to educate people who may lack virtue.  There is no harm done to you, if you are a prokopton, for you have used the opportunity of a virtue-less person to exercise the virtues of patience and gentleness.  Which leads to Marcus' next thought.

Be prepared to encounter ignorant people - expect it.  And if you find yourself annoyed or shocked by ignorant people, then blame yourself for not anticipating that.

And lastly, some parting advice from Marcus - if you trust a man who is untrustworthy, clearly you should blame yourself.  However, let me add a wrinkle and some food for thought to this idea.  How can an untrustworthy person gain or regain your trust?  Should you give them an opportunity to establish or regain your trust?  To which I would respond - yes, but start little.  Entrust them with little things to establish a track record and then move on to bigger things if they succeed in keeping that trust.  I think age of the person ought to be considered.  For a young child, teenager or young adult, we must do this.  But for an ignorant person who has a long, bad track record, proceed with caution!

Also, in the last part of chapter 42 of Book 9, Marcus clearly counsels that good, right action is your duty and there should never be expectations of reward.  His analogy of an eye demanding payment for simply seeing (doing its duty).  Therefore, do good and leave it be.  You have done your duty - it is enough.

(see also Citadel p. 201, 225-226, 271)

Commentary on Meditations: B9:41

Epicurus says: 'In my illness my conversations were not about the sufferings of my poor body, and I did not prattle on to my visitors in this vein, but I continued to discuss the cardinal principles of natural philosophy, with particular reference to this very point, how the mind shares in such disturbances of the flesh while still preserving its calm and pursuing its own good.' He goes on: 'I did not allow the doctors either to preen themselves on any great achievement, but my life continued fine and proper.' An example, then, for you in sickness, if you are sick, and in any other circumstance. All schools agree that you should not abandon philosophy in any eventualities of life, nor join the ignorant chatter of the uneducated layman. Concentrate only on the work of the moment, and the instrument you use for its doing.

A movie about Winston Churchill is currently in the move theaters.  The movie is called Darkest Hour.  It is focused on the time period between when Germany invaded Poland in 1939 and when England was desperately trying to get her troops out of France at Dunkirk (which there was also a movie recently released about those events ... Dunkirk).  There is one scene in Darkest Hour where Churchill takes the subway and talks to British citizens.  Up to this point, he's been told on all sides that Britain needs to concede to Germany and sue for peace.  But he strongly believe Britain needs to fight back ("you cannot negotiate with a tiger when your head is in its mouth!").  As he's on the subway, he gets a taste of the British spirit and sees that her people are willing to fight Hitler and his Nazi thugs.  The rest is history.  Britain fights on and is the only nation to fight Germany for the entirety of World War Two.  After the events of Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain began.  The Luftwaffe bombed London and other parts of Britain.  But the British endured and showed the world their "stiff upper lip."  It was in this time period (1939-1940) when a motivational poster was printed, with the intent to raise morale.  Although the poster was hardly ever publicly displayed, it emerged sixty years later and ignited the "Keep Calm" meme wave.

What does all this have to do with Marcus Aurelius?  In chapter 41 of Book 9, Marcus quotes Epicurus.  The quote essentially says, don't complain about sufferings, rather talk about philosophy and virtue (if you're going to talk at all)!  The one directive your mind should have, always, is to work in the present moment and your work should always engage the one instrument that makes you unique above all other things: your mind and it's ability to reason.

If your city is being fire-bombed by Nazis, keep calm and carry on.
If you are sick or have cancer, keep calm and carry on.
If you have lost all your money, your job, your friends, keep calm and carry on.

I'll wrap up this post with a poem from another British character.  The poem is entitled Invictus by William Ernest Henley.

Commentary on Meditations: B9:40

possible Stoic prayer
Either the gods have power or they do not. Now, if they have no power, why pray? If they do have power, why not pray for their gift of freedom from all worldly fear, desire, or regret, rather than for the presence or absence of this or that? Certainly, if the gods can cooperate with men, they can cooperate to these ends.

But you might say: 'The gods have put these things in my own power.' Is it not then better to use your own power in freedom rather than show a servile and supine concern for what you cannot control? And who told you that the gods do not help us even to the ends which lie within our own power? At any rate, pray about these things, and you will see. One man prays: 'How can I sleep with that woman?' Your prayer is: 'How can I lose the desire to sleep with her?' Another prays: 'How can I be rid of that man?' You pray: 'How can I stop wanting to be rid of him?' Another: 'How can I save my little child?' You: 'How can I learn not to fear his loss?' And so on. Give all your prayers this turn, and observe what happens.

In a similar vein as the "Gods or Atoms" discussion, there is the discussion on the topic Gods having power or not.  Marcus goes down the branches and observes the dogma a Stoicism in the context of Gods having power or not.  If they indeed have no power (over humans), then praying is worthless.  But, supposing the Gods do have power and indeed cooperate with humans, then Marcus suggests how you should pray to them.  Ask them to give you real freedom.  Freedom from passions, fear, regrets, and desires.  These are the real slave-masters of humans, which if Gods do have power, perhaps they can help us humans gain freedom from them.

Some people may reply that we humans already have the power to release ourselves from the slavery of fear, anxiety, passions and desires.  Excellent!  Then use that power.  Show the Gods how good of a steward you are with your freedom.

If all that is not clear, Marcus provides a couple of examples.  One man may ask the Gods to help him in his quest to sleep with a woman.  A prokopton (one who makes progress on the path of Stoicism) would not pray to sleep with a woman, but would pray for the freedom from the desire to sleep with her.

Another person prays to the Gods that an undesirable person who is in their life, leaves (i.e. praying that their school teacher or boss moves away or perhaps gets in a car accident and dies).  A prokopton would pray for the freedom from the desire to be rid of that person.  And furthermore, I would add that they would also pray for wisdom - how they could learn from this undesirable person.

Yet another person would pray for their little child who may be on the verge of death - that the Gods would save her.  A prokopton would pray for freedom from the fear of loss.

In each instance, a prokopton prays for virtue or greater power or ability to exercise virtue.

Lastly, the Serenity Prayer seen above, is a possible Stoic prayer regarding the discipline of desire and action along with the virtues of courage and wisdom.

(see also Citadel p. 271)

Friday, January 12, 2018

Commentary on Meditations: B9:37-39

Enough of this miserable way of life, enough of grumbling and aping! Why are you troubled? What is new in this? What is it that drives you mad? The cause? Then face it. Or rather the material? Then face that. Apart from cause and material there is nothing. But you should even now, late though it is, see to your relation to the gods also: make yourself simpler, and better. Three years is as good as a hundred in this quest.

If he did wrong, the harm is to himself. But perhaps he did not do wrong.

Either all things flow from one intelligent source and supervene as in one coordinated body, so the part should not complain at what happens in the interest of the whole - or all is atoms, and nothing more than present stew and future dispersal. Why then are you troubled? Say to your directing mind: 'Are you dead, are you decayed, have you turned into an animal, are you pretending, are you herding with the rest and sharing their feed?'

I love it when advice from Marcus and my personal life events collide!  How timely is chapter 37 from Book 9 for me now.  I have, just this week, started a new assignment.  I am responsible for the service management of about 10 critical company applications, along with about 350 non-critical applications.  My job responsibilities are very vague and I need to juggle a dozen different things at once.  Thankfully my talent stack is such that I can potentially step into the role and immediately add value.  But, I admit, I worry and I see how I will have long days - often unplanned and unannounced - causing me to grumble inwardly.  What else is there to do?  The job is interesting!  So face it!  There is nothing surprising that will or can happen.  You have the talent stack to do this!  You have seen all this before in one former assignment or another.  So make a plan, put in the work and don't be sad about this lot in life - ever!  Remember, where a man can live, a man can live well!

If he did wrong, then tolerate or teach - there is no harm to you.  But perhaps he did not do wrong and it is you who needs to learn!

Gods or Atoms!  It doesn't matter where you conclusion lies.  Are you alive?  If so, you are thinking and a rational being.  If so, then act rationally.

(see also Citadel p. 41, 43, 148, 150)

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Commentary on Meditations: B9:34-36

What are the directing minds of these people? What are they set on, what governs their likes and values? Train yourself to look at their souls naked. When they think that their blame will hurt or their praise advantage, what a conceit that is!

Loss is nothing more than change. Universal nature delights in change, and all that flows from nature happens for the good. Similar things have happened from time everlasting, and there will be more such to eternity. So why do you say that everything has always happened for the bad and always will, that all those gods between them have evidently never found any power to right this, so the world is condemned to the grip of perpetual misery?

The rotting of the base material of everything. Water, dust, bones, stench. Again: marble is a mere deposit in the earth, gold and silver mere sediments; your clothing is animal hair, your purple is fish blood; and so on with all else. And the vital spirit is just the same, changing from this to that.

It's one thing when seemingly random events happen (blown tire, weather-related, series of unfortunate events) - we can usually accept them as obstacles and do our best to pivot and move around them.  But what about other people?  Shouldn't they know better?!  This is where the discipline of assent really becomes your friend.  In my opinion, there are a couple of tactics to mentally shifting your attitude to adapt to what other people do.  First, we can embrace Stoic philosophy, which teaches us that for the most part, people act out of reason.  Therefore, if we can attempt to mentally reach into others' directing mind and "look at their souls naked", we might find that they did not intend harm.  Perhaps their reasons for doing something seemed logical to them.  This leads me to the second tactic which is: give others the benefit of the doubt; or to perhaps put it in Stoic terms, assume others have good reasons for what they did.  Once we have mentally given others the benefit of the doubt, we have a couple of choices.  We can either tolerate their actions or if we think there is a better way, we can show them.

Moving on to chapter 35 of Book 9, Marcus reminds us all of the constant churn in the Universe.  The Universe loves to change.  From the smallest and most frequent of changes (night to day, day to night, organic growth) to large scale, long cycle change (the four seasons, century and millennial events).  If this change is constant and has happened before and will happen again, why should we call it bad?  Would the tree call losing its leaves bad?  If nothing died or changed, the Universe would be stale.  Wouldn't that be worse?  If you find yourself complaining about change, really spend some time thinking about what changes, how often things change and how much good the process of renewal brings to the world.

Related to change is managing our desires.  In chapter 36, Book 9, Marcus is telling himself not to get attached to "indifferents" or things that truly don't matter in the Stoic paradigm.  Remember, what is of most importance to the Stoics is virtue (adherence to wisdom, justice, courage, temperance, etc).  Because humans have been trained to place a lot of value on our bodies, material possession, riches, etc, we need to remind ourselves that these things don't really matter - they aren't worth spending our worry and anxiety on them.  And to help with breaking our desires for indifferent things, we apply the discipline of assent and we "break things down" into what they are.  Gold and marble are nothing more than a deposit in the earth.  Your clothes are just fibers dyed in color.  Nothing to get excited about.

(see also Citadel p. 166, 271)

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Commentary on Meditations: B9:32-33

You can strip away many unnecessary troubles which lie wholly in your own judgement. And you will immediately make large and wide room for yourself by grasping the whole universe in your thought, contemplating the eternity of time, and reflecting on the rapid change of each thing in every part - how brief the gap from birth to dissolution, how vast the gulf of time before your birth, and an equal infinity after your dissolution.

All that you see will soon perish; those who witness this perishing will soon perish themselves. Die in extreme old age or die before your time - it will all be the same.

Getting the right perspective on things is, in my opinion, vital to living a life of contentment.  I've not read the book, but from what I can tell of the title, it deals with having the right perspective.  The book is called, Don't Sweat the Small Stuff ... and It's All Small Stuff: Simple Ways to Keep the Little Things from Taking Over Your Life.  A phrase I've often heard, that is also appropriate about learning perspective, is, "don't make a mountain out of a mole hill."  If you find yourself constantly wringing your hands over big events, small events, unexpected events, life changes (big and small), people, money worries, health worries, etc., etc., then you need to get some perspective.  Hence the Stoics would often practice contemplating the vastness of time and space and view their lot in all of it.  Once we see how small we are in time and space, those worries get really small, really fast.

For me, one of the best ways I've learned to help myself keep that proper perspective is to be a student of history.  I bounce around quite a bit on the historical timeline.  But I've read books about ancient Greece, to books about World War Two, to books that talk about the Golden Age of Piracy.  And each of those books are filled with stories of people who've lived a lifetime full of wild, fascinating, arduous, beautiful and harrowing experiences.  And then to think about all the complex and extremely deep history this world has and contrast that to the countless planets and solar systems and galaxies and possibly what history they may have ... it's mind-boggling to say the least.  How tiny and small I am and how insignificant my worries are.

And still after you realize how tiny and small you and your worries are, the constant reminder of: after all is said and done, we all die anyway.

Lastly, some advice about how morbid and depressing these thoughts may be.  To the contrary!  You are alive now!  You can choose what you will do and how you will live.  The exercises above are merely to help you get over it and start living!  As Marcus says, it "make[s] large and wide room for yourself" or it gives you some space to focus on things in your control.  Don't live your life all wrapped up in worry and anxiety - look beyond that and do your part to add to the complex and enduring story of human history!  Indeed, carpe diem!

(see also Citadel p. 172, 254)

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Commentary on Meditations: B9:30-31

Take a view from above - look at the thousands of flocks and herds, the thousands of human ceremonies, every sort of voyage in storm or calm, the range of creation, combination, and extinction. Consider too the lives once lived by others long before you, the lives that will be lived after you, the lives lived now among foreign tribes; and how many have never even heard your name, how many will very soon forget it, how many may praise you now but quickly turn to blame. Reflect that neither memory nor fame, nor anything else at all, has any importance worth thinking of.

Calm acceptance of what comes from a cause outside yourself, and justice in all activity of your own causation. In other words, impulse and action fulfilled in that social conduct which is an expression of your own nature.

In chapter 30 of Book 9, Marcus reminds himself how little his existence is and how it truly does not matter.  One of the oft-used Stoic practices is to reflect on this "view from above."  The purpose of this exercise is to give yourself a reality check and a strong dose of humility, as well as to strengthen your love and kindness for all humankind.  In other words, it puts everything in the proper perspective.  In this passage, the purpose Marcus is trying to achieve is to beat down his pride and desire for fame.

In chapter 31, Marcus alludes to the other impact of taking the view from above: that of accepting that there are things bigger than you as well as developing a stronger kinship with all people, which naturally leads to healthy social conduct.

If you have about 20 minutes (and you should), take the time to watch the video below.  Astronauts who see the Earth for the first time experience what is now called "the overview effect."  At the heart of this effect is the deeply profound sense of love and unity they experience once they see this fragile oasis of a blue marble sitting in the vastness of space.  All thoughts of hate, anger, pride and selfishness leave.  And what is left is an unforgettable feeling of love and compassion.  As you watch the video, you begin to get a sense of how important it is to take a "view from above" and how it can change you.

OVERVIEW from Planetary Collective on Vimeo.

(see also Citadel p. 48,

Monday, January 8, 2018

Commentary on Meditations: B9:29

The universal cause is a torrent, sweeping everything in its stream. So, man, what does that mean for you? Do what nature requires at this moment. Start straight away, if that is in your power: don't look over your shoulder to see if people will know. Don't hope for Plato's Utopian republic, but be content with the smallest step forward, and regard even that result as no mean achievement. How worthless are these little men in the public eye who think their actions have anything to do with philosophy! They are full of snot. And who will change their views? Without a change of view what alternative is there to slavery - men groaning and going through the motions of compliance? Go on, then, talk to me now of Alexander and Philip and Demetrius of Phalerum. I shall follow them, if they saw the will of universal nature and took themselves to her school. But if they simply strutted a dramatic role, no one has condemned me to imitate them. The work of philosophy is simple and modest. Do not seduce me to pompous pride.

Life is extremely complex, or at least it can seem that way.  Despite all that complexity and the vastness of time and space, you still only have to decide what you are going to do right now.  That is all you have control over.  And how do you boil everything down - how do you get it from the complex to the comprehensible - so that you can decide how to use your time and actions now?  Simply put: reason.  Furthermore, the Stoics have applied their reasoning and have arrived at the conclusion of: virtue is the sole good.  Therefore, if you funnel all your choices and thinking into the paradigm of "virtue is the sole good" then you will see this complex world through the lens of wisdom, justice, courage and temperance.

Extending that concept on to society and civilization; Plato perhaps saw society as full of philosophers where everyone was enlightened.  It is a worthy goal.  But philosophically herding humans is about as easy as herding cats.  Therefore any progress you make in enlightening others ought to be celebrated as no small (mean or average) achievement.

Further in the passage, Marcus seems to be saying the alternative to enlightenment (philosophy) is slavery, which he defines as "groaning" and "going through the motions" - certainly no joy in that!  Then he seems to defend men who at least preached that everyone ought to live a life philosophically, but perhaps were hypocrites ("simply strutted a dramatic role").  To which Marcus responds he certainly has the capacity to listen to reason from hypocrites, but he is absolutely not condemned to act the hypocrite - he can take the lesson without having to act like the (bad) teacher.  A modern day rendition of this idea is "don't throw the baby out with the bathwater."  To be clearer, however, I think the ideal scenario is to learn philosophy from sages - true Stoic sages who live what they teach.

(see also Citadel p. 271, 303-305)

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Commentary on Meditations: B9:28

The recurrent cycles of the universe are the same, up and down, from eternity to eternity. And either the mind of the Whole has a specific impulse for each individual case - if so, you should welcome the result - or it had a single original impulse, from which all else follows in consequence: and why should you be anxious about that? The Whole is either a god - then all is well: or if purposeless - some sort of random arrangement of atoms or molecules - you should not be without purpose yourself.

In a moment the earth will cover us all. Then the earth too will change, and then further successive changes to infinity. One reflecting on these waves of change and transformation, and the speed of their flow, will hold all mortal things in contempt.

As often as the universe changes, much remains the same.  The ups and downs (change) are actually repetitive and constant.  Perhaps the length of those cycles have a long burn period and the relatively short life span of humans makes us think some of these changes are permanent, but in fact, there is far more lengthier repetition than we live to see.  As a side-note, consider the perspective of the Long Now Organization, which is running a project for the 10,000 year clock (also see youtube video below).  Life seen in this perspective gets at the heart of what Marcus means about the "recurrent cycles of the universe" and how they repeat for eternity.

Getting back to Marcus Aurelius and his thoughts about whether there is an impulse directing traffic, so-to-speak, or if there was just an original impulse behind the universe; this is the whole God or Atoms perspective, which has been and continues to be argued by many people, including philosophers.  For the Stoics, they believe whether one believes in God(s) or atoms (intelligent design or random events), what ultimately matters is your reaction to it all.  The Stoics believed that our actions should be the same irrespective if we believe in God or if we are atheist or if we are agnostic.  If we believe in intelligent design, then embrace it, welcome it and be grateful there is a rational mind directing traffic so-to-speak.  If we believe events are random (a sort of chaos), then we've learned that we still can eek out a life of reason and order, in which case we ought to live a life of purpose.

In the second half of Book 9 chapter 28, Marcus reminds us that we should have nothing but contempt (i.e. not worth our anxiety, worry and concern) for mortal things.  All things - you, me, others, our possessions, cities, countries, governments, cultures - pass in time.  Where we ought to place our concern, worries and anxiety is moral virtue.  As the Stoics succinctly say, "virtue is the sole good."

(see also Citadel p. 43, 148, 150-151, 161, 172)

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Commentary on Meditations: B9:24-27

Children's tantrums and toys, 'tiny spirits carrying corpses' the Underworld in the Odyssey strikes more real!

Go straight to the qualifying cause and examine it separately from the material element. Then establish the maximum time for which this individual thing thus qualified can by its nature subsist.

You have endured innumerable troubles by not leaving your directing mind to do the work it was made for. But enough.

When another blames you or hates you, or people voice similar criticisms, go to their souls, penetrate inside and see what sort of people they are. You will realize that there is no need to be racked with anxiety that they should hold any particular opinion about you. But you should still be kind to them. They are by nature your friends, and the gods too help them in various ways - dreams and divination - at least to the objects of their concern.

Illusions - things that aren't real.  They are constructs of your mind and are not Truth.  In the first passage, Marcus reminds us that scary fiction is more fearful than meager tantrums from children.  Regardless, they are both imaginary constructs.

With regard to these illusions, turn it around - observe it.  Ask yourself how long it can survive on it's own without any mental support or attention from you.  The answer should be: "not long."

So many illusions you have created on your own by not training your hegemonikon.

More illusions are created (in your mind) when you fail to get into the mental shoes of others.  Likely, the other person does not have the mental ability to speak with reason and so they may have lashed out in hate or blame or pettiness.  But, keep digging and if you're sharp, you can figure out a way to give them the benefit of the doubt and perhaps even teach and help them.

(see also Citadel p. 41, 66, 167, 217, 271)

Friday, January 5, 2018

Commentary on Meditations: B9:22-23

Hurry to your own directing mind, to the mind of the Whole, and to the mind of this particular man. To your own mind, to make its understanding just; to the mind of the Whole, to recall what you are part of; to this man's mind, to see whether there is ignorance or design - and at the same time to reflect that his is a kindred mind.

Just as you yourself are a complementary part of a social system, so too your every action should complement a life of social principle. If any action of yours, then, does not have direct or indirect relation to the social end, it pulls your life apart and destroys its unity. It is a kind of sedition, like an individual in a democracy unilaterally resigning from the common harmony.

Alignment, oneness and reminder that we are all cosmopolitans (citizens of the universe).  Do your own duty by observing your own directing mind.  Observe and accept the directing mind of the universe.  Some will say this is accepting God's will, and others will say it is accepting their fate.  Regardless, whatever happens in this arena, you must accept it.  And lastly, by observing the mind of others, you can try to discern ignorance (if so, then teach) or design (if so, embrace and collaborate with).  We are all kindred, rational minds and spirits.

In the passage, Marcus reminds us to engage in society, and that engagement needs to be social and rational.  We are part of a society - a social structure.  Your actions, then, need to support and advance the social unity.  If there is disagreement, then civil, rational debate should ensue.  But to disengage and take an attitude of a dictator will do nothing but tear down social unity and structure.

(see also Citadel p. 214, 271)

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Commentary on Meditations: B9:21

The termination of an activity, the pause when an impulse or judgement is finished — this is a sort of death, but no harm in it. Turn now to the stages of your life - childhood, say, adolescence, prime, old age. Here too each change a death: anything fearful there? Turn now to your life with your grandfather, then with your mother, then with your [adoptive] father. And as you find many other examples of dissolution, change, or termination, ask yourself: 'Was there anything to fear?' So too there is nothing to fear in the termination, the pause, and the change of your whole life.

In this passage, Marcus compares change to a type of death.  Whenever you finish an act (end of a school period, end of a basketball game, end of a party), that act is now dead.  Whenever you pause (mentally) before judging something, this too is a type of death.  Yet you don't think anything of it.  The end of these events is no big deal whatsoever.  Moving on to grander events such as leaving childhood, entering middle school or high school or leaving home for the first time or buying your own home for the first time - these events too are deaths of a sort.  In all this, you may experience a little anxiety, but there is nothing significant to fear.  And if you pay close attention, you will notice that as you look back on these events, there was nothing to fear.  In fact, you may even experience a sense of accomplishment and growing more mature.  Your ultimate death will be similar - no need to fear.  It is simply a change from one level of maturity to the next.

(see also Citadel p. 271)