Thursday, November 23, 2017

Be Grateful, Not Gluttonous

In the United States and other places around the world, many are celebrating Thanksgiving.  The holiday has a long tradition going back centuries.  It is a day and time set aside to focus on the virtue of gratitude.  Usually after the harvest has finished, people use the time to feast and be grateful for they many blessings they have.

Unfortunately, many (including your's truly) use the occasion to expand their stomachs, unbutton their pants and let the food flow!  No doubt, it is a great time to loosen up a bit.  Just be mindful that the occasion is to celebrate gratitude and not gluttony.  Let's all be more mindful not to replace a virtue with a vice.

And before you accuse me of being too preachy, I'll just say this post is more for me than it is for you!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B7:60-61

The body, too, should stay firmly composed, and not fling itself about either in motion or at rest. Just as the mind displays qualities in the face, keeping it intelligent and attractive, something similar should be required of the whole body. But all this should be secured without making an obvious point of it.

The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing, in that it stands ready for what comes and is not thrown by the unforeseen.

In the first part, I believe Marcus is saying nothing other than, "keep your body physically fit; and don't be pretentious about it."  The point being the body and health of the body should be treated as indifferent.  The point and purpose of life is not to be the most fit.  For some people, all they can think about and do is keep their body fit and in shape all the time.  Life is about the mind and virtue, not about having the most fit body.  What good can come from having a perfect body, but no virtuous mind to go with it?  So, take care of your body, but don't do so at the expense of caring for your mind.

The art of living: be ready at any moment for any event.

Commentary on Meditations: B7:58-59

In every contingency keep in your mind's eye those who had the same experience before, and reacted with vexation, disbelief, or complaint. So where are they now? Nowhere. Well then, do you want to act like them? Why not leave the moods and shifts of others to the shifting and the shifted, and for yourself concentrate wholly on how to make use of these contingencies? You will then use them well, and they will be raw material in your hands. Only take care, and seek your own best good in all that you do. Remember these two things: the action is important, the context indifferent.

Dig inside yourself. Inside there is a spring of goodness ready to gush at any moment, if you keep digging.

Just yesterday (November 21, 2017) while at my son's basketball game, we were talking with another parent about the lack of organization with the coaching staff (high school got flooded, students and teachers have to commute 45 minutes to another school for classes and sports, kids and teachers' homes flooded, extenuating circumstances, etc.).  In other words, there are lots of excuses and reasons to give the staff the benefit of the doubt for why they are not organized and why they cannot communicate better.  So this parent just went off on them.  They complained and moaned and griped.  This parent, too, was flooded and despite that, they still think that flooding and the extenuating circumstances are no excuse for lack of organization and communication with the coaching staff.  Now, the most surprising thing about all this, was how un-miffed my attitude was compared to this parent.  Perhaps my former self would have moaned and complained just as much as this parent did, but not my current self.

This is what Marcus is saying here.  He's saying, "remember that others have had this experience before and they have reacted badly and it got them nowhere."  Complaining accomplishes nothing!  Leave the complaining to the complainers.  Instead of complaining, use your efforts to solve the problem; how you can turn this obstacle to your advantage.  I love his last statement: action is important, context is indifferent (meaning it doesn't matter).

Don't give up!  Keep digging within; the goodness is ready to burst at any moment, but you have to keep digging - you have to keep trying!

(see also Citadel p. 261)

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B7:56-57

Imagine you were now dead, or had not lived before this moment. Now view the rest of your life as a bonus, and live it as nature directs.

Love only what falls your way and is fated for you. What could suit you more than that?

Death should be before us always.  And why?  Marcus tells us precisely why.  You must realize you are already dead; now wake up and realize that right now and any day in the future is a gift.  If you think on death constantly, you ought to appreciate the life you do have.  Memento mori!  Remember that you must die, now live!  To remind them of the fact that every day is a gift, people used to and still do today, carry a reminder with them always, to help them remember this fact.  Some would hang a picture on the kitchen wall or room.  Others would carry a token.  Regardless how you choose to remember, the practice of remembering your death is a good one.

In the 57th chapter of Book 7, Marcus comes as close as possible to what Nietzsche said: amor fati.  We must love what falls to us and what is fated to us.  All these things are suited (customized) for our benefit.

(see also Citadel p. 46, 221)


Commentary on Meditations: B7:55

Do not look around at the directing minds of other people, but keep looking straight ahead to where nature is leading you both universal nature, in what happens to you, and your own nature, in what you must do yourself. Every creature must do what follows from its own constitution. The rest of creation is constituted to serve rational beings (just as in everything else the lower exists for the higher), but rational beings are here to serve each other. So the main principle in man's constitution is the social. The second is resistance to the promptings of the flesh. It is the specific property of rational and intelligent activity to isolate itself and never be influenced by the activity of the senses or impulses: both these are of the animal order, and it is the aim of intelligent activity to be sovereign over them and never yield them the mastery - and rightly so, as it is the very nature of intelligence to put all these things to its own use. The third element in a rational constitution is a judgement unhurried and undeceived. So let your directing mind hold fast to these principles and follow the straight road ahead: then it has what belongs to it.

An excellent passage from Marcus!  In here, he again outlines our duties with regard to the Universe, and to others and to ourselves.

With regard to universal nature, we must accept it.  What happens outside of our control simply must be.  It does no good to take pleasure in it nor to be disturbed by it.  We simply have to accept it and decide what our attitude will be with regard to events out of our control.

What makes humans unique is their constitution and capacity to reason - to think.  Things that do not and cannot think are designed to serve those that can think.  And those things that can think are designed to serve and help each other.  Our duty to others is service.

With regard to ourselves, we must resist the "promptings of the flesh."  Pleasure is not the sole good.  Animals act out of impulse.  Humans do not (or ought not).  I believe it was Socrates who said something along the line of: "you should eat to live, not live to eat."  The same idea can be applied to all impulses.

Lastly, humans ought to develop the proper capacity to judge.  We ought to use reason and logic (god-given gifts).  And when we use our god-given gifts, let us use them "unhurried and undeceived."

(see also Citadel p. 130, 267)

Monday, November 20, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B7:53-54

Where a task can be accomplished in accordance with the reason which gods and men share, there is nothing to be afraid of: because where there is the possibility of benefit from an action which moves along the proper path, following our own human constitution, there should be no lurking fear of any harm.

Everywhere and all the time it is up to you to honour god in contentment with your present circumstance, to treat the men who are your present company with justice, and to lavish thought on every present impression in your mind, so that nothing slips in past your understanding

Simply put, if we use our reason to act and to complete a task, then there is no reason to fear harm.

In the second part, Marcus outlines our duties with regard to God, to others and to ourselves.  Our duty to God is to love our fate - to be grateful for the life God has given us and for what God has sent our way (in other words, apply the discipline of desire).  Our duty to others is to be just toward them (in other words, apply the discipline of action).  And to ourselves, our duty is to think on every impression and understand them (in other words, apply the discipline of assent).

(see also Citadel p. 35, 44, 218)

Commentary on Meditations: B7:50-52

Again: 'What is born of earth goes back to earth: but the growth from heavenly seed returns whence it came, to heaven.'  Or else this: a dissolution of the nexus of atoms, and senseless molecules likewise dispersed.

Again: 'With special food or drink, or sorcery, Seeking a channel from the stream of death.'
'The wind that blows from god we must endure, and labour uncomplaining.'

'Better at throwing his man': but not more public-spirited, or more decent, or more disciplined to circumstance, or more tolerant of neighbours' faults.

The last of the quotes Marcus writes in book 7.  The first part is another passage regarding the shortness of life and how all things will return to earth.  Here, Marcus delineates between the body that returns to earth and the intellectual mind and the unique human capacity to reason, returns from whence it came - to "heaven" or perhaps the author of the universe.  If indeed we do return to atoms, then Marcus thinks it "senseless."

If I understand the second part, it seems to say that some seek to escape death with magical food or drink or sorcery, but in reality, none can escape death.  We must labor through this life and die - that is our fate.  We must amor fati (love our fate) - meaning we ought to not only be grateful for our hardships, but we must love them.  After all, our hardships do define us.

Seneca once said, "I judge you unfortunate because you have never been unfortunate; you have passed through life without an antagonist; no one will know what you can do, - not even yourself" (source: Seneca Moral Essays Volume 1; click that link then scroll up just a bit).  If you have hardships and trails, you are fortunate in the sense you get to be tested and tried.  Now all that is left is to live up to the challenge.

The last part on Marcus' meditations above is his commentary about a man's ability to tackle or throw a man, but can't control himself in attitude around others.  Akin to: he can win a football championship (Super Bowl) but can't control himself when his neighbors do something that upsets him.

(see also Citadel p. 268-269)

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B7:47-49

Observe the movement of the stars as if you were running their courses with them, and let your mind constantly dwell on the changes of the elements into each other. Such imaginings wash away the filth of life on the ground.

Further, when your talk is about mankind, view earthly things as if looking down on them from some point high above flocks, armies, farms, weddings, divorces, births, deaths, the hubbub of the law-courts, desert places, various foreign nations, festivals, funerals, markets; all the medley of the world and the ordered conjunction of opposites.

Look back over the past - all those many changes of dynasties.  And you can foresee the future too: it will be completely alike, incapable of deviating from the rhythm of the present. So for the study of human life forty years are as good as ten thousand: what more will you see?

You must know your place in time and space.  Once you appreciate your position in time and space, you will begin to realize how small and petty things can be.  Once you realize this, worries and anxiety about these things ought to decrease.

Hence, Marcus counsels to observe the stars and their movements.  You will see repetition and it will give you a sense of calm and order.  He advises to imagine a "view from above" in which you see all the great nations, armies and cities in the world.  Such a view may fill you with wonder and awe and you may realize how small the 'blue dot' is.  Then think of the hundreds and thousands of years of time and how so very little time you occupy in this life.  Change is constant and repetitive.  Don't get worked up about things.  Forty years is as good as ten thousand years to 'see it all.'

Lastly, remember all these things are not in our control.  Don't let your contentment and happiness depend on these things.  Let your peace and contentment rest on whether you life a life according to nature and virtue (reason and moral virtue).

(see also Citadel p. 48, 167,  173, 178, 256)



Friday, November 17, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B7:45-46

'The truth of the matter, my fellow Athenians, is this. Whatever position a man has taken up in his own best judgement, or is assigned by his commander, there, it seems to me, he should stay and face the danger, giving no thought to death or anything else before dishonour.'

'But, my dear fellow, consider it possible that nobility and virtue are something other than saving one's life or having it saved. Could it not be that anyone who is truly a man should dismiss any concern for a particular length of life, and not simply live for the sake of living? Rather he should leave all this to god and believe what the womenfolk say, that no one ever escapes the day of his fate: his thought should be on this further question, how best to live his life in the time he has to be alive.'

For the Stoics, virtue is the sole good.  Concern for life or death is not the purpose of life.  Rather, it is living virtuously.  It is a noble attempt to live a life content and focused on virtue.  We will all fall short of that goal, but we can dust ourselves off, get up and try again.  Don't worry about death.  Death will come to us all.  Best to choose to live a life of virtue with the time you have left.

(see also Citadel p. 57, 269)

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B7:38-44

'Mere things, brute facts, should not provoke your rage: They have no mind to care.'

'May you give joy to the immortal gods, and joy to us.'

'Ripe ears of corn are reaped, and so are lives: One stands, another falls.'

'If I and my two sons are now no more; The gods' concern, this too will have its cause.'

'For good and right stand on my side.'

'Don't join in mourning, or in ecstasy.'

'But I could give this man a proper answer. I would say: "You are mistaken, my friend, if you think that a man of any worth at all should take into account the risk of life or death, and not have as his sole consideration in any action whether he is doing right or wrong, the act of a good man or a bad".'

These passages largely deal with choosing the best attitude with what the universe sends your way.  The first deals with "brute facts."  Facts are facts and they cannot cause you be be mad.  Only your reaction to the facts are what causes you to be mad.  So change your reaction and accept the facts!

The immortal gods, if they exist, will do what they want.  We have no control over them.  We can only choose our attitude with regard to what they send our way.

Just as some ripe ears of corn will fall and others will not, so too some aged people will die and others will not.  No matter - it is out of our control and we have no say in the matter.

Death will come to me and my sons.  That is the gods' concern, not mine.

I can only hope I will stand on the same side as good and right.

Don't be overcome with sadness or ecstasy.  Keep a level mind; unperturbed.

When faced between a life & death decision and choosing virtue, any man of worth will choose virtue.  That is, perhaps, the ultimate test.

(see also Citadel p. 57, 269)

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B7:35-37

'So, to a man endowed with noble intelligence and a vision of all time and all being, do you think that this human life will seem of great importance? "Impossible," he said. So such a man will not think there is anything fearful in death either? "Certainly not".'

'A king's lot: to do good and be damned.'

It is shameful that the face should be so obedient, shaping and ordering its expression as the mind dictates, when the mind cannot impose its own shape and order on itself.

Marcus quotes people who he has read.  Per The Inner Citadel (Hadot), passage 35 comes from Plato.

Anyone with intelligence who grasps the vastness of time and space, will agree that our life is extremely small.  Therefore, this same person ought not to fear death.

Regarding the second passage here, I think a similar phrase is used today: damned if you do; damned if you don't.  Therefore, act with reason and justice and accept the results.

Kronk being persuaded by two parts of his mind.
Our mind ought to be guided by our most noble guiding principle much like the face obeys the emotions our mind produces.  This is a fascinating notion when one truly thinks about it.  It is almost as if there are two parts of our mind.  The part that knows better and what ought to be done and then there is the part of the mind that gives in too early or is not disciplined.  The thought is so cliche, that cartoons even represent the notion via a little devil and angel sitting on one's shoulders.  The most recent, popular version of this coming from Disney's The Emperor's New Groove via the character Kronk.

Marcus' whole mindset around his Meditations is the angel or better part of us, speaking to the lesser part of us.  By constant remembering and writing and reading and meditating, our directing mind and our acting mind come into harmony.  But it starts with the directing mind.  This is why philosophy and practicing philosophy is so important.  Our directing mind needs to take some unchanging marching orders and then tell the acting mind, over and over again to be better.  Don't misunderstand - this practice is not self-nagging, rather it is self-improvement.  It is a little spice and seasoning added to our character that brings out the better nature of ourselves.

One of the key practices of Stoicism is daily meditation and reflection.  In the morning, reflect on the day ahead of you.  Pick a thought, teaching or positive phrase and try to make it a part of your mindset.  Act virtuously (wisdom, justice, courage, temperance) as best as you can during the day.  Then before you go to sleep, review the days events.  Give yourself praise for virtuous acts.  Then find ways you could have improved or done something differently.  This small daily practice will go a long way to improving your character.

(see also Citadel p. 269)

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B7:32-34

On death. Either dispersal, if we are atoms: or, if we are a unity, extinction or a change of home.

On pain. Unbearable pain carries us off: chronic pain can be borne. The mind preserves its own serenity by withdrawal, and the directing reason is not impaired by pain. It is for the parts injured by the pain to protest if they can.

On fame. Look at their minds, the nature of their thought and what they seek or avoid. And see how, just as drifting sands constantly overlay the previous sand, so in our lives what we once did is very quickly covered over by subsequent layers.

No one knows (or if they do, they have not successfully communicated the result back to the living) what happens after death.  All are theories with a smattering of anecdotal information and data.  Marcus admits as much and notes two extremes.  When we die, we are simply returned to dust and atoms or if there is a God or ultimate directing mind or minds guiding the Universe and all in it, then possibly we may have a "change of home".  This alludes, possibly, to reincarnation or resurrection.  In other places, Marcus makes mention we have all lived this life before and we will live it again.  In the universe - the vastness of time and space - anything is possible.  All of these things are out of our control.  The only we choice we have in the matter, is accepting that we will die.

With regard to pain.  Some pain is unbearable; do what you must to endure it.  I am constantly amazed by stories of people who have endured unimaginable pain.  Some people must have an incredible high pain tolerance.  I think of the pains endured by soldiers, refugees, sailors and athletes.  One particular example comes to mind: Aron Ralston.  Then there are those who deal with chronic pain.  I've run across a lot of stories on social media of those who seek Stoicism to help them deal with chronic pain.  It is possible to maintain serenity in spite of chronic pain.  In all these examples, Marcus reminds himself that pain is external to the directing mind.  A human can still reason and think despite of pain.  It certainly is not easy, but it can be done.  Which further proves the point that pain is indifferent (our contentment and happiness does not depend on not ever experiencing pain).  In fact, some philosophers went out of their way to self-inflict pain (hugging cold statues with their bare skin) to toughen them up and prevent themselves from seeking pain avoidance.

Fame: so many seek it.  In the age of social media, people actively pursue "going viral."  They want their Tweet or picture or video to be seen, liked, argued over or talked about.  Some seek fame in the pursuit of becoming more wealthy.  Others seek fame solely for popularity.  Yet others seek fame to garner social wealth and then be in a position to more easily persuade others.  The endless flow of time will quickly cause anyone and everyone to be forgotten.  If you've ever observed the waves and sand on a beach or sand dunes and wind, you will quickly learn how frequently and rapidly they change.  Also observe vast cities: London & New York - all the layers of civilization that people continue to build upon today.  Archaeologists find new cities that have been buried by land and time and water.  I think of Mexico City and the thousands of years people have continued to build upon previous cities.  Those cities used to have people in them - people of fame and repute and power.  And now, no one knows who they were.  Only names and grand acts may be found inscribed on walls.  Yet many of these grand acts are relegated to a few words or sentences in a history book.  And that history book too will soon be forgotten.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B7:30-31

Stretch your thought to parallel what is being said. Let your mind get inside what is happening and who is doing it.

Take your joy in simplicity, in integrity, in indifference to all that lies between virtue and vice. Love mankind. Follow god. Democritus says, 'All else is subject to the law of convention: only the elements are absolute and real', but enough for you to remember that all is subject to law. Precepts reduced to very few.

When you listen to others, put yourself in the speaker's mind.  Describe what is being said, no more, no less.  Don't add your opinion or don't even create an opinion to what is being said.

Let things stand on their own.  Be indifferent to anything but virtue (courage, temperance, justice, wisdom).  Accept what God, the atoms or Universe sends your way.  You have absolutely no control over such things.  You have no choice but to accept things as they are.  From there, decide what opinion you will take and move forward.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B7:27-29

Do not dream of possession of what you do not have: rather reflect on the greatest blessings in what you do have, and on their account remind yourself how much they would have been missed if they were not there. But at the same time you must be careful not to let your pleasure in them habituate you to dependency, to avoid distress if they are sometimes absent.

Withdraw into yourself. It is in the nature of the rational directing mind to be self-content with acting rightly and the calm it thereby enjoys.

Erase the print of imagination. Stop the puppet-strings of impulse. Define the present moment of time. Recognize what happens to you or to another. Analyse and divide the event into the causal and the material. Think of your final hour. Leave the wrong done by another where it started.

Passage 27 of Book 7 is a great meditation on gratitude.  Be content with what you have and guard yourself against wanting things that you do not have (a bigger home, a nicer car, etc.)  One of the practices of Stoicism is to make life hard on purpose, such as sleeping on the floor or taking a cold shower occasionally.  By doing so, you enhance your gratitude for the things you enjoy (a warm bed and shower).  But even more importantly, be sure you are not relying on these things for your happiness.  You will lose these things and when you do, you will want to still be content.  Therefore, don't let your dependency of these things sway you at all.

You do not need to escape to your mountain retreat or to your beach.  Your escape is in your mind.  Act well and give yourself a retreat into your mind.

Your mind creates the print of imagination.  Don't relinquish control of your attitude to others.  You are in charge and in control of your attitude.  Don't let others attach puppet strings to you and then control you.  Be present - always.  Remember, eternity is now.  At any moment you may die.  If someone wrongs you, leave it with them - no need to carry that burden.

(see also Citadel p. 39, 41, 47,58, 186)

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B7:24-26

A deep scowl on the face is contrary to nature, and when it becomes habitual expressiveness begins to die or is even finally extinguished beyond rekindling. Try to attend to this very point, that this is something against reason. In the field of moral behaviour, if even the consciousness of doing wrong is lost, what reason is there left for living?

All that you see will in a moment be changed by the nature which governs the Whole: it will create other things out of this material, and then again others out of that, so that the world is always young.

When someone does you some wrong, you should consider immediately what judgement of good or evil led him to wrong you. When you see this, you will pity him, and not feel surprise or anger. You yourself either still share his view of good, or something like it, in which case you should understand and forgive: if, on the other hand, you no longer judge such things as either good or evil, it will be the easier for you to be patient with the unsighted.

Marcus advises on the manner of scowling.  Have you ever seen someone who had kept a crusty looking scowl for so long that they no longer can make a different expression?  The grump old man caricature in "Up" indicates that the idea is so widespread, it's cliche.  Then Marcus drops a bomb about moral behavior:  "If even the consciousness of doing wrong is lost, what reason is there left for living?"  In other words, if you've lost your moral conscious, there's no point in living anymore.

In the next passage is yet another reminder of the frailty of life.  Here today, gone tomorrow.  Wheat one day, bread the next, and finally waste, which is returned to earth.  Change keeps the world young.

Lastly, very similar to book 7, passage 22, Marcus believes that ultimately people don't do wrong out of purely mean intentions.  Certainly there are the Hilters and Stalins and Pol Pots who have lost their conscious and should not be allowed to live anymore, but I believe Marcus is alluding to the day-to-day interactions we have with people who may cut us off in traffic or who may have let us down or failed to do something they said they would do.  In these cases, it is wise for us to find common ground with the other person; give them the benefit of the doubt and quickly forgive, forget and move on.  And furthermore, if you can determine the person acted out of ignorance, this ought to help you to more easily give them the benefit of the doubt regarding their intent - very similar to an adult giving a youngster the benefit of the doubt when they have spilled milk, dented a car or even broke a neighbor's window while playing baseball.  If they are "unsighted" (in other words, ignorant), do your best to teach them; coach them.

(see also Citadel p. 172, 225, 268)



Friday, November 10, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B7:20-23

I have only one anxiety: that I myself should not do something which the human constitution does not intend - or does not intend in this way or at this time.

Soon you will have forgotten all things: soon all things will have forgotten you.

It is human nature to love even those who trip and fall. This follows if you reflect at the time that all men are brothers; that they go wrong through ignorance, not intent; that in a short while both you and they will be dead; and, above all, that the man has not harmed you - he has not made your directing mind worse than it was before.

Universal nature uses the substance of the universe like wax, making now the model of a horse, then melting it down and using its material for a tree; next for a man; next for something else. Each one of these subsists for only the briefest time. It is no more hardship for a box to be broken up than to be put together.

The first passage makes your brain freeze up with the double-negative.  Basically, Marcus is saying his main worry in life is living and acting rationally and socially.

Next, yet another reminder that you, me, your friends, your family - we all die (you will forget everything) and not only will we all die, but hardly anyone, if anyone at all, will know who we were.  Such is the vastness of time and space.

The next passage is one I particularly love.  Briefly stated, Marcus is reminding himself to give others the benefit of the doubt.  We all trip and fall and we can easily forgive others who make mistakes.  Generally speaking, there is no hateful or negative intent when people make mistakes.  Even if there were, I'm sure we can find space in our heart to forgive and forget.  And most importantly, if someone "trips and falls" and whether or not they intended harm or not, ultimately your directing mind was not harmed by this action.

The last passage is one Marcus has discussed before.  We see all around us, the product of the Universe.  From the Universe springs life.  The life grows, matures and dies and the material from which it was made, decomposes and becomes the material for new life.  All this material is nothing but wax or clay molded into a form and then dissolved and molded into something new; and this repeats endlessly.  Two lessons can be learned here:  1) our life is short 2) we can be like the Universe and whatever material has been given you, mold it into something beautiful (akin to the saying, 'when life gives you lemons, make lemonade!)

(see also Citadel p. 29, 38-40, 166, 176, 229, 259, 268)

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B7:17-19

Happiness is a benign god or divine blessing. Why then, my imagination, are you doing what you do? Go away, in the gods' name, the way you came: I have no need of you. You have come in your old habit. I am not angry with you. Only go away.

Is someone afraid of change? Well, what can ever come to be without change? Or what is dearer or closer to the nature of the Whole than change? Can you yourself take your bath, if the wood that heats it is not changed? Can you be fed, unless what you eat changes? Can any other of the benefits of life be achieved without change? Do you not see then that for you to be changed is equal, and equally necessary to the nature of the Whole?

All our bodies (being of one nature with the Whole and cooperating with it as our limbs do with each other) pass through the universal substance as through a swirling stream. How many a Chrysippus, a Socrates, an Epictetus has eternity already swallowed! This same thought should strike you about any man at all and any thing.

The first passage is another meditation by Marcus that seems a bit cryptic.  If I were to theorize what it means, it seems to be saying that we should focus less on "indifferents" making us happy.  The old habits of happiness and contentment through food, pleasure, comfort need to leave us.  Our directing mind and the ability to focus on virtue as the sole good, is what should bring us contentment.

Change is constant.  Without it, nothing could be improved.  Embrace change.  There is only one way: forward.  We can't go back and have a re-do or do-over.  We just keep evolving and changing.  And don't fall into the mindset that once "things are good" that you try to preserve it as long as you can.  No, only enjoy it for what it is and know that it will not last and that more change is on the way.

And the ultimate change?  Death.  We will be swept away into the "swirling stream" of the cosmos.  Us and everything around us.



Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B7:16

The directing mind does not disturb itself: for example, it does not frighten itself or lead itself to desire. If anyone else can frighten it or cause it pain, let him do so: of itself, of its own judgement, it will not deliberately turn to such modes. The body should take care, as far as it can, to avoid harm; the sensual soul, which feels fear or pain, should say if it does so; but that which makes general assessment of all these things will not suffer at all - it will not itself rush to any such judgement. Of itself the directing mind is without needs, unless it creates a need for itself: in the same way it is untroubled and unhindered, unless it troubles or hinders itself.

There is a part of our soul that is truly "in charge" of our attitude and desires and fear.  Nothing can actually touch that part of our soul.  Words spoken, pain administered, a jolt of adrenaline - nothing can truly touch that part of our soul.  That part of our soul is independent.  It is what makes us sovereign.

The absolute crucial part of Marcus' meditation here is that the part of our soul that is independent and sovereign (or the directing mind), "is without needs, unless it creates a need for itself."  The body has needs (water, food, air).  But this directing mind of ours, does not have any needs, unless it says so.  I speak as though "it" is a third person, but in fact, "it" is the unique you.  "It" is what makes you, you.  The directing mind of our's, is our Inner Citadel.

I believe I've cited this passage previously, but I will do so again.  This is from Hadot's The Inner Citadel p. 106-107:
In order to understand what Marcus Aurelius means when he says that things cannot touch the soul and are outside of us, we must bear in mind that the word "soul" could have two meanings for the Stoics. In the first place, it was a reality made of air (pneuma) which animates our body and receives the impressions, or phantasiai, from exterior objects. This is often what Marcus means by "soul." Here, however, when he speaks about "us" and about the soul, he is thinking of that superior or guiding part of the soul which the Stoics called the hegemonikon. It alone is free, because it alone can give or refuse its assent to that inner discourse which enunciates what the object is which is represented by a given phantasia. This borderline which objects cannot cross, this inviolable stronghold of freedom, is the limit of what I shall refer to as the "inner citadel." Things cannot penetrate into this citadel: that is, they cannot produce the discourse which we develop about things, or the interpretation which we give of the world and its events. As Marcus says, the things outside of us "stay still"; they "do not come to us"; rather, in a way, "it is we who go toward them" (XI, II).
(see also Citadel p. 41, 113, 268)

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B7:14-15

Let any external thing that so wishes happen to those parts of me which can be affected by its happening - and they, if they wish, can complain. I myself am not yet harmed, unless I judge this occurrence something bad: and I can refuse to do so.

Whatever anyone does or says, I must be a good man. It is as if an emerald, or gold or purple, were always saying: 'Whatever anyone does or says, I must be an emerald and keep my own colour.'

sign above our kitchen door
No matter what happens and no matter who does anything to you, your mind and soul are unharmed.  Others may complain, but you do not have to.  You can choose to complain or not.  Attitude is everything, so pick a good one!

Marcus continues with a reminder that no matter what happens or what others do, he must be a good man.  It is the same with you and me.  At the end of the day, what others do and what happens in the universe and world is out of our control.  The things in our control are our attitudes and actions.  I love his little analogy about an emerald or a color.  Whatever happens, that emerald will keep on being an emerald and that color will keep on being that color.  Decide to be a good person and never deviate.

(see also Citadel p. 41, 268)