Friday, May 26, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B3:7

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B3:6

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is seated in you, which has brought all your own impulses under its control, which scrutinizes your thoughts, which has withdrawn itself, as Socrates used to say, from all inducements of the senses, which has subordinated itself to the gods and takes care for men - if you find all else by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

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

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

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

will bring you contentment and happiness.

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 22, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B3:5

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

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

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

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

He should be cheerful and self-sufficient.

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

(See also Citadel pp. 123, 265, 289)

Monday, May 15, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B3:4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 12, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B3:3

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 11, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B3:2

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 8, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B3:1

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 5, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B2:17

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B2:16

The soul of a man harms itself, first and foremost, when it becomes (as far as it can) a separate growth, a sort of tumour on the universe: because to resent anything that happens is to separate oneself in revolt from Nature, which holds in collective embrace the particular natures of all other things. Secondly, when it turns away from another human being, or is even carried so far in opposition as to intend him harm - such is the case in the souls of those gripped by anger. A soul harms itself, thirdly, when it gives in to pleasure or pain. Fourthly, whenever it dissimulates, doing or saying anything feigned or false. Fifthly, whenever it fails to direct any of its own actions or impulses to a goal, but acts at random, without conscious attention - whereas even the most trivial action should be undertaken in reference to the end. And the end for rational creatures is to follow the reason and the rule of that most venerable archetype of a governing state - the Universe.

Passage 17 in book 2 is a summation of our duties in action in life.

1. amor fati - love your life and all that happens in it
2. love others; do not hate others and certainly do no harm
3. don't give in to pain or pleasure
4. don't lie or be false.  have integrity
5. don't act randomly.  always act logically and with attention

(see Citadel p 46, 185-186, 211)

Monday, May 1, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B2:14-15

14.  Even if you were destined to live three thousand years, or ten times that long, nevertheless remember that no one loses any life other than the one he lives, or lives any life other than the one he loses. It follows that the longest and the shortest lives are brought to the same state. The present moment is equal for all; so what is passing is equal also; the loss therefore turns out to be the merest fragment of time. No one can lose either the past or the future - how could anyone be deprived of what he does not possess? So always remember these two things. First, that all things have been of the same kind from everlasting, coming round and round again, and it makes no difference whether one will see the same things for a hundred years, or two hundred years, or for an infinity of time. Second, that both the longest-lived and the earliest to die suffer the same loss. It is only the present moment of which either stands to be deprived: and if indeed this is all he has, he cannot lose what he does not have.

15.  'All is as thinking makes it so.' The retort made to Monimus the Cynic is clear enough: but clear too is the value of his saying, if one takes the kernel of it, as far as it is true.

The eternal now.  Book 2, passage 14 is a key concept to grasp.  So many people fret and worry about what has been done (in the past).  But they cannot correct it - they cannot go back and change the past.  Equally, there are so many people who fret and worry about the future.  Again, they cannot change the future and they have no control over it.  Try as hard as you can, there will always be things you cannot control in the future.  No amount of planning will prevent some things from happening.

What are you left with since you cannot change the past and you have no control over the future?  You have now - this exact moment in time.

When I teach this concept to people, I like to draw a line on a whiteboard or chalkboard, saying that it represents time.  An infinity in the past and an infinity in the future.  And on that line is a speck in time representing now.  When some religious people get hung up on anxiety about their past or their future, this drawing shows them that they are on the same line now as they have been in the past and as they will be in the future.  So, in a sense, they are living eternity now.

Now is all the time you have - nothing more, nothing less.

Passage 15 of book 2 is the discipline of assent in a nutshell - we can make whatever opinion we want of events.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B2.12-13

12. How all things quickly vanish, our bodies themselves lost in the physical world, the memories of them lost in time; the nature of all objects of the senses - especially those which allure us with pleasure, frighten us with pain, or enjoy the applause of vanity - how cheap they are, how contemptible, shoddy, perishable, and dead: these are matters for our intellectual faculty to consider. And further considerations. What are they, these people whose judgements and voices confer or deny esteem? What is death? Someone looking at death per se, and applying the analytical power of his mind to divest death of its associated images, will conclude then that it is nothing more than a function of nature - and if anyone is frightened of a function of nature, he is a mere child. And death is not only a function of nature, but also to her benefit. Further.

How does man touch god, with what part of his being, and when that part of him is in what sort of disposition?

13. Nothing is more miserable than one who is always out and about, running round everything in circles - in Pindar's words 'delving deep in the bowels of the earth' - and looking for signs and symptoms to divine his neighbours' minds. He does not realize that it is sufficient to concentrate solely on the divinity within himself and to give it true service. That service is to keep it uncontaminated by passion, triviality, or discontent at what is dealt by gods or men. What comes from the gods demands reverence for their goodness. What comes from men is welcome for our kinship's sake, but sometimes pitiable also, in a way, because of their ignorance of good and evil: and this is no less a disability than that which removes the distinction of light and dark.

These two passages reference two disciplines: assent and desire.

Remember, the discipline of assent is "refusing to accept within oneself all the representations which are other than objective or adequate." (Citadel p. 101)  In a few words, it is being mindful about our judgements.

Also remember, the discipline of desire is "refusing to desire anything other than that what is willed by the Nature of All." (Citadel p. 129).  In a few words, it is accepting our fate or the Nietzsche term "amor fati."

Book 2, passage 12, is one of many meditations by Aurelius about the acceptance of our death and the utter valuelessness of pleasure, pain, fear, vanity, fame.  Change is constant, and the quicker we learn this, the more content we will be.  We will be less "clingy" to things that are impermanent and which don't truly matter.  We will be less gripped by fear of death and more willing to accept that one day, we will die.  Functions of nature include, birth, growth, and death.  We usually don't fear birth or growth, so why should we fear death?

"applause of vanity" - just let that sink in for a bit.  Is that what you really want to live for?  You really want to act in a way that will cause people to put their hands together and slap them making a noise?  How fleeting and vain is applause.  Soon the noise will stop and people will be distracted and looking on to the next big thing to clap for.  And soon all those people who were clapping their hands will have forgotten their applause for you and soon the people clapping will have passed away and forgotten.

Book 2, passage 13 deals with both mindfulness of judgment (assent) and accepting things as they are (desire).  We often see people who want to peer into the future and see into other people's hearts.  These people want control and they want a short-cut to see.  Marcus describes these people as looking into the earth, looking for signs and symptoms.  None of this matters - it is out of our control and does not align with nature.  It is enough to focus on your own mindfulness and to be content with what fate and the universe has dealt you.

Keep your thoughts and what you assent to pure.  Don't focus your desires on things out of your control.  If you desire something out of your control and you don't get it, you will be sad.  If you desire for something not to happen and it is out of your control, you will also be sad.  Instead, focus on things in your control - your attitude, having greater virtue, accepting your fate and even loving it.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B2.11

You may leave this life at any moment: have this possibility in your mind in all that you do or say or think. Now departure from the world of men is nothing to fear, if gods exist: because they would not involve you in any harm. If they do not exist, or if they have no care for humankind, then what is life to me in a world devoid of gods, or devoid of providence? But they do exist, and they do care for humankind: and they have put it absolutely in man's power to avoid falling into the true kinds of harm. If there were anything harmful in the rest of experience, they would have provided for that too, to make it in everyone's power to avoid falling into it; and if something cannot make a human being worse, how could it make his life a worse life? The nature of the Whole would not have been blind to this, either through ignorance or with knowledge unaccompanied by the power to prevent and put right. Nor would it have made so great an error, through lack of power or skill, as to have good and bad falling indiscriminately, on good and bad people alike. Yes, death and life, fame and ignominy, pain and pleasure, wealth and poverty - all these come to good and bad alike, but they are not in themselves either right or wrong: neither then are they inherent good or evil.

Sitting squarely in the arena of the discipline of desire is the practice called premeditatio malorum (do a search on that term for some excellent articles).  In modern English it means pre-meditating the worst possible things that could happen to you - including your death.  Visualizing this strong negative emotion does a few things for you.

First, if you can anticipate "bad" things that may happen to you today (including death), it helps to soften the blow when they actually happen.  This helps to alleviate internal suffering you may experience.  For example, on a podcast I listened to today (#2 - The Nature of Human Suffering), Noah Rasheta described a scenario of going out into the woods at night and encountering someone jumping out from behind a tree dressed in a bear costume.  You'd be very frightened and shocked and completely surprised if that happened.  But suppose before you go into the woods, someone warns you that there is a person out there dressed in a bear costume waiting to jump out at you.  In that case, you might be a bit more prepared and your reaction might not be as severe.

Secondly, practicing premeditatio malorum will help you accept the greater, universal course of events, of which you are a part.  It helps you be humble and accept that you are not the center of the universe - that there are greater things at play.  It helps you amor fati or love your fate or lot in life.  Mike Tyson once tweeted, "If you’re not humble in this world, then the world will throw humbleness upon you."  His life is certainly an example of that idea.

Thirdly, it helps you prepare and plan for the unexpected.  Let's say you anticipate yourself being involved in a car accident today and you become paralyzed for the rest of your life.  In this premortem, perhaps you can plan for accepting how your life will change and be different; how you will need to rely on family to care for you and how you will psychologically cope and how you will need to redefine your purpose in life.  In another way, this premortem will help you accept and be able to cope with much less severe unexpected events - such as your meeting or basketball game being cancelled or a traffic wreck on the freeway which causes your commute to be delayed by 3 hours.

In this meditation by Marcus, he contemplates his death and how it really isn't so bad.  He also emphasizes that death, like fame, fortune, pain, pleasure and poverty, should not be viewed as good or bad; but rather as indifferent.  Life is not about these things.  Rather, life is about finding and living virtuously (courage, temperance, justice, wisdom).

Monday, April 24, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B2.10

In his comparative ranking of sins, applying philosophy to the common man's distinctions, Theophrastus says that offences of lust are graver than those of anger: because it is clearly some sort of pain and involuntary spasm which drives the angry man to abandon reason, whereas the lust-led offender has given in to pleasure and seems somehow more abandoned and less manly in his wrongdoing. Rightly, then, and like a true philosopher, Theophrastus said that greater censure attaches to an offence committed under the influence of pleasure than to one under the influence of pain. And in general the one is more like an injured party, forced to anger by the pain of provocation: whereas the other is his own source of the impulse to wrong, driven to what he does by lust.

There is not much to this passage other than to show that from Marcus' mind, as well as other Stoics, there is a distinction between various offenses in virtue.

In the case of a violation of virtue involving pleasure and anger, Marcus held to the view that violations involving pleasure were worse than anger, due to the fact that in the case of pleasure, one has more control over the situation than anger.

This distinction is allowed so that people pursuing Stoicism can see progress on their personal journey.

For further reading on this passage, see p.57 Inner Citadel

Friday, April 21, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B2.7-9

7. Do externals tend to distract you? Then give yourself the space to learn some further good lesson, and stop your wandering. That done, you must guard against the other sort of drift. Those who are dead to life and have no aim for the direction of every impulse and, more widely, every thought are drivellers in deed as well as word.

8. Failure to read what is happening in another's soul is not easily seen as a cause of unhappiness: but those who fail to attend to the motions of their own soul are necessarily unhappy.

9. Always remember these things: what the nature of the Whole is, what my own nature is, the relation of this nature to that, what kind of part it is of what kind of Whole; and that there is no one who can prevent you keeping all that you say and do in accordance with that nature, of which you are a part.

In order to exercise the discipline of assent, you must circumscribe yourself.  What does that mean?  It means you must define and clearly make a limit or boundary around your mental state.  Marcus Aurelius uses the imagery of a citadel.  If your mind in in that citadel, you control what is in it (your attitude) and everything outside of that citadel is out of your control.

In the domain of things outside of your control are things such as other people, the past and present and then those involuntary emotions that happen to our body.  Another thing outside of our control is the course of events or the course of destiny (see pp 115-118 Inner Citadel).

To further this image, think of a citadel and then look at it from above and see various domains of things outside our control ... similar to a target.

When it comes to the discipline of assent, you must constantly determine what is in your control and what is out of your control.  Furthermore, you must make an effort to view events and externals objectively - that is; do not add your opinion (automatically) on top of events.  Let there be a pause or space between the external and you forming an opinion about it.  Another term of this is mindfulness.

In verse 7, Marcus cautions against distractions and drift.  To counter this, give yourself space ... give yourself some time to think before reacting or having a strong negative or positive emotion.

In verse 8, we must observe what is happening in our own soul.  If we don't observe what is happening in our own souls, we will be swept up in external events (we lose our control).

Lastly, in verse 9, he is advising that we should constantly be mindful of our position in relation to the whole.  This is a theme that comes up again and again in his Meditations.  We are a speck in the Universe and we ultimately have control over our attitude and how we perceive the world.

How do you become more mindful?

You meditate - it's as plain and simple as that.

How do you meditate?

There are lots of options and ways.  Regardless the method, what you are trying to aim for is the ability to pause and reserve judgement on things and events.  You want to get away from the automatic response.  It is not easy.

Some will sit in solitude and just observe their thoughts.  Others will concentrate on a single thought and not let their mind wander.  But again, no one way is correct.  Rather if the way you meditate helps you have greater control over that pause, then it is working.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B2.4-6

4. Remember how long you have been putting this off, how many times you have been given a period of grace by the gods and not used it. It is high time now for you to understand the universe of which you are a part, and the governor of that universe of whom you constitute an emanation: and that there is a limit circumscribed to your time - if you do not use it to clear away your clouds, it will be gone, and you will be gone, and the opportunity will not return.

5. Every hour of the day give vigorous attention, as a Roman and as a man, to the performance of the task in hand with precise analysis, with unaffected dignity, with human sympathy, with dispassionate justice - and to vacating your mind from all its other thoughts. And you will achieve this vacation if you perform each action as if it were the last of your life: freed, that is, from all lack of aim, from all passion-led deviation from the ordinance of reason, from pretence, from love of self, from dissatisfaction with what fate has dealt you. You see how few things a man needs to master for the settled flow of a godfearing life. The gods themselves ask nothing more of one who keeps these observances.

6. Self-harm, my soul, you are doing self-harm: and you will have no more opportunity for self-respect. Life for each of us is a mere moment, and this life of yours is nearly over, while you still show yourself no honour, but let your own welfare depend on other people's souls.

Procrastination - that thief of time and will.  Sometimes, I have procrastinated a certain task and I am glad I did, due to the fact that the task was no longer required or due to the fact the scope or requirement changed.  And my procrastination saved me time.  However, in the context of what Marcus is saying in Book 2, verses 4-6, he is talking about grander, more important things.  He is referring to life; and learning the lessons of life and not wasting it away.  He is talking about amor fati and being willing to accept the universal forces in action.  Furthermore, he is trying to convey the seriousness of the present - the NOW.

We do not have control over the past nor the future.  The only thing we have control over is the present.  And if we waste away the present watching TV, flipping through social media, eating food and lazing around, as opposed to being mindful, helping others, acting logically, then we will have not only wasted the present, but all future present moments.

The purpose of thinking that we may die at any moment and that we should "perform each action as if it were the last" of our life, is to help us appreciate the vast importance of NOW.

To finish, let me quote Hadot on this point (p. 135 The Inner Citadel):
The thought of death confers seriousness, infinite value, and splendor to every present instant of life. "To perform each of life's actions as if it were the last" means to live the present instant with such intensity and such love that, in a sense, an entire lifetime is contained and completed within it. 
Most people are not alive, because they do not live in the present, but are always outside of themselves, alienated, and dragged backwards and forwards by the past and by the present. They do not know that the present is the only point at which they are truly themselves and free. The present is the only point which, thanks to our action and our consciousness, gives us access to the totality of the world.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B2:3

The works of the gods are full of providence. The works of Fortune are not independent of Nature or the spinning and weaving together of the threads governed by Providence. All things flow from that world: and further factors are necessity and the benefit of the whole universe, of which you are a part. Now every part of nature benefits from that which is brought by the nature of the Whole and all which preserves that nature: and the order of the universe is preserved equally by the changes in the elements and the changes in their compounds. Let this be enough for you, and your constant doctrine. And give up your thirst for books, so that you do not die a grouch, but in true grace and heartfelt gratitude to the gods.

The discipline of desire consists of two views as outlined by Hadot:

First "in refusing to desire anything other than what is willed by the Nature of the All" and second "in wanting to do that which my own nature wants me to do." (see p. 129).

The passage above (book 2, verse 2) in Meditations alludes to the first type of view - that is we ought to desire what the Universe / Zeus / God desires.

This world and universe, of which we are a part, was designed well.  It functions as it ought.  However, it is man's negative perception which causes us to view it in a negative light.

A farmer, for example, may view the sunlight as good and beneficial for his crops.  Water is also viewed as beneficial.  However, too much sun and not enough water can be viewed is not good for the farmer.  The farmer ought to use his reason to understand the risks and take appropriate action.  But the abundance of sun and the lack of water are forces that naturally occur and are not inherently good or bad, rather, they just are.

Practically speaking, the sooner you understand the true nature of the situation, the better off you are in finding contentment and not spending energy or effort being angry at something that is entirely out of your control.  In summary, love what the Universe / Zeus / God has sent your way.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B2:2

Whatever it is, this being of mine is made up of flesh, breath, and directing mind. Now the flesh you should disdain - blood, bones, a mere fabric and network of nerves, veins, and arteries. Consider too what breath is: wind - and not even a constant, but all the time being disgorged and sucked in again. That leaves the third part, the directing mind. Quit your books - no more hankering: this is not your gift. No, think like this, as if you were on the point of death: 'you are old; don't then let this directing mind of yours be enslaved any longer - no more jerking to the strings of selfish impulse, no more disquiet at your present or suspicion of your future fate.

In the category of things out of our control are: our bodies and our deaths.  True, we have control over our bodies in the sense that if we eat lots of food we will cause ourselves to get fat.  Or if we exercise and get fit, we will cause our bodies to be fit.  But ultimately, we don't have control over our bodies if we get leukemia (bone and blood cancer) or any other sort of disease.  And as for death, we truly don't have control over our deaths (assuming we will never commit suicide).  In other words, we don't know if a meteor will hit us or if a volcano will vaporizes us and all the people in our city.  In summary, we don't have true control over our bodies and our death.  And furthermore, we would be wise to be aware that death hangs over us every day.

Therefore, knowing this, the question remains: how best to live the life you have now?  Will you live it in selfish impulse?

The Hedonists (see Hedonism) believed that the ultimate purpose of life is is to maximize pleasure.  Eat til you're stuffed - every day!  Drink til you're drunk - every day!  Dance like there's no tomorrow - every day!  Don't do a single thing that will cause you pain.

Play this out in your mind.  Ask yourself; do you really want a 600-pound life?  Will that burger really make you happy and content?  Spending one-more-minute snap-chatting, scrolling Twitter or Instagram - will that make you happy?  Studies are showing that the opposite is true; it's causing depression.

"No more jerking to the strings of impulse."  Marcus tells us that things things (pleasure, disquiet, mindless scrolling) will not help us find contentment.

Listen to how ridiculous this sounds if these words were engraved on someone's tombstone:
- Here lies Nancy, who loved to eat. (her burial plot was double-wide)
- Here lies James, who loved to spend hours on Instagram
- Here lies Susan, who got the top score on a video game
- Here lies Kurt, who watched every episode on Netflix

Utterly laughable.

What do you want to be said of you?  Do you want people to say you were a kind person, who helped others?  Who was happy and content?  Or do you want people to say, "yup, they loved their food, social media and they lived for himself."

Ponder on that.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B2.1

Say to yourself first thing in the morning: today I shall meet people who are meddling, ungrateful, aggressive, treacherous, malicious, unsocial. All this has afflicted them through their ignorance of true good and evil. But I have seen that the nature of good is what is right, and the nature of evil what is wrong; and I have reflected that the nature of the offender himself is akin to my own - not a kinship of blood or seed, but a sharing in the same mind, the same fragment of divinity. Therefore I cannot be harmed by any of them, as none will infect me with their wrong. Nor can I be angry with my kinsman or hate him. We were born for cooperation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of upper and lower teeth. So to work in opposition to one another is against nature: and anger or rejection is opposition.

The fundamental stoic concept is being able to distinguish things that are in our control and things that are out of our control.  For things out of our control, obviously there is nothing we can do about them (these are indifferents).  For example, the weather, earthquakes, major world events, etc.  The only thing we can control are our attitudes - this is essentially the Discipline of Assent.

When it comes to people, we have an obligation to work with others - just as the upper and lower jaws need to work together, we too must work with other people.  We ought to treat others with respect and justice - this is essentially the Discipline of Action.

In the passage above, Marcus hits on both the Discipline of Assent and Action.  He wants to work well with others AND he wants to keep his inner peace (he wants to maintain a good attitude).  Therefore, when Marcus wakes up in the morning, he is preparing himself to encounter grumpy, grouchy, Type A, mean, angry people.  Before he even encounters them, he (in a sense) forgives them and vows that he will not act that way (since he knows people are meant to work with each other and we all share a divinity) AND he will do his best to work with them.

Practically speaking, what do you do when you meet someone who is mean or grumpy?  For my part, I try to give them the benefit of the doubt - which means I try to kindly excuse their behavior.  For example, a manager at work is in a bad mood - I'll chalk that up to maybe he didn't get enough sleep the night before or maybe he's hungry.  I simply assume that this isn't his real self and that he'll be in a better mood later.

Real Story
A couple of years ago, a co-worker of mine was working on a presentation with a manager.  The manager is almost always really nice, jovial and easy to get along with.  But on this day, he was a grumpy bear!  My co-worker didn't know what the deal was.  A couple of hours later (after lunch), the manager met again with my co-worker and the manager was back to his normal, happy self!  As we talked about this, we concluded he was just "hangry" and needed some food.

As a follow-up, I bought my co-worker a Snickers bar with a "Grouchy" wrapper and we keep it around in case of an emergency when a manager is "hangry" :-)




more commentary in The Inner Citadel p. 207-208

Monday, April 10, 2017

Commentary on Meditations and the Three Disciplines

Book 1 in Meditations largely focused on Marcus reflecting on the people in his life.  With Book 2 and going forward, Marcus shifts his attention to coaching himself.  These letters to himself were never meant to be published in a book.  Rather we can view these writings as his personal journal.  Not a journal in the sense of recording what has happened, but rather a journal for him to reflect on how he can be a better person - on how to live a good, fulfilling life.

As we move into the remaining books, I will note which of the Three Disciplines Marcus is alluding to, in each passage.  What are the Three Disciplines?

They are:
1. Discipline of Desire (amor fati or love your fate)
2. Discipline of Action (treating others w/ respect, we are social beings)
3. Discipline of Assent (we are in control of our attitude)

And when I note one of the disciplines as related to a passage from Meditations, I will try to expand a bit more on it.

It may not make much sense at first.  Certainly when I first began reading Meditations late in 2015, I had a hard time following along and understanding it fully.  But I kept at it and with the help of other books (i.e. Pierre Hadot's The Inner Citadel), the layers were pealed back and things began to make sense.  I hope I can try to peal it back a bit for you as we read the Meditations together.