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).

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