Tuesday, October 31, 2017

memento mori on day of the dead

when i lived in guatemala, i learned what day of the dead was, along with all saints day.  while little kids go trick-or-treating in the united states on halloween night, people in guatemala take food that they had been preparing all day, to the cemetery to honor their ancestors.  on the day and night of day of the dead, those who have passed on can leave their graves.  since they are hungry, their living descendants have food ready for them to eat (symbolically speaking).  all the graves, at night, are lit up with candles.  the day is somber and festive at the same time.  having grown up not celebrating death so much, the whole spectacle seemed quite morbid to me.  today, not so much.

stoicism has taught me, more than anything else, to appreciate every day.  it has taught me that i need to reflect on death often, which should cause me to appreciate the time i have right now.  marcus aurelius often reflected on his short life.  he talked of his death, the death of those around him as well as all those emperors who had preceded him.  the whole exercise was to remind him of how small and short life is as well as (and more importantly) that every one of his actions should be performed as if it was his last (see book 2, passage 5).

and so on this day of the dead, we all should be reminded of our mortality.  we never know when death will meet us.  it could be on the road while we are driving to a party tonight.  it could be in our sleep.  death could meet us ten years from now after we have contracted cancer.  it could be while jogging and experiencing a stroke despite being perfectly healthy.  it could be when we choke on a piece of meat while eating dinner tomorrow.  every day, remind yourself that today could be your last day among the living.  then after you remind yourself of this fact, go about living and performing each act as if it were your last.

memento mori therefore, act as if each moment will be your last.

Commentary on Meditations: B6:57-59

Appearances: to the jaundiced honey seems bitter, to those bitten by rabid dogs water is a terror, to little boys a ball is joy. Why then am I angry? Or do you think that false representation has less effect than bile in the jaundiced or poison in the hydrophobic?

No one will prevent you living in accordance with the principle of your own nature: nothing will happen to you contrary to the principle of universal nature.

What sort of people they wish to please! And what kind of actions are the means of their success! How quickly time will cover everything - and how much is covered already.

To one, honey is sweet, to another it is bitter.  Which impression is false?  Hard to tell.  Does it matter?  You must accept that honey is bitter if you are jaundiced and you must accept that honey is sweet if you are not jaundiced.  No need to be angry; just accepting.

You in your inner citadel, have ultimate power over your opinion of things.  No one or no thing can force you to have an opinion.  Your soul - the truly unique part of you - is the only thing that can form your opinion.

Fame - here today, gone tomorrow.  Time will cover everything, as it already has.  You have fame, wealth, health today?  Tomorrow you may not.  For sure, in 1000 years you will have none of it.  And supposing you did have any of those things, anyone who knew you had it, they too will be long forgotten and turned to dust.  It is all so fleeting and fragile.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B6:53-56

Accustom yourself not to be disregarding of what someone else has to say: as far as possible enter into the mind of the speaker.

What does not benefit the hive does not benefit the bee either.

If sailors spoke ill of their captain or patients of their doctor, who else would they listen to? Otherwise how would the captain achieve a safe voyage for his passengers or the doctor health for those in his care?

How many with whom I came into the world have already left!

In the first passage, Marcus seems to be saying, "try, as best you can, to understand what someone is saying."  Listen to what they are actually saying and be mindful not to add on, to what they are saying, with your opinion.  In my opinion, so much of what people say, is misunderstood because of added opinion.  Listen to what others say; rephrase and listen again.

In the second passage, Marcus repeats what he has said before.

In the third passage, he seems to be alluding to the discipline of desire.  We have to accept what the world and universe is telling us.  If you won't listen to an expert, then who will you listen to?  The ultimate "expert" is actual life - actual events in the world and universe.  You must accept these things; you cannot reject events that happen to you.  The expert doctor knows what's best for your health.  The expert captain knows what's best for a safe voyage.

Finally, death becomes us all.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B6:51-52

How to understand your own good: the lover of glory takes it to be the reactions of others; the lover of pleasure takes it to be his own passive experience; the intelligent man sees it as his own action.

It is possible to have no understanding of this and not to be troubled in mind: things of themselves have no inherent power to form our judgements.

What is truly in your control is your actions and opinions.  Glory and pleasure are externals and you do not have control over these.  If you seek glory (fame) and pleasure and it does not come to you, you will be disappointed - you will not be content.  But, if you focus your contentment on what is in your control - which is your opinion and actions and your focus on virtue, then you can control whether you will be content or not.

Glory, fame, pleasure, power, money, wealth - all these things have no power or control over you.  They only have power when you desire them.  If you break your desire of these things, they lose any power you imagined they had over you.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B6:50

Try to persuade them, but act even if they are unpersuaded, whenever the principle of justice so directs. But if someone forcibly resists, change tack to an unhurt acceptance, so using the obstacle to bring forth a different virtue. And remember that you set out on a conditional course - you were not aiming at the impossible. So what were you aiming at? An impulse qualified by a condition. This you have achieved: what we proposed to ourselves has been accomplished.

Part of your duties as a rational, social human being is helping and teaching others.  Persuade as best you can.  But if they remain unchanged and unpersuaded, you do not get offended or hurt. 

Rather, you pivot.  You pivot to another form of persuasion or you pivot to a different action or you pivot and begin to exercise virtue, such as patience.

Life is like Jazz and is not linear.  You may have a vision or an idea of how things will go.  You may plan to the n-th degree.  But in all this complexity, things are subject to change.  You don't freak out like a little girl who doesn't get candy when her mom says no to her while they are shopping.  Rather, you accept whatever happens and pivot.

(see also Citadel p. 198, 225, 228)

Friday, October 27, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B6:49

You do not resent your weight, do you - that you weigh only so many pounds and not three hundred? So why resent either a life-span of so many years and not more? Just as you are content with the amount of matter allocated to you, so you should be content with your allocation of time.

More loving your fate in this passage (discipline of desire).  Marcus counsels himself that some things, such as your weight or height, are out of his control.  His weight and height do not cause him anxiety.  How many years he will live - that too he has little control over.  So if he is not worried about his weight or height, she should not worry about how many years or months or days he has left to live.

A note about weight.  Some will say a person's weight is in their control.  Indeed, a person can manipulate their weight up or down.  For me, I can gain pounds so quickly over so little food, it's shocking.  Other people can eat 13 spare ribs and even junk food and not put on an ounce.  I've even known a couple of guys who are sad they can never put on pounds.  So, even though weight can be manipulated, there are still limits.  Eventually you die of some ailment if you put on too much weight (so there is an upper limit you cannot control) and eventually you die if you  weigh too little (so there is a lower limit you cannot control).  I think weight was more like height in Marcus' day - it largely did not fluctuate and there was not much control over it.

My point: don't focus on the argument that someone can change their weight, rather, focus on the larger point that Marcus didn't fret over his weight so he should not fret over how many years he has left in life.  Don't lose sight of the forest by only looking at a tree.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B6:48

Whenever you want to cheer yourself, think of the qualities of your fellows - the energy of one, for example, the decency of another, the generosity of a third, some other merit in a fourth. There is nothing so cheering as the stamp of virtues manifest in the character of colleagues - and the greater the collective incidence, the better. So keep them ready to hand.

Before there was The Sound of Music and Julie Andrews signing "My Favorite Things" (when she doesn't want to feel so bad), there was Marcus Aurelius advising himself to think of his friends and their virtuous qualities whenever he wanted to cheer himself.  His entire first book in Meditations, is dedicated to reviewing all qualities and virtues of those he admires most.  I suspect he reviewed that section of his meditations often so he could "keep them ready to hand."

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B6:46-47

Just as all the business of the amphitheatre and such places offends you as always one and the same sight, and this monotony of the spectacle bores you, so it is too with your experience of life as a whole: everything, up or down, is the same, with the same causes. How much longer, then?

Think constantly of all the sorts of men, of various professions and of all the nations on earth, who have died: and so bring your thought down to Philistion, Phoebus, and Origanion. Pass now to the other classes of men. We too are bound to change our abode to that other world, where there are so many skilled orators, so many distinguished philosophers - Heraclitus, Pythagoras, Socrates - so many heroes of old, so many later commanders and kings.

Add Eudoxus, Hipparchus, Archimedes; add other men of penetrating intellect, men of great vision, men dedicated to their work; add rogues, bigots, and even satirists of this transient mortal life, like Menippus and his kind. Reflect of all of these that they are long dead and buried. So is this anything terrible for them - or indeed for men whose very names are lost? In this world there is only one thing of value, to live out your life in truth and justice, tolerant of those who are neither true nor just.

Marcus speaks to me!  I cannot help but see, on every side, the "business of the amphitheater."  Star athletes and movie stars and the drama that follows them ad nauseam on TV and the Internet.  Observing high school students and listening to their conversations is also revealing - about the repetitive topics, the endless selfies and the total lack living an examined life.  I am convinced more and more of Marcus' opinion that forty years is as good as ten thousand years of seeing all that can happen in this life (B7.49 & B11.1).

Upon further reflection, you will notice everyone passes on to death and oblivion.  Pillars of men and nations disappear and succumb to The Agent of Change.  What's left?  What's the purpose?  What is it all about?  It is about virtue; justice.  Finding unalterable truth - digging and searching until you find that foundation of bedrock that won't move under your feet.  You will find a life in pursuit of attaining virtue (wisdom, justice, courage, temperance) is the only thing of value.  Pursuit of fame, fortune, notoriety, pleasure / avoiding pain ... all futile and useless.

(see also Citadel p. 48, 164, 177-178, 228, 242, 276, 286)

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

What does "live according to nature" mean?

Per Gregory Sadler from this April 2017 article:

First, the Stoic ideal of “living in accordance with nature” does involve adapting oneself to “nature” in the sense of the cosmos, of which any given person is merely one part of a much greater whole. Just as important, however, is realizing distinctively human, rational nature in oneself.

Second, as living beings, humans are driven by the same natural impulse for self-preservation as are other non-rational living beings. Our rationality may often be used in the service of this impulse, but that is not its only function. Integral to that rationality, as it develops, is a capacity and desire for living together harmoniously with other people. Rational human nature involves sociability.

Third, human rationality affords us the capacity to be to some extent self-determining. We can rationally reshape what it is that nature has bestowed upon us, for instance our impulses.   We not only have capacities for responding to and modifying our natural environment, but also for working upon our own selves, as well as for taking part in complex human communities.

Fourth, living in accordance with nature involves the cultivation of the virtues – specifically prudence, justice, courage, and temperance – since virtue is the end to which nature orients rational beings. Doing so follows out and refines desires and impulses that we possess as human beings, for example for understanding truth, or for realizing justice.

Fifth, recognizing and fulfilling our duties is a main way in which we live in accordance with nature. This is not just a matter of blind or mechanical obedience to demands imposed upon us from outside, but rather ways in which we apply our human rationality to ourselves, others, and the situations in which we live together.

Commentary on Meditations: B6:45

All that happens to the individual is to the benefit of the Whole.  So far, so clear. But if you look more closely you will also see as a general rule that what benefits one person benefits other people too - though here 'benefit' should be taken in its popular application to things which are in fact indifferent.

Not much to discuss here.  This is Marcus saying nothing more than, "what is good for the goose, is good for the gander, but 'good' should mean 'indifferent.'"  This thought is somewhat synonymous with "do unto others what you would have them do unto you."  Obviously, it cannot be applied with 100% accuracy to every single person, but as a general rule of thumb, it is good advice to follow.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B6:44

Now if the gods took thought for me and for what must happen to me, they will have taken thought for my good. It is not easy to conceive of a thoughtless god, and what possible reason could they have had to be bent on my harm? What advantage would there have been from that either for themselves or for the common good, which is the main concern of their providence? If they did not take individual thought for me, then certainly they took thought for the common good, and since what happens to me is a consequential part of that, I should accept and welcome it. But if after all they take thought for nothing (an impious thing to believe - otherwise let us abandon sacrifice, prayer to the gods, swearing by the gods, all the other things which we variously do on the assumption that the gods are with us and share our lives) - if, then, they take no thought for any of our concerns, it is open to me to take thought for myself: and my concern is for what is best. Best for each is what suits his own condition and nature: and my nature is both rational and social.

As Antoninus, my city and country is Rome: as a human being, it is the world. So what benefits these two cities is my only good.

In this passage, Marcus contemplates his relationship with god or the gods.  He does not believe the gods could have mal-intent towards him.  It is difficult for him to think that the gods are set on harming him or others intentionally.  Rather, he takes the approach that they, indeed, have thought out the good for humans.  But even if the gods did not exist, he still can create his own opinion about what is best.  And his definition of best is to act according to his rational and social nature - which is nothing other than serving others in the spirit of the common good.

What is good for the city and Rome and for the world, is also good for him.

These thoughts, especially when considered in the context of a person experiencing events that may be painful or repulsive, help him and us to accept what the gods or fate dishes out to us.

In my opinion, this has got to be the ultimate test: to accept and love whatever life sends your way.  I've observed that some people really excel at handling all the pressures and obstacles of life.  For others, it takes longer to figure things out.  But again, I've come to the conclusion, one of the ultimate tests of life is being able to accept and love some really, really bitter pills.  This is why I put Nietzsche's words over a picture of a family struggling to survive The Great Depression.  To be able to accept that fate and love it?  Wow - a breathtaking challenge to say the least.

(see also Citadel p. 29, 43, 154, 159, 211, 268)

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B6:42-43

We all work together to the same end, some with conscious attention, others without knowing it - just as Heraclitus, I think, says that even people asleep are workers in the factory of all that happens in the world. One person contributes in this way, another in that: and there is room even for the critic who tries to oppose or destroy the production - the world had need for him too. So it remains for you to decide in which category you place yourself. Certainly He who governs the Whole will make good use of you and welcome you into some part of the joint workforce: but just make sure that your part is not that of the cheap and vulgar line in the comedy, as noted by Chrysippus.

Does the sun presume to do the work of the rain-god, or Asclepius that of the goddess of harvest? And what of each of the stars? Is it not that they are different, but work together to the same end?

Marcus reminds himself that we are all working together, whether we intend to or not.  I love that he notes that even the critic plays an important role.  One of the ways people make bad decisions is by groupthink.  Often, groupthink is not a good thing.  When it happens, creativity and discussion die and the decision that is made is not the best.  The VP of the IT shop where I work, encourages active discussion and dissent in his leadership team.  He wants the critic to speak up.  In this way, the decision can be made with all viewpoints considered and hopefully a better one is made.

Another trick I use on myself when I'm dealing with grumpy managers, is to think on this passage.  I tell myself that the manager is simply trying to make the best decisions.  She or he is making me better by being critical.  And when I try to give feedback, I try to give it in a good tone, but I also try my best to be critical and offer up feedback that may be useful.

Regardless of the situation, it is always good to keep in mind we are all working together, even when some people don't know it.

(see also Citadel p. 54, 163)

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B6:41

If you set up as good or evil any of the things beyond your control, it necessarily follows that in the occurrence of that evil or the frustration of that good you blame the gods and hate the men who are the real or suspected causes of that occurrence or that frustration: and indeed we do much injustice through our concern for such things. But if we determine that only what lies in our own power is good or evil, there is no reason left us either to charge a god or to take a hostile stance to a man.

The beginning of the Enchiridion discusses exactly this point and is one of the most foundational concepts of Stoicism.  There are things in your control and there are things out of your control.  If you desire things out of your control and you don't get them, you will be unhappy.  If you avoid things that are out of your control and they happen to you, you will be unhappy.

Therefore, on the topic of happiness and contentedness, focus on those things which are in your control.  The Stoics teach that practicing virtue (exercising courage, temperance, justice and wisdom) is in your control and will bring you contentment.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B6:40

An instrument, a tool, a utensil - all these are fine if they perform the function for which they were made. And yet in such cases the maker is external to the object made. In the case of things held together by organic nature, the power that made them is within, and immanent in them. You should therefore respect it the more, and believe that if you keep your being and your conduct in accordance with the will of this power, all then conforms to your mind. So it is in the Whole also: all that is in it conforms to the mind of the Whole.

Similar to the previous post, Marcus returns to the concept of fully embracing the desires of the Whole.  A tool may be formed by a maker and the maker is entirely separate and external.  However, with living things, they are made from living things.  Living beings literally spring from and are born from within other living entities.  As we are made from the Whole, we should therefore conform to the Whole.  This passage is nothing more than Marcus saying, "submit your will to the Universe and embrace what life sends you."

(see also Citadel p. 166)

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B6:36-39

Asia, Europe are mere nooks of the universe. Every ocean is a drop in the universe: Mount Athos a spadeful of earth in the universe. The whole of present time is a pin-prick of eternity. All things are tiny, quickly changed, evanescent.

All things come from that other world, taking their start from that universal governing reason, or in consequence of it. So even the lion's gaping jaws, poison, every kind of mischief are, like thorns or bogs, consequential products of that which is noble and lovely.

So do not think them alien to what you worship, but reflect rather on the fountain of all things.

He who sees the present has seen all things, both all that has come to pass from everlasting and all that will be for eternity: all things are related and the same.

You should meditate often on the connection of all things in the universe and their relationship to each other. In a way all things are interwoven and therefore have a family feeling for each other: one thing follows another in due order through the tension of movement, the common spirit inspiring them, and the unity of all being.

Fit yourself for the matters which have fallen to your lot, and love these people among whom destiny has cast you - but your love must be genuine.

One of the more important exercises of Stoicism is to be mindful of the totality and interconnectedness of the universe.  The more we appreciate how "one" we are with everything, the more we will embrace a spirit of acceptance of our fate as well as a spirit of working well with others and our environment.  As Nietzsche says, "My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it...but love it”

amor fati - means love your fate.  It embraces the idea that everything now, exactly as it is, is meant to be that way.  Starting with your soul, and then moving outward to your body in this space and time, with the people whom you share time at this moment, during this struggle or difficult situation, in the room you are in, the building you are in, the campus you are on, the city you are in, the region you are in, the country you are in, the continent you are on, the hemisphere you live in, the planet you call home, the solar system, the local star cluster, the galaxy, the universe.  All of it means or intends to be exactly the way it is.  And if you can accept things the way they are, and embrace and love the very moment you are in, then you embrace eternity - you realize eternity is not some far-off-in-the-future notion; rather it is now.

See yourself in this amazing, complex web of time and space and love your lot in life; love those people who cross paths with you - love your fate and love those people genuinely.

(see also Citadel p. 43, 137, 141, 153, 168, 173, 176, 230, 254)

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B6:33-35

The pain of labour for hand or foot is not contrary to nature, as long as the foot is doing the work of a foot and the hand the work of a hand. So likewise for a man, qua man, there is nothing contrary to nature in pain, as long as he is doing the work of a man: and if not contrary to nature for him, not an evil either.

As for pleasure, pirates, catamites, parricides, and tyrants have enjoyed it to the full.

Do you not see how the working craftsman, while deferring to the layman up to a point, nevertheless sticks to the principle of his craft and will not bear to desert it? Is it not strange, then, that the architect and the doctor will show greater respect for the guiding principle of their craft than man will for his own guiding principle, which he has in common with the gods?

Virtue (courage, temperance, justice, wisdom) is the sole good.  Everything else should not matter.  Pleasure and pain are indifferent.  Pleasure will not bring contentment.  Avoidance of pain will not bring contentment.  If you, your hand or foot are doing what they were meant to do, regardless of pain, then that is sufficient.  Pirates, catamites (homosexual whores), parricides (parent-killers) and tyrants live a life full of pleasure and will not find peace.

Pursue any pleasure (and avoid all pain) you want in this life and you will eventually meet a dead end.  And at that dead end will be a question: what's the point?  Then perhaps you move on to the next pleasure and pursue that one.  Eventually you'd reach a dead and with the same question staring at you.  Maybe after some self-reflection, you will begin to realize everything is transitory and perhaps you would seek something unchanging - something that would help you find contentment as opposed to pleasure.  This is where philosophy enters the scene.  She teaches you how to live a life of contentment now.

The point: watch how certain laymen, architects and doctors love their craft.  So too, you should learn and love the craft of living a philosophical life now.

Alan Watts seems to hit on these two ideas in the below videos.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B6:32

I am made of body and soul. Now to the poor body all things are indifferent, as it cannot even make any distinction. To the mind all that is not its own activity is indifferent: and its own activities are all in its control. But within these the mind is only concerned with the present: its activities in the future and in the past are also indifferent at any present moment.

Marcus makes clear delineation about things in his control versus things out of his control.  Things out of his control are indifferents and he (his mind) can have any opinion about them that he wants.  As to time, the only thing relevant to him is the present.  There is nothing that can be done to change the past and we only have control over the future to the extent of our plans.  But a million different things could change those plans in an instant.  Therefore, we really have no control over the future either.

(see also Citadel p. 113, 131-132)

Monday, October 16, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B6:31

Sober up, recall yourself, shake off sleep once more: realize they were mere dreams that troubled you, and now that you are awake again look on these things as you would have looked on a dream.

I'm sure it has happened to you.  You are standing in front of a large crowd, about to deliver a major speech.  You look down and you are completely naked.  You feel a rush of blood to your head and try to cover yourself while people point their fingers at you and laugh.  Then you wake up and find relief that it was just a dream.  Marcus advises that just as we are relieved when we wake up from such dreams and don't view them as any significant matter, we should view events that may disturb us in real life.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B6:28-30

Death is relief from reaction to the senses, from the puppet-strings of impulse, from the analytical mind, and from service to the flesh.

Disgraceful if, in this life where your body does not fail, your soul should fail you first.

Take care not to be Caesarified, or dyed in purple: it happens.  So keep yourself simple, good, pure, serious, unpretentious, a friend of justice, god-fearing, kind, full of affection, strong for your proper work. Strive hard to remain the same man that philosophy wished to make you. Revere the gods, look after men. Life is short. The one harvest of existence on earth is a godly habit of mind and social action.

Always as a pupil of Antoninus: his energy for all that was done according to reason, his constant equability, his piety, his serene expression, his gentleness, his lack of conceit, his drive to take a firm grasp of affairs. How he would never put anything at all aside without first looking closely into it and understanding it clearly; how he would tolerate those who unfairly blamed him without returning the blame; how he was never rushed in anything. He would not listen to malicious gossip; he was an accurate judge of men's character and actions; slow to criticize, immune to rumour and suspicion, devoid of pretence. How he was content with little by way of house, bed, dress, food, servants; his love of work, and his stamina.

He was a man to stay at the same task until evening, not even needing to relieve himself except at his usual hour, such was his frugal diet. Constant and fair in his friendships; tolerant of frank opposition to his own views, and delighted to be shown a better way; god-fearing, but not superstitious.

So may your own last hour find you with a conscience as clear as his.

No need to fear death.  Death simply is an end of the bodily senses.

Better your body fails before your ability to live a life according to virtue.

Sound advice Marcus gives to himself.  He could have easily be pretentious as Emperor of Rome.  Instead, he warned himself against the ails of letting power get to your head.  Advice he gives himself is sound and applies to us today.  He studied philosophy and philosophy wants him to focus on virtue (virtue is the sole good) and to help others at all times in social action.  He simply counsels himself on the things he ought to pay attention to.

An amazing tribute from Marcus to Antoninus!  This is one of my favorite passages.  If only I could be like Antoninus and be consistent at it.  In particular, for me, the things that stand out that I wish I could have more of:
- a drive to take a firm grasp of affairs
- understanding and completing the task thoroughly
- content with little
- love of work
- stamina
- frugal diet
- constant
- tolerant
- delighted to be shown a better way

(see also Citadel p. 29, 35, 263, 268, 280, 286, 300)

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B6:26-27

If someone puts to you the question 'How is the name Antoninus spelt?', will you shout your way through each of the syllables? What then if they get angry? Will you lose your temper too? Will you not rather calmly go through the sequence of letters, telling each one in turn? So also in your life here remember that every duty is the completed sum of certain actions. You must observe these, without being disconcerted or answering others' resentment with your own, but following each purpose methodically to its end.

How cruel it is not to allow people to strive for what seems to them their interest and advantage! And yet in a way you are forbidding them to do this, when you fuss that they are wrong: they are surely drawn to their own interest and advantage. 'But it is not actually so': well then, teach them, show them, do not fuss.

My last name is often mis-spelled by people.  I've seen it slaughtered so many times.  It also doesn't help that by flipped two letter in my last name, it spells a legitimate last name.  I've learned to simply use military alphabet when spelling my last name - every time.  I used to be upset by it, but I've learned to accept it and it no longer bothers me.  I imagine Marcus was in the same boat.  Just spell it out, no need to add anger on top.  If other people become impatient or upset, then I must remain calm too.  It does me no good and it does then no service to get upset when they are angry.  I get to choose when and how I will act and react.  I will not let others "trigger" me.

No need to be a dictator in every aspect of life.  If no harm is being done, the allow others their opinion - live and let live.  If logically other's choices are not sound, then reason with them; use your god-given gifts of reason and persuasion to help them.  Otherwise, live and let live.

In summary, only you (yourself) can cause you to be upset with others.  And when working with others, live and let live.  If correction is needed, use reason.

(see also Citadel p. 225-226, 268)

Friday, October 13, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B6:23-25

Since you have reason and they do not, treat dumb animals and generally all things and objects with generosity and decency; treat men, because they do have reason, with social concern; and in all things call on the gods. And do not let it matter to you for how long you will be alive in this work: even three hours spent thus are sufficient.

Alexander of Macedon and his muleteer were leveled in death: either they were taken up into the same generative principles of the universe, or they were equally dispersed into atoms.

Reflect on how many separate events, both bodily and mental, are taking place in each one of us in the same tiny fragment of time: and then you will not be surprised if many more events, indeed all that comes to pass, subsist together in the one and the whole, which we call the Universe.

Marcus outlines our duties to animals and rational people.  And he, again, reminds us that we should never be concerned with how long we live, as long as we are performing our duties.

No matter if you are Alexander the Great or his servant, you will return to dust.  And it doesn't matter if you believe in a god or gods or a random universe; your end will come and you either return to your god(s) or you return to atoms.

Just as there are dozens or hundreds of processes going on in your body (breathing, blinking, moving, talking, listening, seeing, hearing, touching, digesting, etc), so too there are many cogs working in the universe.  And just as all those bodily processes are contained in one body, so too are all the universal events contained in one great whole: the Universe.

(see also Citadel p. 48, 148)

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B6:21-22

If someone can prove me wrong and show me my mistake in any thought or action, I shall gladly change. I seek the truth, which never harmed anyone: the harm is to persist in one's own self-deception and ignorance.

I do my own duty: the other things do not distract me. They are either inanimate or irrational, or have lost the road and are ignorant of the true way.

These two passages really don't need much commentary.  They stand on their own. 

In sum; seek and take feedback and do your duty.

(see also Citadel p. 286)

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B6:19-20

Do not imagine that, if something is hard for you to achieve, it is therefore impossible for any man: but rather consider anything that is humanly possible and appropriate to lie within your own reach too.

In the field of play an opponent scratches us with his nails, say, or gives us a butting blow with his head: but we do not 'mark' him for that, or take offence, or suspect him afterwards of deliberate attack. True, we do keep clear of him: but this is good-natured avoidance, not suspicion or treating him as an enemy. Something similar should be the case in the other areas of life too: we have people who are our 'opponents in the game', and we should overlook much of what they do. We can avoid them, as I say, without suspicion or enmity.

In the first passage, he is simply saying, "if it can be done by someone, then why not you too?"  If it can be done and if it is "appropriate", then you can do it!

In the second passage, he advises that we ought not to consider "intent" so much.  In a game of football, someone tackles you roughly.  No matter - it is part of the game and you most likely think there was no mal-intent; it was just a rough tackle.  In this same manner, we ought to approach dings and nicks in the sides of our car; a driver pulling out in front of us or someone cutting us off in traffic.

Would we let someone cut in front of us in a line at the store if we saw their child acting up?  Would we let a young, 30-year old man, purchasing beer, cut in front of us?  What if he did without your permission?  When you step back and look at the situation, and simply observe: someone cut in front of you, no more no less.  What you decide in your head as to that person's motive is entirely up to you.  You can choose to be tolerant or offended.

Give others' the benefit of the doubt - it'll do your soul good.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B6:17-18

Up, down, round and round are the motions of the elements, but the movement of active virtue follows none of these: it is something more divine, and it journeys on to success along a path hard to understand.

What a way to behave! They refuse to speak well of people who live as their contemporaries and in their company, but they set great store by their own good name among future generations which they have never seen nor ever will see. Yet this is brother to feeling vexed that your predecessors were not singing your praises.

Change is constant, yet virtue is not.  Hence virtue is the sole good.

It indeed is interesting to observe people, who seemingly at all costs, pursue fame and legendary status.  As Marcus points out, all these people are doing is seeking out approval from people they will never know or meet.  And they seek this approval at the cost of their contemporaries!  Fate has brought together people in the here and now.  We are meant to work with people in the here and now.  It matters little what future generations will think.

Being a Lord of the Rings fan, the passage from Marcus Aurelius reminds me of a scene in the movie The Return of the King about how the kings forsook caring for the living and rather focused on the fame and lineage.  Gandalf tells Pippen why the kings of Gondor are no more.  "The old wisdom bourne out of the west was forsaken. Kings made tombs more splendid than the houses of the living, and counted the old names of their descent dearer than the names of their sons."

(see also Citadel p. 241)

Monday, October 9, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B6:16

There is nothing to value in transpiring like plants or breathing like cattle and wild creatures; nothing in taking the stamp of sense impressions or jerking to the puppet-strings of impulse; nothing in herding together or taking food - this last is no better than voiding the wastes of that food. What, then, is to be valued? Applause? No. Not therefore the applause of tongues either: the praise of the masses is the mere rattle of tongues. So you have jettisoned trivial glory too. What remains to be valued? To my mind, it is to act or refrain from action according to our own proper constitution, something to which skills and crafts show the way. Every craft seeks to make its product suit the purpose for which it is produced: this is the aim of the gardener, the vine-dresser, the breaker of horses, the dogtrainer. And what is the end to which the training of children and their teaching strives?

So this is the true value: and if this is firmly held, you will not be set on acquiring any of the other things for yourself. Will you not then cease to value much else besides? Otherwise you will not be free or self-sufficient or devoid of passion: you will need to be envious and jealous, to suspect those who have the power to deprive you of these things, and to intrigue against people who possess what you value. In short, anyone who feels the need of any of these things is necessarily sullied, and what is more he will often be driven to blame the gods too. But reverence of your own mind and the value you give to it will make you acceptable to yourself, in harmony with your fellows, and consonant with the gods - that is, praising all that they assign and have disposed.

Marcus reviews what plants, animals and birds focus on: survival.  Then he reviews what humans will often seek: acting on impulse, eating, defecating, applause of hands and tongues.  All of these things he has learned to scorn.  Now he must focus on acting with reason.

He must ignore all that and hold in reverence his mind - his ability and capacity to think and reason.  He must act in harmony with other people, and accept and love all that the gods (universe) has dealt him.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B6:15

Some things are hurrying to come into being, others are hurrying to be gone, and part of that which is being born is already extinguished. Flows and changes are constantly renewing the world, just as the ceaseless passage of time makes eternity ever young. In this river, then, where there can be no foothold, what should anyone prize of all that races past him? It is as if he were to begin to fancy one of the little sparrows that fly past - but already it is gone from his sight. Indeed this is the nature of our very lives - as transient as the exhalation of vapour from the blood or a breath drawn from the air. No different from a single breath taken in and returned to the air, something which we do every moment, no different is the giving back of your whole power of breathing - acquired at your birth just yesterday or thereabouts - to that world from which you first drew it.

Death should constantly be before our eyes.  Many avoid the thought of death.  But those same people love the change in seasons, especially when summer gives way to autumn or when autumn gives fully to winter.  As Marcus notes, change is constant and we should love it.

We breathe in, we breath out - no great matter to us.

We dip our hand into the river and no great matter to see some water or debris touch our hand and flow downstream.

We watch birds flutter about trees; they land and disappear as quickly as they came - no great matter.

In the vast flow of eternity, our first breath to our last breath is just as quick as a single inhalation and exhalation.  Neither should upset us much at all.

(see also Citadel p. 171)

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B6:14

Most of the things valued by the masses come under the categories of what is sustained by cohesion (minerals, timber) or natural growth (figs, vines, olives). What is valued by the slightly more advanced belongs to the class of things sustained by a principle of life, such as flocks and herds, or the bare ownership of a multitude of slaves. The things valued by yet more refined people are those sustained by the rational soul - not, however, reason as such, but reason expressed in craftsmanship or some other skill. But the man who fully esteems the soul as both rational and political no longer has any regard for those other things, but above all else keeps his own soul in a constant state of rational and social activity, and cooperates to that end with his like.

A similar notion is found in Xenophon's Memorabilia by Socrates:
"... to have as few wants as possible is the nearest approach to Godhead; and as that which is divine is mightiest, so that is next mightiest which comes closest to the divine."

The highest aspiration of the sage is arete - best defined as excellence of character in moral virtue.  Those who can succeed at focusing and attaining constant moral virtue can be called sages.  The sage does not value the "indifferents" in life.  Rather he/she values reason and applied social action.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B6:13

How good it is, when you have roast meat or suchlike foods before you, to impress on your mind that this is the dead body of a fish, this the dead body of a bird or pig; and again, that the Falernian wine is the mere juice of grapes, and your purple-edged robe simply the hair of a sheep soaked in shell-fish blood! And in sexual intercourse that it is no more than the friction of a membrane and a spurt of mucus ejected. How good these perceptions are at getting to the heart of the real thing and
penetrating through it, so you can see it for what it is! This should be your practice throughout all your life: when things have such a plausible appearance, show them naked, see their shoddiness, strip away their own boastful account of themselves. Vanity is the greatest seducer of reason: when you are most convinced that your work is important, that is when you are most under its spell. See, for example, what Crates says even about Xenocrates.

Anxiety and stress, fear, ecstatic joy, haughtiness, feeling superior - all of these feelings come from within our head.  All the science of marketing aims for is to hit one of these strings in our brain, which then we allow ourselves to be seduced by the sales marketer to give into that feeling and try to rectify it (usually through spending money).

The things that impressed people in Marcus' days were delicious meat, wine, a robe with the color purple in it, sex - all of these things were tied to his power and fame as emperor of Rome.  Interestingly enough, those same things are marketed today and show up as advertisements all over the Internet, billboards and TV.  We can easily assent to these ideas that eating delicious meat, wearing expensive clothes, making love will bring us fulfillment (make us feel better about ourselves, puff up our vanity).  But in the end, all they do is make us lose our reason and focus on things that are truly important (virtue - discipline, courage, justice, wisdom).

To not be seduced by these things, we exercise the discipline of assent.  We look at the physical characteristics and view them as they are.  A tender steak is nothing more than a dead cow.  The color purple is dye applied to cloth.  Wine is made from dead grapes.  Sex is skin rubbing on skin and a shot of chemicals in your brain.  Don't let these things make you lose your reasoning.  See them for what they are.  "Vanity is the greatest seducer of reason!"  In this age of "selfies", Marcus' wisdom is needed more than ever.

(see also Citadel p. 104-105, 165)

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B6:11-12

When circumstances force you to some sort of distress, quickly return to yourself. Do not stay out of rhythm for longer than you must: you will master the harmony the more by constantly going back to it.

If you had a step-mother and a mother at the same time, you would pay attention to your step-mother but nevertheless your constant recourse would be to your mother. That is now how it is with the Court and philosophy. So return to philosophy again and again, and take your comfort in her: she will make the other life seem bearable to you, and you bearable in it.

Similar to his meditation in B5:9, we should always get back up when we fall.  I particularly like how he doesn't seem to get upset with himself.  There is no swearing or self-berating.  He simply councils himself to "return" and get back into the good groove.  We approach "getting back up on the horse" like practicing anything else.  We practice playing an instrument to perform better.  We practice a sport to play better.  We practice returning to stoicism to live better.

It seems to me, in the next passage, Marcus alludes that his "step-mother ... the Court" distresses him, and therefore the advice to "quickly return to [himself]" or his true compass - his "mother ... philosophy."  This sentiment rings so true with me.  Learning and attempting to practice stoicism helps me through the day when I go to work, or deal with commuting, or talk with people who have poor customer service skills and or work with people whose brains are still developing.  It helps me have patience with getting my home back in order after a major flood.  It helps me to manage the anxiety from mistakes I've made.  And at the beginning and end of the day, and sometimes during the day, I return to "mother - philosophy" and she reminds me what I'm aiming for.

(see also Citadel p. 29, 291)

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B6:10

Either a stew, an intricate web, and dispersal into atoms: or unity, order, and providence. Now if the former, why do I even wish to spend my time in a world compounded at random and in like confusion? Why have any concern other than somehow, some time, to become 'earth unto earth'? And why actually am I troubled? Dispersal will come on me, whatever I do. But if the latter is true, I revere it, I stand firm, I take courage in that which directs all.

Oft repeated and discussed, Marcus revisits the notion of whether there is a god (or gods) or not.  Ultimately, the conclusion is the same whether you believe in god(s) or not.  In the end, you will die.

Additionally, if you believe in atoms (randomly governed universe), and if you being a rational and reasonable person, ought not to direct your life at random.  Rather, use your intellect and reason to govern and organize your life.

But if you do believe in unity, order and providence, then love it - embrace it.  Live life knowing full well that the ultimate directing reason over the universe knows all, sees all and you, as a part of that order, has a part: which is to act well your part; use your reason; live according to nature (meaning, use your reasoning and god-given intellect to live your life).  Don't be like beasts who don't reason or think.

(see also Citadel p. 43)

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B6:8-9

The directing mind is that which wakes itself, adapts itself, makes itself of whatever nature it wishes, and makes all that happens to it appear in the way it wants.

All things have their accomplishment in accordance with the nature of the Whole: it could not be in accordance with any other nature, either enclosing from without or enclosed within, or any external influence.

In the first passage, we learn that we can make our own judgments about whatever happens.  Hadot adds this to Marcus' passage, "this does not mean that the guiding principle can imagine anything it pleases about reality, but rather that it is free to attribute what value it wishes to the objects it encounters.  ... If we suppress the inner discourse which says "I have been harmed," then the harm disappears and is suppressed (IV, 7)."

The second passage is a bit cryptic, but I understand it to mean anything that happens is in accordance to nature.  I read this in the vein of cause and effect.  If something can happen (perhaps according to the laws of physics) then we should not be surprised when it does happen.

(see also Citadel p. 110)

Monday, October 2, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B6:6-7

The best revenge is not to be like your enemy.

Let one thing be your joy and comfort: to move on from social act to social act, with your mind on god.

Not a whole lot to say or add to this.  When it comes to action, we should not seek revenge in the traditional sense.  Rather, we can disengage in the tit-for-tat game and rise above the fray - seek the higher ground.

Also, our every day acts - from moment to moment - should be social acts.  To help; to serve.  Let this be your joy and consolation.

(see also Citadel p. 29, 134, 196, 239)

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B6:1-5

The substance of the Whole is passive and malleable, and the reason directing this substance has no cause in itself to do wrong, as there is no wrong in it: nothing it creates is wrongly made, nothing harmed by it. All things have their beginning and their end in accordance with it.

If you are doing your proper duty let it not matter to you whether you are cold or warm, whether you are sleepy or well-slept, whether men speak badly or well of you, even whether you are on the point of death or doing something else: because even this, the act in which we die, is one of the acts of life, and so here too it suffices to 'make the best move you can'.

Look within: do not allow the special quality or worth of any thing to pass you by.

All that exists will soon change. Either it will be turned into vapour, if all matter is a unity, or it will be scattered in atoms.

The governing reason knows its own disposition, what it creates, and what is the material for its creation.

I typically don't commentate on multiple passages, but in this case, the first five passages in Book 6 seem to be interconnected.  Marcus begins by noting that the "reason directing" the universe does nothing wrong.  The reason guiding the universe simply exists.  Things within the universe begin and then they end.

Then he shifts focus to himself as an entity within that universe.  He counsels himself to always do his duty come cold or heat, whether tired or rested, when he's been maligned or praised or even at the point of death.  We always have a choice to do our duty; so always do it.  In a summary, he's counseling himself what he should do - his actions.

In the third passage, he continues to counsel himself, this time on his attitude and judgments.  He should embrace all that is of special worth and quality (temperance, courage, justice, wisdom - in a word: virtue).

In the fourth, he returns the idea of change and the reason directing it.  Whether a unity (god) or random atoms, we have to embrace things either way.

And lastly he returns to where he started Book 6 - the governing reason.  It just is - it exists and we have to accept whatever that governing reason creates along with the material it uses.

(see also Citadel p. 166)