Thursday, January 11, 2018

Commentary on Meditations: B9:34-36

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

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

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

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

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

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

(see also Citadel p. 166, 271)

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