Friday, March 30, 2018

Epictetus Discourses Book 1 Chapter 25 - protect what is yours

According to Epictetus, Zeus sent us here to earth with the commandment: "Protect what belongs to you at all costs; don't desire what belongs to another."

What truly, wholly belongs to us?  It is our perception - our opinion - our attitude.

Indeed, we can prioritize everything in our life, but whatever we decide to focus on, we ought not to resent it (see verse 17).

Epictetus also correctly points out that what we try to protect and cherish becomes a means for us to be enslaved.  He says, "If I cherish my body, I make a slave of myself, if I cherish my property, I make a slave of myself" (see verse 23).  When we place importance on things that don't belong to us or are not in our control, we only torment ourselves.  "In general, remember that it is we who torment, we who make difficulties for ourselves - that is, our opinions do" (see verse 28).

So what should we do?  We should practice "maintaining always the same even temper," for this is what Socrates did.

This is why the discipline of assent is so important.  We may experience a gut reaction to some event.  We ought to pause and in that pause, reflect on whether whatever it is that is trying to bother us.  Is it in our control?  Does it have sway or power over us?  Most likely it does not.  And instead, it is our perception that is holding us enslaved.  Therefore, we ought to check our assumptions and change our opinion as needed.  This is true freedom.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Epictetus Discourses Book 1 Chapter 24 - the struggle defines us

The first part of this chapter and the last part of this chapter are pure gold.

What makes us unique?  What defines us?

The Stoics would say that the obstacle is the solution to our problems.  Life throws challenges and curve balls at us and how we respond to them reveals who we really are.

Epictetus says, "the true man is revealed in difficult times."  When difficult times - challenges or obstacles in our path - come to us, how we react to them reveals who we really are.  And we need to be of the mindset that these challenges and obstacles are opportunities for us to prove ourselves - they are gifts for us to "rise to the occasion."  We can learn and read our Stoic principles all day long, every week, month after month.  But if we never have the occasion to prove that we have embraced them, then what have we accomplished?  Give me a challenge and I will show you what I've learned - what I have become - who I am.  Gold is revealed in the rock after the fire purges out all the waste.

Epictetus tells his students how the true character of Diogenes was revealed.  Diogenes wore the bare minimum of clothing.  He slept on the bare ground.  His proof of success was his confidence, his serenity, his freedom and his tough and radiant physique (see verse 8).

Certainly, you can avoid the challenges and obstacles; you can even exit through the door - permanently.  But if you do so, you'd be a greater coward than children.  Children will flippantly decide to not play anymore when they don't get their way - they disengage from the challenge or obstacle.  Is that who you are?  Or maybe you're the type who is not willing to exit through the door, but will still complain and carp and constantly be pissed off.  That certainly is no great existence either.

The best solution, according to the Stoics, is to face the challenge - embrace it - engage with it.  You will fail, and that is fine.  But keep moving forward; pick yourself up and get back in the game.  More challenges and obstacles will come.  So learn from the previous ones and improve when you meet the next round of challenges and obstacles.  Allow yourself to be defined by your trials - after all, they are yours.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Epictetus Discourses Book 1 Chapter 22 - preconceptions

If you were to tweet: "justice is fair" no one would dispute your tweet.  Similarly, you could tweet "bravery is admired" and no one would dispute it.

But if you tweet, "he was very courageous to stand up to the vice president the way he did" someone might reply, "not courageous, but idiotic."  And here is where we begin to deviate - in the application of some preconceptions.

Epictetus mentions religions and how they dispute what ought to be eaten or not eaten.  He also mentions a couple of main characters from The Iliad who argue over justice.  At the heart of it all, is where you put "the good" - where you place happiness and contentment in you mind.  Do you derive happiness and contentment from your body, property, parents, siblings, children, country and friends?  Aren't all those good things?  Most would say, "yes! absolutely!"  But if you place your whole happiness and contentment in things that are out of your control, you must constantly deal with sorrow and discontent.

Furthermore, some people will even place these externals in the domain of "coming from God."

God gives me a healthy body: I am blessed!  God gives my body cancer: I am cursed!

God gives me riches and land and a beautiful home: I am blessed!  God sends a drought and famine and my riches and land and home are lost: I am cursed!

God gives me wonderful parents and a family: I am blessed!  God causes my family to die and hate me: I am cursed!

God sends me to the richest, most powerful country in the world: I am blessed!  God allows another country to invade and conquer my country: I am cursed!

God gives me countless, kind friends: I am blessed!  God causes all my friends to leave me: I am cursed!

Truly ask yourself, do you need a functioning, healthy body to be happy?  Do you need property, land, riches, parents, brothers and sisters, children, a country and friends to be happy and content?  Most people say yes!  But the reality is that these things do not bring you happiness.

What are we to do with stories like these:

Stephen Hawking or Helen Keller (people who's bodies did not function well for them).

Eric Hoffer (who was never really rich and labored with his hands most of his life).

Countless other people who's stories are never told, but they are never rich, yet seemingly are always happy.

Myth or not, what about Job - how was he able to be content and happy when everything was taken from him?

Do we not admire people who've had property, health and family taken from them, yet they are still able to find happiness and contentment?

Ultimately, all these things are externals to our will.  Our mind - our attitude - how we view the world is based on what we decide to assent to (or agree with).  If we place all our hopes and dreams in externals, then we must accept and expect that our happiness and contentment will be out of our control.

And do you want to be in control of your happiness or would you rather roll the dice and see what happens?

If you want to be in control of your happiness, then focus on what is in your control: your attitude.  But if you want to take your chances, then pick something that is out of your control and let your emotions and attitude and state of mind depend on whatever happens to it.  Good luck!

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Epictetus Discourses Book 1 Chapter 19

This is an interesting chapter, especially if viewed in the context of modern-day corporate society - in which many of us make a living.

Vice presidents, executives, managers, divisional managers ... all of them wield power and authority.  But we fail to realize that the only power and authority they have is what we give them.  That power only exists in our own mind.  The power and authority is not real; not in the slightest.

Epictetus cuts right to the chase.  The only real power is the power of controlling our desires and aversions and our impulse control; in short, self-discipline (see verses 2-4).

And how should we view authority figures at work and in government?  We ought give them attention like we give our dishes or pets attention.  It is a necessity that has to be done; we do what we need to do, but nothing else.  The dishes are dirty, we wash them.  The horse needs to be groomed; we groom it.  There is no need to bow or show deferential treatment to them.

But those managers and bosses can fire you!  They can cut your pay!  Good point; then I'll watch out for them and perform my own due diligence like I would with anti-virus shots.  I'll do what I must for my own self-care, but I don't have to make my whole life dependent on them.  Soon, they will be retired, they will forget about you - they'll be golfing, going on vacations, put into a retirement home and soon, dead.

"If a [VP, manager, executive] threatens to [fire you, cut your pay], whoever holds his [pay, job] in high regard will beg for mercy, whereas the person who cares more for his character will answer back, 'Go ahead and [fire me, cut my pay], if that's what you want.'"

To which someone might ask, "And you don't care?"

And my response is, "I don't care.  I may have to pretend to care in front of people who value these kinds of things, but my sense of self-respect does not depend on their opinion.  I only do this so I can help my wife and children eat, sleep and go to school.  When the time comes that they can fend for themselves, I'll no longer need to pretend.  But as for now, I'll give VPs, managers and bosses the same respect and attention I give my dishes" (see verses 8-10).

Later, Epictetus talks about sacrifices and offerings to gods.  And he asks a really poignant question, "Now who, I ask you, has ever offered a sacrifice for right desires, or for impulses in agreement with nature?  We only thank the gods, it seems, for what we popularly supposes are the good things in life" (verse 25).

Let this be your guide for having the proper attitude in dealing with "people of authority."

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Epictetus Discourses Book 1 Chapter 18 - some questions

How should we view and deal with thieves and robbers?  How do you react and think about immoral people?

Someone poses this question to Epictetus: "Well, shouldn't we do away with thieves and degenerates?"

Epictetus responds, "Shouldn't we rid ourselves of people deceived about what's most important, people who are blind - not in their faculty of vision, their ability to distinguish white from black - but in the moral capacity to distinguish good from bad."  He compares the loss of moral capacity with loss of seeing or hearing and he asks if we should execute the deaf and blind?  If someone loses the capacity to be moral, Epictetus views this as similar to the loss of a sense.  Should we execute someone who is blind?  No!  Similarly, should we execute someone who's ability to make moral choices is lost?  No!

But I will say, how do you determine the difference between someone who has lost their moral ability and someone who knows right from wrong, but still chooses to be immoral?  That's a tough question.

Interestingly enough, while working today, I happened to have the TV on and the Today Show with Megyn Kelly aired a segment about mothers dealing with children who have brain disorders - the very kind that prevents them from making moral or empathetic choices.  It's an interesting segment to watch and should give you pause when you are quick to "hate and take offence" (see verse 9).  The Today Show segment is called "Mothers Open Up About Concerns For Their Children With Brain Disorders" and it aired today, March 22, 2018.

Epictetus then goes on to discuss how we need to not place our desires in things that can be robbed from us.  He goes so far as to say that a tyrant can chain us up, and lop off our head, but the tyrant can never take our integrity from us.

How do we get to be this resilient?  "We should discipline ourselves in small things, and from there progress to things of greater value.  If you have a headache, practise not cursing.  Don't curse every time you have an earache.  And I'm not saying you can't complain, only don't complain with your whole being."  Later he says, "You are invincible if nothing outside the will can disconcert you."

In summary, test yourself.  Allow yourself to get into the mindset of constantly being tested and then work to win at those tests - to be the better man!  To quote one of my favorite Rocky lines, "How much can you take, and keep moving forward!  That's how winning is done!"

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Epictetus Discourses Book 1 Chapter 15 - this is not the final version of ...

Have you ever wondered why another person can do such a thing?

How can they stand to live in a dirty room?  Why won't they put the lid on the toothpaste or put the toilet seat down?

Why does this manager have to be such a mirco-manager?

Why is she always so grumpy and bitter?

Don't they know how annoying it is when they do that?

Perhaps you can think of your own example as to why someone else acts in a way that bothers you.  Maybe some of these actions are simply preferences.  But what about people who are not virtuous - people who are mean, spiteful, arrogant?  Shouldn't they know better?

Epictetus reminds us that: how other people behave and how they act, falls under the category of "things not in our control."  He even helps us remember that people are always on a developmental journey.  We can give them the benefit of the doubt.  We can also remind ourselves that it may take a lifetime for some people to fully develop into a mature, caring, thoughtful human being.

He says, "Nothing important comes into being overnight; even grapes or figs need time to ripen.  If you say that you want a fig to flower, then put forth some fruit; then you have to wait until the fruit is ripe.  So if the fruit of a fig tree is not brought to maturity instantly or in an hour, how do you expect the human mind to come to fruition, so quickly and easily?"

When it comes to my own kids and they do something that isn't so smart, I say to my wife, "this is the final version of <name of our child>"

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Epictetus Discourses Book 1 Chapter 14 - God and our guardian angel?

The first part of the chapter discusses how God supervises everything.

Then comes this interesting part:
Is anyone saying that your capacities are the equal of God's?  Nevertheless, he has provided each of us with an individual guardian deity, which stays by our side and is in charge of looking after us - a guardian who never sleeps and is impossible to distract.  Is there any guardian to whose care he could have committed us that is better or more vigilant?  Whenever you close your doors and turn out your lights, remember, never say to yourself that you are alone; you're not.  God is inside, and so is your private deity; and neither of them requires light to watch you by.
This is the deity who deserves your pledge of allegiance, as soldiers swear before Caesar.  If they want to be paid, they must swear to put the emperor's safety first.  You, however, who have been chose to receive an abundance of blessings - and for free - why won't you swear a similar oath, and, if you have done so already, why not reaffirm the commitment?
What is this oath?  You swear that under no circumstances will you disobey, press charges, or find fault with God and his gifts.  You won't shrink from life's essential tasks or trials.
What I find interesting about this passage is the similarities between the Christian promise to 'obey God' ... such as a baptism ... and a reminder to keep that promise ... such as the sacrament.  And then there is the inner deity ... which sounds a lot like the Holy Ghost in some Christian theology.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Epictetus Discourses Book 1 Chapter 12

Even though the title of this chapter is called, "on satisfaction" it is more about learning the great lesson of life.

It matters very little what kind of God or gods you believe in.  Maybe you don't even believe in a God or gods.  Fine.  What follows is relevant to those who believe or not.

Epictetus defines the purpose of learning:  "Education should be approached with this goal in mind: 'How can I personally follow the gods always, and how can I adapt to God's government, and so be free?'" (verse 8).  Whether you believe in the gods or not, the statement above gets to the heart of this matter: coming to accept your lot in life (being satisfied).  If you believe in the gods, then your philosophical education aims to teach you how to accept the gods' will for you.  If you don't believe in the gods, then philosophy would still aim to help you accept your fate - the complex turn of events that has brought you to this point in your life at this very instant.  He later expounds on this education: "Getting an education means learning to bring our will in line with the way things happen" (verse 15).

When your lot in life says you must be alone, what should your attitude be?  "You should call it peace and liberty, and consider yourself the gods' equal."  And when you are in a large group of people, such as a party, you should think of yourself as "a guest at a feast or festival" and "learn to enjoy it" (verse 21).

Then he gives some very good, specific advice for children and parents - advice which I need to hear as a parent.  "Is someone unhappy with his parents?  Let him be a bad son, and grumble.  Is someone unhappy with his children?  Let him be a bad father" (verse 22).  Someone might retort, "Throw him in jail.  What jail?  The one he is in already, since he is there against is will; and if he is there against his will, then he is imprisoned" (verse 23).  You can either be 'free' in your lot in life or you can choose to imprison yourself.  The choice is yours.

When it comes to physical impairment, such as a bum or crippled leg, will you complain about your lot in life?  Epictetus seems to slap us in the face while saying, "Slave, are you going to be at odds with the world because of one lame leg?" (verse 24).  All I have to say on this matter is: Helen Keller and Stephen Hawking.  Don't know who they are?  Look 'em up!  They had a lot worse lot in life than a bum leg.  What impediment do you have and how does it compare?

Verses 26-27 are very important to consider, especially when deciding how one ought to spend their time.  I see a lot of people dedicate hours and hours in the gym, out running, training for marathons and triathlons.  But then they spend very little time developing their philosophy.  Epictetus makes it very clear where you should place your focus.  I contend, that if you spend the proper time sorting out your mind, philosophically speaking, the training of the body will follow.  But if you train the body first and at the expense of your philosophical learning, you may come to find you've placed your desires in something out of your control.  Now go read verses 26-27.

You do not have to choose a miserable life.  It is all in your head.  How long will it take you to finally learn this lesson.  If you are disappointed, it is very likely you've placed your desires in something out of your control.  Now, quickly realize you have the power to change your attitude; and soon, you will be able to "thank the gods for making you strong enough to survive what you cannot control" (verse 32).

If you truly want to be satisfied in life, you must learn that "the gods have released you from accountability for your parents, your siblings, your body, your possessions - for death and for life itself.  They made you responsible only for what is in your power - the proper use of impressions" (verse 33-34).

Maybe Mick and Keith should read some Epictetus :-)

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Epictetus Discourses Book 1 Chapter 9 (quotes)

Not really going to comment on this, but just share the parts that I highlighted in my copy.

student: "Epictetus, we can no longer stand being tied to this hateful body, giving it food and drink, resting it and cleaning it and have to associate with all manner of uncongenial people for its sake. Such things are indifferent, are they not, and as nothing to us; and death no evil thing? Aren't we akin to God, having come from him? Let us go home, then, to be free, finally, from the shackles that restrain us and weigh us down. Here we find robbers and thieves, and law-courts, and so-called despots who imagine that they wield some power over us precisely because of our body and it possessions. Allow us to show them that they have power over precisely no one."

Epictetus: "Friends, wait upon God. Whenever he gives the sign and releases you from service, then are are free to return. But for now agree to remain in the place where you've been stationed. Your time is short enough, and easy to endure for people of your convictions. No despot, thief or court of law can intimidate people who set little store by the body and its appurtenances. So stay, don't depart without good reason."

"It is absurd to suppose that, if a general of yours stationed me at a post, I would have to maintain and defend it, choosing to die a thousand times rather than quit, but if God has assigned us post with a set of duties, we might decide to abandon that."

"There you have a man who was a genuine kinsman of the gods.  But we, on the other hand, identify with our stomachs, guts and genitals.  Because we are still vulnerable to fear and desire, we flatter and creep before anyone with the power to hurt us where any of those things are concerned."

"Since I can get greatness of soul and nobility from myself, why should I look to get a farm, or money, or some office, from you?"

Monday, March 12, 2018

Epictetus Discourses Book 1 Chapter 6

Anthony Lake Oregon - fine hiking
The title of this chapter is On providence.

The point of this discourse is to show us that we are not mere brute animals.  What makes us humans unique is our providence-given abilities to "act appropriately, methodically, and in line with our nature and constitution" (verse 15).

Humans have the ability to think; to ponder; to reason and to appreciate.  What beasts make museums or art or music or ballets?  What animals write philosophical treatises or carry out experiments?  This is what sets us apart from all other creations.  Epictetus says we were "brought into the world ... to look upon God and his works - and not just look, but appreciate ... it is inexcusable for a man to begin and end where the beasts do" (verse 20).  He pleads to us "to look upon and appreciate God's works at least once before [we] die" (verse 22).

And where do we go to appreciate God's works?  I think they are not only found all over the world in the most pristine places, but they are also found in the day to day interactions.  To be able to see reason in philosophy and to see God's creations create!

Then the deep, reflective question Epictetus poses to us: "Will you never come to a realization of who you are, what you have been born for and the purpose for which the gift of vision was made in our case?"

And what about when difficult and disagreeable things happen to us?  How are we supposed to appreciate God's works then?  He offers a really good analogy.  People will take a pilgrimage to various places.  Perhaps they travel to Olympia or Mecca or to Washington D.C.  Despite the heat, humidity, the crowds, the traffic, the weather, the noise, the shouting - they endure it all to pay homage to whatever they find valuable.  Is this not true too with life and finding God or Zeus in the world?  Do we not fight the difficulties every day, if only to capture a glimpse of greatness?

And furthermore, God has given us the ability to endure said difficulties.  "Why should I worry about what happens if I am armed with the virtue of fortitude?  Nothing can trouble me or upset me, or even seem annoying.  Instead of meeting misfortune with groans and tears, I will call upon the faculty especially provided to deal with it" (verse 29).  And there is the rub - the key - the point of it all: to seek, to journey, to venture to find and then appreciate God's handiwork, while using the gifts God provides to enable us to get to that point.  To be able to seek, to use the inherent tools within us, to overcome and to achieve or at least to attempt to achieve.  That's all.

Without a lion to fight, there is no Hercules.  Without a hydra, stag or boar, there is no Hercules.  Without the challenges, Hercules has no definition, no existence.  "What would have been the use of those arms, that physique, and that noble soul, without crises or conditions to stir into action?" (verse 34).

Now, take note!  In the seeking of trying to appreciate God's creations, you not only discover and appreciate those creations, but in the doing you discovered something within you: fortitude, grit, determination, reason, justice, discipline.  And you ought to appreciate this too!  In the seeking, you come to appreciate God's work without and within.  You may even exclaim, "Bring on whatever difficulties you like, Zeus; I have resources and a constitution that you gave me by means of which I can do myself credit whatever happens" (verse 37).

Or ... or, you do not embark on the journey to seek and appreciate God's works and you fail to not appreciate God's works and you fail to discover God's works within you.  In other words, "you reproach the gods" (verse 38).  You become impious.  In Christian vernacular, you break the first great commandment.

And one final point before the big question of the day.  God has given each of us the resources to deal with whatever difficulties come our way in our search to appreciate God's works.  God has given us the choice; God has given us freedom to choose.  There is no "constraint, compulsion" or "impediment" in this choice of ours - the choice of seeking to appreciate God's work or not.

And finally, to the big question of the day (maybe the question of a lifetime): what will you choose to do?

Will you use your God-given resources and God-given character of strength and resilience to seek out ways to appreciate God's works (both externally and within you)?  Or will you be "peevish and malcontent?"

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Epictetus Discourses Book 1 Chapter 4

What is real progress in terms of Stoicism?

Epictetus resoundingly explains.

Stoicism is about living according to Nature where virtue is the sole good.

Therefore, if you want to make progress in becoming Stoic, you would not show a sage all the books you've read on the subject of Stoicism.  Rather, you would show them how you are living according to nature and focusing solely on virtue.  Epictetus likens this to an athlete.

"Show me evidence that you are an athlete."  The athlete would not show you his weight set!  Rather, he would show you his muscles and his strength.

What are the hallmarks of progress in Stoicism?

Renounce externals (desiring something that is out of your control, or avoiding something painful that is out of your control).

Focus on your character; cultivate it, perfect it.

Make your character honest, trustworthy, free.

Expunge from your life the following: sighs, sorrow, grief, disappointment and exclamations like, "poor me!"

Learn what death is; face it; realize it is your fate.

If you can do these things, then you are showing progress in becoming Stoic.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Epictetus Discourses Book 1 Chapter 2

Epictetus' Discourses are not the Meditations.  I can let a passage from Marcus simmer in my brain a few minutes and I think I can come to a conclusion what he means (along with the help of Hadot).  But for Epictetus, I need to read it a few times to comprehend what he's teaching me.

The subject of Book 1, Chapter 2 is 'how a person can preserve their proper character in any situation.'  The Stoics always say, "live according to Nature."  I think what Epictetus is trying to say in this chapter is, "live according to your specific nature."  Around verse 7, he says, that we need to "[consider] what agrees with our own, individual nature."

From there, once you know what you are, you can settle on what you will and will not do - what integrity means to you.  He says, "you are the one who knows yourself - which is to say, you know how much you are worth in your own estimation, and therefore at what price you will sell yourself; because people sell themselves at different rates."

This is a timely passage for me personally.  Every so often, I seem to go through some sort of existential mini life crisis.  When they occur, I seem to really wonder and question myself and if I'm adding any value to the world.  They typically begin on a Friday - after a long, slug-fest at work - commuting, meetings ad-naseum and seemingly not getting anywhere or accomplishing anything.  If asked, 'what did you accomplish today or this week?', I think the answer would be 'nothing of importance.'  The only, real, valid reason I work day in and day out is for my wife and family.  For them, I'm willing to sell my time and soul.  Maybe other people can't do that.  But I've found, that for me, that is the price I'm willing to sell for.

Epictetus offers an analogy about the selling price of one's soul.  Does one 'fall in line' or does one 'attempt to stand out'?  The analogy involves either being a white thread in a robe made mostly of white threads or being a purple thread, which when contrasted with the white threads, stands out.  For some, their price is steep - they would not settle or sell their soul to 'be like the crowd.'  He proceeds to give examples of some people's integrity at play.  They can be threatened, but they will still do their duty to death.

Now that price has been discussed, the question still remains, "what makes you unique?  what is your unique nature?  what are you not willing to sell your soul for, ever, in any circumstance?"  Epictetus discusses this in verse 30, "But how do we know what is in keeping with our character?"  Later, he answers, "The possession of a particular talent is instinctively sensed by its owner."  He also makes a clarifying point that sometimes we don't know what that talent is until after a 'winter training.'  He doesn't expound a whole lot on that, but to me, it sounds like we all, in a sense, grow into the talents that are unique to us.  Perhaps after some difficulty and challenges, our true talents - aspects that are unique to us individually - are revealed.

Let's assume you've found your talent.  Now, comes the possibility that you are not the best in whatever makes you unique.  To which Epictetus responds that "we do not abandon any discipline for despair of ever being the best in it."  Indeed, there can be a 'best' but by virtue of there being a 'best', there are dozens, hundreds, thousands of others 'not the best.'  The result: we still try.

Which brings me to my final point: talent stack.  Do yourself a favor and spend some time reading that link.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Commentary on Meditations: B12:36

Mortal man, you have lived as a citizen in this great city. What matter if that life is five or fifty ears? The laws of the city apply equally to all. So what is there to fear in your dismissal from the city? This is no tyrant or corrupt judge who dismisses you, but the very same nature that brought you in. It is like the officer who engaged a comic actor dismissing him from the stage. 'But I have not played my five acts, only three.' 'True, but in life three acts can be the whole play.' Completion is determined by that being who caused first your composition and now your dissolution. You have no part in either causation. Go then in peace: the god who lets you go is at peace with you.

This is my final entry on my commentary on Marcus Aurelius' Meditations.  It took me just under one full year to complete this small project (the first entry was Book 1 Chapters 1-4).  His ending chapter does not disappoint and is quite an appropriate topic on which to end: birth and death.

We had no control over our birth; and we will equally have no control over our death.

Therefore, have no worries over death.  Go about life, living in peace, content with your lot in life and focused on living a life according to Nature and virtue (temperance, courage, justice and wisdom).

Commentary on Meditations: B12:33-35

How does your directing mind employ itself? This is the whole issue. All else, of your own choice or not, is just corpse and smoke.

The clearest call to think nothing of death is the fact that even those who regard pleasure as a good and pain as an evil have nevertheless thought nothing of death.

For one whose only good is what comes in its own proper season, who is equally content with a greater or lesser opportunity to express true reason in his actions, to whom it makes no difference whether he looks on this world for a longer or a shorter time - for him even death has no terrors.

The great question: what do you do with your life and all that time?  This is, as Marcus says, "the whole issue."  Everything else is nothing (smoke and dead bodies).  I've been listening to a podcast with Ed Latimore.  In the interview, he talks about this interaction he had with his girlfriend.  He had an anti-education / intellectual attitude and seemed to deride his friend for her scholastic efforts.  She then asked him what he had to show for his life - what could he point to that he had accomplished.  He didn't have anything - he was nothing.  It was at that point he decided to master something.  For Stoics, the question is: how will you use your directing mind?  Wasting away chasing indifferents?  Or pursuing a life of virtue?

In chapter 34 of Book 12, Marcus makes the observation that even those people who chase nothing but pleasure don't even worry about death.  Then neither should Stoics.

In the following chapter (35) of Book 12, Marcus paints a picture of what death looks like to a Stoic.  For a Stoic, he or she is content when things come naturally.  A Stoic is content to express true reason in any opportunity (big or small).  For a Stoic, a long or short life makes no different.  Therefore, there is no fear of death.

Commentary on Meditations: B12:31-32

What more do you want? To live on? Or is it to continue sensation and impulse? To wax and then to wane? To make use of your voice, your mind? What in all this strikes you as good cause for regret? But if every one of these objects is contemptible, go on then to the final aim, which is to follow reason and to follow god. To value these other things, to fret at their loss which death will bring, militates against this aim.

What a tiny part of the boundless abyss of time has been allotted to each of us - and this is soon vanished in eternity; what a tiny part of the universal substance and the universal soul; how tiny in the whole earth the mere clod on which you creep. Reflecting on all this, think nothing important other than active pursuit where your own nature leads and passive acceptance of what universal nature brings.

What is it you want out of life?  To go from one pleasure to the next; from one pain avoidance act to the next; to give into one impulse after another?  Is that what life is really all about?  Or maybe there is something more meaningful?  Could you make use of your voice and mind?  Could you aim at something higher or better?  What is that "final aim"?  For the Stoics, the final aim was living according to Nature.  And the nature of humans is to use reason to live; to accept our fate (follow god) and to no fret or worry about things that are truly out of our control.

What truly matters in life?  To live it according to nature.  And if you need a reminder about how meaningless a lot of things are, consider how small, tiny and minute this moment is; this piece of land you are sitting on - how small it is.  Therefore, in this small fragment of time and space you occupy, accept it and make the most of it.

A quote by the reverend Martin Luther King Jr. reflects this sentiment of acceptance and opinion:

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michaelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, 'Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

(see also Citadel p. 128-129, 173, 180, 184, 267)

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Commentary on Meditations: B12:30

One light of the sun, even though its path is broken by walls, mountains, innumerable other obstacles. One common substance, even though it is broken up into innumerable forms of individual bodies. One animate soul, even though it is broken up into innumerable species with specific individualities. One intelligent soul, even though it appears divided.

Now in all the above the other parts - such as mere breath, or that material which is insensate - have no direct affinity to each other: yet even here a link is formed by a sort of unity and the gravitation of like to like. But the mind has this unique property: it reaches out to others of its own kind and joins with them, so the feeling of fellowship is not broken.

In this beautiful and eloquent passage, Marcus observes the light of the sun and how it is one light all over the world, despite being broken by objects.  He applies this idea to one Directing Mind - one animate, intelligent soul, that even though it appears divided by the millions and billions of people, is still unified.

He then observes the same concept with the human body - how the breath, the arms, the legs, etc, all function as one.  And the one thing in common is the mind.  And of all the human parts, only the mind will reach out to other minds and it creates this link with other people.  Such is our social nature and as such, we should live according to nature.

(see also Citadel p. 113, 260)

Friday, March 2, 2018

Commentary on Meditations: B12:27-29

Continually review in your mind those whom a particular anger took to extremes, those who reached the greatest heights of glory or disaster or enmity or any other sort of fortune. Then stop and think: where is it all now? Smoke and ashes, a story told or even a story forgotten. At the same time this whole class of examples should occur to you: Fabius Catullinus in his country house, Lusius Lupus in his town gardens, Stertinius at Baiae, Tiberius in Capri, Velius Rufus - and generally any obsession combined with self-conceit. Think how worthless all this striving is: how much wiser to use the material given you to make yourself in all simplicity just, self-controlled, obedient to the gods. The pride that prides itself on freedom from pride is the hardest of all to bear.

To those who ask, 'Where then have you seen the gods? What conviction of their existence leads you to this worship of them?', I reply first that they are in fact visible to our eyes. Secondly, and notwithstanding, that I have not seen my own soul either, and yet I honour it. So it is with the gods too: from my every experience of their power time after time I am certain that they exist, and I revere them.

The salvation of life lies in seeing each object in its essence and its entirety, discerning both the material and the causal: in applying one's whole soul to doing right and speaking the truth. There remains only the enjoyment of living a linked succession of good deeds, with not the slightest gap between them.

Studying history, in my opinion, does more to help you realize how futile and worthless a large swath of life is.  People pursuing power, riches, fame, immortality ... utterly useless and pointless.  Where are the most powerful, the most famous, the most beautiful, the strongest?  Where are they now?  Dead.  Dust.  Forgotten.

Instead, how much wiser to spend your time and efforts to simply focus on justice, self-discipline and loving your lot in life?  This leads to contentment and peace of mind.

Marcus believed in the gods.  It helped him love his lot in life.

In chapter 29, Marcus summarizes what life is about.

1. seeing things as they really are (and not applying judgement to them).

2. ensuring all your actions and words are just; and going from one good deed and word to another.

(see also Citadel p. 41, 43, 48, 186, 239, 273)

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Commentary on Meditations: B12:26

When you fret at any circumstance, you have forgotten a number of things. You have forgotten that all comes about in accordance with the nature of the Whole; that any wrong done lies with the other; further, that everything which happens was always so in the past, will be the same again in the future, and is happening now across the world; that a human being has close kinship with the whole human race - not a bond of blood or seed, but a community of mind. And you have forgotten this too, that every man's mind is god and has flowed from that source; that nothing is our own property, but even our child, our body, our very soul have come from that source; that all is as thinking makes it so; that each of us lives only the present moment, and the present moment is all we lose.

Marcus offers very sound advice when we feel our anxiety starting to rise.  At the time of this writing, this passage was particularly useful.  I arrived at work on Monday, expecting a quiet week; a week where I'd be able to work on my back log.  Instead, there were numerous issues and popped up and multiple fires to fight.  I felt the stress and anxiety creep in.  Then I came across this passage and recognized I was 'fretting.'  I remembered that whatever happens, including all these issues, was brought about in accordance with the nature of the Whole.  There was no benefit in getting all riled up and stressed out.  All that happened this week, indeed, has happened before and will happen again.  This point was driven home to me, because nine years ago, I was in a very similar situation.  Back then, I did not have the Stoic framework.  But this week I did and I was much more accepting of the situation than I was nine years ago.

If I go back twenty years ago, I recall being stressed out and homesick while I was living in a foreign country.  At that time, a good person and dear friend gave me some excellent advice.  I was focused on myself and my problem.  But he advised me that all through the country and around the world, there were other people in a similar situation as I was in.  And that if I remembered that every morning, I would not feel so lonely and feel a kinship with everyone else living through similar circumstances.

All of us humans are in this together.  We all come from god's mind, therefore every human's mind is a slice of the divine.

Lastly, we have control over our opinion and attitude.  And we get to choose what our attitude will be.  Therefore, be present and live in this very moment - be positive.

(see also Citadel p. 38-43, 113, 127, 132)