Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B3:9

Revere your power of judgement. All rests on this to make sure that your directing mind no longer entertains any judgement which fails to agree with the nature or the constitution of a rational being. And this state guarantees deliberate thought, affinity with other men, and obedience to the gods.

Our mindfulness and judgements (discipline of assent) should align with the nature of the whole in that we should love our fate (discipline of desire).

Deliberate thought (discipline of assent); good social interaction (affinity with others) and loving what happens to us (that is out of our control).

Monday, May 29, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B3:8

In the mind of one who is chastened and cleansed you will find no suppuration, no simmering ulcer, no sore festering under the skin. Fate does not catch him with his life unfulfilled, as one might speak of an actor leaving the stage before his part is finished and the play is over. Moreover you will find nothing servile or pretentious, no dependence or alienation, nothing to answer for, no lurking fault.

In a word, Marcus says the examined life is a life without guilt; a life with a clear and clean conscience.

We ought to examine our life and we ought to be mindful.  And as we examine our life and keep mindful, we will be quick to clean any wounds or ulcers.

Years ago, I heard that this daily practice of being mindful and keeping a clean conscience is like brushing your teeth.  You ought to do it every day.  You cannot simply say you'll brush once a week and be alright - it just doesn't work that way.

Practice the examined life (exercise the discipline of assent) and be mindful.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B3:7

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B3:6

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

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

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

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

will bring you contentment and happiness.

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 22, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B3:5

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

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

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

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

He should be cheerful and self-sufficient.

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

(See also Citadel pp. 123, 265, 289)

Monday, May 15, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B3:4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 12, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B3:3

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 11, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B3:2

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 8, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B3:1

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 5, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B2:17

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B2:16

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

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

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

(see Citadel p 46, 185-186, 211)

Monday, May 1, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B2:14-15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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