Monday, July 31, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B4:30

One philosopher has no shirt, one has no book. Here is another half-naked: 'I have no bread', he says, 'but I am faithful to Reason.' But I for my part have all the food of learning, and yet I am not faithful.

Such a simple and straight-forward self-admonition.  If I were to re-write this and write it to myself, it would go something like this:  "You've been given all the resources and books and means to practice philosophy, yet you dabble.  You have a mansion, yet live and sleep on the porch.  You have a Maserati, but only drive it in the parking lot."

Friday, July 28, 2017

Sam Houston (by Haley) in 1850 to the Senate

This passage really stood out to me as I read it:
In opposition to Pres. Zachary Taylor and the Southern radicals, Houston took the floor to support [Henry] Clay.  His passionate advocacy of the Compromise of 1850 and the indivisibility of the Union filled twenty-five typeset pages, which he had printed in advance as pamphlets and widely distributed.  This was his chance to be heard nationally on the one subject that he considered of overarching importance.  He admitted that he was not himself as religious as he ought to be.  'I cannot offer the prayers of the righteous that my petition might be heard.  But I beseech those whose piety will permit them reverently to petition, that they will pray for this Union, and ask that He who buildeth up and pulleth down nations will, in mercy, preserve and unite us.  For a nation divided against itself cannot stand.'  The applause was deafening.  (Across the capitol in the House, there had been a change in the delegation from Illinois.  A disappointed Whig, an outgoing one-term congressman named Abraham Lincoln, was so disgusted with events that he had not even sought reelection.  But one of Houston's pamphlets must have found his way to him.)
emphasis added; source Sam Houston by James Haley p. 305

Commentary on Meditations: B4:28-29

Nero: mercenary, despotic
A black character, an effeminate, unbending character, the character of a brute or dumb animal: infantile, stupid, fraudulent, coarse, mercenary, despotic.

If one who does not recognize the contents of the universe is a stranger in it, no less a stranger is the one who fails to recognize what happens in it. He is a fugitive if he runs away from social principle; blind, if he shuts the eye of the mind; a beggar, if he depends on others and does not possess within him all he needs for life; a tumour on the universe, if he stands aside and separates himself from the principle of our common nature in disaffection with his lot (for it is nature which brings this about, just as it brought you about too); a social splinter, if he splits his own soul away from the soul of all rational beings, which is a unity.

In verse 28, Marcus reminds himself of his potential to be a tyrant Emperor - this was his way of hedging himself from his powerful and swift capacity to make others' life living hell.

Looking within yourself, what dark qualities could you become if you don't yield to reason?  This negative visualization could be useful in hedging yourself from a life of vanity.

In verse 29, he further reminds himself of his social duties with regard to others.  We live in a social order and any attempt to separate ourselves from that social order goes against our design and our purpose.  Engage with others; make a difference; use reason and fulfill your duties.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B4:27

Either an ordered universe, or a stew of mixed ingredients, yet still coherent order. Otherwise how could a sort of private order subsist within you, if there is disorder in the Whole? Especially given that all things, distinct as they are, nevertheless permeate and respond to each other.

This passage is one of many that Marcus wrote on the question of: is there a God, or are there just random atoms that govern the universe?

The Stoics would see beyond the question and arrive at the conclusion that whether a person believed in a God or Gods that govern the universe or if a person believed it was all chaos and random atoms, the response from a person ought to be the same.  And that response is: live according to reason - be who you were meant to be; accept your fate regardless if you view it as coming from God(s) or from random events.

(see also Citadel p. 148)

Monday, July 24, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B4: 25-26

Try out too how the life of the good man goes for you - the man content with his dispensation from the Whole, and satisfied in his own just action and kind disposition.

You have seen that: now look at this. Do not trouble yourself, keep yourself simple. Someone does wrong? He does wrong to himself. Has something happened to you? Fine. All that happens has been fated by the Whole from the beginning and spun for your own destiny. In sum, life is short: make your gain from the present moment with right reason and justice. Keep sober and relaxed.

A few weeks ago, while talking to my kids about life choices, I offered up this bit of advice.  Pursue a life of pleasure; pursue a life of thrill-seeking adventure; pursue of life of ease; pursue getting rich; pursue fame; pursue all of these to the end and see where it takes you.  I'm willing to bet that none of these pursuits will bring you true happiness and contentment.  Rather, you will almost certainly come to the realization that these pursuits were empty promises.  You might think these pursuits would bring you what you truly seek, but you will still be discontented and will be off in search of yet some new thing to make you content.

Another, more recent, example came when I learned of person who always needs to plan for some new big event or travel plan - they need something to look forward to and I assume that if they didn't have something to look forward to, they would be discontented and depressed.  I understand that thought process - I used to think this way too.  Eventually, I came to the humble conclusion that daily life is enough.  I learned to be content with my lot in life and to be grateful for what I do have and less concerned for what I don't have.  I'm not a sage and I still look to things and events to settle my anxiety, but I am much more accepting of getting up in the morning, exercising, working, commuting, interacting with others and dealing with day-to-day events.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B4:24

'If you want to be happy', says Democritus, 'do little.' May it not be better to do what is necessary, what the reason of a naturally social being demands, and the way reason demands it done? This brings the happiness both of right action and of little action. Most of what we say and do is unnecessary: remove the superfluity, and you will have more time and less bother. So in every case one should prompt oneself: 'Is this, or is it not, something necessary?' And the removal of the unnecessary should apply not only to actions but to thoughts also: then no redundant actions either will follow.

Efficiency and focus - these lead to a life of meaning and happiness.  Time, money and thought spent on superfluous things leads to a dead end.  What are we doing to benefit society?  Are we raising decent children?  Are we helping others in our community?  Are we doing no harm?

Life with a purpose and minimal time spent on low-value-add activities should be the aim for all.

(see also Citadel, p. 55, 187)

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B4:23

Universe, your harmony is my harmony: nothing in your good time is too early or too late for me. Nature, all that your seasons bring is fruit to me: all comes from you, exists in you, returns to you. The poet says, 'Dear city of Cecrops': will you not say, 'Dear city of Zeus'?

For this commentary, I wish to share a passage from Inner Citadel by Hadot (p. 143):
This brings us back to the theme of the present. A particular event is not predestined for me and accorded with me only because it is harmonized with the World; rather, it is so because it occurs in this particular moment and no other. It occurs in accordance with the kairos ("right moment"), which, as the Greeks had always known, is unique. Therefore, that which is happening to me at this moment is happening at the right moment, in accordance with the necessary, methodical, and harmonious unfolding of all events, all of which occur at their proper time and season.
To will the event that is happening at this moment, and in this present instant, is to will the entire universe which has brought it about. 
(see also Citadel, p. 75, 143, 260)

Monday, July 17, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B4:21-22

You may ask how, if souls live on, the air can accommodate them all from the beginning of time. Well, how does the earth accommodate all those bodies buried in it over the same eternity? Just as here on earth, once bodies have kept their residence for whatever time, their change and decomposition makes room for other bodies, so it is with souls migrated to the air. They continue for a time, then change, dissolve, and take fire as they are assumed into the generative principle of the Whole: in this way they make room for successive residents. Such would be one's answer on the assumption that souls do live on.

We should consider, though, not only the multitude of bodies thus buried, but also the number of animals eaten every day by us and other creatures - a huge quantity consumed and in a sense buried in the bodies of those who feed on them. And yet there is room for them, because they are reduced to blood and changed into the elements of air and fire. How to investigate the truth of this? By distinguishing the material and the causal.

No wandering. In every impulse, give what is right: in every thought, stick to what is certain.

I admit, this passage (verse 21) is very odd and I'm unsure exactly what to glean from it.  First off, a question such as, 'how does the earth accommodate all the dead bodies?' is a rather odd question and seems a little un-Stoic.  It is a thing out of our control, therefore why worry about it.  Furthermore, it does not surprise me the earth can hold the dead via decomposition.

For the second verse (22), it is almost as if he snaps back to it, telling himself to not think about such matters.  Rather focus time and effort on what action ought to be done and to focus on what is in your control.

(see also Citadel, p. 29, 41, 45, 186)

Friday, July 14, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B4:19-20

One who is all in a flutter over his subsequent fame fails to imagine that all those who remember him will very soon be dead - and he too. Then the same will be true of all successors, until the whole memory of him will be extinguished in a sequence of lamps lit and snuffed out. But suppose immortality in those who will remember you, and everlasting memory. Even so, what is that to you? And I do not simply mean that this is nothing to the dead, but to the living also what is the point of praise, other than for some practical aspect of management? As it is, you are losing the opportunity of that gift of nature which does not depend on another's word. So ...

Everything in any way beautiful has its beauty of itself, inherent and self-sufficient: praise is no part of it. At any rate, praise does not make anything better or worse. This applies even to the popular conception of beauty, as in material things or works or art. So does the truly beautiful need anything beyond itself? No more than law, no more than truth, no more than kindness or integrity. Which of these things derives its beauty from praise, or withers under criticism? Does an emerald lose its quality if it is not praised? And what of gold, ivory, purple, a lyre, a dagger, a flower, a bush?

Fame is fleeting.  It is not real.  It adds no value.  And the value inherent in people and things does not go up or down because of fame or the lack of it.

I enjoy history and reading about it.  What impresses me the most when I read and study history is the amount of fame people place on others.  History is so deep and wide, you also quickly gain an appreciation for how obscure important people become.  Kings, emperors, tyrants, queens, vicars, popes, dictators - all have held sway and power over millions in their time.  Yet they are all forgotten today.  We only know and remember people because someone else thought it important to put their names in a book.

The real value of things is inherent.  People ought to focus on their nature (the ability to reason and think and to help others.)  People ought to focus on excelling at improving their character.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B4:18

What ease of mind you gain from not looking at what your neighbour has said or done or thought, but only at your own actions, to make them just, reverential, imbued with good! So do not glance at the black characters either side, but run right on to the line: straight, not straggly.

"Keeping up with the Joneses" - that is a game that is often played in America.  Envy is at the center of this phenomenon.  We let "what others think of us" into our own minds and we let that virus infect us.  We let it distract us and have sway over us.

We ought to focus on improving our own character and helping and serving others.  That is the straight line we ought to pursue.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B4:13-17

'Do you possess reason?' 'I do.' 'Why not use it then? With reason doing its job, what else do you want?'

You have subsisted as a part of the Whole. You will vanish into that which gave you birth: or rather you will be changed, taken up into the generative principle of the universe.

Many grains of incense on the same altar. One falls to ash first, another later: no difference.

Within ten days you will be regarded as a god by those very people who now see you as beast or baboon - if you return to your principles and the worship of Reason.

No, you do not have thousands of years to live. Urgency is on you. While you live, while you can, become good.

Beasts, pets, farm and wild animals will eat, sleep, poop.  Some can be taught tricks, but you will never carry on a conversation or philosophical discussion with any of them.  Humans, on the other hand, can reason, talk and philosophize.  We possess reason - use it!

You are part of the whole - birth, life, death.  Accept it.

Some die young, other die old - no difference.

You stop using reason?  Give yourself 10 days to focus on becoming reasonable again.

You will die at any moment.  Live now.  Be good now.

good link to wallpapers with this quote.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Afib & Cardiac Ablation

I was an avid runner from around the age of 16 or 17 up to around the age of 33 or 34.  Then I started cutting back and then around the age 37, I switched to just walking and occasionally playing basketball.

Around the age of 30 is when the atrial fibrillation started.  At the time, I did not know it was afib.  All I knew was that after running a warm-up mile, my heart rate was really fast and gave me the sensation of flip-flopping around.  I would walk it off and then finish my run just fine.  This didn't happen regularly.  Sometime I would go on my run and nothing would happen at all.  Sometimes, it would be around mile 3 or 4.  But the times I remember it most was during that warm-up mile.

Around the age of 31, I asked my doctor about it and she referred me to a cardiologist.  They hooked me up to the stress test machine and my heart beat just fine.  I think I was running maybe a 6 or 7 on a steep incline on the treadmill - nothing.  I described to him what I felt when I did happen.  He said I'd be fine and keep exercising.

So for the last decade, I've been running, playing basketball and walking with this afib.  I thought it might have been my diet or maybe it was caffeine intake or stress.  But there was no rhyme or reason to it whatsoever.  It came and went as it pleased.

It progressively got worse.  I began to notice it in the morning after waking up.  Some days it persisted all day long.  Other days, not a peep.  One time, while playing in a basketball league game, I nearly passed out.  It was going all crazy on me and I barely made it to the bench.  My ear were ringing and I was dizzy.  That was the worst it got until this year.

In February, I was bit by a copperhead.  While in the ICU the first night, the nurse saw my heart all over the place - irregular, fast, slow.  She was really freaking out about it and I just didn't think it was a big deal.  A cardiologist came and saw me and said I was fine.  They did a sonogram of my heart and weren't too concerned, but that I should schedule a visit with Dr. Morales as soon a possible.

Towards the beginning of March, I was wearing a heart monitor for a week.  By Thursday of that week, I got a call from the doctor asking me to start taking Xarelto.  This was to thin my blood to prevent a stroke.  When I saw him again, he diagnosed me with atrial fibrillation.  There are two ways to deal with it: medication or ablation.  Medication would not work so well with me.  The medication is supposed to slow the heart down, but my heart rhythm is already slow (around 50 resting, 60 normal).  Ablation would fix the issue and since I'm younger, I would be a good candidate.  So I opted for the ablation.

Monday July 3 was my pre-op.  They took blood and a chest x-ray.  The rest of the time was just paperwork.

Wednesday July 5 was a CT scan of my heart.  I arrived at 8am, but the machine had been down when the nurses came in, so I had to wait 50 minutes.  I went back to the room, had an IV in my right arm and then she gave me a nitro glycerin pill under my tongue.  When the iodine was administered in the IV, it felt like a peed my shorts, but that was expected.  About 10 minutes later, I was done.  But the nitro glycerin pill gave me a nasty headache all day long (the nurse said this might happen).

Thursday morning, we were at the hospital by 6:30am.  They took me back, put the gown on and laid down.  They needed to get 3 IVs in me.  My wife was there for support since I hate IVs so much.  She did a great job helping me through.  I was fasting, so finding a vein was difficult to say the least.  After 7 pokes, they got the 3 they needed.  But it was a little too much for my dear wife and she passed out!  After a few minutes, she came to and on we went with the show.  Chest, back and groin shaved; anesthetist then got me hooked up and they wheeled me back.  I kissed my wife good bye and the next thing I knew, I was awake and groggy.  The nurses were putting a lot of pressure on my groin to stop the bleeding.  My wife was by my side again too.  It must have been around 11:30 or noon.

A few minutes later, they wheeled me to my room.  I could not move my legs at all for the next four hours - I just had to sit perfectly still to ensure the groin incisions did not open.  The hardest part of laying there was the ache in my lower and mid back.  I wanted to bend my knees to relieve my back, but I could not.  I watched Wimbledon and golf while I lay there with my wife by my side.  Dr. Morales came to visit me.  I asked him how many he's done now, and he said he's lost count.  He said I asked that question before I was knocked out.  I vaguely remember asking him.  He said it was standard procedure - everything went well.

4pm came and I could move around a bit.  The catheter came out - and on my heavens - that was the worst part of the whole two days.  For a few seconds it was extremely painful and uncomfortable - I yelled out.  I was still quite dizzy and needed to take things really slow.  I started drinking water and nibbling on some food.  The next goal was to urinate by midnight - piece of cake!  Otherwise, they would need to put the catheter back in!

I drank and drank.  My stomach was getting pretty full.  I got up, walked around.  Nothing.  Also, my room was not cooling off.  Eventually they were able to move me down the hall and that room was much cooler!  10pm came - no need to urinate yet.  11pm - nothing.  I started walking up and down the hallway to try to work that water out.  I just needed the anesthesia to wear off and let me pee before midnight.  I told the nurse I really didn't want the catheter.  So at midnight, when I still had not urinated, he did a sonogram of my bladder and said about 200ml was in there.  He said patients can go up to 1000ml, so he would wait a little longer to put the catheter in - hallelujah!  I dozed off.  2am - the urge came!  I was never so happy to pee.  Every 90 minutes from then on I needed to get up and go.

Friday morning came, they gave me all the info I needed before being discharged.  I took my meds and then the nurse wheeled me out to the car and I came home.  Friday at home was just sitting in the recliner.  I walked around the house quite a bit, but the headache just would not go away.

Today is Saturday July 8 as I write this.  My sleep last night was good.  I was so glad to be able to sleep on my sides!  My headache is much more mild than yesterday and I feel my strength returning much more quickly.  Today I will take it really easy.  Tomorrow will probably be the same.

The doctor said to lay low for two weeks.  Then I'll have a check-up with him and see what he says.

Flutters and a higher beat rate is expected these next two days.  I've had flutters every so often, but things return to normal very quickly.  I'll post back here in two weeks and again in a month.

The ablation will have been a success if I can run and play basketball again with little to no issues.  The doctor was saying that in a month I could be back to basketball.  That would be amazing!


Friday, July 7, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B4:12

Always have these two principles in readiness. First, to do only what the reason inherent in kingly and judicial power prescribes for the benefit of mankind. Second, to change your ground, if in fact there is someone to correct and guide you away from some notion. But this transference must always spring from a conviction of justice or the common good: and your preferred course must be likewise, not simply for apparent pleasure or popularity.

Simply put, Marcus admonishes that we should act according to reason and justice; and that we should be willing to listen and heed advice from others when we are about to deviate from acting according to reason and justice.  Be careful of your motivations.

(see also Citadel p. 204, 301)

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B4:11

When someone does you wrong, do not judge things as he interprets them or would like you to interpret them. Just see them as they are, in plain truth.

So much anguish and anxiety we experience is simply in our heads.  Furthermore, people know this and depend on the fact that they can get into other peoples' heads!  But the key here is that we have to let other people into our heads for them to have sway over us.  And knowing that we can let other people into our heads, we also know we can just as quickly kick them out.

Our mind is a citadel and we have complete control over what comes in and tells us what to do and what to think.

To have discipline of assent, the first step is to simply break things down.  Marcus does this over and over again in his Meditations.

What does breaking things down mean?  It means making "a definition or sketch of what presents itself to your mind, so you can see its essential nature and identify it clearly, in whole and in all its parts, and can tell yourself its proper name and the names of those elements of which it is compounded and into which it will be dissolved" (Book 3:11).

You can immediately do this with the most alluring of objects in your life now: seeking fame, consumerism, sex, money, power, perfect health.  All objects and ideas that fall in these categories or virtually anything that is out of our control that we think could make us happy.

Breaking these things down is the process of taking the glamour and prestige and knocking it down.  A diamond ring is just a piece of compressed carbon.  Fame is just the clapping of hands and mouths.  Money is just paper.

Break the allure.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Washington & Jefferson loved the Stoics

From "At the end of the hard winter at Valley Forge, General George Washington defied a congressional ban on theatrical productions and entertained his men with a production of Joseph Addison's 1713 tragedy Cato."

See also George Washington's Favorite Play

From Classical Wisdom Weekly: "The founding fathers were also inspired by the philosophy. George Washington was introduced to Stoicism by his neighbors at age seventeen, and afterwards, put on a play about Cato to inspire his men in that dark winter at Valley Forge. Whereas Thomas Jefferson had a copy of Seneca on his nightstand when he died."

Jefferson's reading list includes Epictetus, Seneca & Marcus Aurelius

Monday, July 3, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B4:10

'All's right that happens in the world.' Examine this saying carefully, and you will find it true. I do not mean 'right' simply in the context of cause and effect, but in the sense of 'just' - as if some adjudicator were assigning dues. So keep on observing this, as you have started, and in all that you do combine doing it with being a good man, in the specific conception of 'good man'. Preserve this in every sphere of action.

The discipline of desire is nothing more or less than loving what the nature of the world and universe desires.  Since what naturally happens in these spheres is out of our control, we have no choice but to desire the will of the world and universe.  If we were to wrap up our contentment and happiness in the weather and we wished for only 75 degree weather, with clear skies and 30% humidity with a slight breeze, we might be deeply disappointed and sad most days of the year if we lived in Texas.  Therefore, one should not place their happiness in the weather.  Rather one ought to focus on what is in their control and be happy and content with what they can control.

Continuing with the weather analogy; to be happy and content every day, we ought to love and embrace the will of nature and weather.  It if is a rainy, cloudy day, we can love it; go with the flow and settle down to read a book.  If it is hot and steamy, perhaps we can swim in the pool that day.  We cannot change the weather, but we can adjust our attitude toward it.

To make this point even more impactful, consider this quote from Stephen Hawking from a recent news report:
"In his talk, titled My Life In Physics, he spoke about his early realisation of his medical problems when he went skating with his mother, according to Cambridge News .
"I fell over and had great difficulty getting up," he said.
Prof Hawking was later diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), at the age of 21.
"At first I became depressed," he said. "I seemed to be getting worse really rapidly.
"There didn't seem any point working on my PhD because I didn't know I would live long enough to finish it.
"But then the condition developed more slowly and I began to make progress in my work. 
"After my expectations had been reduced to zero, every new day became a bonus and I began to appreciate everything I did have. While there's life there's hope."
Hawking eventually embraced and loved his fate (amor fati).  No one says embracing fate is always easy.  But if you want to be content, you must embrace and love your fate.