Your Occasional Stoic — Everything Dies Baby That’s A Fact

Hippocrates, who had healed many diseases, himself fell sick, and died. The Chaldeans foretold the fatal hours of multitudes, and afterwards fate carried them away. Alexander, Pompey, and Gaius Caesar, who so often razed whole cities, and cut off in battle so many myriads of horse and foot, at last departed from this life themselves. Heraclitus, after his many speculations on the conflagration of the world, died, swollen with water and plastered with cow-dung. Vermin destroyed Democritus; Socrates was killed by vermin of another sort. What of all this? You have gone aboard, made your voyage, come to harbor. Disembark: if into another life, there will God be also; if into nothingness, at least you will have done with bearing pain and pleasure, and with your slavery to this vessel so much meaner than its slave. For the soul is intelligence and deity, the body dust and corruption.

Meditations 3:3

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As the great Bruce Springsteen once said “Everything dies baby that’s a fact”. Here Marcus reminds us of that, again. Does he need to remind us that Heraclitus, the great philosopher, died covered in shit? Yes, because even the smartest, the strongest, the most powerful will die, and for most of us, it won’t be pretty. Accept that, internalize that, and choose to live a life worth leading.

Your Occasional Stoic — Contemplate The Fierce Jaws Of Beasts With No Less Delight Than The Works Of Sculptors Or Painters

Observe what grace and charm appear even in the accidents that accompany Nature’s work. Some parts of a loaf crack and burst in the baking; and this cracking, though in a manner contrary to the design of the baker, looks well and invites the appetite.

Figs, too, gape when at their ripest, and in ripe olives the approach to rotting adds a special beauty to the fruit. The droop of ears of corn, the bent brows of the lion, the foam at a boar’s mouth, and many other things, are far from attractive in themselves, yet, since they accompany the works of Nature, they make part of her adornment, and rejoice the beholder.

Thus, if a man be sensitive to such things, and have a more than common penetration into the constitution of the whole, almost nothing connected with Nature will fail to give him pleasure, as he comes to understand it. Such a man will contemplate in the real world the fierce jaws of wild beasts with no less delight than the works of sculptors or painters. With like pleasure will his chaste eyes behold the maturity and grace of old age in man or woman, and the inviting charms of youth. Many such things will strike him, things not credible to the many, but which come to him alone who is truly familiar with the works of Nature and near to her own heart.

Meditations 3:2

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Marcus is hailing the beauty of nature, even when it is not, what we would think of as traditionally beautiful, in part through what we know this less beautiful state represents. A olive close to rotting looks good not because its inherently aesthetically pleasing, but because we know such an olive will be delicious. If we’re in tune with our environment, we can see beauty everywhere, not just in the refined works of the painter or sculptor. It important here that one needs to “know nature”. What does that mean, exactly? Marcus doesn’t say. But surely it means in part living and tasting the olive.

Your Occasional Stoic — Have a Sense of Urgency … Because Understanding and Intelligence Often Leave Us Before We Die

Man must consider, not only that each day part of his life is spent, and that less and less remains to him, but also that, even if he were to live longer, it is very uncertain whether his intelligence will suffice as it has for the understanding his affairs, and for grasping that knowledge which aims at comprehending things human and divine. When dotage begins, breath, nourishment, fancy, impulse, and so forth will not fail him. But self-command, accurate appreciation of duty, power to scrutinize what strikes his senses, or even to decide whether he should take his departure, all powers, indeed, which demand a well-trained understanding, must be extinguished in him. So we much have a sense or urgency, not only because death comes nearer every day, but because understanding and intelligence often leave us before we die.

Meditations 3:1

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One of the things we’re lost is contemplation of death. Look at the stoic, and much of Buddhist philosophy, death is always present. Memento Mori, remember that you must die. Its considered impolite to discuss death these days, and that’s a loss, for what gives life meaning except for death?

So move with urgency and deliberation, your days here are fleeting and short.

Your Occasional Stoic — The Duration of Man’s Life Is But An Instant

The duration of man’s life is but an instant; his substance is fleeting, his senses dull; the structure of his body corruptible; the soul but a vortex. We cannot reckon with fortune, or lay our account with fame. To put is shortly, the life of the body is but a river, and the life of the soul a misty dream. Existence is a warfare, and a journey in a strange land; and the end of fame is to be forgotten.

What then avails to guide us? One thing, and one alone—Philosophy.

And this consists in keeping the divinity within inviolate and intact; victorious over pain and pleasure; free from falsehood, free from hypocrisy; independent of what others do or fail to do; Accepting of all that happens to it, which comes from the same source as we; and, above all, with equanimity awaiting death, as nothing else than a resolution of the elements of which every being compounded. And, if in their successive interchanges no harm befall the elements, why should one suspect any in the change and dissolution of the whole?

It is natural, and nothing natural can be evil.

Meditations 2:17

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This is the last meditation in book 2, and among the best, clearest articulations of Marcus’s thinking. We’re seen as we progressed that early on Marcus was laying the ground work, thanking his mentors, etc. Now he’s into the meat  of it. Yes, its repetitive, but remember, these were Marcus’s personal notebooks. He was coaching himself to life a better life, and we all know practice makes perfect.

Your Occasional Stoic: “Beyond Thinking There Is Nothing”

“‘Beyond thinking there is nothing’. The objections to this saying of Monimus the Cynic are obvious. But obvious also is the utility of what he said, if one accept the kernel of what he is saying as truth will warrant it.’

Meditations 2:15

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Monimus was a slave, who tricked his master into thinking he was mad so that he could escape and study philosophy. He’s most famous for the saying “all is vanity”.

But like many of the early Greeks, he hinted at ideas that would obsess twentith century philosopher. What, beyond of mind, can we know? Perhaps he’s right, and the answer is nothing.

 

 

Your Occasional Stoic: Conquered by Pleasure or Pain

Man’s soul harms itself, firstly and chiefly when it does all it can to become a seperate growth, a sort of tumor on the Universe. To resent any particular event is to revolt against the general law of Nature, which comprehends the order of all events whatsoever. It also dishonors the soul when it has aversion to any man, and opposes him with intention to hurt him, as wrathful men do. Thirdly, it affronts itself when conquered by pleasure or pain; fourthly, when it does or says anything hypocritically, feignedly or falsely; fifthly, when it does not direct to some proper end all its desires and actions, but exerts them inconsiderately and without understanding. For, even the smallest things should be referred to the end, and the end of rational beings is to follow the order and law of the venerable state and polity which comprehends them all.

Meditation 2:16

A soul “affronts itself when conquered by pleasure or pain”.

This is perhaps the essence of stoicism in a single line. The goal of stoicism is not to feel nothing, but rather to have control over those feelings. Yes, we feel love, or anger, but letting yourself be control by emotional impulses harms oneself. Perhaps internalizing this one line is internalizing the central lesson of Marcus.

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Your Occasional Stoic — Do Not Mourn An Unknown Future; Do Not Fear Death

Even if you are going to live three thousand years, or as many times ten thousand years, remember that no man loses any other life than the one which he now lives, or lives any other life than the one he now loses. The longest and shortest are then to the same. For the present is the same to all, though that which perishes is not the same; and so that which is lost appears to be a mere moment. For a man cannot lose either the past or the future — for if you do not have it, how can anyone take it? Bear these two things in mind: all things from eternity are of like forms and come round in a circle, and that it makes no difference whether a man shall see the same things during a hundred years or two hundred, or an infinite time; and second, that the longest liver and he who will die soonest lose just the same. For the present is the only thing of which a man can be deprived, if it is true that this is the only thing which he has, and that a man cannot lose a thing if he has it not.
Meditations, 2. 14

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Marcus was obsessed with Death and deals with it repeatedly throughout the mediations. Here, he takes an almost Buddhist view of it –be here now and all that. Do not mourn an unknown future, or a past already lived. What you have, what you can control, is today. Focus on this, and you need not fear death, because today is all anyone ever has.

Ok, fine, cool story bro. But as I’ve struggled with in many of these annotations, this radical insistence on the present isn’t practical. If I do not look forward to an old age I may not have, I cannot prepare for it. If I fail to prepare, I will fail to survive.
Herein lies one of the central contradictions in stoicism. It insists on controlling the moment, but if we fail to look past the moment, we’re doomed. Wrestling with this contradiction, finding the right balance, will be a subject of many, many of these annotations.