Your Occasional Stoic –Let The God Within Direct You

In action be neither grudging, nor selfish, nor ill-advised, nor constrained. Do not let your thought be adorned with overwrought nicety. Don’t be a babbler or a busybody. Let the God within direct you as a manly being, as an elder, a statesman, a Roman, and a ruler, standing prepared like one who awaits the recall from life, in marching order; requiring neither an oath nor the testimony of any man. And with everything, be cheerful, and independent of the assistance and the peace that comes from others; for, it is a man’s duty to stand upright, self-supporting, not supported.

 Meditations 3:5

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One of the classic knocks on stoicism is that it is cold, detached, unemotional. The first part of this meditation seems to reinforce that – don’t be a busy body, act like a statesman. But let’s not forget the second part – with everything be cheerful. To take duty and life seriously does not mean one has to be some Cato like grump. Live this life with intention and purpose, but also with joy. As always with Marcus, an easy thing to write, a hard thing to live.

Your Occasional Stoic — Do Not Waste What Remains of Life On What Others Think of You

 

 

Do not waste what remains of life on what others think of you, when it makes not for the common good. You are surely neglecting other work if you busy yourself with what others are doing and why, with what they are saying, thinking, or scheming.

All such things do but divert you from the steadfast guardianship of your own soul. It behooves you, then, in every train of thought to shun all that is aimless or useless, and, above all, everything officious or malignant. Accustom yourself so, and only so, to think, that, if any one were suddenly to ask you, “Of what are you thinking-now?” you could answer frankly and at once, “Of so and so.” Then it will plainly appear that you are all simplicity and kindliness, as befits a social being who takes little thought for enjoyment or any phantom pleasure; who spurns contentiousness, envy, or suspicion; or any passion the harboring of which one would blush to own. For such a man, who has finally determined to be henceforth among the best, is, as it were, a priest and minister of the Gods, using the spirit within him, which preserves a man un-spotted from pleasure, un-wounded by any pain, inaccessible to all insult, innocent of all evil; a champion in the noblest of all contests—the contest for victory over every passion. He is penetrated with justice; he welcomes with all his heart whatever befalls, or is appointed by Providence. He troubles not often, or ever without pressing public need, to consider what another may say, or do, or design. Solely intent upon his own conduct, ever mindful of his own concurrent part in the destiny of the Universe, he orders his conduct well, persuaded that his part is good. For the lot appointed to every man is part of the law of all things as well as a law for him. He forgets not that all rational beings are akin, and that the love of all mankind is part of the nature of man; also that we must not think as all men think, but only as those who live a life accordant with nature. As for those who live otherwise, he remembers always how they act at home and abroad, by night and by day, and how and with whom they are found in company. And so he cannot esteem the praise of such, for they enjoy not their own approbation.

Meditations 3:4

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Do not trouble yourself with what others think of you. A simple admonition, but as we’ve said before, much harder to implement, and perhaps that is why it occurs so often in the meditations. Marcus isn’t just reminding us to stay focused on that which we can change – our actions – he is also reminding himself. Stay true to your life’s work. Ignore the haters.

Your Occasional Stoic — The Soul Is Intelligence and Deity, the Body Dust and Corruption

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Hippocrates, who had healed many diseases, himself fell sick, and died.

 

The Chaldeans foretold the fatal hours of multitudes, and afterwards fate carried themselves 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.

 

Mediations 3:3

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Hippocrates, the father of western medicine. The Chaldeans, an ancient people, disappeared into assimilation. Alexander the Great, Pompey, and Gaius Caesar, all three among the greatest generals of the ancient world. Heraclitus, among the first and most compelling of the Greek philosophers. Socrates, perhaps the greatest. All of them dead. Remember if it comes for men of this stature, it is coming for you as well. What will you say when that day comes? Will you have lead a good life?

Your Occasional Stoic — Scarce anything connected with Nature will fail to give him pleasure

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 beautiful and invites the appetite.

Figs, too, gape when at their ripest, and in ripe olives the very 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 comely 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, scarce anything 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 when sculptors or painters set forth for him their presentments. 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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This mediation is a bit of an outlier, as thoughts on aesthetics don’t tend to figure large in the mediations. But here its aesthetics coupled with knowledge and appreciation of the natural world, something we know Marcus loved. We learn to see the beautify in even unpleasant aspects of nature but understanding nature deeply, and sitting with its awesome power. As I’ve written about before, this is something I’m personally looking to do more of. I crave the woods these days and a deeper understanding of natures beauty.

 

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. Put bluntly, 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 temerity, free from falsehood, free from hypocrisy; independent of what others do or fail to do; submissive to hap and lot, which come 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 life is fraught, and it short, and it is confusing and full of peril. If you live it without reflection, are you living it at all?

Your Occasional Stoic –To Worry About Any Particular Event is to Revolt Against the General Law of Nature

Man’s soul dishonors itself, when it does all it can to become an growth, a tumor as it were on the Universe. To worry about any particular event is to revolt against the general law of Nature, which comprehends the order of all events whatsoever.

Again it is dishonor for the soul when it has aversion to any man, and opposes him with intention to hurt him, as wrathful men do.

Thirdly, the soul 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.

Mediations 2:16

ROMAN ART

as part of collection, Roman Art from the Louvre, currently on display at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. BY JIM BECKEL, THE OKLAHOMAN ORG XMIT: KOD

A list of attributes described in the negative, as Marcus often does. Its fair to say he is more focused on what he should not do, then on what he should do. A helpful technique when you’re trying to coach yourself to better behavior.

Your Occasional Stoic — Beyond Opinion There is Nothing.

Beyond opinion 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 his pleasantry as far as truth will warrant it.

Mediations 2:15

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Monimus, another slave turned philosopher, a cynic who was famous for “everything is vanity”. All that is inside of us is our opinion, all that is outside is our perception. Dorm room philosophy perhaps, but also true.

Your Occasional Stoic — The present Moment is the Same For All Men

Even if you were to live three thousand years or more remember that no man loses any other life than that which now lives, nor lives any other than that which he is now losing. The longest and the shortest lives come to one effect. The present moment is the same for all men, and their loss, therefore, is equal, for it is clear that what they lose in death is but a fleeting instant of time. No man can lose either the past or the future, for how can a man be deprived of what he has not? These two things then are to be remembered: First, that all things recur in cycles, and are the same from everlasting, and that, therefore, it matters nothing whether a man shall contemplate these same things for one hundred years, or for two hundred, or for an infinite stretch of time: and, secondly, that he who lives longest and he who dies soonest have an equal loss in death. The present moment is all of which either is deprived, since that is all he has. No man can be robbed of that which he has not.

Meditations 2:14

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This moment — it is all you have. Yesterday is gone and tomorrow isn’t promised. It’s easy to view this as a cliché, but its also the truth. Simple, yet so hard to really grasp, and to use to change your life. That’s why, though the idea is simple Marcus repeats it, in various ways, with various nuances so often. And it also why, though they are sometimes repetitive, it’s important to me to engage with Marcus on this, over and over again.

Your Occasional Stoic — To Dread a Work of Nature is a Childish Thing

It is within our rational power to understand how swiftly all things vanish; how the corporeal forms are swallowed up in the material world, and the memory of them in the tide of ages.

Such are all the things of sense, especially those which ensnare us with pleasure or terrify us with pain, or those things which vanity trumpets in our ears. How mean, how despicable, how sordid, how perishable, how dead are they! What are they whose opinions and whose voices bestow renown? What is it to die? Your mind can tell you that, did a man think of it alone, and, by close consideration, strip it of its horrible trappings, he would no longer deem it anything but a work of Nature. To dread a work of Nature is a childish thing, and this is, indeed, not only Nature’s work, but beneficial to her.

Meditations 2:12

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The world remembers Alexander, but what good does that do him? What matter to him (or should have) was who surrounded him on his death bed. That’s what should matter to us all.

This is an interesting meditation as it puts together in one two of Marcus’s central themes – think of death often, and yet do not fear it, because what is the point of fearing something that comes for us all.

Your Occasional Stoic — Think of Death

Do every deed, speak every word, think every thought in the knowledge that you may end your days any moment. To depart from men, if there be really Gods, is nothing terrible. The Gods could bring no evil thing upon you. And if there be no Gods, or if they have no regard to human affairs, why should I desire to live in a world void of Gods and without Providence? But Gods there are, and assuredly they regard human affairs; and they have put it wholly in man’s power that he should not fall into what is truly evil. And of other things, had any been bad, they would have made provision also that man should have the power to avoid them altogether. For how can that make a man’s life worse which does not corrupt the man himself? Presiding Nature could not in ignorance, or in knowledge impotent, have omitted to prevent or rectify these things. She could not fail us so completely that, either from want of power or want of skill, good and evil should happen promiscuously to good men and to bad alike. Now death and life, glory and reproach, pain and pleasure, riches and poverty—all these happen equally to the good and to the bad. But, as they are neither honorable nor shameful, they are therefore neither good nor evil.

Meditations 2:11

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Marcus was obsessed with death, and rightly so, since death alone gives the rest of this any meaning. If the gods exists, then surely you want to meet them having lived an honorable life. If not, surely you do not want to be on your death bed wishing you’d done things differently. The outcome is the same, do what was in you control, live a moral life, and die in peace.