Your Occasional Stoic — Be curious, but not reactive.

Does the  external distract you? Give yourself time to learn something new and good, and cease to be whirled around. But then you must also avoid being carried about the other way. For those too are triflers who have tired themselves in life by their activity, and yet have no object to which to direct every movement, or even all their thoughts.

Meditation 2.7

Focus. Don’t let external events control you. Of course, be open to the world, be curious, but not reactive. Decide your own fate, do not let the world decide it for you.

Your Occasional Stoic: Who decides your worth?

Go head, keep doing wrong to yourself, my soul; but soon you will no longer have the opportunity of honoring yourself. Every man’s life is sufficient. But yours is nearly finished, and instead of respecting yourself, you place you happiness in the souls of others.

-Meditation, 2.6

As with many of the mediations (and with many life lessons in general) it appears clichéd at first reading. But take the time, grapple with it a bit. How much of your validation are you putting in the hands of others? How is that working out for you? Perhaps stepping back, and honoring your own life isn’t so trite. Perhaps its worth something.

Your Occasional Stoic: Live Every Moment in Duty

Every moment think steadily as a Roman and a man to do what you have in hand with perfect and simple dignity, feeling of affection, freedom, and justice. Give yourself relief from all other thoughts and you will give yourself relief. If you do every act of life as if it were the last, laying aside all carelessness and passionate aversion from the commands of reason, all hypocrisy, self-love, and discontent with the portion which has been given to you and you’ll see how few the things you have to do to live a satisfying life.  If you manage this, that’s all even the gods can ask of you.

Mediation 2,5

  • Like so many of the mediations, at first glance, this is full of platitudes. “Live every moment as if it were your last.” But Marcus doesn’t mean with the joie de vivre of the modern era. He means live it in duty to Rome, to others, to your higher nature. Indeed, instead of “live a little, have the cake” marcus is saying “live a little, avoid the cake, do more.”

Your Occasional Stoic — Clear the Mind, Time is Running Out

Remember how long you have put off these things. Remember how often you have received an opportunity from the gods, and not used it.

You must now at last perceive of what universe you are a part, what power rules you, and that a limit of time is fixed for you, which if you do not use it for clearing away the clouds from your mind, it will go and you will go with it and it will never return.

Meditation, 2.4

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  • I mean, duh. This is the kind exhortation we get over and over in the meditations (as we should). Time is running out, stop with the lollygagging. Enough of the procrastination. Do it now, before its too late.
  • Passages like this are why some find the meditations simplistic, repetitive, or both. But they’re also why I find it inspiring and helpful. I KNOW to start today, but that doesn’t make DOING IT any easier. I need a reminder, just like Marcus did, that time is running out.

Your Occasional Stoic – Cast Away Your Thirst for Knowledge

All that is from the gods is full of Providence. That which is from fortune is not separated from nature or without an interweaving and involution with the things which are ordered by Providence. From this all things flow; and there is besides necessity, and that which is for the advantage of the whole universe, of which you are a part.

But that is good for every part of nature which the nature of the whole brings, and what serves to maintain this nature. Now the universe is preserved, as by the changes of the elements, so by the changes of things compounded of the elements. Let these principles be enough for you. Let them always be fixed opinions. But cast away the thirst after books, that you will not die murmuring, but cheerfully, truly, and from thy heart thankful to the gods.

Meditations 2,3

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  • There’s a hint here at stoic physics, an area of the philosophy that does not get much attention these days. Stoics believed the physical world was in a state of constant change with every object constantly changes and reconfiguring. They weren’t really that far off. Just like the universe
  • I recently finished Edith Hamilton’s the Greek Way. Not a very good book, but it did include one insight that would have been obvious to a better educated reader than I – stoicism contains more than a whif of anti-intellectualism. Life, and living it well are what is important. Socratic type philosophizing for the sake of rumination and pointless learning is not valued.

 

Marcus is interested in ideas, but only so far as they allow him to perfect himself, not as an end until itself. Here, we differ. I like nothing more than a pointless intellectual exercise. Indeed pointless intellectual exercises are what I live for.

 

I would have a made a poor stoic (and a poor empororer).

Your Occasional Stoic – Throw Away Your Books; Despise Your Flesh

Whatever this is that I am, it is a little flesh and breath, and the ruling part.

Throw away your books — no longer distract yourself: it is not allowed.

As if you’re now dying, despise the flesh. It is blood and bones and a network, a contexture of nerves, veins, and arteries.

See the breath also, what kind of a thing it is — air, and not always the same, but every moment sent out and again sucked in.

The third then is the ruling part. Consider: you’re an old man; no longer let this be a slave, no longer be pulled by the strings like a puppet to unsocial movements, no longer either be dissatisfied with your present lot, or shrink from the future.

Mediation 2. 2

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

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

  • “Despise the flesh” Yet more of the standard “your body is merely a vessel for the soul/intellect”. What garbage. I love this book, but am tired if this line of reasoning. The body is integral to what makes us, us. We cannot forget it any more than we can the mind or the “soul”.
  • “Quit your books”? Hold on there, Marcus, a life of action does not negate a life of the mind. You yourself know that! Are you saying that just because you have now read Epicetus there is nothing left to find in the written word? You’re wrong.
  • “you’re an old man” Scholars think Marcus wrote the mediations in the last decade of his life, his fifties. Perhaps that is why he is pairing down his life to live in the moment. He did not have long to live.

Your Occasional Stoic – Greeting the Morning

Begin the morning by saying “I shall meet with the busy-body, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial. All these things happen to them by reason of their ignorance of what is good and evil. But I who have seen the nature of the good that it is beautiful, and of the bad that it is ugly, and the nature of him who does wrong, that it is akin to me, not only of the same blood, but that it participates in the same intelligence and the same portion of the divinity, I can neither be injured by any of them. No one can fix on me what is ugly, nor can I be angry with my kinsman, nor hate him. We are made for co-operation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of the upper and lower teeth. To act against one another then is contrary to nature; and it is acting against one another to be vexed and to turn away.

-Mediations 2,1

  • That’s a pretty long thing to say to yourself every morning.
  • But the idea of greeting the day with a reflection is a helpful. It reminds me of the prayer observant Jews say upon waking. Or the five-minute journal so popular with the hip self-improvement crowd.
  • But what is Marcus reminding himself of in the morning? That the unpleasant characters he will come in contract with are such not inherently, but because of their ignorance.
  • Stoicism is a philosophy which believes that virtue is knowledge of what is empirically good. To have knowledge of what is good is to do it. Vice, or ill-action (such as the busy-bodies here) is the result of a lack of knowledge. If the individuals were to know what was right, they would do it.
  • There’s a contradiction here though, isn’t there? The Mediations is largely comprised of exhortations to Marcus to do better, to live what he knows. Yet he often fails. Doesn’t poke a hole in Socrates famous line “no one willingly does wrong”?
  • Regardless of the contradictions, if we were to start the day aware that not only will we met challenging people, but that we will not allow them to affect us is surely helpful for the working stiff like me. Even more helpful, in fact, is the affirmation to one’s self that not only we will work with them, despite our views of their limitations, but we will overcome those limitations to produce something of value.
  • I need to remember all this when I’m getting ready for work on Monday.

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