reading notes from the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, trans. Gregory Hays.
Stoicism is thus from the outset a deterministic system that appears to leave no room for human free will or moral responsibility. In reality the Stoics were reluctant to accept such an arrangement, and attempted to get around the difficulty by defining free will as a voluntary accommodation to what is in any case inevitable
All objects are thus a compound of lifeless substance and vital force. When Marcus refers, as he does on a number of occasions, to “cause and material” he means the two elements of these compounds—inert substance and animating pneuma—which are united so long as the object itself exists
Against the Touching Up of Paintings.
Stoicism has even been described, not altogether unfairly, as the real religion of upper-class Romans. In the process it became a rather different version of the philosophy from that taught by Zeno and Chrysippus. Perhaps the most important development was a shift in emphasis, a narrowing of focus. Early and middle Stoicism was a holistic system. It aimed to embrace all knowledge, and its focus was speculative and theoretical. Roman Stoicism, by contrast, was a practical discipline—not an abstract system of thought, but an attitude to life. Partly for historical reasons, it is this Romanized Stoicism that has most influenced later generations
Men's lives are not always consistent with their ideals, and some critics have found it hard to reconcile Seneca's fabulous wealth and his shameless flattery of Nero with his philosophical views. Yet his works (in particular the Letters to Lucilius) remain the most engaging and accessible expressions of later Stoicism
But not all Stoics were wealthy senators. There was another kind of Stoic exemplar as well: the outsider whose ascetic lifestyle won him the admiration of his wealthier contemporaries and enabled him to criticize the pretenses of upper-class society with real authority.
The late Stoicism of Epictetus is a radically stripped-down version of its Hellenistic predecessor, a philosophy which “had learnt much from its competitors and had almost forgotten parts of itself.”3
To him it was ethics that was the basis of the system: “just because you've abandoned your hopes of becoming a great thinker or scientist, don't give up on attaining freedom, achieving humility, serving others . . .” (7.67).
The questions that the Meditations tries to answer are primarily metaphysical and ethical ones: Why are we here? How should we live our lives? How can we ensure that we do what is right? How can we protect ourselves against the stresses and pressures of daily life? How should we deal with pain and misfortune? How can we live with the knowledge that someday we will no longer exist?
Stop allowing your mind to be a slave, to be jerked about by selfish impulses, to kick against fate and the present, and to mistrust the future.
Whatever the nature of the whole does, and whatever serves to maintain it, is good for every part of nature. The world is maintained by change—in the elements and in the things they compose. That should be enough for you; treat it as an axiom
do everything as if it were the last thing you were doing in your life, and stop being aimless, stop letting your emotions override what your mind tells you, stop being hypocritical, self-centered, irritable
But death and life, success and failure, pain and pleasure, wealth and poverty, all these happen to good and bad alike, and they are neither noble nor shameful—and hence neither good nor bad.
Duration: momentary. Nature: changeable. Perception: dim. Condition of Body: decaying. Soul: spinning around. Fortune: unpredictable. Lasting Fame: uncertain. Sum Up: The body and its parts are a river, the soul a dream and mist, life is warfare and a journey far from home, lasting reputation is oblivion.
4. Don't waste the rest of your time here worrying about other people—unless it affects the common good. It will keep you from doing anything useful
You need to avoid certain things in your train of thought: everything random, everything irrelevant. And certainly everything self-important or malicious. You need to get used to winnowing your thoughts, so that if someone says, “What are you thinking about?” you can respond at once (and truthfully) that you are thinking this or thinking that. And it would be obvious at once from your answer that your thoughts were straightforward and considerate ones—the thoughts of an unselfish person, one unconcerned with pleasure and with sensual indulgence generally, with squabbling, with slander and envy, or anything else you'd be ashamed to be caught thinking.
He keeps in mind that all rational things are related, and that to care for all human beings is part of being human
If, at some point in your life, you should come across anything better than justice, honesty, self-control, courage—than a mind satisfied that it has succeeded in enabling you to act rationally, and satisfied to accept what's beyond its control—if you find anything better than that, embrace it without reservations—it must be an extraordinary thing indeed—and enjoy it to the full.
Best is what benefits me
Never regard something as doing you good if it makes you betray a trust, or lose your sense of shame, or makes you show hatred, suspicion, ill will, or hypocrisy, or a desire for things best done behind closed doors.
Neither servility nor arrogance. Neither cringing nor disdain. Neither excuses nor evasions.
Your ability to control your thoughts—treat it with respect. It's all that protects your mind from false perceptions—false to your nature, and that of all rational beings. It's what makes thoughtfulness possible, and affection for other people, and submission to the divine.
Forget everything else. Keep hold of this alone and remember it: Each of us lives only now, this brief instant. The rest has been lived already, or is impossible to see
Then what should we work for? Only this: proper understanding; unselfish action; truthful speech. A resolve to accept whatever happens as necessary and familiar, flowing like water from that same source and spring.
No random actions, none not based on underlying principles.
Renew yourself. But keep it brief and basic.
“The world is nothing but change. Our life is only perception.”
Does anything genuinely beautiful need supplementing? No more than justice does—or truth, or kindness, or humility. Are any of those improved by being praised? Or damaged by contempt?
Because most of what we say and do is not essential. If you can eliminate it, you'll have more time, and more tranquillity. Ask yourself at every moment, “Is this necessary?”
The value of attentiveness varies in proportion to its object. You're better off not giving the small things more time than they deserve.
Constant awareness that everything is born from change. The knowledge that there is nothing nature loves more than to alter what exists and make new things like it. All that exists is the seed of what will emerge from it. You think the only seeds are the ones that make plants or children? Go deeper. 16 April 2559 BE Book 4 Take the shortest route, the one that nature planned—to speak and act in the healthiest way. Do that, and be free of pain and stress, free of all calculation and pretension.
So there are two reasons to embrace what happens. One is that it's happening to you. It was prescribed for you, and it pertains to you. The thread was spun long ago, by the oldest cause of all. The other reason is that what happens to an individual is a cause of well-being in what directs the world—of its well-being, its fulfillment, of its very existence, even. Because the whole is damaged if you cut away anything—anything at all—from its continuity and its coherence. Not only its parts, but its purposes.
Their fluent stillness
Things are wrapped in such a veil of mystery that many good philosophers have found it impossible to make sense of them. Even the Stoics have trouble. Any assessment we make is subject to alteration—just as we are ourselves.
The things you think about determine the quality of your mind. Your soul takes on the color of your thoughts.
The impediment to action advances action
What stands in the way becomes the way.
Matter. How tiny your share of it. Time. How brief and fleeting your allotment of it. Fate. How small a role you play in it.
Why are you still here? Sensory objects are shifting and unstable; our senses dim and easily deceived; the soul itself a decoction of the blood; fame in a world like this is worthless. —And so?
The things we want in life are empty, stale, and trivial. Dogs snarling at each other. Quarreling children—laughing and then bursting into tears a moment later.
Wait for it patiently—annihilation or metamorphosis.
Perceptions like that—latching onto things and piercing through them, so we see what they really are. That's what we need to do all the time—all through our lives when things lay claim to our trust—to lay them bare and see how pointless they are, to strip away the legend that encrusts them.
Some things are rushing into existence, others out of it. Some of what now exists is already gone. Change and flux constantly remake the world, just as the incessant progression of time remakes eternity. We find ourselves in a river. Which of the things around us should we value when none of them can offer a firm foothold?
Look inward. Don't let the true nature or value of anything elude you.
Before long, all existing things will be transformed, to rise like smoke (assuming all things become one), or be dispersed in fragments
Only there, delight and stillness.
If you've seen the present then you've seen everything—as it's been since the beginning, as it will be forever. The same substance, the same form. All of it.
Keep reminding yourself of the way things are connected, of their relatedness. All things are implicated in one another and in sympathy with each other. This event is the consequence of some other one. Things push and pull on each other, and breathe together, and are one.
You take things you don't control and define them as “good” or “bad.” And so of course when the “bad” things happen, or the “good” ones don't, you blame the gods and feel hatred for the people responsible—or those you decide to make responsible. Much of our bad behavior stems from trying to apply those criteria. If we limited “good” and “bad” to our own actions, we'd have no call to challenge God, or to treat other people as enemies
All of us are working on the same project. Some consciously, with understanding; some without knowing it. (I think this is what Heraclitus meant when he said that “those who sleep are also hard at work”—that they too collaborate in what happens.) Some of us work in one way, and some in others. And those who complain and try to obstruct and thwart things—they help as much as anyone. The world needs them as well.
When you need encouragement, think of the qualities the people around you have: this one's energy, that one's modesty, another's generosity, and so on. Nothing is as encouraging as when virtues are visibly embodied in the people around us, when we're practically showered with them.
Nature did not blend things so inextricably that you can't draw your own boundaries—place your own well-being in your own hands. It's quite possible to be a good man without anyone realizing it. Remember that.
Perfection of character: to live your last day, every day, without frenzy, or sloth, or pretense.
You've wandered all over and finally realized that you never found what you were after: how to live. Not in syllogisms, not in money, or fame, or self-indulgence. Nowhere.
For every action, ask: How does it affect me? Could I change my mind about it?
26. Joy for humans lies in human actions.
Human actions: kindness to others, contempt for the senses, the interrogation of appearances, observation of nature and of events in nature.
Don't let your imagination be crushed by life as a whole. Don't try to picture everything bad that could possibly happen. Stick with the situation at hand, and ask, “Why is this so unbearable? Why can't I endure it?” You'll be embarrassed to answer.
nature has no door to sweep things out of. But the wonderful thing about its workmanship is how, faced with that limitation, it takes everything within it that seems broken, old and useless, transforms it into itself, and makes new things from it. So that it doesn't need material from any outside source, or anywhere to dispose of what's left over. It relies on itself for all it needs: space, material, and labor.
No carelessness in your actions. No confusion in your words. No imprecision in your thoughts. No retreating into your own soul, or trying to escape it. No overactivity
What doesn't transmit light creates its own darkness.
Well, consider two things that should reconcile you to death: the nature of the things you'll leave behind you, and the kind of people you'll no longer be mixed up with
Blot out your imagination. Turn your desire to stone. Quench your appetites. Keep your mind centered on itself.
Epicurus: “During my illness, my conversations were not about my physical state; I did not waste my visitors' time with things of that sort, but went on discussing philosophy, and concentrated on one point in particular: how the mind can participate in the sensations of the body and yet maintain its serenity, and focus on its own well-being. Nor did I let my doctors strut about like grandees. I went on living my life the way it should be lived.” Like that. In illness—or any other situation.
Only a short time left. Live as if you were alone—out in the wilderness. No difference between here and there: the city that you live in is the world
Continual awareness of all time and space, of the size and life span of the things around us. A grape seed in infinite space. A half twist of a corkscrew against eternity.
Bear in mind that everything that exists is already fraying at the edges, and in transition, subject to fragmentation and to rot.
Learn to ask of all actions, “Why are they doing that?”
Everything's destiny is to change, to be transformed, to perish. So that new things can be born.