In this I believe that Marcus Aurelius is reminding us of our connection to nature, but also identifying a possibility for us to not be over attached to perspectives and actions outside of our own.
As indicated in previous posts, we have a lot that we can learn from our partners, friends, and colleagues. We can also learn from nature and our environment. The challenge is that we need to focus on our own goals and direction in life while striving for a life filled with virtue.
To remain focused on events in your locus of control, the following activity known as "the view from above" is recommended. This is a guided meditation that is aimed at focusing on the bigger picture in life and understanding your role in the world.
4 min read
The reflection for this day is from Meditations, 4.49 from Marcus Aurelius:
Be like the headland, on which the waves break constantly, which still stands firm, while the foaming waters are put to rest around it. ‘It is my bad luck that this has happened to me.’ On the contrary, say, ‘It is my good luck that, although this has happened to me, I can bear it without getting upset, neither crushed by the present nor afraid of the future.’
In this piece, I believe that Marcus Aurelius is reminding us that we can be prepared for the future, while not remaining consumed by what "might" happen.
To achieve this, I think it is helpful to focus on two things. First, I strive to keep an objective accounting of events and goals in life. Second, I work to make a decision not to suffer in dealing with these events.
First, developing an objective, as opposed to subjective description of events in our lives. This means that we strive to describe and understand events in our lives in a "neutral" fashion without adding an emotional charges to circumstances.
In Meditations, Book 6, Marcus Aurelius explains the need to examine and simplify events in our lives without injecting emotion into the anaylsis:
When we have meat before us and such eatables we receive the impression, that this is the dead body of a fish, and this is the dead body of a bird or of a pig; and again, that this Falernian (wine) is only a little grape juice, and this purple robe some sheep's wool dyed with the blood of a shell-fish: such then are these impressions, and they reach the things themselves and penetrate them, and so we see what kind of things they are. Just in the same way ought we to act all through life, and where there are things which appear most worthy of our approbation, we ought to lay them bare and look at their worthlessness and strip them of all the words by which they are exalted.
Epictetus explains how this over-analysis and subjective description of daily events usually leads to troubles (Enchiridion 5):
Men are disturbed, not by things, but by the principles and notions which they form concerning things.
The second thing that I focus on when thinking about the future and preparing for adversity is that the world is full of positive and negative emotions and energy. We can choose whether or not we add these values and judgements to our lives. We can also decide whether we want to suffer.
The external circumstances of the world present us with opportunities to think about, and in most cases worry about things in the past and future. These thoughts about events which may have happened, or are yet to be cause us to suffer. As always, our thoughts are up to us to control.
Marcus Aurelius indicates in Meditations, Book 11:
Anger and frustration hurt us more than the things we are annoyed about hurt us.
Marcus Aurelius (Meditations, Book 11) furthers this thinking by indicating that it is often times our viewpointor perspecitve about an issue that causes us to feel pain and suffer when we think about it. Just by believing that an event or action is "insulting" we add value judgements to the event and decide to suffer.
Make a decision to quit thinking of things as unsluting, and your anger immediately disappears.
In this we can decide whether or not to add value judgements to events in the past or future. We often cannot choose what the world throws at us, but we can make decisions about how to respond to it.
3 min read
Today's reflection comes from Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 2.1:
Say to yourself first thing in the morning: I shall meet with people who are meddling, ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, and unsociable. They are subject to these faults because of their ignorance of what is good and bad. But I have recognized the nature of the good and seen that it is the right, and the nature of the bad and seen that it is the wrong, and the nature of the wrongdoer himself, and seen that he is related to me, not because he has the same blood or seed, but because he shares in the same mind and portion of divinity. So I cannot be harmed by any of them, as no one will involve me in what is wrong. Nor can I be angry with my relative or hate him. We were born for cooperation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of upper and lower teeth. So to work against each other is contrary to nature; and resentment and rejection count as working against someone.
I take this to mean that we should remain linked to others and their actions, while at the same time remaining true to our own compass and directives. It is possible to focus on the two aspects in our daily interaction. We may also learn about oursleves as we interact and learn from others.
Marcus Aurelius details the opportunities to learn from these experiences in Meditations, 6:48:
Whenever you want to cheer yourself up, consider the good qualities of your companions, for example, the energy of one, the modesty of another, the generosity of yet another, and some other quality of another; for nothing cheers the heart as much as the images of excellence reflected in the character of our companions, all brought before us as fully as possible. Therefore, keep these images ready at hand.
Of course there are times when we do not agree with, or can learn from our colleague or neighbor. Within these interactions, we may find a common thread that binds us together. Marcus Aurelius expands on this in Meditations, 4.4:
If intellect is common to us all, then so is the reason which makes us rational beings; and if that be so, then also common is the reason which prescribes what we should do or not do. If that be so, there is a common law also; if that be so, we are fellow citizens; and if that be so, the world is a kind of state. For in what other common political community can we claim that the whole human race participates?
This points to the idea of "citizens of world" in which we all generally feel affection for others in a deep and natural way. We may be citizens of a specific country or region, but we also carry dual-citizenship and in the end are all fellow citizens in a global community.
In closing, Seneca expands on this notion of cosmopolitanism or our dual citizenship:
Let us take hold of the fact that there are two communities — the one, which is great and truly common, embracing gods and humans, in which we look neither to this corner nor to that, but measure the boundaries of our citizenship by the sun; the other, the one to which we have been assigned by the accident of our birth.
2 min read
Today's reflection comes from Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 3.6:
If you find anything in human life better than justice, truthfulness, self-control, courage... turn to it with all your heart and enjoy the supreme good that you have found...but if you find all other things to be trivial and value less in comparison with virtue give no room to anything else, since once you turn towards that and divert from your proper path, you will no longer be able without inner conflict to give the highest honour to that which is properly good. It is not right to set up as a rival to the rational and social good [virtue] anything alien its nature, such as the praise of the many or positions of power, wealth or enjoyment of pleasures.
In this he is suggesting that philosophy, or the love of wisdom, primarily centers on the core virtues of wisdom, justice, moderation, and courage. We should value these virtues in our own behaviors and those of others.
We only need to focus on these aspects to have a good life, and experience genuine fulfillment. In short, to have a good life, be a good person.
You might ask yourself about the other things we use to measure how good and happy we are. What about health, family, personal wealth, and property? Surely the new phone, or a shiny car will improve my quality of life.
The stoics believe that the four virtues are a complimentary set that allow us to live well, deal with others, manage emotions and desires. These four virtues are:
These four virtues are an ideal and something we should strive for each day. If you have focus on these four in your interactions throughout the day, and your life, everything else will work itself out.
2 min read
In my previous post, I discussed guidance from Epictetus on what we can effectively "control" in our own lives and actions.
I find it relatively easy, and a bit simplistic, to follow the gudiance from Epictetus in our daily actions. It's a good reminder that we can only control your own controllables throughout the day.
The challenge in this is sometimes life gets in the way, and we hope to extend this locus of control. For these situations, Marcus Aurelius provides a bit of guidance, that I believe acts as a corollary to the guidance from Epictetus.
In Meditations, Marcus Aurelius presents the following:
The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.
In this, Marcus is indicating that in every action and situation, there is an opporunity to practice a virtue. When we have a problem, we know exactly what to work on. When we are stuck and have no idea where to start, we begin working on the obstacle in our path.
Paired with the earlier gudiance from Epictetus, this indicates an opportunity to focus on elements that are solely within your control.
Specifically, you might ask yourself these two questions when you encounter problems, choices, or obstacles:
If the answer is no, then this is outside of your locus of control. It is nothing to you.
Meditation is a valuable part of my morning ritual. I find that it is helpful to quiet the mind as I reboot and start each day. Each morning I start by meditating for 20 minutes using the Headspace app. This is followed by a journaling period as I have a cup of coffee and something to eat.
Even with these rituals, there are some times when self-doubt, expectations, and unfinished business still plague me.
For these instances I'm saving a copy of a recent guided meditation from Tony Robbins. The audio clip is under 10 minutes (7:59). I recommend using a pair of headphones and sitting in a somewhat private setting.