'I travel along Nature's Way until the day arrives for me to fall down and take my rest, yielding my last breath to the air from which I draw daily, falling onto that earth which gave my father his seed, my mother her blood…the earth which for so many years has fed and watered me day by day; the earth which bears me as I tread it under foot and which I make use of in a thousand ways.'
-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 5.4.
The works of the gods are full of providence. The works of Fortune are not independent of Nature or the spinning and weaving together of the threads governed by Providence. All things flow from that world: and further factors are necessity and the benefit of the whole universe, of which you are a part. Now every part of nature benefits from that which is brought by the nature of the Whole and all which preserves that nature: and the order of the universe is preserved equally by the changes in the elements and changes in their compounds.
-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 2.3
Be like the rocky headland on which the waves constantly break. It stands firm, and round it the seething waters are laid to rest.
- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 4.49
There is one type of person who, whenever he has done a good deed to another, expects and calculates to have the favour repaid. There is a second type of person who does not calculate in such a way but who, nevertheless, deep within himself regards the other person as someone who owes him something and he remembers that he has done the other a good deed.
But there is a third type of person who, in some sense, does not even remember the good deed he has done but who, instead, is like a vine producing its grape, seeking nothing more than having brought forth its own fruit, just like a horse when it has run, a dog when it has followed its scent and a bee when it has made honey. This man, having done one good deed well, does not shout it about but simply turns his attention to the next good deed, just like the vine turns once again to produce its grape in the right season.
- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 5.6
Train yourself to think only those thoughts such that in answer to the sudden question ‘What is in your mind now?’ you could say with immediate frankness whatever it is, this or that: and so your answer can give direct evidence that all your thoughts are straightforward and kindly, the thoughts of a social being who has no regard for the fancies of pleasure or indulgence, for rivalry, malice, suspicion, or anything else that one would blush to admit was in one’s mind.
-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 4.4
Every habit and faculty is formed or strengthened by the corresponding act - walking makes you walk better, running makes you a better runner. If you want to be literate, read, if you want to be a painter, paint. Go a month without reading, occupied with something else, and you’ll see what the result is. And if you’re laid up a mere ten days, when you get up and try to walk any distance, you’ll find your legs barely able to support you.
So if you like doing something, do it regularly; if you don’t like doing something, make a habit of doing something different. The same goes for the affairs of the mind…So if you don’t want to be hot-tempered, don’t feed your temper, or multiply incidents of anger. Suppress the first impulse to be angry, then begin to count the days on which you don’t get angry. ‘I used to be angry every day, then only every other day, then every third….’ If you resist it a whole month, offer God a sacrifice, because the vice begins to weaken from day one, until it is wiped out altogether. ‘I didn’t lose my temper this day, or the next, and not for two, then three months in succession.’ If you can say that, you are now in excellent health, believe me.
- Epictetus, Discourses 2.18
Say to yourself first thing in the morning: today I might meet with people who are meddling, ungrateful, aggressive, treacherous, malicious and unsocial. All this has afflicted them through the ignorance of true good and evil. But I have seen that the nature of good is what is right, and the nature of evil what is wrong; and I have reflected that the nature of the offender himself is akin to my own - not a kinship of blood or seed, but a sharing in the same mind, the same fragment of divinity. Therefore I cannot be harmed by any of them, as none will infect me with their wrong. Not can I be angry with my fellow human being 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 in opposition to one another is against nature: and anger or rejection is opposition.
- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 2:1
The theme for Today is: Self-Discipline & Stoic Simplicity
The Stoics, through the influence of the earlier Cynics, embraced simple living and voluntary hardship at times. Their aim seemed to be to develop an indifference towards external rewards such as fine food, fancy clothing, and other riches. As I understand it, the pursuit of more than the simple things in life would lead to desires and passions for that which is not in our power, which as I learned yesterday is essentially everything outside of our own mental state. The adoption of a more simple lifestyle forces one to develop self-awareness and self-discipline which contribute to a more Stoic disposition.
Today’s exercise is to look at one’s own lifestyle and make some "simple, healthy changes, which will require self discipline and patience on your part." The Stoic Week Handbook 2013 suggests making changes to diet or exercise habits for the rest of the week. It’s true that I need to get back on track with exercise and will endeavor to do some exercise each day for the rest of the week (though I failed to today).
In an effort to tie this exercise back to this morning’s Seneca quote on the shortness of life I am going to try and rein in my internet usage. My self-discipline is shockingly bad when it comes to the internet, and more specifically social media. I can easily loose a couple of hours at a time scrolling through pages of drivel with no apparent benefit. I am going to try, whilst remaining forgiving of when I miss the mark, to restrict my social media use for the rest of Stoic Week to making posts related to Stoicism and any personal insights I may glean from the week’s exercises. Wish me luck.
It is not that we have a short space of time, but that we waste much of it. Life is long enough, and it has been given in sufficiently generous measure to allow the accomplishment of the very greatest things if the whole of it is well invested. But when it is squandered in luxury and carelessness, when it is devoted to no good end, forced at last by the ultimate necessity we perceive that it has passed away before we were aware that it was passing. So it is- the life we receive is not short, but we make it so, nor do we have any lack of it, but are wasteful of it. Just as great and princely wealth is scattered in a moment when it comes into the hands of a bad owner. while wealth however limited, if it entrusted to a good guardian, increases by use, so life is amply long for the one who orders it properly.
Today is the beginning of Stoic Week 2013, which is an experiment in practical philosophy. I have recently become interested in Stoicism after my significant other read the wikipedia page on the Stoics and immediately declared that I am a Stoic, or at the very least share a lot of their beliefs. With a bit of Googling I stumbled across Stoic Week and decided it would be a great way to introduce myself to their ideas (above and beyond the few Marcus Aurelius quotes I had seen float past my social media news feeds over the years).
The theme for Day 1 is: “What is in our power?”
One of the central themes of Stoicism is developing awareness of what is within our power and that which is not. Epictetus, in his Enchiridion, wrote:
There are things which are within our power, and there are things which are beyond our power. Within our power are opinion, aim, desire, aversion, and, in one word, whatever affairs are our own. Beyond our power are body, property, reputation, office, and, in one word, whatever are not properly our own affairs.
When we expect things which are not in our power to act as if they are under our control we will often experience negative emotions such as anger, frustration, anxiety, and depression. Likewise, and this is me riffing on this idea a little, when we lose sight of those things which are in our power we can overlook opportunities to influence and improve even the most dire of situations. They key is to rationally determine which are which and develop the necessary mindfulness to be able employ that knowledge to help maintain emotional balance. Or at least that is my understanding as of day 1. This concept makes me think of two things. The first is the popular “Serenity Prayer” which reads,
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change
The strength to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
The other, slightly more pop culture, reference it brings to mind is a line from Fight Club:
No fear, no distractions. The ability to let that which does not matter truly slide.
Both quotes, in their serenity and lack of fear, seem to have echoes of the Stoic view for me. If I can begin to get a better handle on this concept alone, and begin to develop the mindfulness of it on a day to day basis, then this week will be worth it.