“Do the things external which fall upon you distract you? Give yourself time to learn something new and good, and cease to be whirled around.”
I am A Man of Letters. I’ve been reading lately, and I have found some words I would like to share. Today, selections from “Meditations” Book Two by Marcus Aurelius. Aurelius was born in 121 and died in 180. He was a Roman Emperor and a Stoic philosopher. “The Meditations” was written circa 170 and first published in 1558.
Begin the morning by saying to yourself, I shall meet with the busy-body, the ungrateful, the arrogant, the deceitful, the envious and the unsocial. All these things happen to them by reason of their ignorance of what is good and evil. But I 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 or seed, but that it participates in the same intelligence and the same portion of the divinity). I can neither be injured by any of them, for no one can fix on me what is ugly, nor can I be angry with my kinsman, nor hate him, For 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.
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. But as if you were 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 thus: you are an old man. No longer let this ruling part 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.
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 there 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 may not die murmuring, but cheerfully, truly, and from your heart thankful to the gods.
Remember how long you have been putting off these things, and how often you have received an opportunity from the gods, and yet do not use it. You must now at last perceive of what universe you are a part, and of what admixture of the universe your existence is an efflux, and that a limit of time is fixed for you, which if you do not use for clearing away the clouds from your mind, it will go and you will go, and it will never return.
Every moment think steadily as a Roman and a man to do what you have in hand with perfect and simple dignity, and feeling of affection, and freedom, and justice; and to give yourself relief from all other thoughts. And you will give yourself relief, if you do every act of your life as if it were the last, laying aside all carelessness and passionate aversion from the commands of reason, and all hypocrisy, and self-love, and discontent with the portion which has been given to you. You see how few the things are, which if a man lays hold of, he is able to live a life which flows in quiet, and is like the existence of the gods; for the gods on their part will require nothing more from him who observes these things.
Do wrong to yourself, do wrong to yourself, my soul; and you will no longer have the opportunity of honoring yourself. Every man’s life is sufficient. But yours is nearly finished, though your soul reveres not itself but places your felicity in the souls of others.
Do the things external which fall upon you 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 wearied themselves in life by their activity, and yet have no object to which to direct every movement, and, in a word, all their thoughts.
Though not observing what is in the mind of another a man has seldom been seen to be unhappy, those who do not observe the movements of their own minds must of necessity be unhappy.
This you must always bear in mind, what is the nature of the whole, and what is my nature, and how this is related to that, and what kind of a part it is of what kind of a whole; and that there is no one who hinders you from always doing and saying the things which are according to the nature of which you are a part. […]
Since it is possible that you may depart from life this very moment, regulate every act and thought accordingly. But to go away from among men, if there are gods, is not a thing to be afraid of, for the gods will not involve you in evil; but if indeed they do not exist, or if they have no concern about human affairs, what is it to me to live in a universe devoid of gods or devoid of Providence? But in truth they do exist, and they do care for human things, and they have put all the means in man’s power to enable him not to fall into real evils. And as to the rest, if there was anything evil, they would have provided for this also, that it should be altogether in a man’s power not to fall into it. Now that which does not make a man worse, how can it make a man’s life worse? But neither through ignorance, nor having the knowledge, but not the power to guard against or correct these things, is it possible that the nature of the universe has overlooked them; nor is it possible that it has made so great a mistake, either through want of power or want of skill, that good and evil should happen indiscriminately to the good and the bad. But death certainly, and life, honor and dishonor, pain and pleasure, all these things equally happen to good men and bad, being things which make us neither better nor worse. Therefore they are neither good nor evil. […]
Nothing is more wretched than a man who traverses everything in a round, and pries into the things beneath the earth, as the poet says, and seeks by conjecture what is in the minds of his neighbors, without perceiving that it is sufficient to attend to the daemon within him, and to reverence it sincerely. And reverence of the daemon consists in keeping it pure from passion and thoughtlessness, and dissatisfaction with what comes from gods and men. For the things from the gods merit veneration for their excellence; and the things from men should be dear to us by reason of kinship; and sometimes even, in a manner, they move our pity by reason of men’s ignorance of good and bad; this defect being not less than that which deprives us of the power of distinguishing things that are white and black.
Though you should live three thousand years, and as many times ten thousand years, still remember that no man loses any other life than this which he now lives, nor lives any other than this which he now loses. The longest and shortest are thus brought to the same. For the present is the same to all, though that which perishes is not the same; and so that which is lost appears to be a mere moment. For a man cannot lose either the past or the future: for what a man has not, how can any one take this from him? These two things then you must bear in mind; the one, that all things from eternity are of like forms and come round in a circle, and that it makes no difference whether a man shall see the same things during a hundred years or two hundred, or an infinite time; and the second, that the one who lives longest and he who will die soonest lose just the same. For the present is the only thing of which a man can be deprived, if it is true that this is the only thing which he has, and that a man cannot lose a thing if he has it not.
Thank you for listening. For more information about the words I have read and the music to follow, please visit A Man of Letters. amoletters.com.
Until I return, I am… A Man of Letters.
Ray Noble and His Orchestra – I’ll Be Good Because of You (His Master’s Voice B-3825 1931).