I am A Man of Letters. I’ve been reading lately, and I have found some words I would like to share. Today, The Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. Here are The Meditations Book Eight, Parts Thirty-Four through Fifty-Two.
If you ever see a cut off hand, or a foot, or a head, lying anywhere apart from the rest of the body, that’s what it’s like in a man who is not content with what happens, and separates himself from others, or does anything unsocial. You were made by nature to be a part but now you have cut yourself off. Suppose that you have detached yourself from the natural unity while here there is this beautiful provision, remember that it is in your power again to unite yourself. God has allowed this to no other part, after it has been separated and cut asunder, to come together again. But consider the kindness by which God has distinguished man, for He has put it in his power not to be separated at all from the universal; and when he has been separated, he has allowed him to return and to be united and to resume his place as a part.
The nature of the universal has given to every rational being all the powers that it has. We have received from it this power also. As the universal nature converts and fixes in its predestined place everything which stands in the way and opposes it, and makes such things a part of itself, so also the rational animal is able to make every hindrance its own material, and to use it for such purposes as it may have designed.
Do not disturb yourself by thinking of the whole of your life. Let not your thoughts at once embrace all the various troubles which you may expect to befall you. On every occasion ask yourself ‘What is there in this which is intolerable and past bearing?’ You will be ashamed to give the answer. Remember that neither the future nor the past pains you, but only the present. The present is reduced to a very little, if you only circumscribe it, and laugh at your mind if it is unable to hold out against this little moment.
Does Panthea or Pergamus now sit by the tomb of Verus? Does Chaurias or Diotimus sit by the tomb of Hadrianus? That would be ridiculous. Well, suppose they did sit there, would the dead be conscious of it? If the dead were conscious would they be pleased? If they were pleased, would that make them immortal? Was it not in the order of destiny that these persons, too, should first become old women and old men and then die? What then would those do after these were dead? All this is foul smell and blood in a bag.
If you can see sharp, look and judge wisely, says the philosopher.
In the constitution of the rational animal I see no virtue which is opposed to justice; but I see a virtue which is opposed to love of pleasure, and that is temperance.
If you take away your opinion about that which appears to give you pain, you yourself stand in perfect security. ‘Who is this self?’ The reason. ‘But I am not reason.’ Be it so. Let then the reason itself not trouble itself. But if any other part of you suffers, let it have its own opinion about itself.
Hindrance to the perceptions of sense is an evil to the animal nature. Hindrance to desire is equally an evil to the animal nature. Something else, also, is equally an impediment and an evil to the constitution of plants. So – that which is a hindrance to the intelligence is an evil to the intelligent nature. Apply all these things then to yourself. Does pain or sensuous pleasure effect you? The senses will look to that. Has any obstacle opposed you in your efforts towards an object? If indeed you were making this effort without any reservation, certainly this obstacle is an evil to you considered as a rational animal. But if you take into consideration the usual course of things, you have not yet been injured nor even impeded. The things which are proper to the understanding no other man may impede, for neither fire, nor iron, nor tyrant, nor abuse, nothing touches it in any way. When it has been made a sphere, it continues a sphere.
It is not fit that I should give myself pain, for I have never intentionally given pain even to another.
Different things delight different people. It is my delight to keep the ruling faculty sound without turning away either from any man or from any of the things which happen to men, but looking at and receiving all with welcome eyes and using everything according to its value.
See that you secure this present time to yourself. Those who rather pursue posthumous fame do not consider that the men of after time will be exactly such as these whom they cannot bear now, and both are mortal. And what is it in any way to you if these men of some later time utter this or that sound, or have this or that opinion about you?
Take me and cast me where you will. There I will keep my divine part tranquil, that is, content, if it can feel and act conformably to its proper constitution. Is this change of place sufficient reason why my soul should be unhappy and worse then it was, depressed, expanded, shrinking, affrighted? What will you find which is sufficient reason for this?
Nothing can happen to any man which is not a human accident, nor to an ox which is not according to the nature of an ox, nor to a vine which is not according to the nature of a vine, nor to a stone which is not proper to a stone. If then there happens to each thing both what is usual and natural, why should you complain? For the common nature brings nothing which may not be borne.
If you are pained by any external thing, it is not this thing that disturbs you, but your own judgment about it. It is in your power to wipe out this judgment now. But if anything in your own opinion gives you pain, who hinders you from correcting your opinion? And even if you are pained because you are not doing some particular thing which seems to you to be right, why do you not rather act than complain? ‘But some insuperable obstacle is in the way?’ Do not be grieved then, for the cause of its not being done depends not on you. ‘But it is not worthwhile to live, if this cannot be done.’ Take your departure then from life contentedly, just as he dies who is in full activity, and well pleased too with the things which are obstacles.
Remember that the ruling faculty is invincible. When self-collected it is satisfied with itself, if it does nothing which it does not choose to do, even if it resist from mere obstinacy. What then will it be when it forms a judgment about anything aided by reason and deliberately? Therefore the mind which is free from passions is a citadel, for man has nothing more secure to which he can fly for refuge and for the future be inexpugnable. He then who has not seen this is an ignorant man. He who has seen it and does not fly to this refuge is unhappy.
Say nothing more to yourself than what the first appearances report. Suppose that it has been reported to you that a certain person speaks ill of you. This has been reported; but that you have been injured, that has not been reported. ‘I see that my child is sick.’ I do see; but that he is in danger, I do not see. Thus then always abide by the first appearances, and add nothing yourself from within. Then, nothing happens to you. Or rather, add something like a man who knows everything that happens in the world.
‘A cucumber is bitter.’ Throw it away. ‘There are briers in the road.’ Turn aside from them. This is enough. Do not add, ‘And why were such things made in the world?’ For you will be ridiculed by a man who is acquainted with nature, as you would be ridiculed by a carpenter and shoemaker if you find fault because you see shavings and cuttings from the things which they make in their workshop. They have places into which they can throw these shavings and cuttings, and the universal nature has no external space. The wondrous part of her art is that though she has circumscribed herself, everything within her which appears to decay and to grow old and to be useless she changes into herself, and again makes other new things from these very same, so that she requires neither substance from without nor wants a place into which she may cast that which decays. She is content then with her own space, and her own matter, and her own art.
Neither in your actions be sluggish nor in your conversation without method, nor wandering in your thoughts, nor let there be in your soul inward contention, nor external effusion, nor in life be so busy as to have no leisure.
Suppose that men kill you, cut you in pieces, curse you. What can these things do to prevent your mind from remaining pure, wise, sober, just? For instance, if a man should stand by a limpid pure spring, and curse it, the spring never ceases sending up potable water. If he should cast clay into it, or filth, it will speedily disperse them and wash them out, and will not be at all polluted. How then will you possess a perpetual fountain and not a mere well? By forming yourself hourly to freedom conjoined with contentment, simplicity, and modesty.
He who does not know what the world is, does not know where he is. He who does not know for what purpose the world exists, does not know who he is, nor what the world is. He who has failed in any one of these things could not even say for what purpose he exists himself. What do you think of him who avoids or seeks the praise of those who applaud, of men who know not either where they are or who they are?
Do you wish to be praised by a man who curses himself thrice every hour? Would you wish to please a man who does not please himself? Does a man please himself who repents of nearly everything that he does?
No longer let your breathing only act in concert with the air which surrounds you, but let your intelligence also now be in harmony with the intelligence which embraces all things. For the intelligent power is no less diffused in all parts and pervades all things for him who is willing to draw it to him than the aerial power for him who is able to respire it.
Generally, wickedness does no harm at all to the universe. Particularly, the wickedness of one man does no harm to another. It is only harmful to him who has it in his power to be released from it as soon as he will choose.
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Until I return, I am… A Man of Letters.