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 Nine, Parts Thirty-Five to Forty-Two.
Loss is nothing more than change. The universal nature delights in change, and in obedience to Her all things are now done well, and from eternity have been done in like form, and will be such to time without end. Why, then, do you say that all things have been and always will be bad, and that no power has ever been found in so many gods to rectify these things, and the world has been condemned to be bound in never ceasing evil?
The rottenness of the matter which is the foundation of everything – water, dust, bones, filth, marble rocks, the callosities of the earth, gold and silver, the sediments, garments, bits of hair, purple dye, blood and everything else – is of the same kind. And that which is of the nature of breath is also another thing of the same kind, changing from this to that.
Enough of this wretched life and murmuring and apish tricks. Why are you disturbed? What is there new in this? What unsettles you? Is it the form of the thing? Look at it. Or is it the matter? Look at it. Besides these, there is nothing. Towards the gods then, now become at last more simple and better. It is the same whether we examine these things for a hundred years or three.
If any man has done wrong, the harm is his own. But perhaps he has not done wrong.
Either all things proceed from one intelligent source and come together as in one body, and the part ought not to find fault with what is done for the benefit of the whole; or there are only atoms, and nothing else than mixture and dispersion. Why, then, are you disturbed? Ask your ruling faculty, are you dead, are you corrupted, are you playing the hypocrite, have you become a beast, do you herd and feed with the rest?
Either the gods have no power or they have power. If they have no power, why do you pray to them? If they have power, why do you not pray for them to give you the faculty of not fearing any of the things which you fear, or of not desiring any of the things which you desire, or not being pained at anything, rather than pray that any of these things should not happen or happen? For certainly, if they can co-operate with men, they can co-operate for these purposes. But perhaps you will say the gods have placed them in your power. Well, then, is it not better to use what is in your power like a free man than to desire in a slavish and abject way what is not in your power? And who has told you that the gods do not aid us even in the things which are in our power? Begin, then, to pray for such things, and you will see. One man prays: How will I be able to lie with that woman? You should pray: How will I not desire to lie with her? One man prays: How will I be released from this? You should pray prays: How will I not desire to be released? One man prays: How will I not lose my little son? You should pray: How will I not be afraid to lose him? Turn your prayers this way, and see what comes.
Epicurus says, ‘In my sickness my conversation was not about my bodily sufferings, nor,’ says he, ‘did I talk on such subjects to those who visited me; but I continued to discourse on the nature of things as before, keeping to this main point, how the mind, while participating in such movements as go on in the poor flesh, will be free from perturbations and maintain its proper good. Nor did I,’ he says, ‘give the physicians an opportunity of putting on solemn looks, as if they were doing something great, but my life went on well and happily.’ Do, then, the same that he did both in sickness, if you are sick, and in any other circumstances. Never desert philosophy in any event that may befall us, nor hold trifling talk either with an ignorant man or with one unacquainted with nature. This is a principle of all schools of philosophy. Be intent only on that which you are now doing and on the instrument by which you do it.
When you are offended with any man’s shameless conduct, immediately ask yourself if it is possible that shameless men should not be in the world. It is not possible. Do not, then, require what is impossible. For this man also is one of those shameless men who must of necessity be in the world. Let the same considerations be present to your mind in the case of the knave, and the faithless man, and of every man who does wrong in any way. For at the same time that you do remind yourself that it is impossible that such kind of men should not exist, you will become more kindly disposed towards every one individually. It is useful to perceive this, too, immediately when the occasion arises: what virtue nature has given to man to oppose to every wrongful act. For She has given to man, as an antidote against the stupid man, mildness, and against another kind of man some other power. In all cases it is possible for you to correct by teaching the man who is gone astray; for every man who errs misses his object and is gone astray. Besides, how have you been injured? You will find that no one among those against whom you are irritated has done anything by which your mind could be made worse. That which is evil to you and harmful has its foundation only in the mind. What harm is done or what is there strange, if the man who has not been instructed does the acts of an uninstructed man? Consider whether you should not rather blame yourself, because you did not expect such a man to err in such a way. For you had means given you by your reason to suppose that it was likely that he would commit this error, and yet you have forgotten and are amazed that he has erred. Most of all, when you blame a man as faithless or ungrateful, turn to yourself. For the fault is manifestly your own, whether you did trust that a man who had such a disposition would keep his promise, or when conferring your kindness you did not confer it absolutely, nor yet in such way as to have received from your very act all the profit. For what more do you want when you have done a man a service? Are you not content that you have done something conformable to your nature, and do you seek to be paid for it? It is as if the eye demanded a recompense for seeing, or the feet for walking. As these members are formed for a particular purpose, and by working according to their individual constitutions obtain what is their own, so also man is formed by nature to acts of benevolence, when he has done anything benevolent or in any other way conducive to the common interest, he has acted conformably to his constitution, and he gets what is his own.
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Until I return, I am… A Man of Letters.
Will Osborne & His Orchestra – P. S., I Love You (Conqueror Records 8417-B 1934)