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 Seven, Parts One through Twenty.
What is badness? It is that which you have often seen. On the occasion of everything which happens keep this in mind, that it is that which you have often seen. Everywhere up and down you will find the same things, with which the old histories are filled, those of the middle ages and those of our own day, and with which cities and houses are filled now. There is nothing new: all things are both familiar and short-lived.
How can our principles become dead, unless the thoughts which correspond to them are extinguished? It is in your power continuously to fan these thoughts into a flame. I can have the opinion about anything which I ought to have. If I can, why am I disturbed? The things which are external to my mind have no relation at all to my mind. Let this be the state of your affects, and you will stand upright. To recover your life is in your power. Look at things again as you used to look at them. In this consists the recovery of your life.
The idle business of shows, plays on the stage, flocks of sheep, herds, exercises with spears, a bone cast to little dogs, a bit of bread into fishponds, laborings of ants and burden-carrying, runnings about of frightened little mice, puppets pulled by strings – all alike. It is your duty in the midst of such things to show good humor and not a proud air, to understand that every man is worth just so much as the things about which he busies himself.
In discourse you must attend to what is said, and in every movement you must observe what is going on. In the first you should see immediately to what end it refers, but in the second watch carefully what is the thing signified.
Is my understanding sufficient for this or not? If it is sufficient, I use it for the work as an instrument given by the universal nature. But if it is not sufficient, then either I retire from the work and give way to him who is able to do it better, unless there be some reason why I ought not to do so; or I do it as well as I can, taking to help me the man who (with the aid of my ruling principle) can do what is now fit and useful for the general good. Whatsoever I can do either by myself or with another ought to be directed to this only, to that which is useful and well suited to society.
How many after being celebrated by fame have been given up to oblivion. How many who have celebrated the fame of others have long been dead.
Be not ashamed to be helped; for it is your business to do your duty like a soldier in the assault on a town. If you are lame, you cannot mount up on the battlements alone, but with the help of another it is possible.
Let not future things disturb you, for you will come to them, if it shall be necessary, having with you the same reason which now you use for present things.
All things are implicated with one another, and the bond is holy. There is hardly anything unconnected with any other thing. Things have been co-ordinated, and they combine to form the same universe. There is one universe made up of all things, and one God who pervades all things, and one substance, and one law, one common reason in all intelligent animals, and one truth (if indeed there is also one perfection for all animals which are of the same stock and participate in the same reason).
Everything material soon disappears in the substance of the whole. Everything caused is very soon taken back into the universal reason. And the memory of everything is very soon overwhelmed in time.
To the rational animal, the same act is according to nature and according to reason.
Stand tall, or be made to stand tall.
Just as it is with the members in those bodies which are united in one, so it is with rational beings which exist individually, for they have been constituted for co-operation. This will be more apparent if you often say to yourself: ‘I am a member of the system of rational beings.’ But if you say that you are apart, you do not yet love men from your heart. Beneficence does not yet delight you for its own sake. You still do it barely as a thing of propriety, and not yet as doing good to yourself.
Let there fall externally what will on the parts which can feel the effects of this fall. Those parts which have felt will complain, if they choose. But I, unless I think that what has happened is an evil, am not injured. And it is in my power not to think so.
Whatever anyone does or says, I must be good, just as if gold, or emeralds, or the purple were always saying this, Whatever any one does or says, I must be an emerald and keep my color.
The ruling faculty does not disturb itself. I mean, it does not frighten itself or cause itself pain. If any one else can frighten or pain it, let him do so. The faculty itself will not, by its own opinion, turn itself into such ways. Let the body itself take care, if it can, that it suffer nothing, and let it speak, if it suffers. But the soul itself, that which is subject to fear, to pain, which has completely the power of forming an opinion about these things, will suffer nothing. It will never deviate into such a judgment. The leading principle in itself wants nothing, unless it makes a want for itself. Therefore it is both free from perturbation and unimpeded, if it does not disturb and impede itself.
Eudaemonia, happiness, is a good daemon, a good thing. What then are you doing here, O idle thoughts? Go away, I entreat you by the gods, back to where you came from, for I want you not. You come according to your old fashion. I am not angry with you – only, go away.
Is any man afraid of change? Why, what can take place without change? What then is more pleasing or more suitable to the universal nature? Can you take a hot bath unless the wood undergoes a change? Can you be nourished unless the food undergoes a change? Can anything else that is useful be accomplished without change? Do you not see that for yourself also, to change is just the same, and equally necessary for the universal nature.
As through a furious torrent, all bodies are carried through the universal substance, being by their nature united with and co-operating with the whole, as the parts of our body with one another. How many a Chrysippus, how many a Socrates, how many an Epictetus has time already swallowed up! Let the same thought occur to you with reference to every man and every thing.
One thing only troubles me: that I should do something which the constitution of man does not allow, or in the way which it does not allow, or what it does not now allow.
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.
Cab Calloway – Gotta Go Places and Do Things (Brunswick 6473 1932)