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. Marcus Aurelius was the last of the Five Good Emperors of Rome. Here are The Meditations Book Two, Parts One through Fifteen.
Whatever this is that I am, it is a little flesh and breath, and the ruling part. First, throw away your books; no longer distract yourself: it is not allowed. Instead, as if you were now dying, despise the flesh. It is blood and bones and a network, a contexture of nerves, veins, and arteries. Second, 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. Third, and, the ruling part, consider thus: you are an old man. No longer be a slave, no longer be pulled by the strings like a puppet to unsocial movements, no longer be either 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 these all things flow; and there is also necessity, and that which is for the advantage of the whole universe, of which you are a part. What is good for every part of Nature is what Nature brings, and what serves to maintain this Nature. The universe is preserved by changes in the elements, by change of things are compounded elements made. 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 Administrator of the universe your existence is an example, 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 the 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; but you will no longer have the opportunity of honoring thyself. Every man’s life is sufficient. But yours is nearly finished, though your soul reveres not itself, but places your happiness 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.
Through 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 your 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.
Theophrastus, in his comparison of bad acts – such a comparison as one would make in accordance with the common notions of mankind – says, like a true philosopher, that the offenses which are committed through desire are more worthy of blame than those which are committed through anger. For he who is excited by anger seems to turn away from reason with a certain pain and unconscious contraction; but he who offends through desire, being overpowered by pleasure, seems to be in a manner more intemperate and more womanish in his offenses. Rightly, then, and in a way worthy of philosophy, he said that the offense which is committed with pleasure is more blamable than that which is committed with pain. On the whole the one is more like a person who has been first wronged and through pain is compelled to be angry, but the other is moved by his own impulse to do wrong, being carried towards doing something by desire.
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. 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, it is not 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.
How quickly all things disappear. In the universe the bodies themselves, but in time the remembrance of them. What is the nature of all sensible things, and particularly those which attract with the bait of pleasure or terrify by pain, or are noised abroad by vapory fame; how worthless, and contemptible, and sordid, and perishable, and dead they are. All this it is the part of the intellectual faculty to observe. To observe too who these are whose opinions and voices give reputation; what death is, and the fact that, if a man looks at it in itself, and by the abstractive power of reflection resolves into their parts all the things which present themselves to the imagination in it, he will then consider it to be nothing else than an operation of nature. If anyone is afraid of an operation of nature, he is a child. This, however, is not only an operation of nature, but it is also a thing which conduces to the purposes of nature. To observe too how man comes near to the Deity, and by what part of Him, and when this part of man is so disposed.
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. 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.
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Until I return, I am… A Man of Letters.
Nehi Ensemble – We’ve Got to Put That Sun Back in the Sky