Meditations Book II Reflection

The time of a man’s life is as a point; the substance of it ever flowing, the sense obscure; and the whole composition of the body tending to corruption. His soul is restless, fortune uncertain, and fame doubtful; to be brief, as a stream so are all things belonging to the body; as a dream, or as a smoke, so are all that belong unto the soul. Our life is a warfare, and a mere pilgrimage. Fame after life is no better than oblivion. What is it then that will adhere and follow? Only one thing, philosophy. And philosophy doth consist in this, for a man to preserve that spirit which is within him, from all manner of contumelies and injuries, and above all pains or pleasures; never to do anything either rashly, or feignedly, or hypocritically: wholly to depend from himself and his own proper actions: all things that happen unto him to embrace contentedly, as coming from Him from whom he himself also came; and above all things, with all meekness and a calm cheerfulness, to expect death, as being nothing else but the resolution of those elements, of which every creature is composed. And if the elements themselves suffer nothing by this their perpetual conversion of one into another, that dissolution, and alteration, which is so common unto all, why should it be feared by any? Is not this according to nature? But nothing that is according to nature can be evil.

I get from this passage a basic understanding of stoicism. To “embrace contentedly” everything that happens to you, for you to focus only on your control over your own actions and preventing them from being rash, hypocritical, or feign, for life to be brought down to a natural process that you must go through before death. If you have no control over bad things handed to you, why should they effect you mentally? I find it much easier to disassociate from the emotions of situations I do have technical control over, but face uncertainty in. Colleges, or ice cream flavor. My indecision doesn’t feel noble. Stoically feeling ambivalent to all external pain may sound ideal, but I think any attempt would have the back burning feeling of emotional repression, not acceptance. This is exactly what I experience putting off decision. For me, this emotional repression connects to the bit on procrastination:

REMEMBER HOW LONG thou hast already put off these things, and how often a certain day and hour as it were, having been set unto thee by the gods, thou hast neglected it. It is high time for thee to understand the true nature both of the world, whereof thou art a part; and of that Lord and Governor of the world, from whom, as a channel from the spring, thou thyself didst flow: and that there is but a certain limit of time appointed unto thee, which if thou shalt not make use of to calm and allay the many distempers of thy soul, it will pass away and thou with it, and never after return.

In a way, procrastination is pretending you can be stoic about your own shit. You’re creating your own suffering by not acting, which you have the physical ability to do. Doing would require waking up, sometimes a painful proposition. Does suffering procrastination make you feign, rash, or hypocritical? Not many would doubt that overcoming procrastination is a positive inner skill, while external tragedy is inevitable and out of any semblance of your control, yet it’s an aspect of the mind that manifests as an external fight of a dueling mind, just like anxiety and depression.   I found Meditations surprisingly relevant to dealing with the modern human condition, even in the moments I had strong disagreements with. Other, more recent, philosophy has convinced me that the human level of consciousness isn’t really meant to be. It asks for an ego and fosters deep emotional pain while still maintaining biological instinct as the sole purpose. Its societies have arranged relationships in a way that asks for an impossible ideal for everyone in achieving and maintaining both passionate and companionship love with one person. People have preferences on how they want to live with other people that result in a society inconsistent with what we know humans overall are emotionally and physically best in. We also consciously know global warming is species-threatening, yet we dissociate from having any personal weight on it (yes, it requires systemic change, yet the system is rarely fought by the masses), which is certainly feign, rash, and hypocritical, and not stoic. In many ways, our species lives to the opposite of Marcus Aurelius’ advice. I don’t know if adopting these meditations is enough to disassociate yourself from trauma, but I have the tendency to believe external apathy is not always possible in a healthy way.

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