#StoicWeek: Day 5


Today’s text is the start of Book 2 of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. I often think of this as the ‘proper’ start of the whole text, given that Book 1 is, in effect, Aurelius simply enumerating the people he’s thankful to for the inheritance/learning of various character traits.

The section highlighted for reflection contains advice that, on my best days, I think about with a smile. The first two sentences are powerful:  

Say to yourself first thing in the morning: I shall meet with people who are meddling, ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, and unsociable. They are subject to these faults because of their ignorance of what is good and bad. But I have recognized the nature of the good and seen that it is the right, and the nature of the bad and seen that it is the wrong, and the nature of the wrongdoer himself, and seen that he is related to me, not because he has the same blood or seed, but because he shares in the same mind and portion of divinity. So I cannot be harmed by any of them, as no one will involve me in what is wrong. Nor can I be angry with my relative or hate him. We were born for cooperation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of upper and lower teeth. So to work against each other is contrary to nature; and resentment and rejection count as working against someone. – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 2.1

I’m re-reading Epictetus at the moment. He’s not my favourite philosopher, but given he’s mentioned several times in the Stoic Week handbook, I thought he was working revisiting. In his Discourses (appropriate, given the title of this blog!) he states:

I must die. But must I die bawling? I must be put in chains – but moaning and groaning too? I must be exiled; but is there anything to keep me from going with a smile, calm and self-composed?

This to me complements well what Marcus Aurelius is saying about dealing with other people. The idea is to have such a strong sense of self and what is in and out of one’s control, that you suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (so to speak) with good grace.

One other thing I wanted to record here is that my family and I spent the last 24 hours on a mini adventure here. This morning, lying in bed away from home, I read this:

One never lives so intensely as when one has been thinking hard. (Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet)

It reminded me just how much we’re in control of the lives we lead. We really enjoy packing things in to a short period of time, it feels like you’re really living. However, there’s times when it’s not possible, for whatever reason, to remove yourself physically from one place to another. One of the huge advantages of Stoicism (and philosophy in general) is having a rich inner world to escape to, whenever you desire.

Image by Kaley Dykstra