Dissecting Meditations, a personal journal by Marcus Aurelius Part #6
What you are getting into: 894 words, 5mins read
Here, I will share my contemplations upon reading the published personal journal of Marcus Aurelius, a roman emperor from 161-180 AD. Thoughts mainly stemmed from Stoicism, and Marcus Aurelius used the notes for guidance and self improvement. It’s a translated book by Gregory Hays, or you can read it online.
For this and upcoming posts I attempt to dissect quotes I favour upon reading the book.
Photo via Pixabay
Suppose that a god announced that you were going to die tomorrow “or that day after.” Unless you were a complete coward you wouldn’t kick up a fuss about which day it was — what difference could it make? Now recognise that the difference between years from now and tomorrow is just as small.
Contemplation of death. Should we even do it? I first came across the idea of contemplating death while reading Mark Manson’s book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fxck where he quoted Ernest Becker’s book The Denial of Death. There are two premise in The Denial of Death:
- “Because we’re able to conceptualise alternate versions of reality, we are also the only animal capable of imagining a reality without ourselves in it.” AKA death terror or existentialism;
- We have two selves. 1) Physical self — one that eats, sleeps, snores, and shitz. 2) Conceptual self — our identity, or how we see ourselves.
Now understand this, in the animal kingdom, only humans possess the ability to conceptualise alternate versions of reality. Thus, only humans can contemplate death1. Second, because we are able to come up with different versions of reality, we can mentally separate between physical self and conceptual self. Furthermore, we can visualise multiple conceptual selves. Death is one of the conceptual self. So why aren’t we thinking about it?
Making plans, writing todo list, replying to emails, naturing a family, building our legacy, these things require us to visualise alternate versions of reality. If so, why don’t we include death as one of it? To even think of death makes one cringe. It sounds so solemn and negative. But don’t deny that death doesn’t lurk around the corner, because it does. Think lottery, the odds of winning is 1 in 175million. That’s 1 in 175,000,000. Or, 0.000000175%. Death is 100%. Nobody never escaped death. Everyone dies one day. Yet the ratio of thinking about lottery and thinking about death baffles me.
Coming back to Marcus Aurelius’s quote, should the grim reaper (or God) give us a ‘date’, how would we react? Let’s say the date is today, the day after, a month later, a few months later, a few years later, a decade later, a few decades later, how big a difference would it make? Further into this thought process, think of it this way:
- Living as per normal, not knowing when will we die (but do we know death awaits us all)
- Knowing we confirmed date (of death), how will we live
How would you live your life?
Due to the complexities of life, most of us are operating under #1. I’m not talking about people who have severe health conditions who’s doctor have given them rough gauge, they belong to #2. If, operating under #1 on good health conditions and assuming we ourselves a self imposed death date, would we live our lives differently? Would we still squander time away on meaningless squabbles? Would we then run down our bucket list and check them off before we take our last breath?
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” — Henry David Thoreau
Pursuing the idea further:
Thoreau went into the woods to live a bare, spare, and essential existence… no modern conveniences to help him make things easier, no creature comforts to lighten his load. He went into the woods to learn what it meant to really live this life as it is, free of all the man-made accouterments that take the life out of life. Put in a more modern way, Thoreau wanted to live without the remote control.
His idea was that all the things we have concocted to make life easier for us to live, at the same time take the substance out of living, the morrow out of the bones. If you turn on the water spigot and water comes pouring out, you don’t have to pump it yourself. But it is in the very act of pumping the water yourself, that you feel the weight and substance of the water. In your hands, in your arms.
If things got tough for him, so be it; experience the toughness. If winter winds chilled him to the bone, so be it; feel the cold… know it from within. Thoreau went alone into the woods to learn how to live the way his maker intended to live.
We work hard to get a life of comfort. Yet it is the hardships that defines our lives. Catch-22.
So what gives?
Be mindful. Be appreciative. Be Zen.
And yet, live a life.
- Not including aliens, if, there is such a thing. ↩