Dissecting Meditations, a personal journal by Marcus Aurelius Part #9

What you are getting into: 796 words, 5mins read + 3mins video

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.

Some people, when they do someone a favour, are always looking for a chance to call it in. And some aren’t, but they’re still aware of it — still regard it as a debt. But others don’t even do that. They’re like a vine that produces grapes without looking for anything in return.

A horse at the end of the race..

A dog when the hunt is over..

A bee with its honey stored..

And a human being after helping others.

They don’t make a fuss about it. They just go on to something else, as the vine looks forward to bearing fruit again in season.

We should be like that. Acting almost unconsciously.

— Yes. Except conscious of it. Because it’s characteristic of social beings that they see themselves as acting socially. And expect their neighbours to see it too!

That’s true. But you’re misunderstanding me. You’ll wind up like the people I mentioned before, misled by plausible reasoning. But if you make an effort to understand what I’m saying, then you won’t need to worry about neglecting your social duty.

You walk into a grocery store, pick up milk and some food to cook dinner tonight, push your trolley along the aisle, picking up random little things for your kids, stroll to the cashier counter, unload the groceries, take out your credit card, and pay.

That is a purchase.

A purchase is an exchange between a currency (i.e. money) and a product or service. In other words, a transaction. Helping others is not a transaction. It is if you have expectations that a transaction will occur, soon or sometime later.

Don’t. By lending a helping hand, you are doing goodwill, a one way street. Don’t be mistaken, says Marcus Aurelius.

Have you ever felt unappreciated? Chances are, you are mentally calculating the amount of effort and resources you’ve put in. Often in relationships, couples get into huge arguments because they feel their partner is not putting in the effort. Don’t you feel that’s transactional? If I’m loving you 110%, I have a right to be mad at you when you don’t give me 110%. This sort of mentality is absurd, malicious even. Go read The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman if you are such person.

But don’t beat yourself up. It’s just a human tendency to expect reciprocation. We are social animals after all. Prisoners who are locked up in solitary confinement go crazy due to lack of social activities.

Explaining why isolation is so damaging is complicated, but can be distilled to basic human needs for social interaction and sensory stimulation, along with a lack of the social reinforcement that prevents everyday concerns from snowballing into pychoses, said Kupers.

Blaise Pascal goes even further:

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

This is why meditation is so hard, we are unable to bear with our own thoughts. Spending alone time by ourselves if even harder! The problem is magnified by the rise of smartphones. We whip out our mobile devices the minute we are left alone. If we don’t get distracted with texts, articles, social feeds, emails, or whatnot, we seek out problems — whether knowingly or unknowingly. We find problems to entertain ourselves.

“But everyone I know is doing that.”

“But this is the world we live in now.”

“But people are like that.”

Even if you know that other people are behaving this way, you have a choice to be like them, or be you.

My non-empirical hypothesis is this: The more we avoid spending time with our thoughts, the more we fall into the trap of seeking validation from our social circle.

As with most things, balance is key. Too much rumination and little action leads to depression. Too much action and little rumination leads to burnout. This is what Marcus Aurelius calls it, act unconsciously but conscious of it.

Lastly, every time you find yourself thinking about cashing in on a favour, come back and read the quote again.

Read it until you understand.

Help people out, and then go about your day without thinking about it. If they want to, ask them to pay it forward.

With that, I’ll leave you with this.

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