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:

  1. “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;
  2. 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:

  1. Living as per normal, not knowing when will we die (but do we know death awaits us all)
  2. 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.

  1. Not including aliens, if, there is such a thing.

Dissecting Meditations, a personal journal by Marcus Aurelius Part #5

What you are getting into: 513 words, 3mins 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 Unsplash

Nothing that goes on in anyone else’s mind can harm you. Nor can the shifts and changes in the world around you.

— Then where is harm to be found?

In your capacity to see it. Stop doing that and everything will be fine. Let the part of you that makes that judgment keep quiet even if the body it’s attached to is stabbed or burnt, or stinking with pus, or consumed by cancer. Or to put it another way: It needs to realise that what happens to everyone — bad and good alike — is neither good or bad. That happens in every life — lived naturally or not — is neither natural nor unnatural.

This teaches one to let go of judgment. Our capacity to label things equates to judgment, which turns to harm. Anything that happened to us, can happen to anyone. For example, falling in love, striking the lottery, eating your favourite food, contracting sickness, being humiliated, etc — these are the things that can happen to anyone.

Stop for a minute and ask yourself when was the last time you said: “Why me?!” The act of asking this question generally stems from judging the unfairness that befell upon you. “I shouldn’t have experienced unfairness because I’m a good person.” Does that mean a bad person should be punished for their sins? Am I really free of sin? Is this judgment affecting me? Can I let go of the labels? Why do I even want to judge and label someone / something? Don’t I know that judging brings harm to my mind?

Once my mind accepts the labels put forth, it brings harm to me. Imagine that your loved one passed a scathing criticism to you. How would you react? Would you get defensive and engage in a heated discussion? Or would you feel extremely hurt and want nothing to do with them? Now imagine a stranger passing off a scathing criticism to you. How would you react this time round? Will your reaction still be the same?

You must know these are someone else’s opinions. Yes, they have the ability to influence you, but you have the ability to accept or reject them. Blindly accepting external opinions may make you a puppet. Rejecting all external opinions may make you isolated and detached. What gives?

Understand yourself. Your triggers. Your weak points. Your strong points. Build your own filters. Refine them. Know ultimately harm is merely our mind’s reaction. Like gatekeepers, they do not allow filth to enter. Neither should we untruth opinions to corrupt our mind.

Dissecting Meditations, a personal journal by Marcus Aurelius Part #4

What you are getting into: 769 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 Unsplash

People try to get away from it all — to the country, to the beach, to the mountains. You always wish that you could too. Which is idiotic: you can get away from it anytime you like.

By going within.

Nowhere you can go is more peaceful — more free of interruptions — than your own soul. Especially if you have other things to rely on. An instant’s recollection and there it is: complete tranquility. And by tranquillity I mean a kind of harmony.

So keep getting away from it all — like that. Renew yourself. But keep it brief and basic. A quick visit should be enough to ward off all <…state your troubles here…> and send you back ready to face what awaits you. What’s there to complain about? People’s misbehaviour? But take into consideration:

  • that rational beings exist for one another;
  • that doing what’s right sometimes requires patience;
  • that no one does the wrong thing deliberately;
  • and the number of people who have feuded and envied and hated and fought and died and been buried

…and keep your mouth shut.

Or are you complaining about the things the world assigns you? But consider the two options: Providence or atoms. And all the arguments for seeing the world as a city.

Or is it your body? Keep in mind that when the mind detaches itself and realises its own nature, it no longer has anything to do with ordinary life — the rough and the smooth, either one. And remember all you’ve been taught — and accepted — about pain and pleasure.

Or is it your reputation that’s bothering you? But look at how soon we’re all forgotten. The abyss of endless time that swallows it all. The emptiness of all those applauding hands. The people who praise us — how capricious they are, how arbitrary. And the tiny region in which it all takes place. The whole earth a point in space — and most of it uninhabited. How many people there will be to admire you, and who they are.

So keep this refuge in mind: the back roads of your self. Above all, no strain and no stress. Be straightforward. Look at things like a man, like a human being, like a citizen, like a mortal. And among the things you turn to, these two:

  1. That things have no hold on the soul. They stand there unmoving, outside it. Disturbance comes only from within — from our own perceptions.
  2. That everything you see will soon alter and cease to exist. Think of how many changes you’ve already seen.

“The world is nothing but change. Our life is only perception.”

This entry is the perfect example of something we should all return to when we get stressed out, faltering under anxiety, or overthinking. The most important point is delivered in the beginning — most of us want to escape by going away when we can go within.

Overindulging in escapism can detach us from reality. To counter that, perhaps better cost effective way is to go within, search inside ourselves, or meditate. Take for example, you could find yourself a comfortable chair, sink your body into it, let the cushion mould against your warm body, close your eyes gently, let your body relax, note the gentle breeze grazing across your face, take a deep breath, all the way into your lungs, pay attention to your surroundings, imagine you are sitting at a beach, or on top of the mountain, or deep underwater, or in a jacuzzi. Basically you can transport to anywhere you want to be by going within.

It is particularly prudent that we realise most matters that bothers us are in fact, trivial. Perhaps the most important thing we have is time. Each morning when we wake up, we are given 24hours. It repeats itself like Groundhog Day. How many minutes and hours do we want to spend worrying, rushing, attending to busy work, getting frustrated, feeling annoyed? And how many minutes and hours do we want to spend feeling happy, excited, full of anticipation that something amazing is going to happen?

The end quote “The world is nothing but change. Our life is only perception.” hits me the most. What if we reframe how we view life not as reality, instead as perceptions we perceive? Then we have the power to perceive the life we want to have. We then have full control of our feelings, thoughts, how we conduct our business, and how we love someone.

We are then free from the shackles of our own mind to do the things that makes us happy, a little more, every 24hours.