Meditations on Meditations: Retreat (4:3)

People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills. But this is altogether un-philosophical, when it is possible for you to retreat into yourself at any time you want.

There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind, especially if he has within himself the kind of thoughts that let him dip into them and so at once gain complete ease of mind; and by ease of mind, I mean nothing but having one’s own mind in good order.

So constantly give yourself this retreat and renew yourself. You should have to hand concise and fundamental principles, which will be enough, as soon as you encounter them, to cleanse you from all distress and send you back without resentment at the activities to which you return.
– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 4.3

Last night I retreated to a friend’s house to sleep: the first morning meditation of Stoic Week could not have been more appropriate (but perhaps this is always the case).

Still, how apt to read these 2000-year-old words of Marcus Aurelius:

There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind…

True though it might be, retreating into the mind strikes me as far more challenging than retreating in the country, by the coast, or in the hills.

Jumping on a train to the beach at Bournemouth almost immediately releases a calmness and perspective that I struggle to find surrounded by daily life in London. My own mind is often a place of doubt and confusion: rarely as peaceful and trouble-free as Marcus Aurelius would like.

What value there’d be if I could find peace anytime and anywhere! At the very least I’d save on train fares. And if this is the promise of Stoicism, then I want a piece of it.

You should have to hand concise and fundamental principles, which will be enough, as soon as you encounter them, to cleanse you from all distress and send you back without resentment at the activities to which you return.

Browsing through Stoic maxims, these concise and fundamental principles, I wonder which will help “cleanse me from all distress”.

When someone upsets me with their behaviour:

“It seemed right to them.”

When I struggle to motivate myself, or crave something:

“If you want any good, get it from within yourself.”

When I am anxious and have intrusive troubling thoughts:

“You are just an appearance and not at all the thing you claim to represent.”

As the day hurls past, I remember that some things are within my control and some things aren’t. The wisdom is to distinguish between them and allow nothing beyond my control to upset or concern me. Easier written than accomplished, of course, but that’s why it’s a practice not a pill.

Outside the sky is orange.

What do you think?