The ancient philosophy espoused by Horace in the first century before Christ is one of the most ubiquitous in modern culture, but its ubiquity disguises how little any of us actually think about what it would really mean to live by. Continue reading Carpe Diem: Dancing with Death
O soul of mine, will you never be good and sincere, all one, all open, visible to the beholder more clearly than even your encompassing body of flesh?
Will you never taste the sweetness of a loving and affectionate heart? Will you never be filled full and unwanting; craving nothing, yearning for no creature or thing to minister to your pleasures, no prolongation of days to enjoy them, no place or country or pleasant clime or sweet human company?
When will you be content with your present state, happy in all about you, persuaded that all is and shall be well with you, so long as it is their good pleasure and ordained by them for the safety and welfare of that perfect living Whole – so good, so just, so beautiful – which gives life to all things, upholding and enfolding them, and at their dissolution gathering them into Itself so that yet others of their kind may spring forth?
Will you never be fit for such fellowship with the gods and men as to have no syllable of complaint against them, and no syllable of reproach from them?
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 10:1
Read in front of a raging fire on a frozen starry night in the Tomsleibhe bothy on the Isle of Mull, Scotland. With grateful thanks to the Mountain Bothies Association.
The man whose heart is palpitating for fame after death does not reflect that out of all those who remember him every one will himself soon be dead also, and in the course of time the next generation after that, until in the end, after flaring and sinking by turns, the final spark of memory is quenched.
Furthermore, even supposing that those who remember you were never to die at all, nor their memories to die either, yet what is that to you?
Clearly, in your grave, nothing; and even in your lifetime, what is the good of praise – unless maybe to subserve some lesser design?
Surely, then, you are making an inopportune rejection of what Nature has given you today, if all your mind is set on what men will say of you tomorrow.
In your actions let there be a willing promptitude, yet a regard for the common interest; due deliberation, yet no irresolution; and in your sentiments no pretentious over-refinement. Avoid talkativeness, avoid officiousness.
The god within you should preside over a being who is virile and mature, a statesman, a Roman, and a ruler; one who has held his ground, like a soldier waiting for the signal to retire from life’s battlefield and ready to welcome his relief; a man whose credit need neither be sworn to by himself nor avouched by others.
Therein is the secret of cheerfulness, of depending on no help from without and needing to crave from no man the boon of tranquility. We have to stand upright ourselves, not be set up.
Be like the headland, on which the waves break constantly, which still stands firm, while the foaming waters are put to rest around it.
‘It is my bad luck that this has happened to me.’ On the contrary, say, ‘It is my good luck that, although this has happened to me, I can bear it without getting upset, neither crushed by the present nor afraid of the future.’
This kind of event could have happened to anyone, but not everyone would have borne it without getting upset.
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 recognised 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
We shrink from change; yet is there anything that can come into being without it? What does Nature hold dearer, or more proper to herself? Could you have a hot bath unless firewood underwent some change? Could you be nourished if the food suffered no change? Is it possible for any useful thing to be achieved without change? Do you not see, then, that change in yourself is of the same order, and no less necessary to Nature?
– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 7:18
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
I’ve always been somewhat in awe of Christianity: two millennia of earnest study on the nature of being and how to live the good life – all based on one book. And there is plenty of good in the Good Book. Like Mark Twain said:
[The Bible] is full of interest. It has noble poetry in it; and some clever fables; and some blood-drenched history; and some good morals; and a wealth of obscenity; and upwards of a thousand lies.