Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations: Book 11

The themes continue. Control what you can, accept what you can’t. Easy to say and understand, hard to consistently execute. No doubt why Marcus reminded himself of this on a daily basis.

A few of my faves below, then the full text.

· A great soul is ready at any time to be separated from the body… This readiness must come from your own judgement, not from mere obstinacy, but considered, with dignity, and without some tragic show.
· Have I done something for the general good? If so, I have had my reward. Always remember this, and never stop doing such good.
· Tragedies were brought on stage to remind us of things that can happen…If you are delighted with what takes place on stage, you should not be troubled with that happens on the larger stage of life.
· Don’t chafe and fret at what happens.
· A man cuts himself from others by hate or turning away, not realizing this cuts him off from society.
· Don’t let the actions of others drive you from your kind feelings towards them.
· Will any man hate me? That will be his decision. I will be mild and benevolent to all men, ready to react nobly and honestly.
· You are a human being placed at your spot in time and space to do what is for the common good.
· Your acts will show themselves. He who is honest and good should be like a someone with a strong odor, that you cannot avoid smelling.
· The good and simple and benevolent show all these things in their eyes, and there is no mistaking it.
· Nothing is more disgraceful than false friendship. Avoid this most of all.
· Realize you don’t even know whether men are doing wrong or not, as many things are done with reference to circumstances. We must learn a great deal to be able to pass a correct judgement on another’s acts.
· Consider how much more pain is brought on by anger caused by acts than by the acts themselves.
· “No man can rob us of our free will.”

1. These are the properties of a rational soul: it sees itself, analyzes itself, makes itself as it chooses, and reaps its own fruits. The rational soul reaps its own fruits, whereas the fruits of vegetable kingdom and produce of animals are reaped by others. The soul obtains its own end wherever the limit of life may be fixed, in every part and wherever it may be stopped. In a dance or play the whole is incomplete if anything is cut out, whereas the soul makes what is put before it full and complete. The soul traverses the universe and surrounding void, surveys its form, and extends into the infinity of time. The soul embraces and comprehends the periodic refreshing of all things. The soul comprehends that those who come after us will see nothing new and that those who came before us have seen nothing more.

If a 40 year old has any understanding at all, they’ve seen how uniformity prevails: all that has been and all that will be. A love of one’s neighbor, truth and modesty, to value nothing more than itself, are properties of a rational soul and law. The right reason differs not at all from the reason of justice

2. You will set little value on pleasant song if you analyze the melody into its several sounds and ask “am I mastered by this?” The same holds for dancing, if at each movement and posture you will do similar analysis, and the like also in wrestling. In all things, except virtue and acts of virtue, assess them by their parts, and by this division value them little. Apply the question of “am I mastered by this?” to all parts of your life so as to not overvalue things.

3. A great soul is ready at any time to be separated from the body, and then be extinguished, dispersed or continue to exist. This readiness must come from your own judgement, not from mere obstinacy, but considered, with dignity, and without some tragic show.

4. Have I done something for the general good? If so, I have had my reward. Always remember this, and never stop doing such good.

5. What is your art? To be good. Do this with general principles from the nature of the universe and from the proper constitution.

6. At first tragedies were brought on the stage to remind us of things that can happen, in accordance with the natural order. If you are delighted with what takes place on stage, you should not be troubled with that happens on the larger stage of life. On stage you see the things that must be experienced, and that even those who cry out in protest bear these things. The playwrights say it well: “If the gods neglect my children and I this, it is for a reason. Don’t chafe and fret at what happens.” “Reap life’s harvest like the wheat’s fruitful ear” and other similar sayings from playwrights. After tragedy, came comedies with a plainness of speech that was useful in reminding men to be beware of insolence. Observe how comedy evolved and became a mere mimicking artifice. Some good things were said, but there was little point to it all.

7. How obvious is it that there is no other condition of life so well suited for philosophizing as the one in which you now are?

8. A branch cut from an adjacent one is also cut off the tree. So to a man, separated from another is cut off from the community. Another cuts off a branch, but a man cuts himself from others by hate or turning away, not realizing this cuts him off from society. God gives us the privilege to cut ourselves off from society, and the power to grow again and become a part of the whole. The more often we cut ourselves off, the harder it becomes to restore our connection to society. A branch that grew together with the tree is not like one that was cut off and then re-grafted. As the gardeners say of a grafted branch: it grows with the rest of the tree but is not of one mind with it.

9. Those who try to block you when you are acting for the right reasons will also not be able to turn you from proper action. Don’t let the actions of others drive you from your kind feelings towards them. Be on your guard in both the matter of steady judgement and action and kindness towards those who try to hinder or trouble you. It is a weakness to be vexed at others as well as diverted from your course of action and to give way through fear. Both are deserters from their post: the man who does it from fear, and the man who is alienated from a kinsman or friend

10. There is no nature that is inferior to art, for the arts imitate the nature of things. As art imitates nature, the nature which is the most perfect and comprehensive cannot fall short of the skill of art. All arts do inferior things for the sake of the superior, and if follows universal nature does so too. Other virtues have their foundation in justice: it does not exist if we are easily deceived, careless and changeable.

11. Of things for which the pursuit and avoidance disturb you, and they do not come to you, you are still seeking them in a way. Don’t just do these things, and they will remain quiet, and you will not be seen as either pursuing or avoiding them.

12. The soul keeps its spherical form when it is neither extend towards an object, contracted inward, dispersed or sinking down. The soul maintains its spherical form when it is illuminated by light, by which it sees the truth: of all things and itself.

13. If any man should despise me, he should look to himself. I will not be found doing or saying anything deserving of contempt. Will any man hate me? That will be his decision. I will be mild and benevolent to all men, ready to react nobly and honestly. The interior parts ought to be such, and a man ought to be seen by the gods neither dissatisfied with anything nor complaining. How is it bad if you are now doing what is agreeable to your own nature, and are satisfied with what’s suitable to the universe. You are a human being placed at your spot in time and space to do what is for the common good.

14. Men despise one another, flatter one another, wish to raise themselves above one another, and crouch before one another.

15. How unsound and insincere is he who says “I have decided to deal with you in a fair way”? WTF? There is no reason to say this. Your acts will show themselves. The voice ought to be plainly written on the forehead. A man’s character is shown in his eyes. He who is beloved reads everything in the eyes of lovers. He who is honest and good should be like a someone with a strong odor, that you cannot avoid smelling. The pretense of simplicity is like a crooked stick. Nothing is more disgraceful than false friendship. Avoid this most of all. The good and simple and benevolent show all these things in their eyes, and there is no mistaking it.

16. The power is in the soul for living in the best way, if it is indifferent to the things that are indifferent. The soul will be indifferent, if it looks at each of these things separately and all together. Remember that no thing produces in us an opinion about itself nor comes to us, rather they remain immovable and we judge them. We write judgements on ourselves, even if it is in our power not to, or to wipe out judgements we admit into our minds. Remember that attention for such judgements will only be for a short time and then life will be at an end. What trouble is there in doing this? If these things are according to nature rejoice in them and they will be easy for you. If these things are contrary to nature, seek and strive towards what is aligned with your nature, even if it brings no fame. Every man is allowed to seek his own good.

17. Consider from where a thing has come, what it is made of, what it will change into, and that it will sustain no harm.

18. If any has offended you, consider first what is your relation to others, that we were made for one another. In another respect I was made to be set over others as a ram over the flock or a bull over the herd. Examine from first principles, from this, if all things are not mere atoms it is nature that orders all things. If this is so, the inferior things exist for the sake of the superior, and these for the sake of one another.

Second, consider what kind of men they are at the table, in bed and so forth, and under what compulsions they operate. Consider with what pride others do what they do.

Third, if men do rightly what they do, we shouldn’t be displeased, if not, clearly they do it involuntarily and in ignorance. As every soul is unwillingly deprived of the truth, so it is deprived of the power of delivering to each man what he deserves. Men are pained when they are called unjust, ungrateful, and greedy, and in a word, wrongdoers to their neighbors.

Fourth, consider that you also do many things wrong, and that you are man like others, even if you abstain from certain faults. You also have the disposition to commit faults either through cowardice or concern about reputation, or some other bad motive.

Fifth, realize you don’t even know whether men are doing wrong or not, as many things are done with reference to circumstances. We must learn a great deal to be able to pass a correct judgement on another’s acts.

Sixth, consider when you are very angry or grieved, that a man’s life is only a moment, and after a short time we are all dead.

Seventh, men’s acts don’t upset us, as they have their foundation in ruling principles, it’s our own opinions that disturb us. Take away opinions and resolve to dismiss your judgement about an act as if it were something grievous, and your anger is gone. How to take away these opinions? By reflecting that no wrongful act of another brings shame on you. Unless what is shameful is bad in itself, you would have to do many things wrong and become a robber or other bad character.

Eighth, consider how much more pain is brought on by anger caused by acts than by the acts themselves.

Ninth, consider that a good disposition is invincible, if it is genuine and not an affected smile or acting a part. What will the most violent man do to you if you continue to be of kind disposition towards him? Gently admonish and calmly correct the errors of one trying to harm you, and let them know it is they not you who will be injured. Show with gentle tact and by general principles this is so, and that even bees do not do as they do, nor any gregarious animals. Do this without irony, rebuke or bitterness, but with kindly affection, and not as a boss or to impress bystanders.

Remember these nine rules as if received as a gift from on high and begin at last to be a man while you live. But you must equally avoid flattering men and being cross with them, for both are unsocial and lead to harm. In the heat of anger realize this truth: it is more manly and agreeable to our nature to be mild and gentle than upset by passion. He who possesses these qualities has strength, nerves and courage compared to the man subject to fits of passion and discontent. To the degree a mind is nearer to freedom from passion, in the same degree it is nearer to strength. The sense of pain is a characteristic of weakness, as is anger. He who yields to pain or anger is both wounded and submitting. Accept a tenth present from the gods: to expect bad men to not do wrong is madness, as this would be wanting the impossible. It is irrational and tyrannical to allow men to behave badly to others and to expect them not to do you any wrong.

19. There are four principal aberrations of the mind which you should constantly guard against, and once detected, should wipe out. This thought is not necessary, tends to destroy social union, or doesn’t reflect real thoughts (so absurd to say what doesn’t). The fourth aberration is when you reproach yourself for anything, which is evidence of the rational being overpowered by the body.

20. The aerial and fiery parts of us have an upward tendency but, in obedience to nature, are overpowered in the mass of the body. The earthly and watery parts have a downward tendency yet are raised up to occupy a position that isn’t their natural one. The elements obey the universe, and remain fixed in place until the signal for dissolution. Isn’t it strange that only your mind should be disobedient and discontented with its own place? No force is imposed on your mind, only things conformable to nature, still it doesn’t submit and goes in the opposite direction. The movement towards injustice, intemperance, anger, grief and fear is nothing else than the act of one who deviates from nature. When the mind is discontent with anything that happens, it deserts its post.. The mind is constituted for piety and reverence to the gods no less than for justice. These qualities are under the generic term of contentment with the constitution of things and are prior to acts of justice.

21. He who has not one and always the same object in life cannot be one and the same all through his life. This is not enough, unless what this object should be is also added. Opinions vary about all things considered by most to be good in some way and only certain things that concern the common interest. We also ought to propose to ourselves an object that shall be of common social and political interest. He who directs all his own efforts to this object, will make all his acts alike and thus will always be the same.

22. Think of the country manor and the town mouse, and of the alarm and trepidation of the town mouse.

23. Socrates used to call the opinions of the many by the name of ghouls, bugbears to frighten children.

24. At public spectacles an ancient group used to set seats in the shade for strangers, but they themselves sat down anywhere.

25. Socrates said to a Roman general: To receive a favor and be unable to return it would be to die by the worst way.

26. The Ephesians wrote: constantly think of the men of former times who practiced virtue.

27. In the morning, look to the heavens to be reminded of those bodies that constantly do the same things. The stars perform their work in the same manner, and be reminded of their purity and nudity: there is no veil over a star.

28. Consider what a man Socrates was, when his cloak had been taken, and he dressed in a skin. Consider what Socrates said to his friends who were ashamed of him and drew back when they saw him dressed in a skin.

29. You won’t be able to make rules for others before you have first learned to obey them yourself. Much more is this so in life.

30. “You are a slave: free speech is not for you.”

31. “And my heart laughed within.”

32. “And virtue they will curse, speaking harsh words.”

33. “To look for a fig in winter is a madman’s act: such is he who looks for his child when he may no longer have one.”

34. Epictetus says: “When a man kisses his child, he should whisper to himself: you may die tomorrow. No word is a bad omen that expresses nature’s work, if it were, it would be bad to speak of harvesting corn.”

35. The unripe grape, the ripe bunch, the dried grape, all are changes, not into nothing, but into something that didn’t exist.

36. According to Epictetus: “no man can rob us of our free will.”

37. Epictetus said: “Man must discover rules for giving his assent and his movements should be made with regard to circumstances” Movements should be consistent with social interests and have regard to the value of the object, and keep away from sensual desire. Do not show aversion to any of the things that are not in our power.

38. The dispute is not about any common matter, but about being mad or not.

39. Socrates used to say “What do you want? Souls of rational or irrational men? If rational, should they be sound or unsound? If you a have found sound and rational why do you fight and quarrel? “