Sunday, March 29, 2009
Overriding Emotion - The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. XII.19
Meditation XII.19 - Overriding Emotion - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil
Perceive at last that you have in you something better and more divine than the things which cause the various effects,1 and as it were pull you by the strings.2 What is there now in my mind? is it fear, or suspicion, or desire, or anything of the kind?3
(1) Things that cause the various effects are emotional responses. It is helpful to remind the non-Stoic that Marcus is not condemning emotion. Emotional reactions are natural and useful sensations but they invariably are triggered by physiological reactions to pleasure or pain. They also play important and sometimes critical roles in human survival. What Marcus is saying here is that there is something in us that supersedes the emotional triggers that come from our animal nature.
(2) Marcus uses this string metaphor frequently. In this model the strings are the emotional responses that can sometimes cause us to react inappropriately. The key to right action is to mediate emotion through the divine element in us - the divine element being reason, a uniquely human quality that we share with all other people and is tethered to (and comes from) the active principle of nature or Logos, the source of all reason.
(3) These are of course emotional states. The divine in us fears nothing, suspects no one, and is free from desire because it is immutable and perfect.
Russell McNeil, PhD, is the author of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius: Selections Annotated and Explained by Skylight Paths Publishing. The unpublished selections presented in this Blog are provided as supplemental material to the published selections which are annotated and explained in the book. The published selections are referenced in this Blog by page number and section.