Sunday, April 19, 2009

Changes - The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. XI.35

Meditation XI.35 – Changes - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil

The unripe grape, the ripe bunch, the dried grape, all are changes, not into nothing, but into something which exists not yet.1,2 (Epictetus, iii. 24)


(1) The 1971 David Bowie song "Changes" captures a sense of this meditative idea in its lyrics:

Every time I thought I'd got it made
It seemed the taste was not so sweet

Perhaps the taste was "not so sweet" for David Bowie because these lyrics point to what the Stoic has always appreciated - life is change. To have "it made," as the song says, implies that life is about arriving at end points, suggesting that once there, we can rest, and taste the sweetness.

The meditation focuses on the theme of change that permeates all of existence. Nothing is permanent and nothing endures. Life is a series of steps, and a series of deaths, ending at last with the death of the organism, and the death of self-consciousness. After that, the constituents of the organism, both body and soul, continue to change - into new configurations - which exist not yet.

This might seem rather depressing to the religious mentality, in search of everlasting peace and reward. Not so to the Stoic. Stoic serenity escapes this trap by decoupling the so-called reward for living a good life from the trap of time. Stoic peace can be only in the "now." There is no time line. We live only in the present. We are at peace only in the now. Stoic enlightenment exists outside of time. It is a state. You have it or you do not have it. You live it, or you do not. You experience it, or you do not. When you have it, you need it no more, and then you change, and then you die, in peace, or in despair. The choice is yours.

(2) Image: "Vine branch and black grapes with moth, caterpillar and chrysalis of gaudy sphinx" by Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717)

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 The unpublished selections presented in this Blog are provided as supplemental material to the published selections which are annotated and explained in the book.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.

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