Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Screaming Pig - The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. X.28

Meditation X.28 - The Screaming Pig - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil

Imagine every person who is grieved at anything or discontented to be like a pig which is sacrificed and kicks and screams. Like this pig also is he who on his bed in silence laments the bonds in which he is held.1 And consider that only to the rational animal is it given to follow voluntarily what happens; but simply to follow is a necessity imposed on all.2


(1) This contrast between human and animal suffering could not be more stark. A Stoic is happy even when "on the rack." Surprisingly, the Stoic's ability to "suck up" suffering requires nothing more than a shift in perception. If I believe that my body is nothing but a frail and ephemeral extension of my true self, there is no reason to lament the "bonds" that bind it. The Stoic believes that he has the power to transcend the body - and what a power this can be! Of course the body will react to pain. It will also scream and kick - like a pig. Bodies are designed to react to pain. But, unlike the pig which is unable to reason, a human being is capable of being fearless, of remaining centered, of acting with real courage, and of doing things that are certainly impossible - for a pig, and for most people - but not all.

(2) The popular expression, "stuff happens," is derived from Stoicism (I've steered away from the more vulgar form of the expression). Whether we believe that life's misfortunes are a matter of fate, or cosmic in design, matters little. Stuff does happen. And it happens to all of us. The difference between animals and humans is that we are able to roll with the punches. And the less we resist the inevitable, the easier things will be for us. This does not mean we ought not react to life's travails. Of course we should. But, in adopting a more fatalistic (and frankly realistic) attitude toward the inevitable, we are far less likely to panic, and far more likely to survive - paradoxically.

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 The unpublished selections presented in this Blog are provided as supplemental material to the published selections which are annotated and explained in the book.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