Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Live in the Moment - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. VIII.36

Meditation VIII.36 - Live in the Moment - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil

Do not disturb yourself by thinking of the whole of your life.1 Let not your thoughts at once embrace all the various troubles which you may expect to befall you: but on every occasion ask yourself, "What is there in this which is intolerable and past bearing?" For you will be ashamed to confess.2 In the next place remember that neither the future nor the past pains you, but only the present.3 But this is reduced to a very little, if you only circumscribe it, and chide your mind, if it is unable to hold out against even this.4


(1) This is a recurrent theme in Stoicism and Marcus repeats this idea often. From a meditative perspective it carries extraordinary power and has had enormous influence on those who feel they carry the world on their backs. Various twelve step addiction recovery programs pick up on this theme in their one day at a time recovery programs. What is past is past. There is nothing we can do to change what we have done or what has happened to us. This is absolutely true. The same can be said of the future. The only power we have is the power to act now and in this moment. If we act rightly now we will experience immediate joy. To live with constant regret or to feel constant fear for the future is a game played by the fool. It is senseless, meaningless and unproductive.

(2) Nothing about the past and nothing about the future is intolerable or "past bearing." Logic dictates that if past events or future worries were intolerable we would not be able to live. But we are alive.

(3) Marcus is a realist. Is is patently aware that existence is temporal. We exist now and not in the past or in the future. The meditative potential of this reality check can be enormous. Those of us who seek relief through other modalities (psychological counseling, medication, drugs, alcohol or other addictions) understand that few of these approaches provide immediate relief from the pain of the present. The only modality that can guarantee immediate release from pain is the personal decision to end the pain - and that is a decision that can be made in the moment of meditative reflection.

(4) This is another extraordinary comment that further illustrates the power of Stoicism. If you recall that from the Stoic perspective the mind is identified with the self. To "chide" the mind - as Marcus directs us to do here - suggests that a Stoic has the power of rising above the self in order to exercise a real external direction from above. How can this be so without invoking a supernatural power? Recall that although every human being is autonomous, the power of reason that we have is connected to the universal power of Logos. Christian theology borrowed this concept in its invocation of the idea of the Christ as Logos. In the Christian model we are born again when we invite the Christ into our hearts. But the Logos of Stoicism is - unlike the Christian example - in us at all times. We do not need to invite. We need only recognize this reality and turn our mind toward the universal Law that governs our power of reason. In chiding our mind we need only surrender ourselves to the perfect Law that governs all by deciding to live according to nature.

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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