Monday, September 14, 2009
Celebrating Decay - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. VIII.24
Meditation VIII.24 - Celebrating Decay - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil
Such as bathing appears to you - oil, sweat, dirt, filthy water, all things disgusting - so is every part of life and everything.1,2
(1) Our senses are designed to repel the wastes our bodies produce. Nature has designed it so. These wastes contain pathogens and poisons. If we were not "disgusted," wastes might be reabsorbed or consumed by the body. But a Stoic would see this fact as a wonderful law of nature. The wastes and poisons themselves are not inherently bad, in fact they are quite interesting and intriguing and scientifically compelling. The lesson Marcus conveys here is not designed to repel us from the wonders of nature, but to reinforce our awareness that life - and everything in life - deteriorates and changes into something that in time will no longer be attractive to us at the level of sense experience. The meditation is designed as a check on those things in life that we value. Because all things will decay, it seems senseless - and even illogical - to attach permanent value to things: material possessions, cars, houses, riches, and accomplishments.
This applies clearly also to human beings. Each of us decays. We grow old and feeble. We die. Nothing about our bodies endures. For the same reason then it seems senseless and illogical to attach value to life itself. The only thing that does endure, and the only thing that never decays is this law of decay - which is a part of nature's grand design (see also Meditation IX.36). It is the law that is perfect and immutable - not any of the "things" that the law governs. And the law governs "every part of life and everything." The Stoic must live according to nature. In this meditation this means that we ought to live with and accept this fact of existence. We ought to embrace decay; celebrate decay; celebrate our deterioration; and celebrate our death, not because these things are inherently attractive to the senses, but because all of these these things are according to the law of nature which is perfect.
(2) This image above file is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0. Attribution: Andrew Dunn
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 The unpublished selections presented in this Blog are provided as supplemental material to the published selections which are annotated and explained in the book.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.