Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Just Do It! - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. VIII.23
Meditation VIII.23 - Just Do It! - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil
Am I doing anything? I do it with reference to the good of humankind.1 Does anything happen to me?2 I receive it and refer it to the gods, and the source of all things, from which all that happens is derived.3
(1) In Stoicism "doing" is equivalent to acting. Routine physical activities such as eating, sleeping, or walking, are really reactions to the physical demands of living. These are clearly necessary for our survival but inconsequential in terms of our role as political actors in the world - our primary responsibility and duty in life. Although the word "political" is somewhat tinged in modern times (because of the abuse of political power), outwardly directed political activity is a Stoic's first responsibility, as long as what we do politically is done "with reference to the good of humankind," and not with reference to ourselves.
(2) In Stoicism the word "happen" references significant actions that impinge on the political reactions to our actions or the actions of others. It does not refer to the various accidents of life. For example, I may happen to win the lottery, or happen to have an accident, or happen to get a new job, or happen to die. These are all matters of Stoic indifference. With the exception of dying, none of these things makes us better or worse as political actors because our political power resides in our capacity for acting virtuously - and this capacity is seated in the mind or soul which is the source of reason, and reason is aways regarded as an invincible power insofar as we remain conscious and alive.
(3) As mentioned elsewhere (see Meditation XII.28) the gods are used as euphemisms for the single concept Logos, the Stoic's nature-based concept of the divine. The force of this meditation is one of acceptance. Whatever happens in life is in a sense predetermined by the forces of nature. There is little we can do to alter the course of events, especially in the long term. We are born and we will die - sooner or later. There is no reason for us to be concerned about how all this will play out for us personally. Our only responsibility is to use whatever opportunities that are presented to us in life to carry out our political role in our community. Just do it - and in so doing we will be happy.
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.