Meditation VII.54 - Acquiescence - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil
Everywhere and at all times it is in your power piously to acquiesce in your present condition,(1) and to behave justly to those who are about you,(2) and to exert your skill upon your present thoughts,(3) that nothing shall steal into them without being well examined.(4)
(1) The word "acquiesce" is apt here. It means literally to comply silently, and to do so without protest, without grumbling, and without regret. It applies to whatever situation we are in, be it fair or foul. In a real sense this is the real test of the true Stoic. Whatever comes our way is what is meant to come our way. We receive life on the terms that life brings to us. This for the Stoic is the only way we can remain placid throughout life. This ancient wisdom is reflected in the opening stanza of the Stoic inspired poem "Desiderata" by Max Ehrmann:
Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story. ...
(2) The goal in all of our actions must be directed justly toward those about us whether friend or foe. This is what nature has designed us to do. This is what it means to "live according to nature."
(3) Your "skill" is your divine reason. Reason - when unimpeded by the pressures of our animal sensibilities - will conduct itself unerringly. The challenge for the Stoic is learning how to separate the influences of our self-directed animal nature from our other-directed rational nature. This requires contemplation, training, patience, and meditation - and is the purpose of passages such as this.
(4) What will "steal" into our thoughts are the pressures of our animal instincts. These instincts seek comfort and pleasure in all of their manifestations. These, together with our desire to be free of physical and emotional discomfort act as psychological fields of distraction. Meditation allows us to place these in relief. There is nothing wrong with the physical and emotional landscape of our humanity, but the danger to the Stoic is that we can be overpowered by sensations that will lead us away from the justice that ought to dominate our actions. Meditation is designed to shield us from this. Notice the body; act appropriately when it signals its needs; but never let the body lead us away from our primary duty in life which is to "behave justly to those who are about [us]."
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.