Saturday, March 27, 2010
Equanimity - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. VII.38
Meditation VII.38 - Equanimity - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil
It is not right to worry ourselves about things, for they care nothing about it.(1)
(1) Being worried, vexed or annoyed with anyone - or in this example about "things," is a violation of one of the so-called Stoic "commandments" discussed in Meditation VIII.08 (in the book). The focus here is psychological and goes to the heart of the nature of worry. As discussed in more detail in Meditation VIII.42, when we think closely about worry we notice that most of our worries (be they about the past, present or future) turn on pleasure, pain, reputation, or money. But in Stoicism none of these things should ever be a cause for worry. Each of these areas is self-serving and body focussed. In Stoicism the appropriate stance toward each of these is indifference. We may think that the good life is defined by a financial prosperity that ensures ample pleasure, freedom from pain and enduring reputation. But the Stoic understands that it is possible to be truly happy without these things. A Stoic has no reason to avoid the simple pleasures of life or not to take measures to avoid discomfort. But these ought not be the focus of our existence and they ought never prevent us from being good.
The problem with worry in Stoic terms goes beyond the irrationality of focusing mental energy on inanimate objects (for example, we become angry at our car when it breaks down and worry about the financial implications). The worry itself and the emotional state that worry engenders (anger, rage, dejection, fear) alienates us from what is true about existence. The universe is beautiful and good, and the laws that act on the things we worry about are - in and of themselves - part of the beauty of nature. Stoicism is never about denial; it is about embracing change and accepting life. Your car will break down. You will have accidents and setbacks. These are all inevitabilities and manifestations of the operations of nature. Everything changes, decays and dies. This is the Law, and the Law is inherently good. We have the power to change our attitude or opinion about these things from worry to indifference. This is equanimity - a virtue (please see also Meditation VIII.32). Through equanimity we will remain tranquil through any disturbance.
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.