Stoic Meditations

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24 Jan 2018 19:42 #313269 by Reacher
Replied by Reacher on topic Stoic Meditations
January 22nd
The Day In Review

"I will keep constant watch over myself and - most usefully - will put each day up for review. For this is what makes us evil - that none of us looks back upon our own lives. We reflect upon only that which we are about to do. And yet our plans for the future descend from the past."
Seneca, Moral Letters, 83.2

In a letter to his older brother Novatus, Seneca describes a beneficial exercise he borrowed from another prominent philosopher. At the end of each day he would ask himself variations of the following questions: What bad habit did I curb today? How am I better? Were my actions just? How can I improve?

At the beginning or end of each day, the Stoic sits down with his journal and reviews: what he did, what he thought, what could be improved. It's for this reason that Marcus Aurelius's Meditations is a somewhat inscrutable book - it was for personal clarity and not public benefit. Writing down Stoic exercises was and is also a form of practicing them, just as repeating a prayer or hymn might be.

Keep your own journal, whether it's saved on a computer or in a little notebook. Take time to consciously recall the events of the previous day. Be unflinching in your assessments. Notice what contributed to your happiness and what detracted from it. Write down what you'd like to work on or quotes that you like. By making the effort to record such thoughts, you're less likely to forget them. An added bonus: you'll have a running tally to track your progress too.

Jedi Knight

The average man is hooked to his fellow men, while the warrior is hooked only to infinity.
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24 Jan 2018 19:50 #313271 by Reacher
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January 23rd
The Truth About Money

"Let's pass over to the really rich - how often the occasions they look just like the poor! When they travel abroad they must restrict their baggage, and when haste is necessary, they dismiss their entourage. And those who are in the army, how few of their possessions they get to keep..."
Seneca, On Consolation to Helvia, 12. 1.b-2

The author F. Scott Fitzgerald, who often glamorized the lifestyles of the rich and famous in book like The Great Gatsby, opens one of his short stories with the now classic lines: "Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me." A few years after this story was published, his friend Ernest Hemingway teased Fitzgerald by writing, "Yes, they have more money."

That's what Seneca is reminding us. As someone who was one of the richest men in Rome, he knew firsthand that money only marginally changes life. It doesn't solve the problems that people without it seem to think it will. In fact, no material possession will. External things can't fix internal issues.

We constantly forget this - and it causes us so much confusion and pain. As Hemingway would later write Fitzgerald, "He thought [the rich] were a special glamorous race and when he found they weren't it wrecked him as much as any other thing that wrecked him." Without a change the same could be true of us.

Jedi Knight

The average man is hooked to his fellow men, while the warrior is hooked only to infinity.
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24 Jan 2018 20:01 #313275 by Reacher
Replied by Reacher on topic Stoic Meditations
January 24th
Push For Deep Understanding

"From Rusticus...I learned to read carefully and not be satisfied with a rough understanding of the whole, and not to agree too quickly with those who have a lot to say about something."
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 1.7.3

The first book of Marcus Aurelius's Meditations begins with a catalog of gratitude. He thanks , one by one, the leading influences in his life. One of the people he thanks is Quintus Junius Rusticus, a teach who developed in his student a love of deep clarity and understanding - a desire to not just stop at the surface when it comes to learning.

It was also from Rusticus that Marcus was introduced to Epictetus. In fact, Rusticus loaned Marcus his personal copy of Epictetus's lectures. Marcus clearly wasn't satisfied with just getting the gist of these lectures and didn't simply accept them on his teacher's recommendation. Paul Johnson once joked that Edmund Wilson read books "as though the author was on trial for his life." That's how Marcus read Epictetus - and when the lessons passed muster, he absorbed them. They became part of his DNA as a human being. He quoted them at length over the course of his life, finding real clarity and strength in words, even amid the immense luxury and power he would come to possess.

That's the kind of deep reading and study we need to cultivate as well, which is why we're reading just one page a day instead of a chapter at a time. So we can take the time to read attentively and deeply.

Jedi Knight

The average man is hooked to his fellow men, while the warrior is hooked only to infinity.
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26 Jan 2018 04:08 #313517 by Reacher
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January 25th
The Only Prize

What's left to be prized? This I think - to limit our action or inaction to only what's in keeping with the needs of our own preparation...it's what the exertions of education and teaching are all about - here is the thing to be prized! If you hold this firmly, you'll stop trying to get yourself all the other things...If you don't, you won't be free, self-sufficient, or liberated from passion, but necessarily full of envy, jealousy, and suspicion for any who have the power to take them, and you'll plot against those who do have what you prize... But by having some self-respect for your own mind and prizing it, you will please yourself and be in better harmony with your fellow human beings, and more in tune with the gods - praising everything they have set in order and allotted you."
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 6.16.2b-4a

Warren Buffett, whose net worth is approximately $65 billion, lives in the same house he bought in 1958 for $31,500. John Urschel, a lineman for the Baltimore Ravens, makes millions but manages to live on $25,000 a year. San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard gets around in the 1997 Chevy Tahoe he's had since he was a teenager, even with a contract worth $94 million. Why? It's not because these men are cheap. It's because the things that matter to them are cheap.

Neither Buffett nor Urschel nor Leonard ended up this way by accident. Their lifestyle is the result of prioritizing. They cultivate interests that are decidedly below their financial means, and as a result, any income would allow them to pursue the things they most care about. It just happens that they became wealthy beyond any expectation. This kind of clarity - about what they love most in the world - means they can enjoy their lives. It means they'd still be happy even if the markets were to turn or their careers were cut short by injury.

The more things we desire and the more we have to do to earn or attain those achievements, the less we actually enjoy our lives - and the less free we are.

Jedi Knight

The average man is hooked to his fellow men, while the warrior is hooked only to infinity.
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26 Jan 2018 19:20 #313599 by Reacher
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January 26th
The Power Of A Mantra

"Erase the false impressions from your mind by constantly saying to yourself, I have it in my soul to keep out any evil, desire or any kind of disturbance - instead, seeing the true nature of things, I will give them only their due. Always remember this power that nature gave you."
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 8.29

Anyone who has taken a yoga class or been exposed to Hindu or Buddhist thought has probably heard of the concept of a mantra. In Sanskrit, it means "sacred utterance" - essentially a word, a phrase, a thought, even a sound - intended to provide clarity or spiritual guidance. A mantra can be especially helpful in the meditative process because it allows us to block out everything else while we focus.

It's fitting, then, that Marcus Aurelius would suggest this Stoic mantra - a reminder or watch phrase to use when we feel false impressions, distractions, or the crush of everyday life upon us. It says, essentially, "I have the power within me to keep that out. I can see the truth."

Change the wording as you like. That part is up to you. But have a mantra and use it to find the clarity you crave.

Jedi Knight

The average man is hooked to his fellow men, while the warrior is hooked only to infinity.
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29 Jan 2018 04:25 #313836 by Reacher
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January 27th
The Three Areas Of Training

There are three areas in which the person who would be wise and good must be trained. The first has to do with desires and aversions - that a person may never miss the mark in desires nor fall into what repels them. The second has to do with impulses to act and not to act - and more broadly, with duty - that a person may act deliberately for good reasons and not carelessly. The third has to do with freedom from deception and composure and the whole area of judgment, the assent our mind gives to its perceptions. Of these areas, the chief and most urgent is the first which has to do with the passions, for strong emotions arise only when we fail in our desires and aversions."
Epictetus, Discourses, 3.2.1-3a

Today, let's focus on the three areas of training that Epictetus laid out for us.

First, we must consider what we should desire and what we should be averse to. Why? So that we want what is good and avoid what is bad. It's not enough to just listen to your body - because our attractions often lead us astray.

Next, we must examine our impulses to act - that is, our motivations. Are we doing things for the right reasons? Or do we act because we haven't stopped to think? Or do we believe that we have to do something?

Finally, there is our judgment. Our ability to see things clearly and properly comes when we use our great gift from nature: reason.

These are three distinct areas of training, but in practice they are inextricably intertwined. Our judgment affects what we desire, our desires affect how we act, just as our judgment determines how we act. But we can't just expect this to happen. We must put real thought and energy into each area of our lives. If we do, we'll find real clarity and success.

Jedi Knight

The average man is hooked to his fellow men, while the warrior is hooked only to infinity.
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29 Jan 2018 04:31 #313838 by Reacher
Replied by Reacher on topic Stoic Meditations
January 28th
Watching The Wise

Take a good hard look at people's ruling principle, especially of the wise, what they run away from and what they seek out."
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 4.38

Seneca has said, "Without a ruler to do it against, you can't make crooked straight." That is the role of wise people in our lives - to serve as a model and inspiration. To bounce our ideas off and test our presumptions.

Who that person will be for you is up to you. Perhaps it's your father or your mother. Maybe it's a philosopher or a writer or a thinker. Perhaps WWJD (What would Jesus do?) is the right model for you.

But pick someone, watch what they do (and what they don't do), and do your best to do the same.

Jedi Knight

The average man is hooked to his fellow men, while the warrior is hooked only to infinity.
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30 Jan 2018 05:30 #314002 by Reacher
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January 29th
Keep It Simple

"At every moment keep a sturdy mind on the task at hand, as a Roman and a human being, doing it with strict and simple dignity, affection, freedom, and justice - giving yourself a break from all other considerations. You an do this if you approach each task as if it is your last, giving up every distraction, emotional subversion of reason, and all drama, vanity, and complaint over your fair share. You can see how mastery over a few things makes it possible to live an abundant and devout life - for, if you keep watch over these things, the gods won't ask for more."
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 2.5

Each day presents the chance to overthink things. What should I wear? Do they like me? Am I eating well enough? What's next for me in life? Is my boss happy with my work?

Today, let's focus just on what's in front of us. We'll follow the dictum that New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick gives his players: "Do your job." Like a Roman, like a good soldier, like a master of our craft. We don't need to get lost in a thousand other distractions or in other people's business.

Marcus says to approach each task as if it were your last, because it very well could be. And even if it isn't, botching what's right in front of you doesn't help anything. Find clarity in the simplicity of doing your job today.

Jedi Knight

The average man is hooked to his fellow men, while the warrior is hooked only to infinity.
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31 Jan 2018 02:18 #314107 by Reacher
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January 30th
You Don't Have To Stay On Top Of Everything

"If you wish to improve, be content to appear clueless or stupid in extraneous matters - don't wish to seem knowledgeable. And if some regard you as important,
distrust yourself."
Epictetus, Enchiridion, 13a

One of the most powerful thing you can do as a human being in our hyperconnected, 24/7 media would say is: "I don't know." Or, more provocatively, "I don't care." Most of society seems to have taken it as a commandment that one must know about every single current event, watch every episode of every critically acclaimed television series, follow the news religiously, and present themselves to others as an informed and worldly individual.

But where is the evidence that this is actually necessary? Is the obligation enforced by the police? Or is it that you're just afraid of seeming silly at a dinner party? Yes, you owe it to your country and your family to know generally about events that may directly affect them, but that's about all.

How much more time, energy, and pure brainpower would you have available if you drastically cut your media consumption? How much more rested and present would you feel if you were no longer excited and outraged by every scandal, breaking story, and potential crisis (many of which never come to pass anyway)?

Jedi Knight

The average man is hooked to his fellow men, while the warrior is hooked only to infinity.
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07 Feb 2018 21:04 #314739 by Reacher
Replied by Reacher on topic Stoic Meditations
February 7th
Fear Is A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

"Many are harmed by fear itself, and many may have come to their fare while dreading fate.
Seneca, Oedipus, 992

"Only the paranoid survive," Andy Grove, a former CEO of Intel, famously said. It might be true. But we also know that the paranoid often destroy themselves quicker and more spectacularly than any enemy. Seneca, with his access and insight into the most powerful elite in Rome, would have seen this dynamic play out quite vividly. Nero, the student whose excesses Seneca tried to curb, killed not only his own mother and wife but eventually turned on Seneca, his mentor, too.

The combination of power, fear, and mania can be deadly. The leader, convinced that he might be betrayed, acts first and betrays others first. Afraid that he's not well-liked, he works so hard to get others to like him that it has the opposite effect. Convinced of mismanagement, he micromanages and becomes the source of the mismanagement. And on and on - the things we fear or dread, we blindly inflict on ourselves.

The next time you are afraid of some supposedly disastrous outcome, remember that if you don't control your impulses, if you lose your self-control, you may be the very source of the disaster you so fear. It has happened to smarter and more powerful and more successful people. It can happen to us too.

Jedi Knight

The average man is hooked to his fellow men, while the warrior is hooked only to infinity.
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