Yesterday’s reflections blew up, but today I didn’t feel like returning to my usual sources of aphorisms. Instead, I began reading the Meditations, and it is from them that I will draw today’s focus.
Begin the morning by saying to yourself, I shall meet with the busybody, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial.Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
I’ve heard this statement by Marcus Aurelius before, but I’d never seen it in the context of the work.
At first, this could look even to be a cynical statement, since there’s a definite negative tone to it.
However, it comes at the start of the second chapter of Meditations, and in context it takes on a different light:
The first chapter of Meditations is focused on thanksgiving and praise of others (as well as tracing the emperor’s personal development).
In this sense, I don’t think it’s fair to say that Marcus Aurelius is complaining here, he’s preparing himself.
I have to do a similar thing before going to the gym, especially if I’ve let myself get out of the habit. I’m not much for physical activity (I fight hard battles with inertia), and when I lost a lot of weight I had to do it by dieting and just not letting myself have access to things I shouldn’t have.
The power of a statement like this is that it’s a memento mori, a reminder of mortality. There will never be a perfect day, but nobody has ever had a perfect day. There will be a limitation or an obstacle or an inconvenience, or maybe even an actual threat or danger or serious loss.
That doesn’t mean that one forgets everything else.
The Stoics, of whom Marcus Aurelius is a leading figure, were philosophical thinkers who believed heavily in the role of contemplation and preparation.
By making oneself confront suffering and loss before it happens, one is able to bear it better when it occurs.
The positive element here is that one looks over everything that will occur, and in the end comes to the following conclusion:
Life will be full of pain. My goals may be impossible. My dreams may crumble. Those I love may be taken from me. But I can remain myself, and I can carry myself well under the weight. It is better to suffer nobly and live in reality than it is to flee to fantasy and escape.
Do not overlook the importance of confronting suffering.
Remember that the goal is to be the best me, not someone impossibly great.
Make efforts to be grateful for that which rises above the dross.