Friday, March 25, 2016

Thoughts on Book 1

Today, I want to talk about the first book of Meditations.

When's the last time we thought about why we are thankful for people in our lives? Sure, we may be thankful for our parents and loved ones, but how many of us can sit down and say why, exactly, we are? I sure as hell couldn't.

That's why, even though it's a little boring, the first book is, when considered all at once, one of the more interesting books. He was able to sit and list various people in his life and consider what it was that made them so important.

It isn't just that his mother was his mother that he was thankful. He accredits her for teaching him reverence, generosity, and living simply. He thanks his great-grandfather for teaching him the importance of good private tutors. He even thanks a man named Rusticus for showing him he needed to learn discipline, a man he later states he was often upset with.

Isn't that interesting? He thanks people that, with good odds, butted heads with him often. When's the last time we felt thankful for people in life that upset us that much? Never, I'm willing to say.

And get a load of some of the things he thanks the gods for:

  • that he had a good family
  • that he didn't lose his virginity too early (and as he puts it, delayed losing it)
  • that he wasn't more talented in rhetoric or poetry, because if he had improved, he wouldn't have given them up
  • that his body held out
  • that he never did anything to Rusticus (you know, the one that pissed him off) that he would have regretted
  • that his mother spent her last few years with him, despite dying young
  • that he could always lend money without worrying about being told no
  • that he had dreams that helped him cure illnesses he had
  • and, lastly, “All things for which 'we need the help of fortune and the gods.'”

This is why I have a hard time thinking that Marcus was as depressed as some made him sound. Someone that takes the time to be thankful for so much had to realize a reason for thankfulness. This was a man that was thankful for putting off the loss of his virginity, something I think would surprise most young men these days.

I think, even if we read no other part of this book, we can learn more than enough from this.

It got me to wondering, though. Did he write this part all at once? The rest of the books was sort of like an undated journal, him just writing when the fancy hit him. I wonder if he does the same for this book. Was it written over time? One week? One year? An hour? Who knows.

I think we can all learn something here about being thankful. Here was the most powerful man in Rome thanking others for teaching him a sense of humor or showing strength in illness. And yet we of lesser status get mad that the fast food clerk forgot a packet of ketchup.


So, who can we be thankful for in life?

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

On East and West

I was listening to the radio, which in of itself is nothing special. I heard a song about some guy who had found new life in Christ, but was afraid of his old self coming back and ruining all that. He asks, “How far is east from west?”

The man was singing and said that the difference was from one hand to the other. But I don't quite think that hits the mark. Why? Because vice and virtue (as well as sin and righteousness) is a journey, not one side or the other. How far is east from west?

One single step.

One step is all that's needed to go from one direction to another. You don't even have to turn around: even walking backwards counts.

I feel that this is the way the path of virtue is. It's long and narrow. It only goes one way. And, as it turns out, a lot of things like to block that path.

Little wonder, then, it's so tiring and hard to become a Sage, to be like Christ, this, that, and the other thing. It's far easier to turn around, find another way, go around, whatever, than it is to keep on the path. And I think Stoics have it harder than the Christians. At least Christians believe there's a reward at the end. A Stoic without religion, atheist or theist, doesn't have that same promise.

Thankfully, the path of virtue will always be there, waiting for us to get back on it. It doesn't blame us for taking an easier path from time to time. It knows that if we are truly good people, we'll admonish ourselves for taking the paths of vice. And if we aren't that good, well, that by itself is its own punishment.


How far is virtue from vice? The same distance between east and west.

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