A week ago, I moved into my new flat in Wroław, Poland. Moving to a new city and new country is exciting and stimulating. The new surroundings, new people, and new routine can be overwhelming if not properly processed with reflection and spiritual balancing. After some days of diving into it all, I thought it would be a good time to revisit the work of Marcus Aurelius and immerse myself once again in the wisdom of his Meditations.
In Book VIII of Mediations, Marcus Aurelius writes abundantly about pain and pleasure. In true stoic fashion, he suggests a neutral take on both. Succumbing to the reactive feelings of either is a trap of one’s own mind and not in the nature of the stimuli itself. The strength of the mind is in bearing pain or pleasure and not to be consumed by it.
Marcus Aurelius again touches upon fame, specifically posthumous fame. He questions why people seek posthumous fame if the people of the future will have the same dispositions as people in the present.
Be not perturbed, for all things are according to the nature of the universal; and in a little time thou wilt be nobody and nowhere. (5)
Thou hast not leisure or ability to read. But thou hast leisure or ability to check arrogance: thou hast leisure to be superior to pleasure and pain: thou hast leisure to be superior to love of fame, and not to be vexed at stupid and ungrateful people, nay even to care for them. (8)
Pleasure then is neither good nor useful. (10)
That which has died falls not out of the universe. If it stays here, it also changes here, and is dissolved into its proper parts, which are elements of the universe and of thyself. And these too change, and they murmur not. (18)
Everything exists for some end, a horse, a vine. Why dost thou wonder? Even the sun will say, I am for some purpose, and the rest of the gods will say the same. For what purpose then art thou? to enjoy pleasure? See if common sense allows this. (19)
Pain is either an evil to the body- then let the body say what it thinks of it- or to the soul; but it is in the power of the soul to maintain its own serenity and tranquility, and not to think that pain is an evil. For every judgement and movement and desire and aversion is within, and no evil ascends so high. (28)
Wipe out thy imaginations by often saying to thyself: now it is in my power to let no badness be in this soul, nor desire nor any perturbation at all; but looking at all things I see what is their nature, and I use each according to its value.- Remember this power which thou hast from nature. (29)
Receive wealth or prosperity without arrogance; and be ready to let it go. (33)
Do not disturb thyself by thinking of the whole of thy life. Let not thy thoughts at once embrace all the various troubles which thou mayest expect to befall thee: but on every occasion ask thyself, What is there in this which is intolerable and past bearing? For thou wilt be ashamed to confess. In the next place remember that neither the future nor the past pains thee, but only the present. But this is reduced to a very little, if thou only circumscribest it, and chidest thy mind, if it is unable to hold out against even this. (36)
It is not fit that I should give myself pain, for I have never intentionally given pain even to another. (42)
See that thou secure this present time to thyself: for those who rather pursue posthumous fame do consider that the men of after time will be exactly such as these whom they cannot bear now; and both are mortal. And what is it in any way to thee if these men of after time utter this or that sound, or have this or that opinion about thee? (44)
Nothing can happen to any man which is not a human accident, nor to an ox which is not according to the nature of an ox, nor to a vine which is not according to the nature of a vine, nor to a stone which is not proper to a stone. If then there happens to each thing both what is usual and natural, why shouldst thou complain? For the common nature brings nothing which may not be borne by thee. (46)
If thou art pained by any external thing, it is not this thing that disturbs thee, but thy own judgement about it. And it is in thy power to wipe out this judgement now. But if anything in thy own disposition gives thee pain, who hinders thee from correcting thy opinion? And even if thou art pained because thou art not doing some particular thing which seems to thee to be right, why dost thou not rather act than complain? (47)
The mind which is free from passions is a citadel, for man has nothing more secure to which he can fly for, refuge (48)
One key lesson is to not fall into the trap of feelings as they arise from pleasure and pain, but to understand the natural reactions and direct them with the mind. This helps to steer the individual to his or her purpose which Marcus Aurelius deems the natural path set by the universe.