Practical Stoicism
Practical Stoicism

Episode 18 · 1 month ago

Don't degrade yourself by not having a purpose

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

If you'd like to get a free copy of the ebook, signup here: https://tannerhelps.formaloo.net/rg3ce -- This week we're working through Meditation 16 from Book 2 of The Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. -- "The human soul degrades itself:

Above all, when it does its best to become an abscess, a kind of detached growth on the world. To be disgruntled at anything that happens is a kind of secession from Nature, which comprises the nature of all things.

When it turns its back on another person or sets out to do it harm, as the souls of the angry do.

When it is overpowered by pleasure or pain

When it puts on a mask and does or says something artificial or false

When it allows its action and impulse to be without a purpose, to be random and disconnected: even the smallest things ought to be directed toward a goal. But the goal of rational beings is to follow the rule and law of the most ancient of communities and states."

-- Meditations: A New Translation (the book I read these meditations from) --> [link]

Happy Monday would seem, I am a bit late. I'm sorry about that. For those of you who don't know which is which, is most of you. I travel a lot of my line of work. I speak at and to tend conferences within the podcasting space, and in these last three weeks in particular, I've been in both Las Vegas, Nevada and Austin, Texas. I do try my best to record even when traveling, but some days it's just not possible, and my most recent trip to Austin was an example of that. So I'm a couple of days late and I'm hopeful you won't hold that against me for too long. On that subject, I should mention that I will be traveling again may twenty three through June second, this time to Orlando Florida. If my count is right, however, we'll have finished book two at that point, and so I will likely take a Saturday or two off so that the first meditation of Book Three Won't be recorded in an Orlando hotel room with sounds of Harry Potter's village or Star Wars blasting through the...

...windows in the background. And on that subject, and Man Oh man, I know I'm really front loading this one. I'm sorry. I wanted to let you know that I'll be compiling a book of book one, which again we're going to finish this upcoming Saturday. Now, this book is going to be both an ebook available on kindle and Amazon, as well as a print book. My hope is that these publications will provide a handy companion to the PODCAST, as they aren't just going to contain what you've already heard in the podcast, but are going to contain those thoughts and an expansion of those thoughts on each meditation of Book One. If you sign up to the list linked in the show notes of this episode, you'll receive a copy of the Ebook for free, no strings attached, just free. It is my gift to you for helping me to make this project such a success so quickly. Now it's my intention going forward to do this with each book from the Meditations as we complete them together. Again, the EBOOK will be free to anyone who...

...signs up for the list in the show notes of this episode and I'm looking forward to getting it to you. This week's meditation is the second to last of book two and it reads as follows. The human soul degrades itself. One, above all, when it does its best to become an abscess, a kind of detached growth on the world. To be disgruntled at anything that happens is a kind of secession from nature, which comprises the nature of all things. To, when it turns its back on another person or sets out to do it harm, as the souls of the angry do. Three, when it is overpowered by pleasure or pain, for when it puts on a mask and does or says something artificial or false. And Five, when it allows its action and impulse to be without a purpose, to be random and disconnected. Even the smallest things ought to be directed toward a goal, but the goal of rational beings is to follow the rule and law of the most...

...ancient of communities and states. For me, mostly, this reads like a dream. It is, I think, what we all believe in moments when we are at our best. The first item of this meditation says that human souls degrade themselves when they do their best to become an absess a kind of detached growth on the world. Think of your potential, imagine yourself as the best version of you, whatever you can imagine that to be, and imagine all that version of you might be capable of. Now look at the opposite of that, look at the worst version of you, and you've probably been this at some point in your past. You'll know if you have been. I know I have been, and imagine all the things that version isn't doing. Marcus is simply reminding us here that we do a disservice not only to ourselves but to the world when we don't effort to be the best versions of ourselves. We shouldn't be sad that we aren't better, we should be sad...

...that we aren't more impactful, more helpful. I've always found it useful to frame my lapses in ambition and focus like that, by saying, tanner, stop being lazy, stop feeling sorry for yourself. This isn't about you, it's about everyone else. If you continue on like this, you'll not help anyone. And what could be a better use of your life than to make the lives of others better? And what could be a worse use of your life than not when it turns its back on another person or sets out to do it harm? We all know this too, don't we? We know that when we are angry enough to be cruel to another person, to do physical harm to another person, that we are not, in that moment, great at all. And how often have you said something mean or done something mean, only to feel terrible about it the following day? Remember, in the early part of book too, there was a quote that when something like...

...human beings are meant to work together, like the rows of teeth upper and lower, turning away from someone in need is not that, and neither is bringing violence to someone who you feel deserves it. Those actions are antithetical to the idea of working together and participating in the world in a constructive way, when it is overpowered by pleasure or pain. Now, I will openly admit that in my younger years, and especially in my s, I had many vices. I drank excessively, I partied almost daily, and at no point ever was there a morning I didn't wake up regretting the largest portions of my actions from the night before. What did I say? Did I make a fool of myself? Did I get into a fight? Did I hurt someone's feelings? How close did I come to jail or even death? Why did I treat those people that way? Did I think I was cool? That wasn't cool, that was wrong. I would ask myself questions like this almost...

...every morning. But in spite of that, there's an addiction to this kind of behavior, at least I've found that there is. There's an addiction to a life of hedonistic individual fun and irreverence, and it is so easy to get caught up in it and only regret it later, but then get caught up in it again the next weekend, as if you've learned no lessons. I have no idea why we collectively do this. I think everyone listening can probably identify with some of the things I just said, but for me I think it's because we haven't shifted our focus and begun to think about our potential in an outward fashion. For me, again, this is just me speaking about my own experience, as I'm not trying to tell you what you should be feeling. But for me, those good times were all about me, and in the morning I'd be empty again and I'd wonder why none of that fun and irreverency kind of carried over to positive energy in the morning, you know, hangovers notwithstanding. It wasn't until I went to Haiti in late two thousand and eleven as part of an organized relief effort in response to the earthquake...

...that I realized, as I said before, this life isn't mostly about what I can do for myself, it's what I can do to help others. The fulfillment and purpose that comes from having helped another person move forward or improve or, as was the case in Haiti, gain access to clean drinking water is greater than that provided by any selfish or self indulgent action that we could possibly undertake. For me, that trip was like a seed. It took, admittedly, a few more years to pull myself out of my bad habits and behaviors, but a beginning is a necessary thing. You have to start somewhere. When it puts on a mask or does or says something artificial or false, as a teenager and well into my s, I spoke falsehoods a lot, and falsehoods is just a really, you know, fancy way of saying I lied a lot. I told a lot of lies. This was usually rooted in a selfconscious fear, but sometimes it was done to avoid trouble...

...or judgment. And I don't know if you can identify, but all that lying does something to us eventually. It creates a reality that you can't that we can't keep straight in our own heads anymore, and it eats us up, and the longer we go, the worst the crash is when it's finally too much for us to keep up anymore. For me personally, that crash was very literal. It happened when I was twenty eight and I chose to drive home after drinking an obscene amount of ram at a house party. And when I say an obscene amount of rum, I mean almost an entire handle of captain Morgan Spiced Rum. Before I left, some of my friends did ask if I needed a ride and I told them I was fine because at that age I was proud of how much I could drink and how well I could drive in spite of how much I had to drink, and I had driven drunk many, many times. I had built up this version of me, even in my own head, that wasn't real in reality. I just wanted people to think I was cool. I wanted to be popular, and for me, that manifested is being a party guy who was impervious to alcohol...

...and who did whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted and never paid attention to the rules or any kind of authority figure. On the drive home that night, I fell asleep behind the wheel and rolled my truck on a back road in Wellington, Florida, next to, somewhat ironically, a volunteer fire department station that was closed. Fortunately, because of how late it was, I was the only one involved. That was very lucky. I was also the only one hurt and, in what seemed like a miracle, the morning after, no one who responded to the scene thought to test me for alcohol, meaning I didn't get a Dui for that crash, meaning I had dodged a life altering bullet, and I'd also been very lucky to survive the crash. It was a pretty intense roll. Over, everything that led up to that moment was a result of me creating an artificial version of myself for the sake of my own ego and the appeasement of others, and Marcus is right.

I degraded myself by doing that, and it is a dangerous thing to do, to degrade oneself long term or at all, when it allows its action and impulse to be without purpose. Purpose is the only thing that allows an individual to escape a life of self centered focus and what I call nihilistic hedonism, as the in nothing matters and it's all for fun. Now you just heard my story. Obviously I have this opinion because in large part due to my personal story, but I know this plays out for others as well. I've had a lot of conversations about it with a lot of people. I was that nihilistic hedonist. Nothing really mattered. I'm an atheist still today and I was an atheist then. Nothing really mattered because, you know, there's No God, there's no afterlife. Morality is all subjective, it's all relative, and I still think those things, but I think of them in much more mature ways than I did when I was in my s. But the...

...moment you have a purpose that is greater than yourself, that's the first step to escaping what I've come to perceive as an incredibly unfulfilling sort of hell on earth. Because what can a person do to become fulfilled other than to be in service to their community or to another person or to other people or to a calling that is about more than just them? And I'm not saying you have to be religious to identify or find this, but I feel like you need something that is more than just you, and if you're not doing that, if you're not finding a way to be in service to something greater than yourself, then what are you really doing? Thanks for listening to this episode of practical stoicism. I hope you enjoyed it. Thanks to everyone who has reviewed this podcast. We have a perfect five point of rating on Apple podcast and spotify podcast and over two hundred individual ratings and reviews combined. If you've...

...not yet reviewed the PODCAST, I love it if you did, and don't forget to sign up for the Free Ebook the show notes and until next time, take care,.

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