Practical Stoicism
Practical Stoicism

Episode 25 · 2 months ago

Don't Make Room For Anything Else


In this week's episode we'll be reading and going over the sixth meditation from Book Three of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius.

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Welcome back to practical stoicism. I'm your host, Tanner Campbell, and before we get started today, I have a favor to ask of you. It might seem a bit of an odd one, because it actually has nothing to do with this podcast or anything to do with stoicism. Instead, it has something to do with podcasts in general. Some of you may know at this point that my day job is in marketing and media and relates pretty directly to podcasting, and it is in this realm of concern that I'd like to ask for your help. It is currently possible to dishonestly influence podcast rankings by Hiring Shady podcast promotion companies to send automated traffic to subscribe to your show on Apple podcasts every day. This traffic isn't comprised of real people, it's composed of bots, and, because of the way that apple decides its charts, think of it like a billboard top one hundred, but specific to apple podcasts.

Anyone willing to spend money on this fake Bot traffic can game the charts. It's why sometimes you'll see podcasts trending that don't seem like they ought to be. Now, whether or not this practice. Has any benefit to those podcasters who do this is highly debatable, but in any case, I'm interested in working out the math of this scheme and using what I find in doing so to both disrupt the practice, because this is kind of like a marketing black market, and hopefully encourage apple to change from ranking based on downloads to ranking based on other metrics that are a little harder to fake. And I would appreciate it if you would read it. After reading it, if you think you want to help out, there's a form that's linked in that article that you can opt into. You don't have to, you would just be helping me out. Doesn't cost any money, it'll take a little bit of your time and it would just help me in my day job. And if you're into helping random podcasts, that usually podcasts about stoicism, if you're interested in...

...helping them with their day jobs, then please check it out. I would appreciate it. Otherwise, thanks for putting up with this completely unrelated to stoicism request. And let's get started with this week's meditation, which reads as follows. If at some point in your life you should come across anything better than justice, honesty, self control, courage than a mind satisfied that it has succeeded in enabling you to act rationally and satisfied to accept what's beyond its control. If you find anything better than that, embrace it without reservations, for it must be an extraordinary thing indeed, and enjoy it to the fullest. But if nothing presents itself that's superior to the spirit that lives within the one that has subordinated individual desires to itself, that discriminates among impressions, that has broken free of physical temptations, as socrates used to say, and subordinated itself to the Gods and looks out for human beings welfare. If you find that...

...there is nothing more important or valuable than that, then don't make room for anything else but that, for anything that might lead you astray, tempt you off the road and leave you unable to devote yourself completely to achieving the goodness that is uniquely yours. It would be wrong for anything to stand between you and detaining goodness as a rational being and as a citizen, anything at all. The applause of a crowd, high office, wealth or Self Indulgence, all of them might seem to be compatible with it for a while, but suddenly they control us and sweep us away. So make your choice straightforwardly, once and for all, and stick to it. Choose what's best. Best is what benefits me. As a rational being, then follow through. Or just as an animal, then say so and stand your ground without making a show of it. Just make sure that you've done your homework first. I...

...enjoy this meditation because it reminds us of what is at stake in our practice and, while the end of it does appear to get a bit too in rand for my taste, will clear that up in a few minutes. Marcus starts by telling us that if there is anything else out there that is better than what stoicism aims to provide us with, then truly we should take it. But this is somewhat facetious, surely, for as he lists the benefits of Stoicism, what could be better than justice, than honesty, than a mind you have a handle on and the serenity that comes from that? What could be better than possessing a tamed and settled mind? Is a crashing sea better than a placid, peaceful lake? Perhaps, for the purposes of teaching US lessons in life, but where would you prefer to build your home? On an island constantly overcome by tsunamis and storms, or on the shores of...

...a Serene Lake, of course, or perhaps the younger you are, the more you might say a roaring ocean full of storms and tsunamis sounds far more exciting than a boring old lakeside cabin. And it's not that you'd be wrong in thinking that, it's just that you'd be thinking that way for reasons you probably don't understand. When I was in my twenties, almost all of my twenties, I used to go to this friend's house of mine. She had a huge backyard because her father owned a fish hatchery. The foremost part of the property had big concrete fish tanks on it, but beyond those fish tanks, further back on the property, there was nothing but open land, and so for years friends and I would converge on that property pretty much every Friday, Saturday and Sunday for a roaring fire pit, lots of booze and general debauchery. My mind at the time was like a wild ocean and the things that I was concerned with. We're not finding inner tranquility aligning myself with nature, helping my fellow man. It was none of that. It was mostly...

...hedonistic. I wanted to have fun, I wanted to fit in, I wanted to be part of a group that thought I was cool. And what activities would help them think I was cool? Drinking, smoking, fighting, in some cases being fairly devil may care about life and just having a good time. But while it was fun in the moment, the anxiety I'd have in the morning about what mistakes I may have made the night before, whose feelings I may have hurt with what I might have said but don't remember saying, and the pounding headaches and the mileage on my body, in particular my liver and I suppose also my lungs. What was I really doing on those nights? What benefit was I becoming, never mind to others, just to myself? Were there some important lessons learned? Do I have happy memories of those nights? Of course, but could I have learned those same lessons in other ways? Could I have created different memories? Undoubtedly. As I got...

...older and my friend's father retired and sold that house and property, something became very apparent to me very quickly. These individuals that I've been spending years of my life with were not actually my friends, because when the drinking opportunities disappeared, so did the contact. The only time I saw any of these people, alcohol and drugs were at the center of the reason we were together. It's not that we didn't like each other or that we didn't enjoy each other's company, it's that we had no real meaningful relationship outside of our shared enjoyment of getting trashed. Did I waste my twenties in a way? I think I probably did. It was fun, but bringing it back to Marcus now, was it better than the development of the things he mentions? Absolutely not. In retrospect, it would have been much better for me, for my family, for my relationships, if I'd gone to bed at nine PM, abstained from heavy drinking, or maybe drinking and hirely, abstained from drugs and...

...put more of an effort and focus into developing my mind and myself. But as Nestor said to Agamemnon, the Gods give us everything, but never all at once. I had energy and youthful spirit back then. I don't have those things now, not as much anyway. But I did not have foresight and wisdom, and one could easily argue that without all the partying, I couldn't have ever come to have certain thoughts or realizations. And so, for that reason, being young and thoughtless could be a critical part of becoming old and wise. After all, we accept this of struggle and suffering right, we accept pretty much that's struggling and suffering are things that are needed to learn, to succeed, to become well rounded. You've probably heard the expression success is a terrible teacher, whereas the more challenge you have in your life, the more resilient you can become, the more lessons you can learn, the more wise you can become and probably the more successful you can become. So perhaps I did not waste my twenties. Perhaps my twenties were what needed to...

...happen in order for me to think as I do today. I can't be certain, but here we are. Once you've had whatever experiences you need to have in order to be wise enough to ask the question which is better, I suppose that's when your life really starts, and once you know to ask that question and once you know how to answer it. Marcus suggests that we make no room for anything else, and why would we, once we realize how much more complete, contented and peaceful our lives can be, once we discover what is required to make that happen, why would we make room in our lives for anything that worked against the creation of such a reality, of such a life? Now, practically, I don't think that means you can't have the occasional night out or have too much to drink sometimes. It just means don't forget what you're not doing when you prioritize the night out over the other things and AF to words for the sake of not losing any time.

Get right back to the cultivation of a calm mind and a life in service to your fellow human beings and in alignment with nature. Now the last part, best is what benefits me. I did a little digging because it felt off for Marcus. I would suspect that Marcus would say best is what benefits the cultivation of virtue, but not best is what benefits me. That seems a little bit too direct, maybe thoughtless in the wording, and so I thought I would look at a couple of other translations, because I assume there was a translational decision made with this phrase and there was probably a different one available somewhere else. So I turned to the original text and found a few other translations, and here's the last bit of this meditation, as translated by George Long. Remember, the translations we read from are from Gregory Hayes, a relatively recent translation. All these things, even though they may seem to adapt themselves to the better things in a small degree, obtain the superiority all... once and carry us away. But do thou, I say, simply and freely. Choose the better. But that which is useful is the better. Well then, if it is useful to thee as a rational being, keep it, but if it is only useful to thee as an animal, say so and maintain THY judgment without arrogance. Only take care, thou makest the inquiry by a sure method. So He's not saying that which benefits me, rather that which is more useful, that which allows for me to become more in alignment with nature, more able to help my fellow man, more able to be useful, not best for me, but best in the short and long terms for others. I think that's a noble aspiration to have and quite a bit different than doing just what's good for me. Thanks for listening... today's episode. I appreciate you spending time here every weekend with me and I'm glad you enjoy the podcast. Remember if you're willing to help me with my podcast experiment, there is a link in the show notes to learn more. Thanks again for listening. I hope you have a great day and until next time, take care.

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