Practical Stoicism
Practical Stoicism

Episode 24 · 2 months ago

How To Act

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

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

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Reach out to me with questions or thoughts : tanner@tannerhelps.com

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Welcome back to another episode of practical stoicism. I'm Tanner Campbell and before we start today, I'd like to answer a question that was submitted to me a couple of weeks ago but that I've only just seen. That question was why shouldn't we think about the future? I understand not thinking about the past, but I don't see a problem with thinking about the future. Stoicism doesn't tell us that thinking about the future is bad, only that worrying about the future in such a way that it causes us to act poorly in the present is bad. When we think about the future, we tend to be thinking, either, won't it be great if that happens, I'll be so happy, and then we get lost in this sort of daydream about what's next instead of paying attention to what is right now. That's bad, because being the best we can be right now takes our full attention. Or, on the other hand, we might be thinking about the future negatively. Oh No, that might happen. How can I avoid that happening? I don't want that to happen. Suddenly, our behavior in the press and becomes about avoiding something in...

...the future that we fear, but behavior in the present that is in service to a future, fear in service to avoiding one. That is isn't the sort of behavior one needs to express to be their best in the present. The president is all we really have, and by thinking too much about the past or the future, by being emotionally controlled by either, we exist outside of what the Buddhists would call the now and what the stoic simply called the present moment and then. Now is where and when everything we have control over is happening. So to the listener who had that question, I hope that this answer helps. And one last thing before we start. A listener reached out to me a few weeks ago and asked if they could write for the website. At first I was taken aback, surprised that anyone would want to volunteer to do such a thing, and after thinking about how I would like to have more stoic writing on the website other than just the podcast episode transcripts, I decided to give it a shot and to see how it went. So I would like to welcome Garon Jones to the volunteer writing staff, currently an army of him, and I'd like to invite any of you interested in...

...reading some of what he's written so far, to visit stoicism pod dot com, click on the blog link and the menu and see if some of Garin's writings appeal to you and maybe even comment on them, and let him know what you think and let me know what you think. Thanks. Today's meditation, the fifth from Book Three, is short, but my response to it will be long, so make sure you've got the time for this episode. My guess is it will be thirty minutes, and that's quite a bit longer than my average episode, so just letting you know upfront. It reads as follows. How to act, never under compulsion, out of selfishness, without forethought, with misgivings. Don't Gussie up your thoughts, no surplus words or unnecessary actions. Let the spirit in you represent a man, an adult citizen, a Roman, a ruler, taking up his position like a soldier and patiently awaiting his recall from life, needing no oaths or witnesses, cheerfulness without requiring other people's help or serenity supply by others. To stand up straight,...

...not straightened. Since this is a shorter meditation, I'm going to take it in chunks, which is why the episode is going to be a little bit longer than usual. Let's start with the first part. Never under compulsion, out of selfishness, without forethought, with misgivings. Well, this makes sense right. We don't want our actions to be actions we take because we are being forced to, nor should they be taken with selfish motivations. When we act, we should act freely and with the benefit of others in mind, or at least freely and without nothing but ourselves in mind. And here I think ourselves would mean our emotional desires. Here's a really simple example. Think of breakfast. Our emotional desire might be a stack of chocolate chip pancakes with a whip cream smiley face and strawberry eyeballs. But is that a good decision to make when we know the value of eating healthy and taking care of our bodies? Now, does that mean succumbing to desires is always bad? Now we've never covered book one of the mettations, because it's essentially a list of...

...thank yous to people in Marcus life and I'm not exactly sure how I would present that in a podcast. The episodes will be far too short. But one of those thank Yous I cannot remember to whom it was and I'm paraphrasing read I'm thankful that whenever I gave into my emotions, I was quick to recover. So perhaps there is a sort of controlled flirtation with our emotions when we know that stack of chocolate chip pancakes is the exception, not the rule. But we certainly know that not even Marcus, ever the teacher, thought it was possible to be perfect in this regard, or in any regard relative to stoicism. You will fail and you will recover and you will continue the effort moving forward. The next line says don't Gussie up your thoughts. My guess is this means don't lie to yourself, don't aggrandize your thoughts. Keep them simple, keep them straightforward, don't make yourself out to be in your own mind more than you are. Cut through the fluff and think in a way that is as reflective of reality as possible. Separate the signal of importance from the noise of emotion and self aggrandizement. The next line reads no surplus...

...words or unnecessary actions. I don't recall exactly where I heard it, but a long time ago, maybe twenty years or so someone said to me, or maybe I have sought in a movie or read it in a book. Never say anything that doesn't add value to the conversation. Now, I'll be the first to admit that I failed to do this frequently, but it is a nice aim to have. Before you speak, ask yourself, is what I'm about to say going to provide any value to the conversation I'm about to join or I am already a part of? If the answer is no, then why are you saying it? Is it in service to your ego? Do you want others to know how smart you are? Do you feel compelled to say something in order to fit in? If you can avoid saying things that are without substance, you may become known as someone who only speaks when there is something important to say. That could be a value. That would be a good thing for the future, but it would also be a good thing for the present, because you wouldn't be in using important issues with vapid...

...or useless thoughts and, on the other hand, if those important issues were in fact not important issues, by not interjecting thoughts into them, you wouldn't be participating in conversations which were not important. Let the spirit in you represent a man, an adult, a citizen, a Roman, a ruler, taking up his post like a soldier and patiently awaiting his recall from life, needing no oath or witness. Now I've already discussed that, because this has written thousands of years ago. We kind of have to forgive marcus for only speaking to men here. There are women who listen to this podcast. Some of them have reached out to me to let me know they're there, and I have said multiple times anyone can be STOIC, anyone can be interested in cultivating a more stoic lifestyle and mindset. so forgive the use of man here and know that I'm talking about men and women. This is actually something I struggle with immensely. What's discussed in this part of the meditation. There is...

...a chaotic like child inside of all of us and it can feel, when we suppress that chaotic child, that we are killing some part of ourselves to become, in Marcus's words, an adult. Can really feel like you're smothering some sort of innocence within yourself, some sort of whimsy or wide eyed wonder. But this is what the world requires. It requires people who show up with purpose and who believe it is their duty to do so. You're not just waking up to pass time. You're waking up to participate, to make change, to do your human job. You're waking up to discover your internal honeybee, to reference previous episodes and to inhabit it fully. For the sake of your community, for the sake of your family and those who depend on you, and for the sake of future generations. Everything we do that matters must be thought about in such a way that we are inspired to do our best in doing those things. Of course, as I've said in previous episodes and as stoics have said in their texts, it's never perfect. I probably...

...and tell you how many times I've wrapped up my night with a pixar movie or a Hio Miyazaki Film. In fact, right now, just last night, I bookmarked Netflix is the sea beast, which is a brand new animated film that just came out that is certainly intended for children. I watched cartoons and animated films all the time and I find them to be a comfort in a serious life. It's like a nice break, and there's a chance that Marcus would have thought of this as a childish waste of time, but, as I've said before, we know things about the human mind today that Marcus didn't two thousand or so years ago, things that he couldn't have known. Wasn't his fault. He couldn't have known these things. It is important, in my opinion, that our stoic practice be allowed to mature and change in ways that represent modern knowledge. Not Modern Morality, mind you, or modern opinions, but modern knowledge. There is this great scene from my childhood that I don't actually remember, but my mother told me about once and I'm going to share it with you now. We were on vacation as a family, somewhere, I don't know where, and my step grandfather, whose name was...

Walter Pickett and who was a Superior Court judge in Connecticut and the son of a Superior Court judge, was sitting on the edge of the hotel bed very early in the morning while the rest of us were asleep. My mother woke to the soft glow and low volume of the television stet but also to the quiet chuckles of my grandfather. Walter was a stoic man in many ways, a Yale graduate, a judge, a man's man who lived by the book, or at least this is how I remember him as a child, and my mother reinforces this memory. He was a serious man who did his best to think about serious things and he didn't have time for games. But in that moment, there he sat, illuminated by cable television in a Pre dawn hotel room, one sock on, one sock off, in the middle of getting ready for his day, watching and giggling at bugs bunny cartoons. And the point of me telling you that story, I guess, is to drive home the idea that all minds need a break, even the most stoic ones, and today we know that these sorts of lapses in intellectual severity, let's...

...call it, give our brains time to relax and breathe, and that that's actually important. So yes, show up like a soldier and stand your post, but when you get home it's probably okay to play a game with your kids or read a comic book by yourself or do something silly and without much intrinsic purpose. Your mind does need those sorts of things, sometimes cheerfulness without requiring other people's help, or serenity supplied by others. Marcus seems to be asking us to become islands here, and I'm not sure how I feel about that. On the one hand, we do want to construct a character so strong that even if everyone in our lives abandoned us, even if we were reduced to abject poverty and forced to live on the street, that even under those circumstances, we could maintain our STOIC practices, we could be so resilient and self sufficient that even the worst case scenarios couldn't rock our foundation, our...

Constitution, couldn't rob us of our happiness. There is a value in all of that, of course, and I don't think anyone could argue it, but it is a bit like the conundrum of avoiding falling in love because you don't want to risk the potential Hurd of your partner falling out of it. I'll say that in practicing gratitude, gratitude for being alive and your good fortune to draw breath and participate in this grand experience of life, one can show up cheerful to almost anything if they keep gratitude for those things in mind, and one can become so strong that they don't require help from anyone but the last part, to not require the serenities supplied by others. I'm less confident about being able to survive and live a good life without that. The idea of finding serenity only in yourself is alluring, but I don't know how practical it is. Humans are social creatures and friendships and relationships are important to us at a fundamental level. So the idea of not needing others to be cheerful,...

...you know, it's a nice idea, but I don't know that anyone can be truly cheerful, fully cheerful, without relationships. I'm afraid we're a bit too human for that. So I'm disagreeing with Marcus here a little bit. And then the last line is to stand up straight, not straightened. This line speaks to me loudly. There's this modern idea that no one gets anywhere on their own. You'll hear a lot of people say something like you didn't build that thing on your own. Pulling yourself up by your bootstraps isn't real, but I'm not so sure. I think there's a certain level of character we are all required to establish within ourselves that freese others of the need to prop us up. Others can prop us up, surely, and they do. Even once. We have that ability, the ability to prop ourselves up, to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, and have already done it, but to lack the metaphorical spine and muscle to stand on our own two feet is an almost unforgivable thing. To rely on others to do our standing for us, to fight our fights for us. That, to me is...

...again nearly unforgivable. Of course, this is metaphorical. Some people physically cannot stand, but in their minds, in their minds, they are as capable of developing resoluteness as any other man or woman, and I feel it is important to train that part of ourselves, as Marcus did, so that we are an ally to our fellow citizens and not a burden. I mean, is there anything worse, when assessing the character of a man or woman, when someone is capable of doing the thing themselves then lazing about such that others must do the thing for them? I don't think so. Marcus wants us to stand on our own two feet whenever we're able and to be able to as frequently as possible, and I agree with him. Thank you for listening to this week's episode of practical stoicism. I hope you found it useful. If you're enjoying the PODCAST, kindly consider leaving it a review on apple podcasts,...

...spotify podcast or PODCHASER DOT COM. If you have questions, you can always send them to tanner at Tanner helps dot com and I'll respond when I can. Again, thanks for being here. I appreciate your listenership and until next time, take care.

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