Practical Stoicism
Practical Stoicism

Episode 27 · 1 month ago

Strive For The Ideal, Don't Expect It


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


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Good morning, per Copton, and welcome back to practical stoicism. Before we get started, I want to remind you that if you are hearing this message where the ad that preceded it, it means you are not subscribed to the AD, free preamble, free straight to the point version of this podcast. That version skips the upfront pleasantries, which I'll admit I rather like. It also skips the ADS and gets well straight to the point. It is just six dollars a month and it includes this neat little feature that allows me to answer your questions directly and push those answers in audio form to your podcast player, and your podcast player only. And that's a feature I've been enjoying using listener door gene, and I hope I've pronounced that correctly. Door gene submitted a question last week and got a custom episode all about their question, along with my answer and thoughts, delivered directly and solely to them. I think it's a pretty cool way of being in better service to all of you,...

...and it's a way for you all to support me in trying to put more of a full time effort and energy into the practical stoicism project. The more reliable income I can draw from producing this show, the more time I can dedicate to making it better and doing more with it. If you think that mission is important, as I do, and you'd like to be a part of it, you can click on the first link in the show notes of this episode to learn more and with that. Today's meditation is the Eighth of book three and reads as follows the mind of one set straight and purified. No PUSS, no dirt, no scabs and not a life cut short by death, like an actor who stops before the play is done. The plot wound up. Neither servility nor arrogance, neither cringing nor disdain, neither excuses nor evasions. First, I want to admit that when I initially read this meditation, I did not know what the word servility meant, and so,...

...if perhaps you are like me in the sense that you might be unblessed with an omnipotent vocabulary, I'll define it here by saying that it means an excessive willingness to serve and please others, which, based on previous texts we've discussed here on practical stoicism, you should know we try to avoid doing so. What is Marcus saying to us in this short meditation? Well, first, while it is short, that actually makes it a bit challenging to interpret, at least for me. So, as always, I will do my best. Marcus sets out these three stages of an infection, dirt leading to PUSS, leading to healing, and then scabs and scars. I don't think he's suggesting that minds in general don't have metaphorical scars, rather that once a mind has been set straight, once it has accepted stoic principles and has been traveling along that path for a while, that it no longer creates new instances of these things. And I think this is marcus being more aspirational than prescriptive here,...

...because of course, as we've said before, no man or woman of Stoicism is a stage, and to suggest that you reach a point where you have obtained a purified mind that never again becomes unpurified, well, that sort of flies in the face of that idea. And I don't want to opine too much here, but I know that while a good procopton trying his best to walk the path, I sometimes get into moods and write my emotions. This meditation can come off. In fact, I think it does come off as a little elitist. What Marcus is saying does make sense, but it feels almost like he might have been having a little bit of a Moody Day when he wrote it, as if perhaps he just had a run in with someone that made him think, how could a person be this way, and then went right to his journal. To be clear, I'm not saying that's what happened, I'm just thinking out loud. But back to the main train of thought. Dirt Causes Infection. In actions lead to Puss, wounds lead... scabs and scars, so marcus is telling us. If we don't allow the dirt in, let's say that dirt is festering thoughts, poor actions, the sorts of things we've been discussing on this podcast since January of this year, then infections cannot start and thus scabs and scars cannot form. Of course, this is all metaphorical, right. We're talking about problematic areas in our psyche, in our STOIC practice, in our philosophical practice. We want that to be as pristine as possible. The Meditation continues and not a life cut short by death, like an actor who stops before the play is done, a plot wound up. Now I know what he's saying here, but this is a great place to point out that there are multiple translations of the meditations and none of them, in my opinion, get it correct. The copy that I read from, which is linked in every episode show notes, is my favorite modern edition, but I think it's worth reading another interpretation of this...

...entire meditation. And here it is. In the understanding of a man's chastened and purified spirit. You will find no trace of festering wound, no ulceration, no abscess beneath the skin. The hour of fate does not surprise his life before it's fulfillment, so that one would say that the actor is leaving the stage before he has fulfilled his role, before the play is over. You will find nothing servile or artificial, no dependence on others or severance from them, nothing to account for, nothing that needs a hole to hide in. Now that's a bit wordier right, and as a practical stoic you might see why I prefer haze to Farquiston from whom that translation I just ready comes. But in this case it is perhaps easier to get at Marcus meaning by reading Farquisen's words, the hour of fate does not surprise his life before it's fulfillment, so that one would say the actor is leaving the stage before he...

...has fulfilled his role, before the play is over. The suggestion is that a stoics life is always fulfilled and we are ready to die at any moment, because we live every day as if the next one is not promised. If we die on a Tuesday, well that is a fine day to die, as is a Thursday or a Sunday, and no one, because of how we live, can say things of us like they died before they could do the things which were important to them, or what a pity they died before they grew into the person they desperately wanted to become, because we do those things every day and we become the best versions of ourselves every day, or at least we do those things so often that even if we die on a day we've not behaved particularly stoically, we're still prepared for that day because of how we've lived most of our days. You will find nothing servile or artificial, no dependence on others or severance from them, nothing to account for,...

...nothing that needs a hole to hide in. That's Farquason's version and Hayes version again, is neither servility nor arrogance, neither cringing nor disdain, neither excuses nor evasions, the point being that in our dealings we as stoics. You find us not cow towing, not bowing and scraping, but also not dismissive or unkind, unfair or condescending, and, reaching back to last week's episode, without the need to hide our feelings, because we're not ashamed of them. They are not artificial, nor are they things we wouldn't say out loud in front of our entire town. This meditation is, in my opinion, very aspirational, and I think it's important for you to keep that in mind. This is an ideal we strive for but never reach. Does that mean we instead should strive for mediocrity or encourage others to strive for mediocrity,...

...because no one can be perfect? Do we encourage half measures because perfection isn't possible? No, it means we strive to be the first stage, while having a clear understanding that our quest is not impossible. That effort is part of, if not all, of what it means to be a STOIC. Thank you for listening to this week's episode of practical stoicism. I hope you've enjoyed it. If you have enjoyed it, I would very much appreciate you leaving a five star review on Apple Podcast, spotify podcast or pot chaser dot com. If you would like to support what I'm doing here again, please check the first link in the show notes to subscribe to the premium version of this podcast. It cuts out the preamble stuff, the ADS and get straight to the point. Thank you again very much for listening. I hope you have a great weekend and until next time, take care. WOT is fully... the point, a two T.

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