Practical Stoicism
Practical Stoicism

Episode 15 · 5 months ago

The Present Moment


To help me decide how to continue, please weigh in using this form: -- This week we're working through Meditation 14 from Book 2 of The Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. -- “Even if you’re going to live three thousand more years, or ten times that, remember: you cannot lose another life than the one you’re living right now, or live another one than the one you’re losing. The longest life amounts to the same as the shortest. The present is the same for everyone, its loss is the same for everyone; and it should be clear that a brief instant is all that is lost. For you can’t lose either the past or the future; how could you lose what you don’t have? Remember two things:

That everything has always been the same, and keeps recurring, and it makes no difference whether you see the same things recur in a hundred years or two hundred, or in an infinite period;

That the longest-lived, and this who will die the soonest, lose the same thing. The present is all that they can give up, since that is all they have, and what you do not have you cannot lose.”

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

Happy weekend to you. Glad to have you back. We're only a couple of meditations away from the end of book two and I wanted to check in with you before continuing this morning, specifically about what it is you might prefer beyond the end of book two. My plan was to continue to book three, but we don't have to do that if that's not what most people want. My plan has been, after completing all the books of the meditations, to move on to Seneca and then epictetus. Seneca gives us kind of a more modern break, and I mean that's kind of funny, since it's still a long time ago, but when compared to epictetis, which is going to get more archaic timewise than a really US Seneca can feel fresher, I guess, newer, more modern. But now that we're close to the end of book to I'm wondering what you might prefer. Would you rather I stay the course and get through all of the meditations of Marcus Aurelius, or that I take a break from Marcus for a while to perhaps move on to Seneca or epictetis? So there's a link in the show notes of this episode that goes... a one question survey. Now, don't worry, I'm not going to need your email address or anything. It's just a simple yes or no question, and your answer to that question could help me decide whether or not to stick with Marcus or to move on to Seneca. For a while now. I would ask, please, that you actually click that link and participate in this, unless you don't care either way, because I am going to make my decision based on the results of that poll. So I'll give it a week. Right, I'll give it the full week before I decide what to do next Saturday. And with that, let's get onto this week's meditation, which is a little longer and reads as follows. Even if you're going to live three thousand more years or ten times that, remember you cannot lose another life than the one you're living right now, or live another life than the one you're losing. The longest life amounts to the same as the shortest. The present is the same for everyone. It's loss is the same for everyone, and it should be clear that a brief instant is all that is lost,...

...for you cannot lose either the past nor the future. How could you lose what you do not have. Remember two things. One, that everything has always been the same and keeps recurring, and it makes no difference whether you see the same things recur in a hundred years or two hundred or in an infinite period. Number two, that the longest lived and those who will die the soonest lose the same thing. The present is all they can give up, since that is all they have, and what you do not have you cannot lose. Of all the meditations thus far, this one rings the most eastern to me. I don't know if you'll agree, but early at the outside of this podcast, I remark something about how stoicism is reminiscent of a less spiritual, more logical form of Buddhism. I made that comparison early on. I think I might have also said something like the two are good bed fellows or something like that. There have been multiple examples along the episodes we've done thus far where that has been clear, but I don't think any...

...have been as clear as this one. Marcus is telling us in his way to live in the moment, because the moment is all we really possess and that is an infinitesimal amount of time. That has already been lost a thousand times since you started listening. Just to this podcast episode just this week, you've lost millions of moments and they will never return. If it hasn't struck you yet, I hope it's going to strike you in this episode. One of the core tenets of stoicism is paying attention, and the reason for that is if you're not paying attention, you miss the moment, you miss the tiny fraction of time that you have the power to act, do and be, and once that moment is gone, you have already failed to act, failed to do and failed to be, at least failed to be with intention. The STOIC sage waste no time. Is Ever ready to make of the moment the most they can and spend no time dwelling on the past or worrying...

...about the future, for both of those things are either out of their possession or beyond the scope of their control. There is only this very moment, and there it goes and here it is again. Of course, no one is perfect, and that is why all practicing stoics are precoptons and not sages. Marcus wasn't a sage, epictetus wasn't a sage. Seneca wasn't a sage. Not Even Zeno was a sage, and there hasn't ever been one, and I think that is where this western philosophy differs sharply from its eastern counterpart. In Buddhism there was a perfect enlightened being, there was the Buddha, and he attained spiritual oneness on earth sitting, if I recall correctly, under a tree, and it was during his living life. In stoicism, at least as far as I'm aware and everything I've ever read, there is no such person and there isn't expected ever to be one. There is only the path of trying and improving, of effort and participation and work, and this... likely the greatest difference between Buddhism and stoicism from a high level, and I often like in that difference to these old Kung Fu movies. I don't know if you're a fan of Little Kung Fu movies. I kind of like them, but it's common where you'll talk about soft styles of martial arts and hard styles of martial arts. Buddhism, in this strange comparison I'm making, seems like a soft style of philosophy and stoicism seems like a hard style, but ultimately, at least in my opinion, their aims are so very often the same that practicing either of them is likely to bring a lot of benefit to your life, and this can be kind of off putting for people coming to stoicism. It's why I made this podcast, because the immediate first impression of Stoicism is of that hard style. It's not necessarily pull yourself up by your bootstraps, suck it up, buttercup, but it can feel that way and it can especially feel that way when moderns use stoic language and reference stoicism when talking that way, which is another reason I started this podcast, because...

...that bothers me. But truthfully, when compared to Buddhism, yes, stoicism does seem to be more of a hard style and I think that's ultimately again why some people either are put off from it initially or ultimately decide that a softer style is more their style. And I think you do see a lot of respect among Buddhists for stoicism because they notice that similarity and vice versa. But I think you'll find that people who gravitate towards Buddhism just aren't looking to be as I'm going to use the term on all the time, as stoicism kind of encourages you to be. And again that is one of the most intimidating parts of Stoicism, is that it is a constant effort. I mean, listen to some of the language that I'm using here. Just a moment ago I said there is only the path of trying and improving, of effort and participation and work. Some people just want to chill sometimes they don't want to have to give constant participation in work, and stoicism makes the suggestion that...

...if you're not giving constant participation and doing work, then you're doing less than you could be doing. And I don't find that Buddhism does that. So again, both styles of philosophy, Far East West, bring immense benefit to anyone who would practice them. But there are stark differences and I think that's that hard style for soft style. But I am going to digress here and step away from the East West comparison and say that I find this meditation to be one of the most profound things that mark is shares with us in book too. No matter how long you live. When you die, it is the same thing. You are losing the present moment and your ability to be an active part of it. That is what we lose when we die, and it is the thing that we find ourselves lusting after more and more as we get older and older and feel perhaps that we are losing but until that day, until that moment, the day and moment where we lose all future present moments, forever we have them, and nothing could be more powerful than truly understanding that. Thank you for listening to this episode of practical stoicism.

I continue to be blown away by the growth. This podcast is seeing over tenzero downloads per month now and I couldn't be more grateful that there are so many of you out there who get something out of these Saturday sessions with me. It is truly encouraging. If you have the time to leave a podcast review, I would be grateful and until next time, take care,.

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