Stop drifting

Stop drifting. You’re not going to re-read your Brief Comments, your Deeds of the Ancient Greeks and Romans, the commonplace books you saved for your old age. Sprint for the finish. Write off your hopes, and if your well-being matters to you, be your own savior while you can.

~ Marcus Aurelius from, Meditations 3.14

Normally I would simply let a quote from Aurelius stand on its own. If you’re not familiar with Meditations—Aurelius didn’t choose that title for what he wrote, it was added to his work much later—it was a collection of writings he meant only for himself; this is the emperor of the Roman empire remonstrating himself.

Here’s a second helping of remonstration: Explore. Dream. Discover.

I write this blog for myself. (And no, I’m not laboring under the delusion that I’m creating a work for the ages like Aurelius’s, Meditations.) But I am simply pleased if you, Dear Reader, find my ramblings interesting. I am genuinely delighted if anything I write stimulates your thinking. I am downright ecstatic if any of my questions catalyze your changing the course of your life.

Do you read regularly, and what have you chosen to read with the aim of changing the course of your life?

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How? Patience, honesty, humility

No carelessness in your actions. No confusion in your words. No imprecision in your thoughts. No retreating into your own soul, or trying to escape it. No overactivity. They kill you, cut you with knives, shower you with curses. And that somehow cuts your mind off from clearness, and sanity, and self-control, and justice? A man standing by a spring of clear, sweet water and cursing it. While the fresh water keeps on bubbling up. He can shovel mud into it, or dung, and the stream will carry it away, wash itself clean, remain unstained. To have that. Not a cistern but a perpetual spring. How? By working to win your freedom. hour by hour,. Through patience, honesty, humility.

~ Marcus Aurelius from, Meditations 8,51

It’s really good to be really bad

This is an idea I’ve come across repeatedly during the research I’ve conducted for my various books. There’s something incredibly valuable in the deeply frustrating yet rewarding pursuit of mastering something hard.

~ Cal Newport from, https://www.calnewport.com/blog/2020/03/29/the-deep-benefits-of-learning-hard-things/

This idea comes up all over the place, and for good reason. Nearly 3,000 years ago, people like Marcus Aurelius where writing things about the absolute necessity of continual self-study and self-improvement. Books such as G Leonard’s, Mastery and countless bits on the Internet about self-improvement. My personal, direct efforts applied to myself—find some idea, reflect on it, then figure out how (if! of course) to apply it to myself… My efforts remain ongoing.

( I need a special character, or something, that I can put before these questions, to make it clear that I mean this entirely in a non-judgemental way– I only intend to spur your thinking… )

What are you up to?

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Complete tranquility

People try to get away from it all—to the country, to the beach, to the mountains. You always wish that you could too. Which is idiotic: You can get away from it anytime you like. By going within. Nowhere you can go is more peaceful—more free of interruptions—than your own soul. Especially if you have other things to rely on. An instant’s recollection and there it is: Complete tranquility. And by tranquility I mean a kind of harmony.

~ Marcus Aurelius from, Meditations 4,3

Scratch the itch

While it’s true (and wise) that…

Not to be driven this way and that, but always to behave with justice and see things as they are.

~ Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 4.22

…counsels a steady hand on the rudder of one’s life, it is equally important to know when to tack.

There’s a terrific bit of “life wisdom” you learn from sailing which goes as follows. But first you need the four rules for sailing:

  1. Keep the water out of the boat, lest you transition from sailing to swimming.
  2. The wind will try to set you in the direction it blows, just as the wind will push a tumbleweed.
  3. The water, (if there’s any current,) will try to make you drift in the direction it flows, just as the current will float you downstream when rafting on a river.
  4. One cannot sail directly towards the wind. There’s an arc of directions to either side of the direction from which the wind blows that are impossible.

The “trivial” exercise of operating the sailboat in various conditions is left for the reader.

Your challenge then is to get to your destination while following the rules. Interesting journeys will involve being near land, (beware Rule 1 because it’s the wet land that always gets you!) or cover long distances, (beware Rule 2 and 3 because their affects are cumulative and vary with time.) Interesting journeys will involve a specific destination which, thanks to unwritten Rule 5 are always to windward, so you cannot go directly there as per Rule 4.

…but you can go sort of towards it if you aim to the left of the wind’s source. And then you can tack, by turning quickly through the wind and going sort of towards your destination aiming to the right of the wind’s source. Doing so is called “tacking to windward.” Modern sailboats are pretty good at doing this. Ancient sailboats had to switch to rowing, or wait for different wind.

Finally, I can get to this part:

You’re going to be paying a lot of attention, sitting relatively still and watching the sailboat sail. You will also be paying attention to your destination which is almost certainly not directly in front of you. Untrained observers, (if they know your destination,) will be thinking, “why are you going in that direction?” Tacking isn’t very hard, but it slows you down and takes time and effort—you’d rather be sailing along, than tacking many times. (Perhaps at this point you’re thinking about geometry and those related-speeds word-problems you saw as a kid?)

While it’s true (and wise) that…

Not to be driven this way and that, but always to behave with justice and see things as they are.

…counsels a steady hand on the rudder of one’s life, it is equally important to know when to tack.

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Raw material

Just as the nature of rational things has given to each person their rational powers, so it also gives us this power – Just as nature turns to its own purpose any obstacle or any opposition, sets its place in the destined order, and co-ops it, so every rational person can convert any obstacle into the raw material for their own purpose.

~ Marcus Aurelius

This greater good you’ve found

Indeed, if you find anything in human life better than justice, truth, self-control, courage – in shrot, anything better than the sufficiency of your own mind, which keeps you acting according to the demands of true reason and accepting what fate gives you outside of your own power of choice – I tell you, if you can see anything better than this, turn to it heart and soul and take full advantage of this greater good you’ve found.

~ Marcus Aurelius