Roman Calendar

Thursday, April 9, 2015

"Living in the Here and Now" (Chapter 7 of "Everything Had Two Handles")

From "Living in the Here and Now" (Chapter 7 of Pies' Everything Has Two Handles):

     "Leave the past to itself, entrust the future to providence, and content yourself with bringing holiness and justice to the present"
~ Marcus Aurelius, Meditations (modified slightly from Long, Book XII, Chap.1)

     Pies writes, "One of the great liberating ideas of Stoic philosophy is the concept of 'present contentment.' In effect, the Stoic says, 'I can't change the past; I can't really determine or control the future; so the best I can do is live a life of decency and integrity - right here, right now'."

     "Let not the future trouble you; for you will come to it, if come you must, bearing with you the same reason which you are now using to meet the present."
~ Marcus Aurelius (Farquharson, 44)

      "What does Marcus mean by 'bearing with you the same reason which you are using now to meet the present'? I believe he is saying, 'Trust yourself to be a person of strength and reason, just as you are this very moment.' Of course, you might reply, 'But at this very moment, I'm a complete basket case!' Well, maybe so. But most people can point to many difficult situations they have faced, and faced down - whether the loss of a loved one, handling the breakup of a relationship, or dealing with a painful physical problem. It's helpful, in fact, to look back on such examples of one/s self-mastery and to say, in effect, 'If I could handle all that, I can handle whatever comes down the road.' And for now - your responsibility is simply to 'do the right thing': to bring 'holiness and justice' to the present."

     "Do not dwell upon all the manifold troubles which have come to pass and will come to pass, but ask yourself in regard to every present piece of work: what is there here that can't be borne and can't be endured?"
~ Marcus Aurelius (Farquharson, 57).

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

"Living in Harmony with the Universe" (Chapter 6 of "Everything Has Two Handles")

"Living in Harmony with the Universe" (from chapter 6 of Everything Has Two Handles)

     "Nothing will happen to me which is not conformable to the nature of the universe."
~ Marcus Aurelius (Long p.89)

     "Resent a thing by all means if it represents an injustice decreed against yourself personally; but if this same constraint is binding on the lowest and highest alike, then make your peace again with destiny."
~ Seneca, Letter XCI (Campbell, 182)

     Pies cites the book Infinite Life by Robert Thurman about Buddhism, and notes that although "the Buddhist tradition is quite distinct from Greco-Roman stoicism, the two systems have many elements in common. One error is to suppose that either tradition encourages us to be 'doormats' - to accept passively whatever evil befalls us. On the contrary, Thurman tells us, 'Don't think that the spiritual thing to do is to swallow your feelings and be a victim. Not at all. The point is not to allow injustice . . . to flourish. Doing nothing could not be more wrong. When something unjust happens, step in at once. Develop the ability to act forcefully without getting angry . . . Get help. Be assertive. Cheerful aggressiveness is the ticket here." (Thurman 167-70).

     "The Stoics distinguish time and again between those things that are within our power or control and those that are not. Epictetus tells us, 'Within our power are the Will, and all voluntary actions; out of our power are the body and its parts, property, relatives, country, and in short, all our fellow beings' (Bonforte, 22). Later, he reminds us, 'If you fulfill your duties, you have what belongs to you. For it is not the business of a philosopher to take care of mere externals - his wine, his oil, his body - but of his Reason' (73)."

Monday, April 6, 2015

"Perfectionism, Virtue, and Self-Acceptance" (from "Everything Has Two Handles")

From Chapter Five - "Perfectionism, Virtue, and Self-Acceptance" of Everything Has Two Handles:

     "Be not disgusted, nor discouraged, nor dissatisfied, if you do not succeed in doing everything according to right principles; but when you have failed, return back again . . ."
~ Marcus Aurelius (Long, 86)

     Much in the spirit of the Talmud's "It is not up to you to complete the task, but you are not free to desist from it" (Pirke Avot 2:21) (which is quoted in this chapter), the endeavor is important even if we fail. In theory, our Stoic practice should be on of the few things "under our control," but many of us find that in reality, circumstances and our flawed perception of them leads to failure there, as well. Unless you are the Sage, the legendary perfectly-wise person of Stoic lore, you will make mistakes. And when you do, the important thing is to return to your practice. When you fall, you pick yourself up again and carry on.

     "It is the action of an uninstructed person to reproach others for his own misfortune; of one entering upon instruction to reproach himself; and of one perfectly instructed, to reproach neither others nor himself."
~ Epictetus (Bonforte, 92)

     ". . . You might be objecting at this point that, without assigning blame, nothing would ever change or improve. But this highlights the difference between reproach - with its moral implications of rebuke and censure - and assigning responsibility . . . Of course, there are instances in which we justifiably find fault with ourselves and others - and the Stoic view of Epictetus should not be construed as license to 'do anything' without repercussion. Rather, the Stoic attitude tempers our moral judgments with the wisdom of the human condition and all its foibles - the knowledge that it is best to 'Forbear to judge, for we are sinners all' (Shakespeare, Henry VI, Part Two, III.iii.31) . . . "

     "Marcus Aurelius tells us, 'Little the life each lives, little the corner of the earth he lives in, little even the longest fame hereafter . . .' (Farquharson, 15). And he adds - in his usual unvarnished manner - 'in a little while, you will be no one and nowhere' (Farquharson, 53). These sentiments may be seen as a counterbalance to those of the preceding section, in which we are admonished to revere ourselves as aspects of the Divine. There is no contradiction between these contrasting views of man. We are irreducibly divided beings - at once eternal and evanescent, divinity and dust. Montaigne put all this more earthily, 'Upon the highest throne in the world, we are seated, still, upon our arses' (in de Botton, 126)."