Sunday, June 28, 2020

Marcus Aurelius on How to Face Adversity

The path to indifference and unconditional acceptance of life as it comes is by no means an easy feat. It requires years of intentional practice. Stoicism was not primarily about books and theories but about a way of living. You became a stoic not by memorizing its doctrines but through living like a stoic. Given that it is primarily a way of approaching life, the stoics had various practices and techniques that one could apply to acquire the level of indifference that helps one to cope with even the most severe adversities in life.

Accepting your own mortality and the mortality of those around you was one. Marcus advised us to remind ourselves about that ”natural event” of life regularly, until it no longer scares us but becomes as trivial a part of the lifecycle as grapes turning from unripe to ripened to raisins:
”In short, know this: Human lives are brief and trivial.
Yesterday a blob of semen; tomorrow embalming fluid, ash.
To pass through this brief life as nature demands. To give it up without complaint.
Like an olive that ripens and falls. Praising its mother, thanking the tree it grew on.”
Another technique Marcus Aurelius offers is to examine whatever is bugging you and break it down into small constituent parts so as to make the whole thing trivial. He gives the example of a song. If you want to be indifferent to the effect that a song might have on you, "analyze the melody into the notes that form it, and as you hear each one, ask yourself whether you’re powerless against that. That should be enough to deter you." He recommends this same strategy to whatever is moving you: "Look at the individual parts and move from analysis to indifference. Apply this to life as a whole." (Read more.)


julygirl said...

Sounds like he would have been a good candidate for Pot smoking if it had been around in those days. Unfortunately, or fortunately, if Americans had been that complacent we would still have British soldiers quartered in our homes and would be paying England taxes for tea.

elena maria vidal said...

Isn't that the truth. Plus he persecuted the Christians. Still, some of what he says is helpful on a practical level.