Marcus Aurelius on Embracing Mortality and the Key to Living with Presence

By Maria Popova (brainpickings.org)

marcusaurelius_meditations.jpg?w=680“When you realize you are mortal you also realize the tremendousness of the future. You fall in love with a Time you will never perceive,” the great Lebanese poet, painter, and philosopher Etel Adnan wrote in her beautiful meditation on time, self, impermanence, and transcendence. It is a sentiment of tremendous truth and simplicity, yet tremendously difficult for the mind to metabolize — we remain material creatures, spiritually sundered by the fact of our borrowed atoms, which we will each return to the universe, to the stardust that made us, despite our best earthly efforts. Physicist Alan Lightman contemplated this paradox in his lyrical essay on our longing for permanence in a universe of constant change: “It is one of the profound contradictions of human existence that we long for immortality, indeed fervently believe that something must be unchanging and permanent, when all of the evidence in nature argues against us.”

Two millennia earlier, before the very notion of a universe even existed, the Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius (April 26, 121–March 17, 180) provided uncommonly lucid consolation for this most disquieting paradox of existence in his Meditations (public library | free ebook) — the timeless trove of ancient wisdom that gave us his advice on how to motivate yourself to get out of bed each morningthe mental trick for maintaining sanity, and the key to living fully.

marcusaurelius.jpg?w=680

Eons before the modern invention of self-help, the Stoics equipped the human animal with a foundational toolkit for self-refinement, articulating their recipes for mental discipline with uncottoned candor that often borders on brutality — an instructional style they share with the Zen masters, whose teachings are often given in a stern tone that seems berating and downright angry but is animated by absolute well-wishing for the spiritual growth of the pupil.

It is with this mindset that Marcus Aurelius takes up the question of how to embrace our mortality and live with life-expanding presence in Book II of his Meditations, translated here by Gregory Hays:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngThe speed with which all of them vanish — the objects in the world, and the memory of them in time. And the real nature of the things our senses experience, especially those that entice us with pleasure or frighten us with pain or are loudly trumpeted by pride. To understand those things — how stupid, contemptible, grimy, decaying, and dead they are — that’s what our intellectual powers are for. And to understand what those people really amount to, whose opinions and voices constitute fame. And what dying is — and that if you look at it in the abstract and break down your imaginary ideas of it by logical analysis, you realize that it’s nothing but a process of nature, which only children can be afraid of. (And not only a process of nature but a necessary one.)

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Art from Duck, Death and the Tulip by Wolf Erlbruch, an uncommonly tender illustrated meditation on life and death.

In a sentiment Montaigne would echo sixteen centuries later in his assertion that “to lament that we shall not be alive a hundred years hence, is the same folly as to be sorry we were not alive a hundred years ago,” Marcus Aurelius rebukes our pathological dread of death by demonstrating how it ejects us from the only arena on which life plays out — the present. Long before Rilke made the countercultural, almost counterbiological observation that “death is our friend precisely because it brings us into absolute and passionate presence with all that is here, that is natural, that is love,” he adds:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngEven 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 now, or live another one than the one you’re losing. The longest 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:

1) 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;

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

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Art by Sydney Smith from Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson — a lyrical illustrated invitation to living with presence.

He concludes by summarizing the basic facts of human life — a catalogue of uncertainties, crowned by the sole certainty of death — and points to philosophy, or the love of wisdom and mindful living, as the only real anchor for our existential precariousness:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngHuman life.

Duration: momentary. Nature: changeable. Perception: dim. Condition of Body: decaying. Soul: spinning around. Fortune: unpredictable. Lasting Fame: uncertain. Sum Up: The body and its parts are a river, the soul a dream and mist, life is warfare and a journey far from home, lasting reputation is oblivion.

Then what can guide us?

Only philosophy.

Which means making sure that the power within stays safe and free from assault, superior to pleasure and pain, doing nothing randomly or dishonestly and with imposture, not dependent on anyone else’s doing something or not doing it. And making sure that it accepts what happens and what it is dealt as coming from the same place it came from. And above all, that it accepts death in a cheerful spirit, as nothing but the dissolution of the elements from which each living thing is composed. If it doesn’t hurt the individual elements to change continually into one another, why are people afraid of all of them changing and separating? It’s a natural thing. And nothing natural is evil.

Complement this portion of the altogether indispensable Meditations with psychoanalyst Adam Phillips on what Freud and Darwin taught us about how to live with death, neurologist Oliver Sacks on gratitude, the measure of living, and the dignity of dying, and philosopher, comedian, and my beloved friend Emily Levine on how to live with exultant presence while dying, then revisit two other great Stoics philosophers’ strategies for peace of mind: Seneca on the antidote to anxiety and Epictetus on love, loss, and surviving heartbreak.

Nina Simone – I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free (Montreux 1976)


TransatlanticMoments
Published on Jan 16, 2013
Live At Montreux 1976

Lyrics

I wish I knew how
It would feel to be free
I wish I could break
All the chains holding me
I wish I could say
All the things that I should to say
Say ’em loud say ’em clear
For the whole round world to hear

I wish I could share
All the love that’s in my heart
Remove all the bars
That keep us apart
I wish you could know
What it means to be me
Then you’d see and agree
Everyone should be free

I wish I could give
All I’m longin’ to give
I wish I could live
Like I’m longin’ to live
I wish I could do
All the things that I can do
Though I’m way overdue
I’d be starting anew.

I wish I could be like a bird in the sky
How sweet it would be
If I found out I could fly
I’d soar to the sun
And look down at the sea
And I sing ’cause I know

Book: “The Implacable Hunter” by Gerald Kersh

The Implacable Hunter

The Implacable Hunter

by  Gerald Kersh

‘[This] is the story of the beginning and the end of St Paul, that most complicated and worrying of all the saints. The narrator is Diomed, a colonial officer stationed at Tarsus, enlightened, intelligent, a great fraterniser with the patrician natives, [who] sends the strange young Jew to persecute the Nazarenes… [Kersh brings] a highly concentrated area of Roman colonial history to very real life – the ornate wine-cup, the crapulous cold fruit-juice at dawn, dust on a sandal… King Jesus is here, all the time… the fly-itch nuisance to the Empire that wakes its prefects up in nightmare… This is a masterly book, full of live people and a live age, live language, too… We may adjudge Mr Kersh, after reading The Implaccable Hunter, to be now at the height of his powers.’
Anthony Burgess, Yorkshire Post, 1961

(Goodreads.com)

(Recommended by Richard Branam)

SUNDAY NIGHT TRANSLATION GROUP – 5/26/19

Translators:  Melissa Goodnight, Richard Branam, Mike Zonta

SENSE TESTIMONY:  Evolution requires divisions between winners and losers

5th Step Conclusions:

1)  Truth is a self-made individual, fully evolved and joined together, inevitably findable, always winning by default.

2)  ONE Infinite Consciousness Beingness is always expressing in limitless diversity — always perfectly worthy and suitable with every instantiation, and always assuring that intact wholeness is triumphantly prevailing and pervading ALL.

3)  Truths’ Invariably Infinite Capabilities, Are Innately Autismiscally Creativity, this Involvement is Constructural Action, Being Definitive Patterns, this Demands the Right of Authority, the Root Multiplied by itself Producing Manifestations of Quantity, Quality of Satisfaction, Being Individuated Game of Livelihood, Consciousness Aware Androgynous Identity.

Why it’s time to think about human extinction | Dr David Suzuki


Kerwin Rae
Published on Dec 16, 2018
After listening to this ep with Dr David Suzuki, you’ll never be the same again. The environmentalist, activist, professor of genetics and science broadcaster hits us with some home truths about what our future will look like if we continue to live the way we have been. What will life be like for our children and grandchildren? Can the damage we’ve done to the planet be reversed? Is extinction of the human race imminent?

We talk about population control, the importance of renewable energy and discuss what we can do right now in our own lives that can actually make a difference. This is for anyone who cares about the future of mankind.

Timestamps
20:06 Why humanity has only got 1 minute left to live
25:25 Humans are the only species that don’t care about their own children
29:17 Educate yourself on politics or don’t complain about the government
36:26 Can we be saved from our own extinction?
59:09 A final challenge for entrepreneurs

Melissa Etheridge – I Need To Wake Up


Melissa Etheridge
Published on Nov 22, 2009
Music video by Melissa Etheridge performing I Need To Wake Up. (C) 2006 The Island Def Jam Music Group, Motion Picture Footage From ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ (c) 2006 Paramount Classics, A Division of Paramount Pictures Corp

I Need to Wake Up
By Melissa Etheridge

Have I been sleeping?
I’ve been so still
Afraid of crumbling
Have I been careless?
Dismissing all the distant rumblings
Take me where I am supposed to be
To comprehend the things that I can’t see
‘Cause I need to move
I need to wake up
I need to change
I need to shake up
I need to speak out
Something’s got to break up
I’ve been asleep
And I need to wake up
Now
And as a child
I danced like it was 1999
My dreams were wild
The promise of this new world
Would be mine
Now I am throwing off the carelessness of youth
To listen to an inconvenient truth
That I need to move
I need to wake up
I need to change
I need to shake up
I need to speak out
Something’s got to break up
I’ve been asleep
And I need to wake up
Now
I am not an island
I am not alone
I am…

Spontaneity through Conversation YouTube of our meeting today, May 25th

In these meetings, we try to foster spontaneity by not having any previously intended topics, and by imagining that we’re in a restaurant waiting for our food to come, in which case conversation always arises spontaneously.  The ultimate purpose of these meetings is so that the resulting YouTube recordings introduce people to The Prosperos by showing people who we are, rather telling people who we are.
The meetings are on the fourth Saturday of each month at 9:00 AM Pacific Time online at https://zoom.us/j/993672765
Here’s the link to today’s meeting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6bjbbvxpWuk

Senator Mike Gravel on militarism and climate change

Militarism and climate change are twin evils – destroying one requires destroying the other. The military-industrial complex is the world’s largest polluter – the mission of global hegemony is incompatible with climate justice.

–Maurice Robert “Mike” Gravel (born May 13, 1930)  is an American politician who served as a United States Senator from Alaska from 1969 to 1981. A member of the Democratic Party, he was a candidate in the 2008 U.S. presidential election and is a candidate in the 2020 U.S. presidential election. Wikipedia