Morning Text for Reflection
The wise person does nothing that he could regret, nothing against his will, but does everything honourably, consistently, seriously, and rightly; he anticipates nothing as if it is bound to happen, but is shocked by nothing when it does happen …. and refers everything to his own judgement, and stands by his own decisions. I can conceive of nothing which is happier that this. – Cicero, Tusculan Disputations 5.81
Perfection is the enemy of good.
I’ve always liked that saying, we say it a lot in the developer-world, as the puersuit of perfection often distracts us from getting something good done instead. I’ve always, somewhat, disliked the idea of the Sage in Stoicism, because in the past I used to obsess over the idea of perfection and all I got from that was the constant diss-appointment of falling short. I think the first task of the Stoic is to admit they will fall short, otherwise how can they even be a Stoic.
This is why I love Marcus Aurelius so much, because it’s obvious he thought he was flawed, that he too fell short. I think it’s important to realize that a part of being a Stoic is failing and falling short. Stoicism wouldn’t exist if we didn’t fail to be happy all the time. I always try and remember, too, that even the one’s we venerate, i.e. the big four, were likely also flawed, what skeletons did they have in their closets?
“The reason that most of us are unhappy most of the time is that we set our goals not for the person we’re going to be when we reach them, but we set our goals for the person we are when we set them. - Jim Coudal
Like Jason Fried, I think it’s un-wise to have goals and statuses to achieve, e.g. one day I will be free from desire. I scoff as I write that, lol. Instead I think if you continue to work at being a Stoic just for the sheer fun of it, because you like being a Stoic, is more important. Otherwise, you grow dis-satisfied and burnt-out.
Being happy is tricky, but I’ve always been convinced that I’m the only one in the way of finding happiness. That my own mind, imagination, and cravings are all I need to learn to control. That’s why Stoicism appealed so much to me. The idea that you could get out of your own way, and be happy gave me hope…
The last thing this passage reminds me of is the power of regret. Every evening I ask myself the question (in my journal), “What would you regret, had you met death today?" I write down what I might regret in a moment of death that day (along with how I might have come to that situation as a practice of negative visualization), e.g. I got hit suddenly by a car or something. Dying without regret is such a powerful motivator for me. The thought of looking back at myself in that short moment and not feeling like I was a fool to be unhappy for stupid reasons sounds like a great way to die.
So I implor myself, and you, Memento Mori, or, remember how you would like to feel in your last moments. Will it be one filled with regret? Marcus always implors himself to get to it, while he can, while he is not too old, I think, in order that he may not regret the time and virility he (and we) have today.
Happiness, in modern terms, tends to mean having certain emotions (‘feeling happy’) or pleasurable experiences. Ancient thinkers saw happiness (Greek, eudaimonia) as the overall goal or purpose of your life, the aim that gives meaning and shape to your life as a whole. They sometimes defined happiness as living in a certain way, a way that you can yourself determine by your own efforts. During this lunchtime, spend a few minutes thinking about happiness in this way and also reflecting on the Stoic idea of happiness… Do you think the Stoic idea of happiness could help you give more focus and coherence to your life?
I, of course, think about happiness a lot. Although the Stoic ideal is to live virtuously, I still am a Stoic because I want to be happy. By happy, I mostly mean free. Freedom, I think, is the ultimate happiness, and yes I think Stoicism is the way to get there. Mostly being happy (and free) has to do with freeing myself from…myself. If I could only not tourture myself, lol, I think I would be happy.
Imagine that the pandemic is over - what core values would you want to have lived by?
For me, I think wisdom. I think being a part of the pandemic issue (being the humans who contract it) I think it’s most important to think of Justice. Which, for me this week has a bit of a new twist: a social duty in order that you may not end up being a fool. If you think that an unhealthy society is benefitial for you, I would say that person is foolish.
Imagine that you are telling the story of what you did in the great pandemic of 2020 to your grandchildren, perhaps many years from now. What would you want to say about what you did?
I think calmly doing what I can. I never fret about other people e.g. not wearing masks, that is nothing to me. But as for me, I did my duty by being safe, mindful of contracting and spreading it, and basically using my common sense.
Note, my afternoon writing actually happened in the evening…
Will there come a day, my soul, when you are good and simple and unified
I can already tell this is Meditations lol….
…some day will you have a taste of a loving and affectionate disposition? Some day will you be satisfied and want for nothing… Or will you be contented instead with your present circumstances and delighted with everything around you and convince yourself that all you have comes from the gods, and that all that is pleasing for them is well for you? Will there come a day when you are so much a member of the community of gods and humans as neither to bring any complaint against them nor to incur their indignation? – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 10.1
I always feel Marcus' struggle. As I mentioned this morning I no-longer have goals per-se, but rather focus on being a Stoic simply because of how much I enjoy it, trusting that each and everyday will gradually bring me to the place all of us (Stoics) want to be.