1. To my soul:
Are you ever going to achieve goodness? Ever going to be simple, whole, and naked—as plain to see as the body that contains you? Know what an affectionate and loving disposition would feel like? Ever be fulfilled, ever stop desiring—lusting and longing for people and things to enjoy? Or for more time to enjoy them? Or for some other place or country—“a more temperate clime”? Or for people easier to get along with? And instead be satisfied with what you have, and accept the present—all of it. And convince yourself that everything is the gift of the gods, that things are good and always will be, whatever they decide and have in store for the preservation of that perfect entity—good and just and beautiful, creating all things, connecting and embracing them, and gathering in their separated fragments to create more like them.
Will you ever take your stand as a fellow citizen with gods and human beings, blaming no one, deserving no one’s censure?
2. Focus on what nature demands, as if you were governed by that alone. Then do that, and accept it, unless your nature as a living being would be degraded by it.
Then focus on what that nature demands, and accept that too—unless your nature as a rational being would be degraded by it.
And, of course, “rational” also implies “civic.”
Follow these guidelines and don’t waste time on anything else.
3. Everything that happens is either endurable or not.
If it’s endurable, then endure it. Stop complaining.
If it’s unendurable … then stop complaining. Your destruction will mean its end as well.
Just remember: you can endure anything your mind can make endurable, by treating it as in your interest to do so.
In your interest, or in your nature.
4. If they’ve made a mistake, correct them gently and show them where they went wrong. If you can’t do that, then the blame lies with you. Or no one.
5. Whatever happens to you has been waiting to happen since the beginning of time. The twining strands of fate wove both of them together: your own existence and the things that happen to you.
6. Whether it’s atoms or nature, the first thing to be said is this: I am a part of a world controlled by nature. Secondly: that I have a relationship with other, similar parts. And with that in mind I have no right, as a part, to complain about what is assigned me by the whole. Because what benefits the whole can’t harm the parts, and the whole does nothing that doesn’t benefit it. That’s a trait shared by all natures, but the nature of the world is defined by a second characteristic as well: no outside force can compel it to cause itself harm.
So by keeping in mind the whole I form a part of, I’ll accept whatever happens. And because of my relationship to other parts, I will do nothing selfish, but aim instead to join them, to direct my every action toward what benefits us all and to avoid what doesn’t. If I do all that, then my life should go smoothly. As you might expect a citizen’s life to go—one whose actions serve his fellow citizens, and who embraces the community’s decree.
7. The whole is compounded by nature of individual parts, whose destruction is inevitable (“destruction” here meaning transformation). If the process is harmful to the parts and unavoidable, then it’s hard to see how the whole can run smoothly, with parts of it passing from one state to another, all of them built only to be destroyed in different ways. Does nature set out to cause its own components harm, and make them vulnerable to it—indeed, predestined to it? Or is it oblivious to what goes on? Neither one seems very plausible.
But suppose we throw out “nature” and explain these things through inherent properties. It would still be absurd to say that the individual things in the world are inherently prone to change, and at the same time be astonished at it or complain—on the grounds that it was happening “contrary to nature.” And least of all when things return to the state from which they came. Because our elements are either simply dispersed, or are subject to a kind of gravitation—the solid portions being pulled toward earth, and what is ethereal drawn into the air, until they’re absorbed into the universal logos—which is subject to periodic conflagrations, or renewed through continual change.
And don’t imagine either that those elements—the solid ones and the ethereal—are with us from our birth. Their influx took place yesterday, or the day before—from the food we ate, the air we breathed.
And that’s what changes—not the person your mother gave birth to.
—But if you’re inextricably linked to it through your sense of individuality?
That’s not what we’re talking about here.
8. Epithets for yourself: Upright. Modest. Straightforward. Sane. Cooperative. Disinterested.
Try not to exchange them for others.
And if you should forfeit them, set about getting them back.
Keep in mind that “sanity” means understanding things—each individual thing—for what they are. And not losing the thread.
And “cooperation” means accepting what nature assigns you—accepting it willingly.
And “disinterest” means that the intelligence should rise above the movements of the flesh—the rough and the smooth alike. Should rise above fame, above death, and everything like them.
If you maintain your claim to these epithets—without caring if others apply them to you or not—you’ll become a new person, living a new life. To keep on being the person that you’ve been—to keep being mauled and degraded by the life you’re living—is to be devoid of sense and much too fond of life. Like those animal fighters at the games—torn half to pieces, covered in blood and gore, and still pleading to be held over till tomorrow … to be bitten and clawed again.
Set sail, then, with this handful of epithets to guide you. And steer a steady course, if you can. Like an emigrant to the islands of the blest. And if you feel yourself adrift—as if you’ve lost control—then hope for the best, and put in somewhere where you can regain it. Or leave life altogether, not in anger, but matter-of-factly, straightforwardly, without arrogance, in the knowledge that you’ve at least done that much with your life.
And as you try to keep these epithets in mind, it will help you a great deal to keep the gods in mind as well. What they want is not flattery, but for rational things to be like them. For figs to do what figs were meant to do—and dogs, and bees … and people.
9. Operatics, combat and confusion. Sloth and servility. Every day they blot out those sacred principles of yours—which you daydream thoughtlessly about, or just let slide.
Your actions and perceptions need to aim:
· at accomplishing practical ends
· at the exercise of thought
· at maintaining a confidence founded on understanding. An unobtrusive confidence—hidden in plain sight.
When will you let yourself enjoy straightforwardness? Seriousness? Or understanding individual things—their nature and substance, their place in the world, their life span, their composition, who can possess them, whose they are to give and to receive?
10. Spiders are proud of catching flies, men of catching hares, fish in a net, boars, bears, Sarmatians …
11. How they all change into one another—acquire the ability to see that. Apply it constantly; use it to train yourself. Nothing is as conducive to spiritual growth.
11a. He has stripped away his body and—realizing that at some point soon he will have to abandon mankind and leave all this behind—has dedicated himself to serving justice in all he does, and nature in all that happens. What people say or think about him, or how they treat him, isn’t something he worries about. Only these two questions: Is what he’s doing now the right thing to be doing? Does he accept and welcome what he’s been assigned? He has stripped away all other occupations, all other tasks. He wants only to travel a straight path—to God, by way of law.
12. Why all this guesswork? You can see what needs to be done. If you can see the road, follow it. Cheerfully, without turning back. If not, hold up and get the best advice you can. If anything gets in the way, forge on ahead, making good use of what you have on hand, sticking to what seems right. (The best goal to achieve, and the one we fall short of when we fail.)
12a. To follow the logos in all things is to be relaxed and energetic, joyful and serious at once.
13. When you wake up, ask yourself:
Does it make any difference to you if other people blame you for doing what’s right?
It makes no difference.
Have you forgotten what the people who are so vociferous in praise or blame of others are like as they sleep and eat? Forgotten their behavior, their fears, their desires, their thefts and depredations—not physical ones, but those committed by what should be highest in them? What creates, when it chooses, loyalty, humility, truth, order, well-being.
14. Nature gives and nature takes away. Anyone with sense and humility will tell her, “Give and take as you please,” not out of defiance, but out of obedience and goodwill.
15. Only a short time left. Live as if you were alone—out in the wilderness. No difference between here and there: the city that you live in is the world.
Let people see someone living naturally, and understand what that means. Let them kill him if they can’t stand it. (Better than living like this.)
16. To stop talking about what the good man is like, and just be one.
17. Continual awareness of all time and space, of the size and life span of the things around us. A grape seed in infinite space. A half twist of a corkscrew against eternity.
18. Bear in mind that everything that exists is already fraying at the edges, and in transition, subject to fragmentation and to rot.
Or that everything was born to die.
19. How they act when they eat and sleep and mate and defecate and all the rest. Then when they order and exult, or rage and thunder from on high. And yet, just consider the things they submitted to a moment ago, and the reasons for it—and the things they’ll submit to again before very long.
20. Each of us needs what nature gives us, when nature gives it.
21. “The earth knows longing for the rain, the sky/knows longing …” And the world longs to create what will come to be. I tell it “I share your longing.”
(And isn’t that what we mean by “inclined to happen”?)
i. To keep on living (you should be used to it by now)
ii. To end it (it was your choice, after all)
iii. To die (having met your obligations)
Those are the only options. Reason for optimism.
23. Keep always before you that “this is no different from an empty field,” and the things in it are the same as on a mountaintop, on the seashore, wherever. Plato gets to the heart of it: “fencing a sheepfold in the mountains, and milking goats or sheep.”
24. My mind. What is it? What am I making of it? What am I using it for?
Is it empty of thought?
Isolated and torn loose from those around it?
Melted into flesh and blended with it, so that it shares its urges?
25. When a slave runs away from his master, we call him a fugitive slave. But the law of nature is a master too, and to break it is to become a fugitive.
To feel grief, anger or fear is to try to escape from something decreed by the ruler of all things, now or in the past or in the future. And that ruler is law, which governs what happens to each of us. To feel grief or anger or fear is to become a fugitive—a fugitive from justice.
26. He deposits his sperm and leaves. And then a force not his takes it and goes to work, and creates a child.
This … from that?
He pours food down his throat. And then a force not his takes it and creates sensations, desires, daily life, physical strength and so much else besides.
To look at these things going on silently and see the force that drives them. As we see the force that pushes things and pulls them. Not with our eyes, but just as clearly.
27. To bear in mind constantly that all of this has happened before. And will happen again—the same plot from beginning to end, the identical staging. Produce them in your mind, as you know them from experience or from history: the court of Hadrian, of Antoninus. The courts of Philip, Alexander, Croesus. All just the same. Only the people different.
28. People who feel hurt and resentment: picture them as the pig at the sacrifice, kicking and squealing all the way.
Like the man alone in his bed, silently weeping over the chains that bind us.
That everything has to submit. But only rational beings can do so voluntarily.
29. Stop whatever you’re doing for a moment and ask yourself: Am I afraid of death because I won’t be able to do this anymore?
30. When faced with people’s bad behavior, turn around and ask when you have acted like that. When you saw money as a good, or pleasure, or social position. Your anger will subside as soon as you recognize that they acted under compulsion (what else could they do?).
Or remove the compulsion, if you can.
31. When you look at Satyron, see Socraticus, or Eutyches, or Hymen.
When you look at Euphrates, see Eutychion or Silvanus.
With Alciphron, see Tropaeophorus.
When you look at Xenophon, see Crito or Severus.
When you look at yourself, see any of the emperors.
And the same with everyone else. Then let it hit you: Where are they now?
Nowhere … or wherever.
That way you’ll see human life for what it is. Smoke. Nothing. Especially when you recall that once things alter they cease to exist through all the endless years to come.
Then why such turmoil? To live your brief life rightly, isn’t that enough?
The raw material you’re missing, the opportunities …! What is any of this but training—training for your logos, in life observed accurately, scientifically.
So keep at it, until it’s fully digested. As a strong stomach digests whatever it eats. As a blazing fire takes whatever you throw on it, and makes it light and flame.
32. That no one can say truthfully that you are not a straightforward or honest person. That anyone who thinks that believes a falsehood. The responsibility is all yours; no one can stop you from being honest or straightforward. Simply resolve not to go on living if you aren’t. It would be contrary to the logos.
33. Given the material we’re made of, what’s the sanest thing that we can do or say? Whatever it may be, you can do or say it. Don’t pretend that anything’s stopping you.
You’ll never stop complaining until you feel the same pleasure that the hedonist gets from self-indulgence—only from doing what’s proper to human beings as far as circumstances—inherent or fortuitous—allow. “Enjoyment” means doing as much of what your nature requires as you can. And you can do that anywhere. A privilege not granted to a cylinder—to determine its own action. Or to water, or fire, or any of the other things governed by nature alone, or by an irrational soul. Too many things obstruct them and get in their way. But the intellect and logos are able to make their way through anything in their path—by inborn capacity or sheer force of will. Keep before your eyes the ease with which they do this—the ease with which the logos is carried through all things, as fire is drawn upward or a stone falls to earth, as a cylinder rolls down an inclined plane.
That’s all you need. All other obstacles either affect the lifeless body, or have no power to shake or harm anything unless misperception takes over or the logos surrenders voluntarily. Otherwise those they obstruct would be degraded by them immediately. In all other entities, when anything bad happens to them, it affects them for the worse. Whereas here a person is improved by it (if I can put it like that)—and we admire him for reacting as a person should.
And keep in mind that nothing can harm one of nature’s citizens except what harms the city he belongs to. And nothing harms that city except what harms its law. And there is no so-called misfortune that can do that. So long as the law is safe, so is the city—and the citizen.
34. If you’ve immersed yourself in the principles of truth, the briefest, most random reminder is enough to dispel all fear and pain:
… leaves that the wind
Drives earthward; such are the generations of men.
Your children, leaves.
Leaves applauding loyally and heaping praise upon you, or turning around and calling down curses, sneering and mocking from a safe distance.
A glorious reputation handed down by leaves.
All of these “spring up in springtime”—and the wind blows them all away. And the tree puts forth others to replace them.
None of us have much time. And yet you act as if things were eternal—the way you fear and long for them.…
Before long, darkness. And whoever buries you mourned in their turn.
35. A healthy pair of eyes should see everything that can be seen and not say, “No! Too bright!” (which is a symptom of ophthalmia).
A healthy sense of hearing or smell should be prepared for any sound or scent; a healthy stomach should have the same reaction to all foods, as a mill to what it grinds.
So too a healthy mind should be prepared for anything. The one that keeps saying, “Are my children all right?” or “Everyone must approve of me” is like eyes that can only stand pale colors, or teeth that can handle only mush.
36. It doesn’t matter how good a life you’ve led. There’ll still be people standing around the bed who will welcome the sad event.
Even with the intelligent and good. Won’t there be someone thinking “Finally! To be through with that old schoolteacher. Even though he never said anything, you could always feel him judging you.” And that’s for a good man. How many traits do you have that would make a lot of people glad to be rid of you?
Remember that, when the time comes. You’ll be less reluctant to leave if you can tell yourself, “This is the sort of life I’m leaving. Even the people around me, the ones I spent so much time fighting for, praying over, caring about—even they want me gone, in hopes that it will make their own lives easier. How could anyone stand a longer stay here?”
And yet, don’t leave angry with them. Be true to who you are: caring, sympathetic, kind. And not as if you were being torn away from life. But the way it is when someone dies peacefully, how the soul is released from the body—that’s how you should leave them. It was nature that bound you to them—that tied the knot. And nature that now unties you.
I am released from those around me. Not dragged against my will, but unresisting.
There are things that nature demands. And this is one of them.
37. Learn to ask of all actions, “Why are they doing that?”
Starting with your own.
38. Remember that what pulls the strings is within—hidden from us. Is speech, is life, is the person. Don’t conceive of the rest as part of it—the skin that contains it, and the accompanying organs. Which are tools—like a carpenter’s axe, except that they’re attached to us from birth, and are no more use without what moves and holds them still than the weaver’s shuttle, the writer’s pencil, the driver’s whip.