Marcus Aurelius on Resilience

Sometimes we have weeks in which daily experiences seem to conspire to keep us off balance and out of sync. These circumstances push us away from our natural character, away from the person we wish to be. Stresses from outside forces can penetrate our thick skin and sap us of the vital energy needed to see the beauty in the world. Once we start rolling down hill toward negativity it's hard to slow the momentum and turn upward.

Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it. — Sir Isaac Newton

Newton spoke of physical objects in motion, however the same can be said of the non-physical. Negative (e)motion begets increased negative (e)motion, positive (e)motion flows to more positive (e)motion.

This week has left me seeking solitude, wishing for a place away from what sometimes seems an unjust world. It is during these times that I enjoy seeking comfort in philosophers of the past. I find myself drawn to several schools of philosophy but this week I sought wisdom from Marcus Aurelius who was considered a Stoic, though influenced by other teachings. Stoicism is a Greek school of philosophy founded at Athens by Zeno. The school taught that virtue, the highest good, is based on knowledge, and that the wise live in harmony with the divine Reason that governs nature, and are indifferent to the vicissitudes of fortune and to pleasure and pain. In essence, Stoic's believe a person can endure pain or hardship without showing their feelings or complaining, and they believe in living in harmony with Nature.

He is one of those consoling and hope-inspiring marks, which stand forever to remind our weak and easily discouraged race how high human goodness and perseverance have once been carried and may be carried again. — Matthew Arnold on Marcus Aurelius (Essays in Criticism: First Series)

Marcus Aurelius wrote most of his aphorisms as a personal journal after the age of thirty-nine, during his reign as Emperor. He often writes about characteristics, and habits, of the resilient in his compilation of meditations. He also explores his thoughts on our connection with one another and Nature. Though he ruled as Emperor of Rome nearly 2,000 years ago, his wisdom continues to have a positive influence on many today.

Below are a few of his aphorisms I read through this week which I believe speak toward building a virtue of resilience:

In this world there is only one thing of value, to live out your life in truth and justice, tolerant of those who are neither true nor just.

Loss is nothing more than change.

Judge yourself entitled to any word or action which is in accord with nature, and do not let any subsequent criticism or persuasion from anyone talk you out of it. No, if it was a good thing to do or say, do not revoke your entitlement. Those others are guided by their own minds and pursue their own impulses. Do not be distracted by any of this, but continue straight ahead, following your own nature and universal nature: these two have one and the same path.

As to living in the best way, this power is in the soul, if it be indifferent to things which are indifferent.

'It is my bad luck that this has happened to me.' No, you should rather say: 'It is my good luck that, although this has happened to me, I can bear it without pain, neither crushed by the present nor fearful of the future.' Because such a thing could have happened to any man, but not every man could have borne it without pain. So why see more misfortune in the event than good fortune in your ability to bear it?

If you remove your judgement of anything that seems painful, you yourself stand quite immune to pain.

There was a time I met luck at every turn. But luck is the good fortune you determine for yourself: and good fortune consists in good inclinations of the soul, good impulses, good actions.

If you are doing your proper duty let it not matter to you whether you are cold or warm, whether you are sleepy or well-slept, whether men speak badly or well of you, even whether you are on the point of death or doing something else: because even this, the act in which we die, is one of the acts of life, and so here too suffices to 'make the best move you can'.

Here are a couple addition entries that speak to connection and Nature:

You should meditate often on the connection of all things in the universe and their relationship to each other. In a way all things are interwoven and therefore have a family feeling for each other: one thing follows another in due order through the tension of movement, the common spirit inspiring them, and the unity of all being.

Think always of the Universe as one living creature, comprising one substance and one soul: how all is absorbed into this one consciousness; how a single impulse governs all it's actions; how all things collaborate in all that happens; the very web and mesh of it all.

The common theme I found is learning to 'trust oneself'. If we pause and retreat into our own nature, and the natural world around us, we'll find calm and our voice. The tools to building resilience in the face of adversity and discomfort are within us and within Nature. Believe in your actions, your thoughts, your words; and continue moving forward on the individual path that speaks to you alone.