Wisdom for Increasing Endurance
One of the many fascinating things about Marcus Aurelius was that he seemed to dislike tedious political tasks. These were unavoidable occurrences for the chief politician of the Roman Empire. It is clear that Marcus' true passion involved philosophy. In one of his reflections, he writes:
"If you had a stepmother and a real mother, you would pay your respects to your stepmother, yes... but it's your real mother you'd go home to. The court... and philosophy: keep returning to it, to rest in its embrace. It's all that makes the court - and you - endurable." -Meditations VI: XII, Tr. Gregory Hays
"If thou hadst a step-mother and a mother at the same time, thou wouldst be dutiful to thy step-mother, but still thou wouldst constantly return to thy mother. Let the court and philosophy now be to thee step-mother and mother: return to philosophy frequently and repose in her, through whom what thou meetest with in the court appears to thee tolerable, and thou appearest tolerable in the court." -Meditations VI: XII, Tr. George Long
In these two beautiful translations of the same passage, Marcus admits that philosophy is the only thing that keeps him centered in his unceasing responsibilities. He knows that he has a duty to complete, and philosophy helps to keep his virtue at the focus. At the end of the passage, he is especially vulnerable by admitting that philosophy not only keeps his appearances at the court bearable, but also himself. He is implying that his responsibilities have the temptation to turn him away from virtue and into the realm of frustration, stress, and anger.
If you know anyone who teaches (whether in primary school, secondary school, or higher education), you have probably heard stories about students falling asleep in class or complaining about the stresses of homework. You might have done this yourself as a student! Expectations to achieve can cause massive fatigue, anxiety, and depression. This happens not only in educational settings, but spheres that include our jobs, relationships, and other externals. It is enough to make a person imbalanced, the scale falling in favor of negative feelings. Marcus Aurelius provides solace for those seeking tranquility:
"At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: 'I have to go to work - as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I'm going to do what I was born for - the things I was brought into this world to do. Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?" -But it's nicer here.... So you were born to feel 'nice'? Instead of doing things and experiencing them? Don't you see the plants, the birds, the ants and spiders and bees going about their individual tasks, putting the world in order, as best they can? Why aren't you running to do what your nature demands?" -Meditations, VI:I
I cannot tell you how many times I have meditated on this piece of advice. It has tremendously helped me with my anxiety and depression, especially early in the morning, when the sky is still dark and there is an inner battle that I have to overcome in order to get myself moving. This exemplifies one of the most important Stoic principles: live in accordance with Nature.
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