“Read Marcus Aurelius. Of each particular thing, ask what is it in itself? What is its nature?” – Silence of the Lambs
So, if I’m reading this right, I’m not supposed to stress out the alligators? I’m not supposed to stress out the 400 pound armored killing machine? Okay, getting right on that.
I ran across a health article about heart disease the other day by an actual medical doctor, not an amateur Civil War surgeon like me (Motto: Splinter in your toe? Amputate.). Dr. Mercola’s theory was simple, that stress causes inflammation which causes the damage that kills you. Here’s a link to his article (LINK). Now this article was on a political site, so it wasn’t even related to the main focus of the site, but I read the article and immediately thought of you Internet. And also me, since I was looking for something to write about today.
It just might be that stress is a problem for you that actually might kill you. It also just so happens that I have a 2000 year old solution for you – all bright and shiny since I dug it up in my backyard last night:
“Your present opinion founded in understanding, your present conduct directed to good, and your present contentment with everything that results. That’s enough.” – Marcus Aurelius, Mediations 9.6
Okay, okay, you say, it’s John Wilder Talking About Dead Romans Again. And you’re right. Because they were ever so much more like us than you might imagine. Marcus Aurelius was a Stoic. And he was also Emperor. The book he wrote, Meditations, was just that. His thoughts that he meditated on. He wasn’t writing it for us, he was writing it to sort out his own thoughts and feelings.
Yeah, a Roman Emperor, able to command power few before or since ever had – King, President, Pope, and General all rolled up into one – had to work out his thoughts. This makes sense, because Marcus was the last of the Five Good Emperors (spoiler alert) and thought himself something of a philosopher. It’s like Vladimir Putin took time out of his busy schedule of wrestling bears while shirtless and dating Olympic gymnasts to attempt to deeply study and understand a philosophy of living that directly worked towards the quote from Marcus, up above.
But the quote above encapsulates in just a simple two sentences the core of the Stoic philosophy. Let’s look at how it can help you reduce stress.
“Your present opinion founded in understanding . . .”
If I were to take liberties, I would re-write that one, “Your present opinion founded in truth.”
Dealing with reality was the core of the philosophy – that’s why it came first. And if you are dealing with truth, you’re dealing in certainty. You’re not lying to yourself.
“your present conduct directed to good . . .”
So, you’ve studied and know the truth. Now you have the opportunity to turn your work towards the good. You’re doing the right thing, the right way.
“and your present contentment with everything that results.”
You did the right thing for the right reasons. You have purpose, clarity, and are taking positive action. And, the best part? You don’t have to win to win. Whatever happens, happens. If it didn’t work? You tried. Be content. If it did work? Great! This is a formula for a low stress life. The Stoics got to the core of it – things have meaning because we place meaning on them. We think that the world should be a series of results, instead of a series of truthful opinions and actions directed toward good outcomes.
What happens, happens.
I know this is hard, because every day when I try to divorce myself mentally from the outcome of an action that I’ve taken, and just be cool when it didn’t work out the way I wanted it to work out. The worst part? When I get upset about something that didn’t go my way . . . that didn’t even matter.
Perspective that I need to remember. Most things don’t matter – at all.
Back to Marcus:
Marcus Aurelius had a really, really awful son. Commodus. So bad Commodus’ wife poisoned him. So bad that Commodus’ best friend strangled him. So bad that they had Joaquin Phoenix play Commodus in Gladiator. Did Marcus have a clue that Commodus would be so awful? Probably. But he did everything he could. And his book has reached across centuries to us.
So, he did the right thing for the right reasons. And it worked.
After a fashion. To quote Marcus again: “That’s enough.”
John Wilder is not a doctor. Go see your doctor before you take medical advice from a blog written in a basement . . . .