Friday, March 10, 2023

Where to turn

Philosophy is therefore for Marcus [Aurelius] a style of life, a disciplined way of living according to nature by the light of reason—toward eudaimonia and away from chaos (cf. 7.17). How many times, Marcus reminds himself, “have I strayed from philosophy and nowhere found the good life—not in logical arguments, not in wealth, not in glory, not in self-indulgence, nowhere! Where, then, is the good life to be found? In doing what Nature demands of human beings” (8.1; cf. 9.29; 10.2 et passim).

But how, most basically, do we achieve the kind of happy life that comes from the practice of philosophy? Marcus’s answer is simple: turn inward. “Go into yourself” (7.28). “Look within” (6.3). When the world's chaos rages, Marcus says over and over again, “go immediately into yourself” (6.11). People seek “retreats for themselves—the country, the seashore, the mountains—and you, too,” Marcus says to himself, “are rather prone to experience this yearning.” “But all this,” he continues, “is most unphilosophic given the fact that you can retreat into yourself at any hour you wish. For nowhere can a person retreat into more tranquility or solitude than in his own soul, especially the one who has the sort of inner habits of thought that immediately bring comfort. And by ‘comfort,’ I mean a well—ordered life. Continually, therefore, grant yourself this retreat and renew yourself” (4.3).—One True Life: The Stoics and Early Christians as Rival Traditions, 78-79

<idle musing>
The advice hasn't changed a whole lot in 2000 years, has it? Turn inward. But what happens when the inward is empty, as it is for so many?

The Stoic life seems designed for those who are well-off, aristocracy even, and who have a strong inner constitution. As for the rest of us? Well, tough cookies.

No wonder they thought Christians were weak-minded!
</idle musing>

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