I started the new year, 2019, with a long hike in the Santa Cruz mountain range.
The air in the mountains was very fresh, compared with the uniquely peculiar “scent” of central London, which I merrily inhaled throughout the holiday season. Crudely stated, it was probably because of the exhaust from diesel cars and buses, which was too much for the plants in the community gardens and parks to be able to negate its impact. I cannot help loving London nevertheless. That is home, complained about excessively yet yearned to go back wherever else we are. A perfect day is to have an English breakfast for breakfast, for lunch, and for dinner. Please do not worry on my behalf about the fat, cholesterol, etc. I do not have convenient access to good quality English breakfast where I am for the most part of the year. What a wonderfully tormenting blessing.
The hike was for the body. It was to review 2018 and to plan 2019. Silently between me and the mountains. The content remains private between us.
As for the mind, I read Meditations (translation by Gregory Hays) again today. Very appropriate on the first day of the year. It is a good book, easier to read than the other translations for the general public. It is one of those few books that you do not ever finish reading. You read, reflect, leave it aside, revisit, reflect a bit more, think about your own perspectives, throw it away, live your life a bit richer, commit a few errors, recall some passages vaguely, pick it up and reread pieces again, move on, blah blah, blah. You get the idea. It is a book that deserve its place in a bookshelf, however small yours is.
To read attentively – not to be satisfied with “just getting the gist of it”. And not to fall for every smooth talker.
To have learned how to accept favors from friends without losing your self-respect or appearing ungrateful.
His searching questions at meetings. A kind of single-mindedness, never content with first impressions, or breaking off the discussions prematurely.
His advance planning (well in advance) and his discreet attention to even minor things.
A man tested by life, accomplished, unswayed by flattery, qualified to govern both himself and them.
He never exhibited rudeness, lost control of himself, or turned violent. No one ever saw him sweat. Everything was to be approached logically and with due consideration, in a calm and orderly fashion but decisively, and with no loose ends.
Concentrate every minute like a Roman – like a man – on doing what’s in front of you with precise and genuine seriousness, tenderly, willingly, with justice.
Do external things distract you? Then make time for yourself to learn something worthwhile; stop letting yourself be pulled in all directions. But make sure you guard against the other kind of confusion. People who labor all their lives but have no purpose to direct every thought and impulse toward are wasting their time, even when hard at work.
You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.
The speed with which all of them vanish – the objects in the world and the memory of them in time.
Even if you are going to live three thousand more years, or ten times that, remember: you cannot lose another life than the one you are living now, or live another one than the one you are losing. The longest amounts to the same as the shortest. The present is the same for everyone; its loss is the same for everyone; and it should be clear that a brief instant is all that is lost. For you cannot lose the either the past or the future; how could you lose what you do not have?
We need to hurry. Not just because we move daily closer to death but also because our understanding – our grasp of the world – may be gone before we get there.
You need to avoid certain things in your train of thoughts: everything random, everything irrelevant. And certainly everything self-important or malicious. You need to get used to winnowing your thoughts.
Always to define whatever it is we perceive – to trace its outline – so we can see what it really is: its substance. Stripped bare. As a whole. Unmodified. And to call it by its name – the thing itself and its components, to which it will eventually return. Nothing is so conducive to spiritual growth as this capacity for logical and accurate analysis of everything that happens to us.
If you do the job in a principled way, with diligence, energy and patience, if you keep yourself free of distractions, and keep the spirit inside you undamaged, as if you might have to give it back at any moment. If you can embrace this without fear or expectation – can find fulfillment in what you are doing now, as Nature intended, and in superhuman truthfulness (every word, every utterance) – then you life will be happy. No one can prevent that.
Not to feel exasperated, or defeated, or despondent because your days aren’t packed with wise and moral actions. But to get back up when you fail, to celebrate behaving like a human – however imperfectly – and fully embrace the pursuit that you have embarked on.
The things you think about determine the quality of your mind. You soul takes on the color of your thoughts.
Pain is neither unbearable nor unending, as long as you keep in mind its limits and do not magnify them in your imagination.
Perfection of character: to live your last day, every day, without frenzy, or sloth, or pretense.
Stick to what is in front of you: idea, action, utterance.
Joy for humans lies in human actions.
Either pain affects the body (which is the body’s problem) or it affects the soul. But the soul can choose not to be affected, preserving its own serenity, its own tranquility. All our decisions, urges, desires, aversions lie within. No evil can touch them.
What does not transmit light creates its own darkness.
You can endure anything you mind can make endurable, by treating it as in your interest to do so.
What 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.
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.
To live a good life: We have the potential for it. If we can learn to be indifferent to what makes no difference. This is how we learn: by looking at each thing, both the parts and the whole. Keeping in mind that none of them can dictate how we perceive it. They don’t impose themselves on us. They hover before us, unmoving. It is we who generate the judgements – inscribing them on ourselves. And we don’t have to. We could leave the page blank – and if a mark slips through, erase it instantly. Remember how brief is the attentiveness required. And then our lives will end….None of us is forbidden to pursue our own good.
How much more damage anger and grief do than the things that cause them.
It’s courtesy and kindness that define a human being – and a man. That’s who possesses strength and nerves and guts, not the angry whiners. To react like that brings you closer to impassivity – and so to strength. Pain is the opposite of strength, and so is anger. Both are things we suffer from, and yield to.
If you do not have a consistent goal in life, you cannot live it in a consistent way.
It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own. If a god appeared to us and prohibited us from concealing our thoughts or imagining anything without immediately shouting it out, we wouldn’t make it through a single day. That’s how much we value other people’s opinions instead of our own.
Let’s end with this activity:
Stop whatever you are doing for a moment and ask yourself: am I afraid of death because I won’t be able to do this anymore?