On Meditations by Aurelius

This is a picture of a statue of Marcus Aurelius. I've used it because my essay critiques his philosophy.

I like Aurelius. I like his notion of withdrawing into yourself irrespective of the space and time you’re in, his idea of mortality and fatalism, and a few of his thoughts when it comes to controlling impulse with reason.

I love his philosophy of the present, and never adding more to an unfortunate circumstance. But I disagree with his concept of this being the best of all possible worlds, or the Whole, or the absolute Reason. This world we live in, is often more absurd than fiction, and it doesn’t take rocket science to figure that out. Things go unexplained and you’re never going to find answers or that quaint room with its beautiful symmetry and archaic charm.

No, you’ll often find yourself in a space that’s disjointed and fractured from your convictions: a room with yellow wallpaper, and yes, please catch the allusion, or a frightening, unnerving blurred mass enveloping you with zombies and tricksters breaking free, threatening to bite through flesh, and chew on your bones. And this isn’t paranoia. Just one panoramic glance with keen insight and you’ll see it: the horror, the miasma of living decay that’s abominable choking you, making you want to retch.

And I also dislike his insistence on man being social. Being social comes with both its flaws and its breakthroughs. Sure, it’s good to meet people, but finding yourself in a clique that stereotypes, or a group that hates with an unwarranted agenda makes void the entire notion of socializing being something always productive. He says it’s terrible to fracture yourself from society, but you find artists who’re are complete misfits or loners, giving you masterpieces. I think this is related to his notion of the divinity of man, or looking within to find the light. Now, I always interpret the latter in a very general way, and never make mystical or spiritual connections to it. You must look within to change, but that’s pretty much it.

I don’t believe in human divinity because when I see the world, I see a swirling mass of darkened grey. I use this color because humanity is prone to wickedness although it’s capable of good. The notion of humanity’s inherent nature is a subject that’s hotly debated ever since the first man and woman came into existence. Some say Adam’s fall led to a shift in balance and total depravity; others say we’ve not connected with our innate goodness, but I think both views fail.

We’re not totally depraved, and we have the freedom to choose, but we’re not innately good either. Just one glance at the holocaust tells you enough of the anti-divinity that’s present in man, unless you say that divinity itself is evil. I think man has no divinity, but I agree with Aurelius on the concept of a soul. But his overemphasis on morality puts me off. It’s preachy and becomes self-righteous. But then again he’s addressing himself. Also, is it humanly possible to exist with absolute mastery over impulse and emotion? Still, all said and done, concepts like embracing death without fear, knowing that you’ll be forgotten one day, and that it’s pointless weeping for the dead since they aren’t coming back makes sense.

But the idea of us being recycled by the universe, and just being reduced to mere atoms is only partially true, in my opinion. Sure we’ll all die and go back to dust or ashes, but that’s only the body. I believe that the soul lives on, not one with the Whole, but in another dimension. You can call it heaven, hell or purgatory, but the soul is immortal, but definitely not divine. But I’ll contradict myself here and say that it’s possible that complete soul-annihilation takes place. Hell, I’m open to change.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)

Retreating into myself

This is an image of an introspective man. I've used it because my post talks about the Aurelian notion of retreating into oneself. I feel this image captures that.

I toy with the Aurelian notion of retreating into myself, and find it works. I’m by no means a master, and resolve is something that takes years to forge in the fires of an unbending aim with an unbreakable hammer, but I’ve found it changing the little things. And if I can bottle petty fireflies of distracting thought, until their false glow diminishes and then cleanse the jar, then who is to say that bigger emotion cannot be caught too? Anger throbs, irritability pulsates, guilt swirls, and sadness echoes, but it’s ephemeral, and impulse makes a man a beast, but transcending it by withdrawal into oneself despite the situation, scenario, place or time begets a joy or satisfaction which is more than mere catharsis or a transient solution. Going a bit off tangent here, I’ll say that existentialism stripped off its clothing regardless of the positive or negative spectrum that a person who believes in it adheres to, gives us two nude reflections: responsibility and meaning. And losing sight of the first is more catastrophic than the latter. I’m not responsible for the lives of others or the problems of this world, because I don’t adhere to a collective responsibility at an individual level like some nihilism suggests. But yes, I’m responsible for me, my faults, the hurt I’ve caused, the happiness I’ve given, the love I’ve shared, and the person I am: both good and bad. And for me the question of God is now irrelevant. But that’s not saying that my life has no purpose. My meaning changes each day or each hour, and I can either lose it or accomplish it. And when I’m losing it, because of emotion or resignation or circumstance, I retreat into myself, and acknowledge my responsibility, and will my drive. And yes, fate exists, because sometimes unwarranted and unnecessary circumstances place obstacles, but I’ve realized that the key is the present, and looking at those obstacles as challenges I must savor and not burdens I carry, and here again retreating, irrespective of if I’m in a bar, or in my bedroom, or smoking on the balcony, or in a park, or somewhere idyllic helps. And trust me, it isn’t easy, because I often fail. But if I just lay there and didn’t ultimately gain the mastery I need, then I’ve lost both responsibility and meaning.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)