The Universe as One Living Being

From The Thoughts of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antonius , by Marcus Aurelius Antonius. (Written circa 170 CE; translated by George Long in 1862).

Constantly regard the universe as one living being, having one substance and one soul; and observe how all things have reference to one perception, the perception of this one living being; and how all things act with one movement; and how all things are the co-operating causes of all things which exist; observe too the continuous spinning of the thread and the contexture of the web.

Retire into Your Own Soul

From The Meditations (second century CE), by Marcus Aurelius, translated in 1862 by George Long.

Men seek retreats for themselves, houses in the country, sea-shores, and mountains; and thou too art wont to desire such things very much. But this is altogether a mark of the most common sort of men, for it is in thy power whenever thou shalt choose to retire into thyself. For nowhere either with more quiet or more freedom from trouble does a man retire than into his own soul, particularly when he has within him such thoughts that by looking into them he is immediately in perfect tranquility; and I affirm that tranquility is nothing else than the good ordering of the mind. Constantly then give to thyself this retreat, and renew thyself; and let thy principles be brief and fundamental, which, as soon as thou shalt recur to them, will be sufficient to cleanse the soul completely, and to send thee back free from all discontent with the things to which thou returnest.

The Soothing Harmony of Marcus Aurelius

From The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft (1912), by George Gissing.

Many a time, when life went hard with me, I have betaken myself to the Stoics, and not all in vain. Marcus Aurelius has often been one of my bedside books; I have read him in the night watches, when I could not sleep for misery, and when assuredly I could have read nothing else. He did not remove my burden; his proofs of the vanity of earthly troubles availed me nothing; but there was a soothing harmony in his thought which partly lulled my mind, and the mere wish that I could find strength to emulate that high example (though I knew that I never should) was in itself a safeguard against the baser impulses of wretchedness.

Hat tip: Graveyard Masonry.

Stoicism and the Simple Life

From From the Greeks to the Greens: Images of the Simple Life (1989), edited by Reinhold Grimm and Jost Hermand.

The Stoic concept of the “simple life” can be briefly summarized. The aim of the philosopher is to live in harmony with nature whose guiding principle is the logos or reason, also identified with God. Those who do live in harmony with reason are virtuous, which is the only good. To enable the human being to turn to and embrace the logos, moderation must be exercised in all areas of natural existence. The individual must become free of desires for externals and live simply. Wine does not slake thirst better than water, nor does a luxurious house keep one more sheltered than a simple one. The one who lives in harmony with the logos is truly free and happy, and since this state is the only real good, the presence of such things as health, pain, and death are of no importance. The Stoic “simple life” does not find its sense in itself; rather, it serves the freedom of the individual and, thus, allows one to pursue the goal of attaining the true good.