Marcus Aurelius, considers how befriending this eternal interplay of life and death, the inevitable and indiscriminate nature of this inhale-exhale cycle that is life — can inform and ennoble our existence.
Simple meditation upon these eternal truths, can enoble us while also strengthening through the understanding of the utter simplicity of our impermanence…
He admonishes and councels us over the ages, softly-softly to only take care of doing one thing:
“Just that you do the right thing.
The rest doesn’t matter.
Cold or warm.
Tired or well-rested.
Despised or honored.
Dying … or busy with other assignments.
Because dying, too, is one of our assignments in life.
There as well: Do what needs doing…
Some things are rushing into existence, others out of it. Some of what now exists is already gone. Change and flux constantly remake the world, just as the incessant progression of time remakes eternity.
We find ourselves in a river. Which of the things around us should we value when none of them can offer a firm foothold?
Like an attachment to a sparrow: we glimpse it and it’s gone.
And life itself: like the decoction of blood, the drawing in of air. We expel the power of breathing we drew in at birth, just yesterday or the day before, breathing it out, like the air we exhale at each moment.
Alexander the Great and his mule driver both died and the same thing happened to both.
They were absorbed alike into the life force of the world, or dissolved alike into atoms.”
But rather than being dispirited by this awareness, we can find in it an enlivening force of moral solidity in the face of our ephemeral existence:
“Keep this constantly in mind: that all sorts of people have died — all professions, all nationalities. Follow the thought all the way down to Philistion, Phoebus, and Origanion.
Now extend it to other species.
We have to go there too, where all of them have already gone:
… the eloquent and the wise — Heraclitus, Pythagoras, Socrates …
… the heroes of old, the soldiers and kings who followed them …
… the smart, the generous, the hardworking, the cunning, the selfish …
… and even those who laughed at the whole brief, fragile business.
All underground for a long time now.
And what harm does it do them? Or the others either — the ones whose names we don’t even know?
The only thing that isn’t worthless: to live this life out truthfully and rightly. And be patient with those who don’t.”