As I’m away from work to observe the Annual USian Ritual of Gluttony and Familial Dysfunction, I’m switching from the odd Classical Library editions of Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius that live in my office to the really beautiful Loeb Classical Library editions that I currently have at home. It’s a bit like going from the toys at pre-school back to one’s own toys — the Legos at pre-school are cool and all, but my home Legos are always just a little more reassuring.
What? I like Legos.
I feel like I ought (in the spirit of proper mindfulness and self-discipline) to admit that yesterday and today will not reflect well on my Stoicism. I’m fighting a losing battle with the whole business where food is concerned (as expected, this time of year), and while I managed not to freak out about the Unfortunate Key Incident yesterday (yay!), Team Terrier seems to have discovered how to get on my last nerve and is busily going at it. Furry little brats.
I suppose that’s as good a reason as any to turn now to the assigned theme of the day, Virtue and Relationships with Others. Clearly I need to work much harder on that (especially where by “others” you mean “three pesky little dogs who have decided that they are too precious to go out in the snow.”).
This morning’s text for reflection pretty much hit my actual waking experience this morning:
Early in the morning, when you are finding it hard to wake up, hold this thought in your mind: ‘I am getting up to do the work of a human being. Do I still resent it, if I am going out to do what I was born for, and for which I was brought into the world? Or was I framed for this, to lie under the bedclothes and keep myself warm?’ ‘But this is more pleasant’. So were you born for pleasure: in general were you born for feeling or for affection? Don’t you see the plants, the little sparrows, the ants, the spiders, the bees doing their own work, and playing their part in making up an ordered world. And then are you unwilling to do the work of a human being? Won’t you run to do what is in line with your nature? (Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 5.1)
Honestly, if good Marcus had asked me this morning whether I resented it, the answer would have been “YES. Now go away and let me sleep, and take those three furry bed-hogging miscreants with you.” Admittedly, staying out very late to drink, play loud rock music, and celebrate does tend to slow a body down a bit at the beginning of the day. It certainly makes doing one’s meditations simultaneously easy (one cannot help noticing something that definitely needs work) and difficult (one finds oneself struggling to concentrate properly on it).
Yeah. Today is not a shining moment of Stoic practice for me. :)
Still, I find something attractive in the notion of rising with the purpose of doing “the work of a human being.” I gather that at least part of that job is the work one does on oneself in order to promote virtue (mindfulness, self-discipline, consideration, reason, etc.) — but the natural extension of that self-work seems to me to require a work on the world (to the degree that one can do any work on the world). Being “full of love, and yet free from [irrational] passions” (a bit of Marcus Aurelius quoted in the SW14 handbook for today’s exercise) seems to me to demand it, especially if we consider the possibility that it is irrational passions themselves that may most effectively get in the way of the kind of affection for all life that the Stoics seemed to be after.
The simultaneity of the work on self and world that seems to me to be implied by the very idea of the “work of a human being” is the thing that keeps me trying to figure out how to engage my canine roomies productively, in ways that both respect their particular needs, interests, and typical behaviors and that give us a way to live together under a set of rules that, from their point of view must seem entirely incomprehensible. I cannot say that I always do it right, but I am trying.
Now: Time to do the work of a human being and/or make the donuts!