This month's Missal looks at two Roman philosophers, Marcus Aurelius and Boethius. Though they lived nearly three hundred years apart, their lives, spiritual and earthly, were similar, leaving a legacy which survived the dark ages, giving a light of progress for later times.
Marcus Aurelius (121-180) is sometimes called the last of the five 'Good Emperors', and his rule covered the last years of Rome's Golden age. He was well educated and showed an interest in philosophy in his youth. His reign as emperor was one of intelligent reform, though he spent much time in the field in the various border wars, and Christians were still legally persecuted under his reign.
While on campaign between 170 and 180, Aurelius wrote his Meditations in Greek as a source for his own guidance and self-improvement. This remarkable little book bears his chief legacy to future generations. In it we find the culmination of Aurelius's life, a fine example of Stoic philosophy and spirituality.
A noble man compares and estimates himself by an idea which is higher than himself; and a mean man, by one lower than himself. The one produces aspiration; the other ambition, which is the way in which a vulgar man aspires.
Aurelius lived a life of relative austerity given his position as lord of the Roman Empire. He took from life the lessons it taught, not as a means of ambition in life, but as a way of explaining it from a higher view point. He left a legacy of virtue and moral values usually unheard of from one in his position. He did not believe in life after death, feeling that all things in this world are disintegrating, ourselves as well, though he still lived an ethical life. He viewed death as a release from life and its desires, which he saw as misery and a trap. He died from the Antonine plague, believed to be measles or smallpox. His Meditations was first published in modern times in 1558.
To desire is to be permanently disappointed and disturbed, since everything we desire in this world is empty and corrupt and paltry.
Boethius (480–524 or 525) was a Christian philosopher of the 6th century, best known for his work The Consolation of Philosophy. He, like Aurelius, was born into Roman aristocracy and enjoyed a life of privilege. He rose through the ranks to become consul to Theodoric the Great, the Arian emperor in the later day Roman Empire. Being well versed in Greek as well as Latin, he took it upon himself to translate the works of Aristotle and Plato into Latin, a task he only partly accomplished. In later life his prominence evaporated when Theodoric accused him of treason and conspiring with the Byzantine Emperor in Constantinople against him. Boethius attributed his imprisonment to slander from his rivals and court intrigue.
While in prison he composed his great work, The Consolation of Philosophy, as a dialogue between himself and the 'lady of philosophy' who consoled him in his time of woe. He wrote of the impermanence of life, and its resemblance to a wheel. The high are eventually rolled over and the low exalted, change being the only constant.
"Inconsistency is my very essence," says the wheel.
"Raise yourself upon my spokes if you wish... but don't complain when you are plunged back down."
Boethius set down what he had learned in life, and prison, leaving for others a guide to something higher than this life of desire and fear. For him philosophy was the guiding light, rather than earthly pursuits. He left a remarkable collection of work, his Consolation being one of the most popular books of the Middle Ages. His later life of prison and torture, and eventual execution, led him to search within for meaning, and he left a record of what he found. He is considered a saint by the Catholic church, his feast day being October 23.
In other living creatures the ignorance of themselves is nature, but in men it is a vice.
Both of these men, though Roman aristocrats, found something beyond themselves, and somehow resisted the path of worldly temptation common to their lot. They left a record of their findings, and lived lives true to their beliefs. Marcus Aurelius, the Last of the Good Emperors, and Boethius, the Last of the Romans, found consolation in something beyond. We might do well to take a look at how and what.
Bless me in this life with but peace of my Conscience,
command of my affections, the love of Thy self and my dearest
friends, and I shall be happy enough to pity Ceasar. These are,
O Lord, the humble desires of my most reasonable ambition,
and all I dare call happiness on earth; wherein I set no rule
or limit to Thy Hand or Providence. Dispose of me according
to the wisdom of Thy pleasure: Thy will be done, though in my own undoing.
Quotes by Marcus Aurelius and Boethius
Biographical material from Wikipedia
- Related Sites -
Tricks and Traps
Trap: mood identification. Becoming completely identified with our moods is a dangerous and expensive game. We believe in every thought the mood generates, for the intellect becomes a slave of the mood and it's negative emotional state. Once the mood gets hold of us, it's nearly impossible to break directly, we usually need an outside force, such as a change of scene or a friend.
Tricks: watch the thoughts and their targets, and keep plugging. Many times we believe the mood is caused by others, and waste valuable energy resenting them and their actions. If we watch the thoughts carefully over the course of the mood, we may see that the target of our resentment changes, and that anyone, even ourselves, will do. This gives a clue as to what is wrong: the mood is primary, not the target/victim. We may then get the insight that we're identified with a negative emotional state, rather than facts.
"Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut."
- Ernest Hemingway
No-Mind: A Trilogy
" When Freud coined the phrase that the ego was 'the true seat of anxiety', he was giving voice to a very true and profound intuition. " - C. G. Jung
For this month's Commentary I've pulled three essays from the files, hoping to illustrate the problem of the mind or ego in our search for Truth. Being such a slippery devil, able to assume any shape, even split itself in two, we usually find our attempts to become objective to the personal pattern a vain struggle of the ego against itself.
Hope you find this useful. - Bob Fergeson
On Negative Emotions
Negative emotions are such because they are created by a false self, or created individual, and directed towards another false, created object or individual. Even if this emotion is 'love' or what's commonly called compassion, it is still false because it puts the particle against the universal. A created, separate object, or creature, placing another false object in a position of value, by definition places all other objects in a position of less value, and is thus negative as regards the whole. If we take a million such creatures loving a million self-projected creations, the conflicts thus generated are staggering. Now we begin to see why we live in a world of strife and misery. Every object which declares itself to be the designated giver or judge of love sets itself against another million such objects and their loves.
Only the Real can Love, and can only love Itself, or what is also Real. A created, and thus false, self can only love it's own creations, also false. The ego-centric position is thus negative, as it sets itself up against everything and declares itself to be individual and singular. We cannot truly love another if what we are is not real, and the object of our love is not also real. Love IS, individuals are not. The real in us can only love the real in another. The only way to experience a true positive emotion is to die, die to the created false self. Love wishes to manifest, to act. It does not wish to act at the expense of, or for the building up of, an individual thing. There are no individual things. Earnest investigation of any thing, whether physical or mental, will show that there is nothing there but what the mind creates. Honest investigation into the mind itself will produce the same result: nothing. A positive emotion can only be experienced or observed, it cannot be created and then directed towards another creation by a creature.
Finding the Inner Self
Two things can help us in making contact with the inner self. The first is the complete acceptance that we are mechanical, along with a willingness to listen to that which is not. We see we need help. The ego will resist any effort which would lead to its demotion, and the idea of actually listening to the still, small voice within will be tested at every turn.
The second is the storing of energy through conservation. We will need power, strength, and clarity of mind to pass through the valley of death and return to tell about it. The temptations and dissipations of a sensual lifestyle, the toys of adolescense, must be put aside. We have time and energy for only one endeavor at a time. Our vitality will be needed to develop the intuition and the capacity for clear reasoning, rather than buying fun tickets for the amusement park of illusion. The capacity and willingness to listen to the Inner Self comes at a price.
Through this two-pronged approach of accepting our mechanical nature while storing our vitality, we build the possibility of coming into contact with that which lies beyond. Until we see that the mind in time is merely a tool, and not us, we will pass by the portals to the Inner Self, and our true nature.
Before we can develop a connection with our inner self, or true intelligence, we must be shown the stark fact that such a connection does not yet exist. In other words, we must see ourselves as we truly are, a SMAARP: a self-maintaining accidental associative reaction pattern, a robot. This robot may have the programming to make its way through life in a reasonable fashion, but it is sorely lacking in answering the fundamental questions about reality, Truth and our origin and destiny. Nature will assist the majority of mechanical men on their journey through life. It will not help with matters outside its domain. For this, a form of intelligence on a higher order than associative reaction is needed.
Food for Thought
Over the years I've noticed a strange phenomenon that has provided much food for thought, and eventually led to some understanding of the process of consciousness, or the reflexive mind. Looking at the mountains that surround my town, sometimes I've seen a glorious vista, a scene which causes my spirit to soar. At other times, I've seen piles of dirt and rocks. Usually, it's somewhere between the two. Rather than look at this from the point of view of states of mind that can color our thinking, I'd like to take a look at the mind itself, as an object of awareness.
What are we looking at when we see a scene? Are we gazing at the actual light rays bouncing off the object? Are we seeing a vision produced by the mind? Or are we focusing our awareness on and through the mind itself? If our awareness is located inside the mind, lost in the bi-polar brain as consciousness, then this consciousness sees only its self-created reflection. Being a reflected light in the duality of the mind dimension, this consciousness can only gaze at its own projections or reactions. The simple reception of the senses, and the projection or reaction of the mind to these sense perceptions, which can change with the wind, happen simultaneously, and so cannot usually be differentiated. Hence, we can look upon a scene and see two different things. One is simply the perceptions picked up through the senses, brought into focus and made apprehendable through the brain. The other is the creation of the reflexive mind, a reaction or thought pattern based on the individual character and mood of this mind or consciousness. In the first type there may be no understanding, but the possibility of the unknown remains, for no judgment or reflection has yet taken place. In the second, what we could call the 'known' associative pattern, there is no awareness of the process, as it happens. How can we retreat from the reactive consciousness and find a truer place beyond the realm of the insistent mind? Can we begin to see the consciousness itself rather than just the objects of this consciousness?
Effortless meditation techniques combined with deep productive thinking can help us learn to listen and see, rather than only insist we know. A result of these two types of meditation is to see the consciousness itself, which has an immediate effect. If we can see the mind creating its own reflection and judging it to be real, then we have stepped back into the listening attention. In this silent mind, the awareness not only looks upon the view of the senses, but also becomes a passive listening, a looking back towards Awareness itself, so as to allow the possibility of the unknown. This dual gaze stops the projecting process and brings us into a quiet place of possibility, where there is no longer a reflexive mind. Here, there is no 'consciousness', for there is no 'I' or mind to be conscious of itself, for the reflexive pattern has suddenly ceased. Awareness has become free from the reflections of the dual mind, leaving us in a position to receive, rather than endlessly creating a parade of reflected images.
The very idea of this place of silence can be very disconcerting to the mind that still insists it 'knows'. We are so in love with our own creations, we never sense that they are only projections or reaction patterns. To see and admit that we don't 'know' is the first step beyond this mind. By making the mind itself the object of consciousness, we leave consciousness, and retreat from the circular pattern of reflexive thinking to enter the quiet realm of possibility and the Inner Self.
- Bob Fergeson
- Quotes of the Month -
" The first rule is to keep an untroubled spirit. The second is to look things in the face and know them for what they are.
" To the wise, life is a problem; to the fool, a solution
" Our life is what our thoughts make it.
" Nowhere can man find a quieter or more untroubled retreat than in his own soul.
" It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live." - Marcus Aurelius
" Why, then, O mortal men, do you seek that happiness outside, which lies within yourselves?
" Nothing is miserable unless you think it is so.
" For in all adversity of fortune the worst sort of misery is to have been happy.
" All is vanity and vexation of Spirit." - Boethius
" Quiet is the absence of sound, silence the presence of silence. - Silence is a bridge between worlds. - Silence is not silent.
" Suffering of quality is invisible to others. - We have the right to choose our form of suffering." - Robert Fripp
" Soon the child's clear eye is clouded over by ideas and opinions, preconceptions and abstractions. Simple free being becomes encrusted with the burdensome armor of the ego. Not until years later does an instinct come that a vital sense of mystery has been withdrawn. The sun glints through the pines, and the heart is pierced in a moment of beauty and strange pain, like a memory of paradise. After that day . . . we become seekers." - Peter Matthiessen
" The object in life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane." - Marcus Aurelius
"When we remember that we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained." - Mark Twain
Copyright 2008 - Robert Fergeson. All Rights Reserved.