August 9, 2022

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The Good Luck of Your Bad Luck: Marcus Aurelius on the Stoic Strategy for Weathering Life’s Waves and Turning Suffering into Strength


Most folks dwell with an incredible deal extra struggling than is seen to even essentially the most proximate and delicate onlooker. Many have survived issues each unimaginable and invisible to the surface world. This has been the case for the reason that daybreak of our species, for human nature has hardly modified beneath the regularly repainted façade of our social sanctions — human beings have at all times been able to inflicting large ache on one another and able to triumphal therapeutic.

There is, nevertheless, a peculiar trendy phenomenon that may finest be described as a tradition of aggressive trauma. In latest occasions, the touching human eager for sympathy, that impulse to have our struggling acknowledged and validated, has grown distorted by a troubling compulsion for broadcast-suffering and comparative validity. Personhoods are staked on the playing cards dealt and never the arms performed, as if we developed the opposable thumbs of our company for nothing. In memoirs and actuality reveals, throughout infinite Alexandrian scrolls of social media feeds, the unfortunate occasions of life have turn out to be the foreign money of consideration and identification.

Drawing by Art Young from Trees at Night, 1926. (Available as a print.)

There is a approach, with average ethical creativeness and appreciable countercultural braveness, to subvert this tendency with out turning away from the truth and magnitude of struggling that we do dwell with — a technique to esteem in consideration and admiration not the unluckiness of what has occurred to us however the luckiness that, regardless of it, we’ve got turn out to be the folks we’re and have the lives we’ve got by the sheer unwillingness to remain in that small darkish place, which is at coronary heart a willingness to be bigger than our damage selves.

It is just not a brand new approach of reframing private narrative (which, in any case, is the neuropsychological pillar of identity). It is a really previous approach, widespread to most of the world’s ancient traditions however most clearly and creatively articulated by the Stoic thinker Marcus Aurelius (April 26, 121–March 17, 180).

Marcus Aurelius

Because the trendy thoughts calculates validity of vantage level by estimating the comparative worth of struggling, it have to be noticed that, later in life, Marcus Aurelius had it simpler than most of his contemporaries, being Emperor; it should even be noticed that, earlier in life, he had it more durable than most, being a fatherless child and a queer teenager in Roman antiquity, epochs earlier than the notion of LGBTQ rights, or for that matter most human rights. It is hardly stunning that he turned to Stoicism for succor and coaching in dwelling with the uncertainty of occasions and the understanding of loss.

His timeless Meditations (public library), newly translated and annotated by the British classics scholar Robin Waterfield, have been the unique self-help — Marcus wrote these notebooks primarily as notes to himself whereas studying easy methods to dwell: easy methods to dwell with extra company, equanimity, and even pleasure in a world violently unpredictable always and particularly so in his time.

The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Japanese artist Hokusai, 1831. (Available as a print and as a face mask, benefitting The Nature Conservancy.)

In a type of self-counsels, Marcus Aurelius considers the important thing to relating to one’s personal life, and dwelling it, with constructive realism:

Be like a headland: the waves beat towards it repeatedly, however it stands quick and round it the boiling water dies down. “It’s my rotten luck that this has happened to me.” On the opposite, “It’s my good luck that, although this has happened to me, I still feel no distress, since I’m unbruised by the present and unconcerned about the future.” What occurred may have occurred to anybody, however not everybody may have carried on with out letting it misery him. So why regard the incident as a bit of unhealthy luck moderately than seeing your avoidance of misery as a bit of fine luck? Do you usually describe an individual as unfortunate when his nature labored effectively? Or do you rely it as a malfunction of an individual’s nature when it succeeds in securing the end result it wished?

Spring Moon at Ninomiya Beach, 1931 — one in every of Hasui Kawase’s vintage Japanese woodblocks. (Available as a print.)

With an eye fixed to “what human nature wants” — what life finally calls for because it lives itself by means of us, and what our highest reply is — he concludes:

Can what occurred to you cease you from being truthful, high-minded, average, conscientious, unhasty, sincere, ethical, self-reliant, and so forth — from possessing all of the qualities that, when current, allow a person’s* nature to be fulfilled? So then, every time one thing occurs that may trigger you misery, bear in mind to depend on this precept: this isn’t unhealthy luck, however bearing it valiantly is nice luck.

Complement with an equally counterintuitive and perspective-broadening trendy case for the luckiness of death and Alan Watts on the ambiguity of good and bad luck, then revisit different highlights from the indispensable Meditations: Marcus Aurelius on how to handle disappointing people, the key to living with presence, the most potent motivation for work, and how to begin each day for maximum serenity of mind.





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