“Death, like birth, is one of Nature’s secrets; the same elements that have been combined are then dispersed - Meditations case introduction. Nothing about it need give cause for shame. For beings endowed with mind it is no anomaly, nor in any way inconsistent with the plan of their creation.” The preceding quote came from passage 5 of Book 4 of The Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. It may initially be difficult to understand how Marcus Aurelius could have written about the most civilized behavior and at the same time accept a society that allowed cruel punishment to go unchecked. Yet, one can cull a bit of understanding of this inconsistency upon reading this passage where one can get the sense of acceptance and passivity to life’s inevitability among them death. One cannot and should not ponder objectively on the condition of death in order to comprehend its meaning, and neither can one just subjectively respond to it. It has no meaning and there is no response. There is merely the acknowledgment of its secrets as a natural path of life’s dispersal. There is simply death as there is birth. What we must develop is that ability to focus one’s thoughts to the present. The problem most of us have with thought is having too much of it. If we learn to just accept, then we can live in the present.
This is consistent with the teachings of Buddhism where the “confused can never live”. Happiness is not an inherent trait. It is a skill that can be learned. If you can live happily only after your problems are solved then you are never going to live happily because when today’s problems are gone and forgotten others will take its place. Happiness is about how you react inwardly to events, what you think and believe, how you feel, how problems affect you. “We are what we think, having become what we thought.” If we can train ourselves to think that we can be less angry, for example, then we will be able to react to situations in a less angry manner. It is when our inner lives are tranquil that we are happiest.
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However, we are living in a world that generally believes itself to be all-knowing and carries with it the burden of cynicism and nihilism. Emphasis has been placed too much on action and work. Moreover, our sufferings are often self-inflicted and self-perpetuating. We are never good enough. Someone else is much better than you are. Another jumped further than you did. Our minds are prone to too much worry and other negative thoughts. One needs to clear his mind and learn to exercise passivity and contemplation. “You are your own refuge.” One can only turn to one’s self if you are seeking joy and contentment. To renounce greed and hatred may actually be terrifying if you have lived your life under its shadows as a part of your defense and your corrupted sense of pleasure. However, the concept of defense is rendered moot if one is already liberated from these sources of suffering and true pleasure can only be had if one is at peace inside.
If you are aware of life’s limitations and learn to accept it, then you are more equipped to be able to retain choice and personal power over your thoughts and consequently over your actions. If it is happiness and freedom that you seek, then you will now be able to attain it.