What is this, fundamentally? What is its nature and substance, its reason for being? What is it doing in the world? How long is it here for?
- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 8:11
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This is what Tuesday morning gives me.
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Not to fall off the cliff of useless metaphysical speculation here, there is something remarkably urgent about Aurelius' questions, something that expressed an urgency inside him: he wanted to know. This is what brought him to life - this questioning of himself, his attempt to riddle out some knowledge about why we are born, why we die, of what life is to be like in between those poles. He wanted to understand and the tools he had available to him were language and his mind. In the end, these tools are all that are left to you and I to play with these questions, to devise ones of our own. It is inescapable - we are our thoughts. What we think, how we think, whether we think at all, is the truest measure of how we navigate our lives. The thinking becomes our reality. It takes on flesh. It robes that flesh and so we walk in the world.
What have you been thinking?
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Cogito ergo sum, Rene Descartes (that drunken fart), tells me this is how knowledge becomes certain: thought implies, nay, proves, existence. Right on. I suppose. But that is ontology, the ever narrowing gyre of first causes, and I have little use for it. Such questions distract from the matter at hand: how am I to live. Present tense. It is in our thinking, our habits of understanding the world around us that we create our lives. Circumstances matter less than the way we think about those circumstances and the various ways we can/should/might respond to them. Aurelius is asking after this substance: our animating spark - consciousness, conscience, thought, belief. These things are the ground floor of our actions and our actions are but our thoughts in motion.
Why bother asking after it? Why bother trying to know it? Isn't it unknowable? We've had several thousand years to riddle it out and all we've come up with are conflicting stories and the wars that attend those stories. Lots of death trying to figure out life. If that scale is too big, then drill down to the scale of your lifetime. How much harm have you done to yourself or others because of the way you thought of your life? How much harm has befallen you because others have thought and acted in unthinking ways?
It is because we are infants, emotional, intellectual, moral infants. We destroy others and ourselves with the thought that we can know absolutes, that our beliefs are truths, that because we think we are justified: cogitationis justifactus.
It isn't mere thought that matters, but what we think, what we play with, what takes our attention and why. Aurelius believed in the logos, a natural order in which all men and women played a role in maintaining and furthering. It was transcendent of day to day life, yet was made up of the actions each made day to day. This was the bulwark against which he asked his questions. Where each of us begins matters. It is a limiting factor. It excludes, as it must, other starting places. And here's the thing, my friend, each starting place is valid, each starting place is true, each starting place is just that: the beginning. We fuck ourselves when we stop there, when we ask no questions, when we do not wander and wonder about the nature and substance of our being and what it is doing in the world.
If you are here unfaithfully among us you are doing great damage. This is so. This is so. This is so.
And what makes one unfaithful?
We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
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Tattoo it on your forehead.
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