Commander Divine talks about Stoic philosophy and Marcus Aurelius

“The longest lived and those who will die soonest lose the same thing. The present is all that they can give up, since that is all you have.”

This podcast is supported by Ample. Ample is a new company that has brought you convenient and healthy meals in a bottle. Mark loves Ample and has started using them as his regular “MRE” or Meal Ready to Eat. The Ample meals aren’t just protein shakes,  they are complete meals, including fiber and healthy fats as well as protein.   Check them out. Listeners can use the code “unbeatable” on amplemeal.com to get 15% off their first order.

Commander Divine has always had an attachment to Marcus Aurelius, though it was only later in life that he realized what an honor it was to be compared to him.  Marcus Aurelius was a Roman emperor who was a devotee of the Greek philosophy of Stoicism, which is a very practical approach to wisdom and knowledge. He wrote a large set of “Meditations” where he described his learning and knowledge while he was on military campaigns and elsewhere. Mark reads these short pieces of wisdom and explains them as they relate to the modern world. Learn how Stoicism is related to the Unbeatable Mind philosophy and how you can use the Stoic teachings of Marcus Aurelius in everyday life.

The Halo neurostimulation system will help you to push boundaries and perform at your maximum capacity. Commander Divine is often testing new products, and Halo is the most recent that he felt absolutely needed to be passed on to his tribe.  Halo is a neurostimulation device that electrically stimulates movement centers in your brain, making you able to move better and faster. It is as simple to use as downloading an app and plugging in headphones. The company has graciously offered to give a discount to Unbeatable Mind people using the code “unbeatablemind125” at haloneuro.com.

The Commander is a huge fan of Qualia, an extensively researched nootropic, brought to you by The Neurohacker Collective.  It will help you reach your full potential cognitively, so that you can always think clearly, even when you’re tired or overwhelmed. When you purchase an ongoing subscription for Qualia at neurohacker.com, enter the code “unbeatablemind15r” to get 15% off the price of a monthly subscription.

Other episodes of our podcast that you might be interested in are Mark’s interview with Mitch Horowitz on the philosophy of positive thinking and the episode with Ryan Holiday on publishing and Stoicism.

Transcript & Shownotes

Hey folks, this is Mark Divine. Welcome back to the Unbeatable Mind podcast. Thanks so much for your time today. I do appreciate it and I hope you’re doing outstanding, and you are unbeatable.

Today we’re going to do another solocast. And I was recalling the other day how when I was younger, my dad used to call me “Marcus Aurelius.” As kind of an affectionate term. And I just thought it was kind of cute. Never really spent much time thinking about it until the last couple of years. When I realized what an honor that was.

Now I don’t know whether my dad had actually ever studied Marcus Aurelius. Or if he just knew the name and thought it was cute that he called me “Marcus Aurelius.”

At any rate, I choose to think that it was a great honor. Because the more I learn about Marcus Aurelius–who was a Roman Emperor. Who was quite the philosopher. And he lived around 161 to 180 AD. And one of the things that he left us–besides his great example–was a book he called “Meditations.” Or at least I think he might have called it “Meditations.” It would have been probably better titled “Marcus’ Ruminations.”But essentially it was his personal journal that he used to reflect and write in. Probably before bedtime every night or after his meditation or any time he had an insight.

And I don’t believe he ever meant it to be published. But it was. And it’s stood the test of time. And there’s some great ruminations in this book–which kind of espouse his philosophy of life. So he truly was a statesman, warrior monk. He ruled with a soft hand. And his Stoic philosophy as presented in his book “The Meditations” is really worth delving into.

So I thought that I would read select passages from his book “The Meditations” and just, you know, reflect upon with a couple thoughts of my own. And sometimes they’ll stand alone, and won’t need any commentary, but I think it’d be pretty neat to do this. And we’ll work through most of the book. Not in this single podcast, but we’ll take a couple.

All right, the translation that I’m reading is Gregory Hays is the one who translated this. So he did an excellent job. Thank you, Gregory. A nod to you.

All right, so I’m going to start on… I’m skipping by Book 1. Book 1 essentially, he’s reviewing his life. And paying respect to those people that he learned from. So it’s interesting but it’s really kind of him just looking back and saying, “To my brother, I learned this, and I honor you by saying this about you.”

So it’s pretty cool, but I think we’re going to dive into Book 2.

5th Meditation
[04:29]

His 5th meditation in Book 2 starts like this:

“Concentrate every moment like a Roman”

Course, what he’s saying there is like a warrior and a leader.

“Like a man. On doing what’s in front of you with precise and genuine seriousness. Tenderly, willingly, with justice.

And on freeing yourself from all other distractions, “Yes you can. If you do everything as if it were the last thing you were going to do in life. And stop being aimless. Stop letting your emotions override what your mind tells you. Stop being hypocritical, self-centered, irritable.

You see how few things you have to do to live a satisfying and reverent life. If you can manage this, that’s all even the Gods can ask of you.”

That is awesome. Reminds me of the comment that Nakamura used to say to us is “One day, one lifetime.” So different culture, different warrior. But ultimately what he’s saying is today is all you got. Focus on today. And then as you go through today, focus like a warrior, like a Roman, like an Unbeatable Mind practitioner–with seriousness. With willingness. But with a little bit of surrender. And with justice on your mind–meaning truth.

Focus on what you’re doing right now. Radically focus on it. Because otherwise you shouldn’t be doing it. So think carefully, choose carefully–about what to put your attention on. And then give it all you got. That is great, great advice. Just give it all you got. And then move onto the next thing. After all that’s all the Gods can ask of you. Awesome.

7th Meditation
[06:06]

Number 7. Keeping kind of this theme of focus.

“Do external things distract you? Then make time for yourself to learn something worthwhile. Stop letting yourself be pulled in all directions.

But make sure you guard against the other kind of confusion. People who labor all their lives but have no purpose to direct every thought and impulse toward…” Something important he must be meaning… “are wasting their time even when hard at work.” Interesting.

So what he’s talking about here is, you know, to pick up on the last thing… is the quality of what you focus your time on. To in Number 5, he’s saying, “Concentrate! Focus! If you’ve chosen to focus then do it. And do it with all your might like a Roman.

And here, what he’s saying is, “Focus on something worthy so you’ll be able to do it without distraction and that it’s worthwhile.” So you’re not going to be pulled in all directions chasing the next shiny thing. Chasing the next fad or hack.

Choose a purpose. Find your purpose and then direct every thought and impulse toward that. Don’t waste your time. Don’t just do work. Do meaningful work.

8th Meditation
[07:24]

Number 8. “Ignoring what goes on in other people’s souls. No one ever came to grief that way.” Hooyah.

“But if you won’t keep track of what your own soul is doing, how can you not be unhappy?” I love the double negative. So what he’s saying is, “Don’t worry about what other people are doing or thinking.” Unless you’re trying to learn from them through the law of contrast. But turn your attention inward. Shine the light of awareness on your own soul. And in that way, how can you not be unhappy. That’s tricky.

Essentially you’ll find peace of mind by looking within through self-study. Self-study. Sanskrit word for that is svadhyaya. Self-study. Self-awareness. Don’t worry about what other people are doing. Or examining other people’s lives. Just examine your own.

10th Meditation
[08:20]

All right. Number 10. Similar theme. “In comparing sins, the way people do, Theophrastus says that the ones committed out of desire–the sins committed out of desire–are worse than the ones committed out of anger. This is good philosophy.

For the angry man seems to turn his back on reason out of a kind of pain and inner convulsion.

But the man motivated by desire–who is mastered by pleasure–seems somehow more self-indulgent. Less manly in a sense.” That’s interesting. Remember this is written in a very patriarchal culture.

“Theophrastus is right, and philosophically sound to say that the sin committed out of pleasure deserves a harsher rebuke than one committed out of pain. The angry man is more like a victim of wrongdoing, provoked by pain to anger. Whereas the other man rushes in to wrongdoing on his own. Moved to action by desire.”

Now this is pretty interesting. I think that where he’s coming from here is that we can forgive the individual and person who’s driven by pain and anger. Because he’s lost a little bit of control over himself.

Whereas the man who’s driven by desire or greed–that’s a different kind of energy. That’s a different kind of passion and he should have some control over that. That’s very much of a Stoic philosophy. And I think ultimately when it comes to the Unbeatable Mind philosophy, where we are today, we know that the human being is repelled by pain and attracted by desire but both of those energies need to be understood and controlled. And ultimately, you’re 100% accountable whether you take an action out of pain or take an action out of desire, that has negative consequences. Either way is going to lead to suffering. So pay attention, do the work of self-awareness. Self-reflection.

13th Meditation
[10:17]

Okay. Awesome. So let’s move on.

Number 13. In Book 2.

“Nothing is more pathetic than people who run around in circles delving into the things that lie beneath, quote-unquote, and conducting investigation into the souls of the people around them. Never realizing that all you have to do is be attentive to the power inside you and worship it sincerely.

“Now to worship it is to keep it from being muddied with turmoil. To becoming aimless and dissatisfied with nature, both divine and human.”

“What is divine deserves our respect because it is good. What is human deserves our affection because it is like us. And our pity too. Sometimes. For its inability to tell good from bad. As terrible a blindness as the kind that can’t tell white from black.”

Interesting. So what he’s saying here is… you know, keeping this theme alive. Which he’s really kind of diving into here about–“Don’t focus on the external world.” Don’t worry about other people who are running around in circles and getting into your business. Judging you and having to opine on everything. Outside of you.

Most people like that… or all those people… are essentially just unhappy and distracted. And so in order to distract themselves further, they’re going to busy themselves in other people’s shit.

Don’t be like that. Turn your attention inward. Find your soul and worship the energy of that. The power inside of you. And what it means in that term “worship” is to keep it from being muddied with dissatisfaction and aimlessness and distraction. Recognize its divine-ness and its human-ness. The divine-ness is that eternal aspect of ourselves. That essential nature.

But that essential nature can only be understood, appreciated, and experienced through our human nature. So they’re both important. They’re critical. You can’t deny your human nature. Many people on a Godly path will deny their human nature, but you can’t do that. You can only try to understand it so that your mind becomes a mirror that accurately reflects that essential or divine nature.

Very cool. And so that’s the last line he’s saying even our pity–our inability to tell good and bad–understand that. Be affectionate toward that. Because that’s what it means to be human. And that is what propels us to seek the divine. How cool.

14th Meditation
[12:49]

Number 14. These are Marcus’ words. “Even if you’re going to live 3000 more years–or 10 times that–remember, you cannot lose another life than the one you’re living now. Or live another one than the one you’re losing. The longest amounts to the same as the shortest. The present is the same for everyone. Its loss is the same for everyone. And it should be clear that a brief instant is all that is lost.

“For you can’t lose either the past or the future. How could you lose what you don’t have?” Awesome.

“Remember 2 things. One that everything has always been the same and keeps recurring. And it makes no difference whether you see the same things recur in 100 years or 200. Or in an infinite period.

“And 2, that the longest lived and those who will die soonest, lose the same thing. The present is all that they can give up, since that is all you have. And what you do not have, you cannot lose.”

This is so profound, folks. I mean, this is awesome. Awesome. What he’s saying, essentially, is the past and the future are figments of your imagination. They’re simply in your mind. You have a concept of a linear past based upon past mental impressions that are stored as memories and images.

And you have a concept of the future based upon the past. As you see it unfolding. In a linear fashion. In moments that have yet to occur.

But what Marcus Aurelius is saying here so astutely, frankly, both of those are not real. Because the only way to truly experience life is right here, right now. Even the memory of your past is being experienced right here, right now. And the projection of a future is experienced right here, right now.

And so all we have as human beings is a steady stream of the present–whether we’re living for 100 years or 30,000. The man who lives 30,000 when he dies loses the same thing as the man or woman who lives 100.

And what is that? It’s just the ability to experience now. The present.

That is profound, but so simple. The point being is that if all we have is this right here, right now–then we better pay attention to it. Or else we might lose it. I love that. Man, I could read that 10 times.

15 Meditation
[15:34]

This is Number 15. “Everything is just an impression. This was written by Monimus the Cynic. And the response is obvious enough. But the point is a useful one, if you take it for what it’s worth.”

What he’s doing is basically saying what I just said. Everything that happens in the now is just an impression in our mind. But it’s not who we are. It’s not who we are.

The impression will cause a memory and it will cause or trigger some sort of energy that may cause us to project into the future. But all it is is an impression in our mind. Of the outer world. Our experience of it happens in our inner world and is not who we are. It’s just a story. It’s just an impression.

16th Meditation
[17:28]

Number 16. “The human soul degrades itself one, above all, when it does its best to become an abscess. A kind of detached growth on the world. To be disgruntled at anything that happens is a kind secession from nature–which comprises the nature of all things.”

So that’s essentially when you become a victim, or you separate yourself from your true nature. That’s when the human soul degrades itself.

“And 2: when it turns its back on another person. Or sets out to do it harm. As the souls of the angry do.”

So when people do not practice self-awareness. Do not begin to cultivate connection to their internal nature. And go about the business of developing gratitude and positivity and forgiveness in their life. And they feed the fear wolf. And they continually descend–I would say–into this negative, dark, shadowy self. And they become angry souls.

And then they turn their backs on other people because they think everyone’s out to get them. Maybe you know some people like that. That’s how the human soul degrades itself, according to Marcus Aurelius.

Number 3. “The human soul degrades itself when it’s overpowered by pleasure or pain.” Yeah, so the Stoic, and the yogi, and the warrior and today’s corporate CEO or entrepreneur must overpower pleasure and pain instead of be overpowered by pleasure and pain. And this requires discipline. The discipline to watch and to challenge your thinking and emotional processes. And to see what’s driving you away from pain and toward pleasure.

And to objectify and separate from it so that you don’t identify with pleasure and pain. Doesn’t mean you can’t experience pleasurable things. Doesn’t mean you won’t experience pain. But you won’t identify with them. You don’t merge with that energy. You can stay separate from it. This is powerful practice.

“Human soul degrades itself when it puts on a mask and does or says something artificial or false.” That’s awesome. How many masks do we wear in life? Where we are one way with one person or at one place, and another way with another? This is lack of integrity. So he’s speaking about developing truth and wisdom, so that what we think and what we say and our actions are in alignment. And when what we think and what we say and our actions are in alignment, that’s what we mean by integrity. And your actions are extremely powerful. Or else you wouldn’t have spoken them. And you wouldn’t have thought them.

So you take great… in this path you take c=great care to curate the quality of your thinking. Because it all starts back there.

Even though the action has the most power–the words secondarily have the most power, but it’s less than an action. Ultimately it all traces back to the thought. So the thought is ultimately arbiter. And so we start with a thought… we reverse engineer. We start with a thought, and make sure that the thought is an accurate thought. A truthful thought. A wise thought. And a thought that’s grounded in helpfulness and kindness. Instead of pettiness or some sort of negative energy.

And then with that thought, we speak it. And then with those words, we take action. Or we cause action. And it’s in integrity. That’s powerful.

We degrade ourselves when we put a mask on and do or say something artificial or false out of integrity.

And the last is, “The human soul degrades itself when it allows it’s actions and impulse to be without a purpose. To be random and disconnected. Even the smallest things ought to be directed toward a goal. But the goal of rational beings is to follow the rule and law of the most ancient of communities and states.”

Interesting. So to be without purpose… random or disconnected. Even the smallest things ought to be directed toward a goal. Awesome.

That’s the 4th of our Big 4 skills is ethos and connecting to a goal so you always know your “why.” You know why you’re doing things. You can connect your actions and your targets to that why.

So you can make good decisions. The right thing at the right time. For the right reason. Spoken with truth and wisdom and power.

But if we don’t have a purpose… if we’re random and disconnected like he said earlier… If we’re bouncing around… if we’re just going through life and doing what other people want us to do. Or following some script that was fed to us by society or family. Or TV. Or whatever. Social media. That’s the human soul degrading itself.

Interesting.

“What can guide us?” he asks. Only philosophy. Now, I might point it out here that for the Stoic, philosophy was not simply knowledge. In order for philosophy… their view of philosophy was more in line with wisdom which came through practice. So in order for philosophy to be lived as a lifestyle with wisdom, it required practice. So all these meditations of Marcus Aurelius were actually practices. They were things that he worked on every day. He contemplated and he took action. He refined his habits. He developed these as virtues.

Whereas the modern philosopher in many cases–not all the time, but in many cases–will simply just do the book learning and become erudite or learned in all the different ways that other people think. But doesn’t take the time to delve into their own thinking. Self-awareness. So that’s what he means by philosophy is self-awareness. Self-philosophy.

Which means… these are his words, “Which means making sure that the power within stays safe and free from assault. Superior to pleasure or pain. Doing nothing randomly or dishonestly. And with imposture. Not dependent upon anyone else doing something or not doing it. And making sure that it accepts what happens and what is dealt as coming from the same place it came from.

“And above all, that it accepts death in a cheerful spirit. As nothing but the dissolution of the elements or the material from which each living thing is composed. If it doesn’t hurt the individual elements to change continually into one another, why are people afraid of all of them changing and separating? It’s a natural thing. And nothing natural is evil.”

Wow. That’s powerful. Cause he’s saying essentially, “protect the power that’s within you.” That’s your soul. That’s what is your essential nature that’s above… superior. Above pleasure and pain. Free from assault by other people or external things. Doesn’t do anything randomly or dishonestly. And is not dependent upon anything or anyone. That’s our true self. And that true self, that essential nature… doesn’t fear death. Doesn’t fear death. Because it knows that it’s eternal and it will go on when the elements of the body no longer come together in the way that they do when it’s living.

Fascinating.

All right. I think that’s enough for now. We’ll pick this up with Book 3 in a future podcast. If you haven’t read Marcus Aurelius Meditations, I encourage you to go check it out. And I think Gregory Hays’ translation edition is an excellent one. And is a quick read. It’s the kind of book that you would just pick up and read a passage or two.

And the Stoic philosophy in general is very much in alignment with our Unbeatable Mind philosophy. So it’s a great supplemental philosophy to learn and pick up and start to dig into. So Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius. Socrates and some of these others are really good… Herodotus. Good places to start.

But I think… Marcus Aurelius to me, he was the ultimate philosopher because like I said a moment ago– the philosophy he espoused was one of a personal practice. Self-awareness. Self-study. And that being the ultimate source of truth. And I am in complete alignment with that. I think it’s a powerful, and that this warrior truly spoke the truth.

So thanks for your time today. I appreciate it. I hope you found it valuable. Remember to train and practice every day. And have your journal handy so that you too can jot down your own ruminations and write your own meditations.

Hooyah.

Till next time.

Divine out.

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