Look Up

Marcus Aurelius in his Meditations, or To Himself as it is alternatively translated, writes about looking up and looking down (in the first entry of Book 7): the purpose of this looking is to remove sensations of shock when one sees something bad, which is disturbing. I was myself disturbed today and shocked at my disturbance when on my long run, I saw groups and groups of refugees, clustered on park benches, some sitting while others stood a close distance away, just like how people act in airports. I think of them all the time, but it is different to see them; how strange it is that consideration of fate becomes harder with faces on. The vice one considers is whatever duress uproots such people from their homes. It occurred to me how bizarre it is that I should have longed this summer to leave my home for vacation, when some are unable to ever go back to their own.
The first few entries in Aurelius' Book 7 are related to observation with the goal to maintain or regain inner peace. Thence the observation of looking up and down and realising that "there is nothing new to be met with" and whatever happens "will be over soon" (which some translators note as connected to Eccles. 9 and 2 Cor. 4:17-18). I compared four translations (1, 2, 3, 4), but another that I can't find now added in to the idea that what happens is quickly over, "this too shall pass" - which wikipedia writers note appears in a Sufi tale about a King who wished to be happy when he was sad, so his sages presented him with a ring with that phrase inscribed on it, which made him curse when he was happy.
Aurelius is not so fickle. In 7.2 (which I understood best in the Loeb translation), he writes about how one is not to waver in one's principles, no matter what might happen. The wavering comes from losing ideas of the principles and not cultivating them. It also comes from considering things that are beyond what one knows. He suggests one stick to what one knows - which is a contrast to what popular culture suggests today, namely that one is to support what one encounters. Instead, Aurelius suggests something quite Tao (e.g. 4, 5, 65, etc.), which is to simply let things be, and to keep to one's own sphere (e.g. 55, 63, especially 47, etc.).


Aurelius refers to different spheres. There is that of the self (which he writes is like one's house one's field, where one goes to retire "lapped in ease") and there is that of circumstance, which one is to filter before letting it get to one. In 7.4 he writes that one is to be wary of what people say and do: looking for the significance of their words and the design of their actions. If only it were possible to take what people say at face value, but no.
Just like it is possible for the soul to "teaze and put fetters upon herself" - and so block oneself from peace of mind (7.16).
So, one can retain the right to not concieve of calamity as calamity (7.14). I do not think that this means to be unfeeling and suffer no pain, but rather that this is a form of dammage control. I write these things out as my own future is being toyed with by those higher up than myself. And to one who may be in a toxic environment, Aurelius recommends: "Let people talk and act as they please; I must be an emerald, and I must keep my colour."
It was noted at the beginning that if one is faced with vice, one is to look up and down and conclude that bad happenings are nothing new, and that they will pass. Another principle applicable in such situations is part of the psalm (121) that was the motto of my first boarding school: Lift up thine eyes. But it never occurred to me before today that these are words uttered by those that need help.
Some learning is like training for difficult times. Without building muscle in separate exercises, running is less fun; when one is injured, if one does not do dull exercise, one will not be fit enough later to run again. And without exercise, one has a greater likelihood of needing to use all the senior products advertised on the billboard outside the pharmacy: diapers, memory-boosting pills. It seems like a good idea to practice principles just for those times, for if those products are needed, one would hopefully, at least occasionally, remember to look up.
This post was inspired by today's topic set by the August Break. If this post has failed, at least I put a bird on it. See it below? Look up! Hardy har.

Brush: pferfferminzchen at DeviantART.
Restaurant in Μικρολίμανο (Mikrolimano) , 
I think Μπαχάλικο (Bachaliko) - it's an old photo.

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