Emperor’s Log #16: Love Your Nature

At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: “I have to go to work -as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for -the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?

The alarm goes off at 4 a.m. If I am lucky, I got over six hours of sleep. The quality of the sleep is directly related to how well I spent the previous day. This morning, as is with every morning, is begun with a choice: I could get up, or I could sleep another hour. Granted, that hour would be fitful, and at best, would result in only a few minutes of light sleep. Even with the realization of these minimal benefits, I must consider how soft the bed is, how warm it is under the covers, and how good it feels to remain horizontal. To lie in bed for another hour does have its consequences. I set my alarm for a reason. Not getting out of bed would mean I miss my morning workout, skip my meditation and reading, and negatively impact the quality of my writing. Is it worth it?

-But it’s nicer here….

So you were born to feel “nice”? Instead of doing things and experiencing them? Don’t you see the plants, the birds, the ants and spiders and bees going about their individual tasks, putting the world in order, as best they can? And you’re not willing to do your job as a human being? Why aren’t you running to do what your nature demands?

What is my nature? I love how Aurelius tells us to look at the other creatures on this planet and observe how they go about their natural business.

The ant starts the day early. She has a mission to find food and bring it back to the colony. This happens in the warmer months so that the colony can survive during the winter. The ant is always busy. Being busy for the sake of being busy is nothing to brag about. But the ant, she is busy with a purpose. She is doing what is in her nature. I’m reminded of these words from Solomon: “Go to the ant, you sluggard! Consider her ways and be wise, which having no captain, overseer or ruler, provides her supplies in the summer, and gathers her food in the harvest.” -Proverbs 6:6-8

I used to be that sluggard. Oh, I wanted to be more active, but it was “nice” being lazy. I didn’t have a mission, and I didn’t even know where to go to find one. There was no purpose to my life. How much did I miss out on due to this lifestyle? Who knows! I thought I had an infinite amount of time, and I could always be more productive the next day.

Agreed. But nature set a limit on that -as it did on eating and drinking. And you’re over the limit. You’ve had more than enough of that. But not of working. There you’re still below your quota.

Nature set a limit on how long to stay in bed, on how long to wait around before getting to work as a human being. We produce melatonin at night to help us sleep. Our cortisol levels are elevated in the morning signaling us to get moving. We are governed by our biology which has been optimized through the ages thanks to our ancestors. We are highly evolved, functioning machines. The only thing that can override these natural processes is our minds.

The alarm that tells me to get up in the morning was created by intelligent beings. And though they had the best intentions, the alarm has a built-in flaw. There is a little button on it called the snooze, which can be pressed as many times as the one in bed wants to press it.

When I went to bed the night before, I gave myself a limit on how long to sleep. I set my wake-up time based on that limit. Going over the limit puts my plans for the day in jeopardy. These plans are important to me. It is my work, what I was called to do as a human.

You don’t love yourself enough. Or you’d love your nature too, and what it demands of you. People who love what they do wear themselves down doing it, they even forget to wash or eat. Do you have less respect for your own nature than the engraver does for engraving, the dancer for the dance, the miser for money or the social climber for status? When they’re really possessed by what they do, they’d rather stop eating and sleeping than give up practicing their arts.

This is about love! Once you have found your calling in life, then you have no choice but to follow it. Pablo Picasso created over 140,000 works of art in his lifetime. Mozart composed over 600 pieces. Isaac Asimov, not even the most prolific writer, wrote over 500 novels. They loved what they did. They were fueled by their passion. They lived according to their nature.

I know I squandered much of my early years. The past cannot be changed, yet the future still holds untold possibilities. If I don’t want to repeat the errors of my youth, then I must see to the business of the day. No snooze, only purpose. It is time to get up and practice my art.


Italicized words by Marcus Aurelius, Mediations 5:1

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Examining Epictetus #40: This Body Does Not Belong to You

The first inspection on the house I was going to rent went well. There were only a few minor issues with the property, and those were all well-documented. Over the course of the next year, I took care of it like I owned it. After all, this was my home. When the rental agreement expired, we conducted a final inspection. I turned in the keys and moved on with my life.

When I was conceived by my parents, I moved into my new body. Since then, I have tried my best to take care of it, but in truth, I will one day return it to the ground from whence it came. As long as I am in my body, it is the home of my soul and spirit. I do not own this body. Instead, I am just borrowing it on a long-term lease.

Well, what did Zeus say? ‘Epictetus, if it were possible, I would have made your little body and possessions both free and unrestricted. As it is, though, make no mistake: this body does not belong to you, it is only cunningly constructed.’

Discourses 1:1.10-11

How profound are these words! We are only clay in a body that doesn’t belong to us. If Nature or the Earth is truly our Mother, then we must give back to her the bodies we have borrowed. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be.

What should we do then? Make the best use of what is in our power, and treat the rest in accordance with its nature. And what is its nature? However God decides.

Discourses 1:1.17

This body that I am renting, what should I do with it? It may not belong to me, but it is my home. Would I let it fall into disrepair because it is only a rental? Of course not! For if my mind and soul are trapped in a toxic environment and are unable to operate in its optimal state, what kind of condition will they be in when they move on and go to their next existence? Can a dull me expect to shine in my next incarnation if it did not have its proper training?

What should we have ready at hand in a situation like this? The knowledge of what is mine and what is not mine, what I can and cannot do.

Discourses 1:1.21

This is our situation. This is our knowledge. We are only here temporarily. In time, we must all die. None shall escape. Unable to change this situation, how will I expire? Will I mourn and bewail the inevitable, or will I face it bravely? Will I fight to stay trapped in a corporeal state, which is destined to break down and decay in its attempt to be reunited with the earth? Doing so will only delay the elevation of this spirit to a higher plane.

I must do what is in my power and let go of the things that are not.

That’s the kind of attitude you need to cultivate if you would be a philosopher, the sort of sentiments you should write down every day and put in practice.

Discourses 1:1.25

A philosopher’s goal is to find the truth, to study it, and then learn how to operate within its parameters. This is my goal. I never dreamed I would be a philosopher. And yet, here I am, a mere student longing to understand.


Quotes from Epictetus’ Discourses Book 1, Chapter 1.

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Contemplating Seneca #100: Pick One

What are some ways one can avoid poverty?

  • Stay out of debt
  • Spend less than what was made
  • Have multiple streams of income
  • Draw passive income from investments
  • Work hard and work smart
  • Become a person of value offering something the world wants

There are many ways to avoid poverty. Does that guarantee people from ever experiencing it? No, but considering the ways to avoid it and putting those ways into action can reduce one’s chances of poverty.

How about death? What can we do to protect ourselves from it?

This is an interesting question. We know the man with the sickle is going to reap his harvest. No one escapes death, but how many of us will die long before we ever take our last breath?

Here are one’s best protection against dying before one’s soul truly departs from the body:

  • Exercise
  • Sun
  • Reduction of bad stress
  • Consumption of real food
  • Mental resilience
  • Emotional control
  • Growing the heart. Not the ticker that is a part of the strong, healthy body one is creating, but the one known as the soul. This can be achieved by practicing bravery and kindness.

Outside of poverty and death, there are other misfortunes that can cross our lives. Some in and some out of our control. How do we deal with relationships gone wrong, bad luck, bad draws, and injustice? We must find the things in our control and work on them. And for the ones outside of our control? We must learn to navigate those waters as well and work around them the best we can.

Each day acquire something that will fortify you against poverty, against death, indeed against other misfortunes, as well as after you have run over many thoughts, select one to be thoroughly digested that day. -Seneca

There is so much we must do to fortify ourselves against the hardships of life. We don’t have to solve them all today. But for true peace of mind, we must figure out what they are.

Today, I am going to take a moment and think about this. When I have gathered my list, I am going to pick one and work on it. Just one at a time is enough. Done daily, I may be able build a nearly impregnable fortress.


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Emperor’s Log #4: What’s Really There

Let us pretend for a moment. Let us pretend we are enemies.

If I was your enemy, what would you do? Would you openly attack? Attempt to publicly shame me? Would you go out of your way to do me harm?

And as for me, if I was your enemy, what would I do? Well, after careful consideration, I would employ the tactics of the devil. I would smile and let you believe that I am your friend. I would try to direct you in the direction I would want you to go using subtle persuasion and humility. Shoot! I might even try to tell you the devil’s greatest lie: That I don’t exist. It is hard to fight an enemy if you don’t know he is even there.

Supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.

Sun Tzu

If I were your enemy, my goal would be to break you without ever fighting. But thank the Light, we are not enemies.

Viruses

Manipulation by those in power

Fake news

Et cetera, et cetera

Not what your enemy sees and hopes that you will, but what's really there. -Marcus Aurelius

Oftentimes, we don’t know we have enemies. We don’t know we are in a battle. We are not even aware of our adversaries’ existence. Yet, they are there. They are trying to direct us where they want us to go. They are trying to break our resistance without fighting.

What can we do?

We must seek out what is really there, not what is easily seen on the surface, not what our enemies want us to see.

How can we do this?

We must become our own fact-checkers. We must listen to our hearts. And when our hearts tell us something is amiss, we must do the research and solve the riddles dressed in plain sight.


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Examining Epictetus #12: To Improve, Seem Ignorant

The quality of your questions determines the quality of your life.

Tony Robbins

The above is one of my favorite quotes of all time. I have spent hours considering it and how to ask a better question. And though I ask many questions on a wide array of topics, I am certain I can still do better.

What is the direction I want to go in life?

Where can I improve?

How can I get there?

The first two questions, I can answer on my own. The last one, however, requires more questions. It demands better questions than the ones I am asking today. I don’t know how to get there because I simply don’t know. And therefore, I must consider these words from Epictetus:

If you wish to improve, be content to be seen as ignorant on certain matters. -Epictetus

A student who wants to attain mastery will watch and learn. She will look at those who went before her to see what they did right and what they did wrong. She will experiment, fail, and try again, repeating the process until it works. She will learn to ask the right questions until she gets the answers she is seeking. If she is humble and doesn’t pretend to know it all, if she is pleasant to work with and working hard herself, those with more knowledge and experience will be more apt to help her.

If we seem to be ignorant in the areas in which we wish to improve, we could one day attain the mastery we seek.

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Contemplating Seneca #93: He Still Lives!

In other words, I have noticed many who deal fairly with their fellow-men, but none who deals fairly with the gods. We rail every day at Fate, saying “Why has A. been carried off in the very middle of his career? Why is not B. carried off instead? Why should he prolong his old age, which is a burden to himself as well as to others?”

Have you ever thought this? I have a grandfather that died when my father was just a small boy. Boys need their fathers to teach them how to be a good man, a good husband, and a good father. The reverberations of my grandfather’s death have been felt across three generations.

Beyond my grandfather, I think about all the others that I felt died way too early, ones that I loved and the ones that had so much more to teach me.

And with a bit of shame, I think of those that have lived beyond their usefulness. I think about the ones that no longer, or in some cases have never, given back to society. Why do they get to go on living when the good ones have died?

And what difference does it make how soon you depart from a place which you must depart from sooner or later? We should strive, not to live long, but to live rightly; for to achieve long life you have need of Fate only, but for right living you need the soul. A life is really long if it is a fulllife; but fullness is not attained until the soul has rendered to itself its proper Good, that is, until it has assumed control over itself.

They, whose death hit me the hardest, were the ones who lived a good life. They fulfilled their purpose and moved on. Of course, I wish they were still around, but that is only my selfish desire. Whether I live another day or forty more years is irrelevant. What matters is what I do with the remaining time I have on this earth. If I can live rightly, if my soul is in the right place, then my purpose is fulfilled. I can peacefully go at any time knowing that I did the best I could with the time I had.

What benefit does this older man derive from the eighty years he has spent in idleness? A person like him has not lived; he has merely tarried awhile in life. Nor has he died late in life; he has simply been a long time dying. He has lived eighty years, has he? That depends upon the date from which you reckon his death! … Nay, he has existed eighty years, unless perchance you mean by “he has lived” what we mean when we say that a tree “lives.”

Am I living, or do I merely exist? There are two questions I must consider daily:

  • What am I grateful for?
  • What good have I done this day?

Answering these questions keeps my perspective where it needs to be.

Let us measure them by their performance, not by their duration. Would you know wherein lies the difference between this hardy man who, despising Fortune, has served through every campaign of life and has attained to life’s Supreme Good, and that other person over whose head many years have passed? The former exists even after his death; the latter has died even before he was dead.

Merely existing is dying well before your last breath. Is this what our Creator had in mind when He brought us into this world? A person who dies in this manner will surely be forgotten as soon as they are dead and rotten.*

Why do you ask: “How long did he live?” He still lives! At one bound he has passed over into posterity and has consigned himself to the guardianship of memory.

The ones I loved, the ones I miss, are they really dead? Their bodies may not be here, but their memories still are. Even more importantly, their lessons live through my actions. They are a part of me. As I pass their teachings onto the next generation, they will continue to live.

Age ranks among the external things. How long I am to exist is not mine to decide, but how long I shall go on existing in my present way is in my own control.

Control what we can control. There are people who lived thousands of years ago that we still remember. Their deeds have not been forgotten. There are others whose memory ended as soon as they passed. We cannot control the length of our lives, but we can impact the length of our legacies. What will I do in my life to affect the generations after me?

And what, you ask, is the fullest span of life? It is living until you possess wisdom. He who has attained wisdom has reached, not the furthermost, but the most important, goal.

Wisdom is the ultimate goal. How true this is! Wisdom calls all of us. She does not discriminate who hears the calling. It is our responsibility to heed the call. If any has ears to hear, let them hear.

It is by no longer an interval than this that we precede one another. Death visits each and all; the slayer soon follows the slain. It is an insignificant trifle after all, that people discuss with so much concern. And anyhow, what does it matter for how long a time you avoid that which you cannot escape? Farewell.

Death comes for all of us. Let us make peace with this fact and do everything in our power to truly live and not merely exist. Remember the great ones that made a lasting impression in our lives and preserve those memories for future generations. Seek the ultimate goal of wisdom and do the wise one’s work so that someday you too may join the ranks of those who went before you.

In memory of those whose deaths we felt were untimely. For more see:

Hey Google, Set Timer to 14 Months

Okay Google, Stop Timer

All words in italics come from Seneca’s 93rd letter to Lucilius: On the Quality, as Contrasted with the Length, of Life

*If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading, or do things worth writing. -Benjamin Franklin

Emperor’s Log #30: Escaping the Ranks of the Insane

“If everybody else jumped off a bridge, would you?”

I heard this question often as a child from well-meaning adults. I hated being asked this. The problem was that I liked jumping off bridges. There was a hint of danger wondering if a train would come down the tracks before I got to the jumping-off point. There was a question of whether the water was deep enough. And of course, there was the question of if I could swim back to shore. In truth, I would jump off the bridge, I just doubted everybody else would.

And if everybody was doing something, would I do it? Well, the majority is not always bad or wrong. And if what they were doing made sense, then why not? I might do it as well. But I haven’t always sided with the majority. In fact, I have found myself usually going against the grain. I don’t eat like everybody else. I don’t find enjoyment in wasting away on the sofa watching television. I may occasionally post to social media, but I abhor the endless scrolling that many prefer to while away the time. And though it often draws the ire of some, I think differently. Rarely do I find myself aligned with the majority. My goal isn’t necessarily to be different, yet here I am.

The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane. -Marcus Aurelius

The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane. -Aurelius

Some, even family and friends, have considered me insane. And though their perception of my way of life might suggest so, I believe our definitions of insanity are rather different. To me, insanity is:

  • Eating cheap and overly processed food with little nutritional value based on the merit of it being tasty and loaded with sugar.
  • Drawing breath and not actually living.
  • Constantly watching the lives of others and being triggered by their opinions.

If I can escape that type of insanity, I feel I made the right choice.


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Examining Epictetus #34: Silence: Your General Rule

Every word was another spade of dirt. As the speaker continued, the hole he dug for himself got bigger. He should have stopped long ago, but his foolishness got the better of him. He was another prime example of the proverb, “A fool’s mouth is his destruction, and his lips are the snare of his soul (Proverbs 18:7).”

How many times have I been the speaker? How many times have you? There are some days when shutting up seems impossible. The words flow in all directions. Some of them cut, some bring shame, and most of it ends up being nonsense. And when the words come with nary a thought, the danger is at its highest level. Wisdom flees the speaker as the foolishness takes command.

Let silence be your general rule; say only what is necessary and in few words. -Epictetus

There is a memorable scene at the end of the movie Gone in 60 Seconds. The Sphinx, a character played by Vinnie Jones, goes through the whole movie without saying one line. But then at the end, he waxes poetic and lays down a wonderful set of lines.* The other characters are amazed, and some didn’t even know he could speak at all. Would his eloquence have carried the same weight if he spoke throughout the movie?

And in the real world, the rule holds true. When the ones that are generally quiet speak up, others listen. Maybe the listeners pause from the shock, but they do stop and listen.

Even a fool is counted wise when he holds his peace; when he shuts his lips, he is considered perceptive. -Proverbs 17:28

In writing, an over-abundance of words doesn’t always hit the mark. Instead, it often adds confusion and costs the reader more time. Similarly,  a speaker who can drive home the message with less words will have a greater impact. If we can guard our tongues, and as Epictetus said, “Say only what is necessary and in few words,” our message will carry greater weight.

“If his unpleasant wounding has in some way enlightened the rest of you as to the grim finish beneath the glossy veneer of criminal life and inspired you to change your ways, then his injuries carry with it an inherent nobility, and a supreme glory. We should all be so fortunate. You say poor Toby? I say poor us. -The Sphinx, Gone in 60 Seconds


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Contemplating Seneca #2: Perfected through Trials

The Cleaning Process

I watched as the blacksmith brought the blade to the grinder. He turned on the motor and touched the metal to the belt. A shower of sparks flew to the ground. As the smith worked, the metal in his hand began to shine. The imperfections on the surface slowly disappeared. What was once a raw chunk of steel transformed into a beautiful blade void of flaws.

Of course, this is not called the cleaning process, but that is what it reminded of. With heat and friction, the impurities were removed.

A gem cannot be polished without friction, nor a man perfected without trials. -Seneca

Gems mined from the earth do not look like the ones seen in the jewelry stores. They must be cut and then polished. If the impurities are not removed, then they won’t attain their higher value.

When we come into this earth, we are but uncut gems. To attain our highest value, we too must be refined. This can only happen through heat and friction. It can only happen through trials and testing. The beautiful phoenix only rises from the ashes. Like the phoenix, we too must rise from the challenges presented to us in this life.

For many of us, we live in a world full of abundance. We have more food, comfort, and security than the generations that went before us. Yet somehow, we have become weaker and more susceptible to disease. Our abundance has created more imperfections. And when the real trials come, the same trials man has faced since the beginning of time, how will we be able to overcome them? Will we be able to rise from the ashes?

We do not know what obstacles we will face in the future, but we can start preparing now. We can begin the cleaning process in our lives. We can search out our impurities and remove them. Today, I challenge you to consider your weaknesses. What are the things you don’t like to do because they make you feel uncomfortable? Is there something you can do today to help you overcome these issues? If you can create your own trials, you will be bettered prepared to face the real thing when the time comes. Friction and fire to create the shine and remove the impurities. Trials to bring you closer to perfection.


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Emperor’s Log #28: The Strength of a Calm Mind

The fictional character Rand al’Thor was a hero in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. In the books, he wielded tremendous power, but he also had a problem. He couldn’t always control it. To tap into the source of power, he had to enter a mental void. To practice control and to refine his ability to utilize this power, he practiced staring into a flame. This practice would allow him to empty his mind of all distractions. Simply put, he meditated.

When I am angry, I lose control. My defenses are weakened, and I open myself to attack. All the ground I have covered is lost. Confucius said, “When anger rises, think of the consequences.” In the moment, it is difficult to think of the consequences. Wise words indeed, yet not so easy to apply.

Little effort is required to get angry. And once angry, control is lost. Power becomes unwieldy. In truth, anger is weakness.

"The nearer a man comes to a calm mind the closer he is to strength. -Marcus Aurelius

The key is meditation. Even if it is a moment to gather yourself and your emotions before acting. When the conflict arises, take a step back. Don’t allow your ego to gain control. Instead, calm yourself and determine what you should do and the possible outcomes. Nobody wants to be weak. So, if you want to be strong, find a way to calm your mind.

If you are patient in one moment of anger, you will avoid one hundred days of sorrow.

Chinese Proverb

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