As a Stoic, Marcus Aurelius’s goal was to train his character to be resilient. The ideal was to remain dispassionate- above pain or pleasure, gain or loss, good fortune or ill fortune. First and foremost keep unperturbed, Marcus advised himself. He repeatedly reminded himself that “ nature knows no evil,” and that “ man’s soul does violence onto itself” when it rebels against life. It wasn’t that he was unaware of the sweetness of success and the bitter taste of defeat. Rather, he believed that his fundamental essence, the spark of divinity within him, remained untouched by all that took place outside of him. His essence was “inviolate” and equanimity was his great mantra.
The view taken is everything, he advised. All is as thinking makes it so.
What does this mean in practical terms? It means that we let go of limiting and arbitrary parameters and conditions that we have set for ourselves in order to be happy. Many of us live in our minds, relegating happiness to the distant future, to a time where all our self-defined conditions for becoming happy are met and when our problems will presumably disappear (and of course we all know that time rarely arrives). We miss the present, the only thing we actually have, for a future that may never come. Or conversely, we may live in the past, ruminating over events long gone, fearing the present and mistrusting our possibilities. We judge our lives too severely, compare ourselves to others and overlook what we actually can enjoy in the present. It’s all how you look at it, so why not choose a more generous approach? As Seneca had also observed: “We are more frightened than hurt; and we suffer more from imagination than from reality.” Or perhaps we also suffer from a lack of imagination, seeing no creative solutions to certain dilemmas.
Decades ago social scientists had crudely arrived at the equation:
Happiness= Your Reality/ Your Expectations
So infinite expectations and preconditions means misery, whereas adequate happiness would mean accepting your reality. But what if you strove to make your life objectively better, not because you lacked, but because you were driven by a creative, spiritual or humanitarian impulse? Or conversely, what if all you did was to simply change your perspective and chose to see your reality in a different, more forgiving light? Taking the experiment to its extreme, immeasurable happiness could result from simply seeing your reality as being perfect just the way it was (and/or expecting nothing- which is another way of stating the same).
All is as thinking makes it so….