Nowhere can man find retirement more peaceful and untroubled than in his own soul…ever and anon grant yourself this retirement, and so renew yourself. Meditations, Book IV
“Withdraw into yourself,” was Marcus Aurelius’s command to himself to enter a place of refuge, where no trouble could besiege him. He reminds himself that men seek country homes in the hills or on the shores, in order to replenish themselves, but all that is really needed is to go within yourself. And of course we know that he had the ability to seek peaceful environments; he had many other residences, yet he knew that all that was essentially needed was a meditative frame of mind. A troubled mind and an agitated mentality, would render any externally peaceful setting disturbing.
Within was where one could touch one’s inner divinity and find happiness. Marcus, who was writing in ancient Greek, had deconstructed Aristotle’s concept of eudaimonia, roughly translated today as “happiness”, into its component parts and had arrived at “the God within.” So he concluded that meditating was the act of touching the divinity within ourselves and arriving at a deeper state of happiness.
In order to keep an unperturbed mind, Marcus knew that he must be disciplined and focus only on the present moment, rather than ruminating on the past or worrying about the future. In his own words: And yet again remember, that you have not to bear up against the future or the past, but always against the present only. The past could not be changed, and we needed to trust that the future would take care of itself. At any rate, our future selves would be better prepared to face the challenges of the future. We only need concern ourselves with today.
Reminds me of my Zen teacher’s guided meditation about the lake. One day I had asked: How do I keep my balance and presence of mind when in turbulent surroundings? He offered:
Be like the lake in front of us. The lake it doesn’t mind what takes place on the surface; the wind, the waves, the boaters, they can’t touch its inner calm at the depths. Dive to the calm of the lake’s bottom; the waves won’t disturb you. It is quiet under the lake; all is calm no matter what happens on the surface. The swimmers, the lake’s traffic, the noise, none of it will reach you. Sit under the lake where the surface waves won’t touch you. Sit under the lake where the waves won’t reach you. Calm like the lake.