“Wipe out imagination: check desire: extinguish appetite: keep the ruling faculty in its own power.” Marcus Aurelius Meditations Book 9
How often are we engaged in a battle within ourselves? This battle rages on we imagine worst case scenarios, while at the same time we desire for our lives to be different. Me personally, not you, I am rather content. I really have little to complain about. I reflect on this when I rest my head on my pillow. I have no physical pain usually, my eyes and ears still work, my room is not too cold, nor is it too hot (and if it were, I could adjust the temperature). My children and wife are currently healthy and relatively happy. My family seems to get along just fine.
And yet I live in fear. That imagination kicks in. Some of the things I imagine aren’t even that bad, when I really think about them. What if I lose my job? Really? That’s the worst thing that could happen? What if? Well, then I wouldn’t have quite as much money, that’s for sure. Not my preference, but still not as tragic as I make it up in my head. What if I can’t sell my house? What if? Well, then I guess I would have to find a way to make due until I could. In my writing, I spend a lot of time reflecting on worst case scenarios: things like death, disease, loss of a loved one, loss of one’s love. These are bad…worse than job loss, I would say. And yet I spend more time worrying about less than tragic things. Perhaps it is because I feel I have more control over things like selling a house or keeping a job, whereas things like death, disease, and the love others give me are perceived as less under my control.
The true stoic does not worry about that which she cannot control. There’s the trick, though, figuring out which of these things are controllable and which are not. In the end, so very little is in my control. That fear, that “imagination” that Marcus says he must “wipe out” is that worst case scenario we continually play out with trepidation in our head. It is just fine to be prepared for the worst, but to fear it is not only unhelpful when it does occur, but it destroys you NOW. It takes you away from your present, from living it, from enjoying it. There is joy now, just pay attention.
Then, there is the opposite problem. This is the “appetite” Marcus wants to “extinguish.” Now my mind goes off and fantasizes about how much happier I will be “if only.” If only I had a new car/house/grill/more time off/more money/better health…then, THEN, THEN I WOULD BE HAPPY. Oh, that appetite, that other attacker of my stoic happiness.
If I can “wipe out imagination: check desire: extinguish appetite” I will “keep the ruling faculty in its own power.” I will be in control of my own mind.
Oh yeah, and be MUCH happier.
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