A Recipe for Sagehood
Marcus Aurelius's instructions
Welcome to The Stoa Letter, the newsletter on Stoic theory and practice.
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Marcus Aurelius once wrote a recipe for perfect action:
The French philosopher, Pierre Hadot, notes that in this passage we can grasp the fundamental “Stoic attitude”. It’s a three-part recipe for acting well in the world.
First, focus on the present. Let the past be and the future come.
Second, see each instant as a series of choices. Don’t trouble yourself with the whole series, but the choice in front of you now. Life is nothing more than a succession of moments.
Third, welcome every instant and make every choice with a good intentions. Do your best. No one can prevent you from doing that.
If you’ve run long distances you may have had those moments where, in your fatigue, you realize how much further you have to run. You realize that you’re barely halfway. In such times, the “whole series” can overwhelm you – you have so much further to go. But this is an illusion. All you need to do is move forward in the present. That’s the only choice in front of you.
Likewise, the sage stays in the present, always moving forward with good will. They factor the past and future into their decisions as needed, but live in the present. In Hadot’s words “They pass from one graceful movement to another.”
Marcus Aurelius concludes the rest of his note with:
Try to get into the mindset where you see your life as nothing more than a succession of moments.
🎧️ Michael and I discussed the discipline of action:
📗 The translation of Marcus Aurelius above comes from Gregory Hays’ fine version.
What did you think about today's letter?