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Archive for April, 2019

How do we discover the secret of Marcus’ ‘Meditations’?

Consider Gentle Reader that in order to discover the secret of the ‘Meditations’ you need to spend time with it when life is breaking your heart or when you are engulfed in anxiety or self-pity or resentment or – and this is more challenging to do – spend time with it and savor Marcus’ insights during a time when your dreams appear to be coming true and it feels to you as if all will be well forever.  During both of these times Marcus provides us with support and with a dose of reality.

What is it about Marcus’ insights and observations that for hundreds of thousands of us has brought us to a full stop – in the form of a new sense of inner dignity and strength?  This is not the strength that helps us overcome our enemies or that promises wealth, status or even health.  Marcus does not promise us ‘self-importance’ – recognition and honors.  And Marcus does not promise that if we embrace his learning-experience that we will be able to endure life’s difficulties and hardships without flinching or stumbling.

The secret of Marcus’ ‘Meditations’ does not lie in such things – even though many have interpreted it in this way.

No, Gentle Reader, consider that the true secret of Marcus’ ‘Meditations’ lies in the fact that Marcus is writing these meditations to himself and to himself alone – not to you or me or any of the hundreds of thousands of us who, over the centuries, have carried this little book with them.  Marcus is writing to and for himself.  He is a fully human being expressing to himself what he is embracing, carrying, and inwardly questioning through his own awakened attention in the present moment.

Think about this.

Few of us will ever have any idea what his inner state must be like as he reflects and writes; nor of the immensity of the forces that are washing over – and within – him.  Marcus Aurelius, Emperor of Rome, carrying the world upon his shoulders – determining the life and death of thousands upon thousands, judging, ruling, killing and rescuing.  Marcus Aurelius, Emperor of Rome, fully human being that he is, target of both adoration and murderous hatred, a fully human being suffering and dying from an unknown illness as he sits late and alone in his tent far from home on the Eastern boundaries of his Empire.

What is amazing and awe-inspiring is that this fully human being coping under the force of such inner and outer conditions offers us a deep insight into the human work of attending consciously to one’s own developing mind, heart and soul.  Marcus was on a search.  He was, according to his own words, searching for self-knowledge and he was engaged in this search while living in the most harrowing of conditions – ten years of constant war far from home.

Given all of this he offers us penetrating practical insights.  He offers us his vision of the Universe and of God and of the conduct of life that he is called to live – a life of compassionate objectivity toward himself, to others and to life.

We experience, as we reflect upon Marcus’ words the transformation that he experiences – the effect that the awakening of conscious attention can have upon the workings of the human mind, heart and soul.

It is this, then – this effect upon himself, not the great universal ideas he turns to but his inner questioning that is the secret of Marcus’ ‘Meditations.’

AND [remember Gentle Reader, there is always an ‘AND’], there is more to be discerned.

 

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Good morning Gentle Reader.

I ended PART I with the reference to a story.  Before I continue with my reflections about Marcus and his ‘Meditations’ I will share the story with you.

This is an old story and it appears in a number of Cultures.  The one I first heard comes from Russia. [Note: Depending upon the Culture, the ingredients of the story change yet the story remains the same].  This story is an excellent example of a ‘teaching story’ and is rooted in the oral tradition of a Culture.  By the by, Gentle Reader, ‘Teaching Stories’ do not teach directly; the listener must supply the lesson to be learned.

Imagine a small log house located deep in a Russian forest.  The closest neighbors are miles away.  The Russian winter has enveloped the house and its family.  The evening meal had occurred about an hour ago.  Mother and Father were busy in another room.  There is a fire blazing away in the fire place.  Sitting near the fire place is grandfather.  Sitting on the floor next to him is his young grand-daughter.  She has, as she usually did on nights like this, laid her head on her grandfather’s knee.

During this quiet time together it is the grand-daughter that breaks the silence with a question.  As the two are sitting in silence they hear the wolves howling.  Tonight they are nearby.  This does not concern them for they are quite familiar with wolves.

Tonight it is the grandfather that breaks the silence – very unusual for him to do so.  Grandfather looks down at his grand-daughter and speaks: ‘I have two wolves living inside of me.’  He pauses.  His grand-daughter looks up into his eyes; she remains quiet for she knows there is more to come.  Grandfather smiles and continues: ‘These two wolves are fighting for my soul.  One of them is the wolf of love, compassion, care, empathy, and mercy.  The other is the wolf of hate, anger, spite, resentment, and fear.’

Grandfather pauses.  His grand-daughter’s eyes had continued to focus on her grandfather’s face.  They sat in silence for a few minutes.  Then the grand-daughter spoke and asked: ‘Grandfather, which wolf will win?’

Grandfather smiled the smile of love and knowing; the gentle smile that feeds and nurtures the child’s soul and spirit.

After another few minutes grandfather responds: ‘The one I feed is the one that will win!’

Gentle Reader, if you were to read and reflect upon Marcus’ ‘Meditations’ you would discern that Marcus knew about the two wolves battling for his soul.  You would hear, in his written words, the struggle he had at times when it came to deciding which wolf to feed.  It is not a stretch to say that the world benefitted because this Emperor, this man, this human being, chose more often than not to feed the wolf of love, compassion, care, empathy and mercy.

Marcus offers us a blending of spiritual vision, poetic insight and worldly reality as a ruler whose realm comprised at least half of the known world.  But, as significant as this is, it does not represent the real secret of his book.  It is not the ideas alone that reach deep into us with compassionate understanding of what it means to be fully human; nor is it his subtlety – his teaching us without teaching us.

How then do we discover the real secret of Marcus’ ‘Meditations’?

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What could be clearer?  No other life is more appropriate for the practice of philosophy than that which you now happen to be living. –Meditations, 11.7

Marcus’ ‘Meditations’ continues to be, nearly 2000 years later (Marcus Aurelius died in A.D. 180), read and savored.  Literally hundreds of thousands of folks have read and re-read this remarkable book – I am, continue to be, one of those folks.

What is the secret of this remarkable book?  This is a question I have been holding for many years.  Today, Gentle Reader, I have decided to share some of my responses to this question.

What has enabled this collection of meditations to continue to speak to countless men and women throughout the world without evoking little but deep respect and deep gratitude?

A brief exploration of the history of philosophy will reveal that all of the works of the ‘great philosophers’ have their defenders and detractors.  But…not this book.  There has been, and continues to be, hardly a trace of controversy when it comes to Marcus Aurelius’ ‘Meditations.’

Again, I ask: Why is this so?

What enables these private and often intimate meditations of the emperor of Rome to transcend the noise of his – and our – strife ridden world?  What enables Marcus’ words to reach gently across the centuries while offering us the experience of an inner strength that only a quiet mind can emerge?

To summarize the main ideas of Marcus’ ‘Meditations’ provides us little sense of the power it has had – that it continues to have – to help us face and embrace the challenges that are part of our lives – the shocks, the terrors, the disappointments, the sorrows, the triumphs, the cravings and the needs that daily whelm us over.  There are other challenges – the betrayals that wound and confuse us; the specter of death that walks among us and that reminds us of our own mortality.

Marcus’s ‘Meditations’ offers us the great idea of the ‘Mind’ of the universe – the ‘Mind’ that calls us from within our own mind.  The ‘Mind’ that speaks of the inner freedom that we can experience when we stop and step-back within ourselves, quiet ourselves and listen.

The cultivation of this inner freedom, Marcus tells us, is both our deeper inner possibility and the deep tap root that feeds, supports and nurtures our self-respect and our moral power – that nurtures our ability to love and act justly in the conduct of our lives.

The ideas that Marcus offers us via his ‘Meditations’ helps us not to give up.  Marcus’ ‘Meditations’ inspire us and offer us hope as we live into and out of our embattled lives.  For Marcus, life is a battle that we have with ourselves – the battle of ‘good vs. evil’ and the battle of ‘virtue vs. vice’ and the battle of ‘light vs. darkness.’  I am thinking of the ‘Two Wolves’ story that comes out of Russia; a story I believe that would resonate with Marcus the man and the Emperor.

[To be continued…]

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Good morning Gentle Reader.

These past few days I have been thinking about leaders, followers, and leadership.  I have also engaged in a number of conversations with leaders. One question I presented to each of them was: What are the six most difficult things for you to do as a leader?  Given our conversations I have been thinking about leaders and what they do – the easy and the difficult things they do.

There was a period of time, 2001-2010, that I wrote down a leader’s response to this question.  During 2010 I took time to re-visit their responses and I emerged a list.  I have decided to offer you the list today.  The six are ranked in order of the number of responses from the leaders (this is the 2010 list).  Since 2010 I have shared this with other leaders and with a number of ‘consultants’ and I have found general agreement with and support for my list.

CONSIDER: 6 difficult things for a leader to do – perhaps for most of us to do; they certainly are a challenge for me.

  1. Return love for hate
  2. Include the excluded
  3. Admitting that he/she is wrong
  4. Offer healing when wounding occurs (especially to self —- self-violence is, perhaps, the greatest violence)
  5. Saying ‘thank you’
  6. Being vulnerable (two ways)
    • Being transparent = being fully human
    • Carrying the wound gracefully (from the Latin, ‘vulnus’ to carry a wound with grace) – You will be wounded, both intentionally and un-

Gentle Reader: What are the six most difficult things for you to do?

 

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CONSIDER ‘PASSION’. . .

Passion = the fire within that nurtures rather than consumes; my life-breath/spirit (spirit comes from the Latin ‘spirare’ which means ‘to breathe’); the taproot that feeds our spirit; a driving energy – a need to connect (to self, to another, to community); a healing energy that I can bring or that I can accept, embrace and integrate.

Gentle Reader, here are some ‘Passion Questions’ that I invite you to consider (as you consider these you might emerge some others that speak more directly to you):

  1. If you were to develop a documentary about something that moves you, what would it be?
  2. If you started a foundation to address a need, what foundation would you start?  What’s the need that would be addressed?
  3. What issue would you like to see someone write about? What keeps you from writing about this issue?  What might motivate you to write about it?
  4. What would you like to learn about; to study and perhaps to master? What keeps you from learning about it (if not mastering it)?
  5. Who do you get together with in order to have ‘deep’ conversations; how often do you get together?  What are some of the topics that you’ve explored together? What emerged from your searching/exploring together?
  6. Is there a need in the world that you would work full time addressing if you were compensated as you would need (not ‘like’) to be compensated? Is there a need in the world that you would work full time addressing if there was no direct compensation?

I am not sure why, but these words of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin just emerged into my consciousness: Someday, after we have mastered the wind, the waves, the tide and gravity, we shall harness the energies of love.  Then, for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire. 

 

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THINK: ‘ACCOUNT-ABILITY’. .

Being accountable is often tricky once you embrace and engage it.  I remember many years ago I was taught that there are two major types of error.  Type ‘A’ error means I am getting it wrongType ‘B’ error means I am not getting it right enough; I am missing opportunities.  The difference is crucial.

Most individuals, relationships, and organizations I know are overly focused on, if not obsessed with, Type ‘A’ errors.  I suppose because the mistakes seem easier to spot, if not correct.  Type ‘B’ errors seem to go unnoticed or are under-valued.  How often do we identify and hence miss opportunities to improve and/or to do things no one else has thought of?  How often do we identify and hence miss opportunities to experiment and, instead, spend almost all of our time on maintaining?

As I reflect upon this it seems to me that ‘Being Accountable’ also comes in two types.  One is our responsibility for not getting it wrong; the other for making ‘it’ better than it otherwise would have been.

Robert K. Greenleaf, the father of modern-day servant-leadership asks if those served grow as persons; this is the second type of accountability it seems to me.  The Golden Rule, which is present in all of the world’s major faith and philosophic traditions is other example of this type of accountability.  Here is another: Love your neighbor as yourself.  A challenge indeed it is.  Love, in other words, is not just about doing right by someone it is about making things happen with or for someone which would never have happened otherwise.  The ‘lover’ and the ‘loved’ are better off because of the loving done and received.

Gentle Reader, I invite you to stop, step aside and reflect a bit.  Here are a few guiding questions that you might find to be helpful: At this time in my life, what am I not getting right enough?  During the past six months, what are some opportunities I have missed and what are some opportunities I have embraced?  During the past year, which persons have grown because I have served them well?  How often do I act rooted in love?  [AN ASIDE: One of the richest and most powerful men in our country once told me that he did not make a business decision if the decision was not rooted in love.  As I observed him interact with others I came to believe him.]

 

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WAVES. . .SHALLOWS. . .WHIRLPOOLS

How many times during these past 50+ years did I wake up and catch myself surfing the waves of the next best thing or idea?  How often do I forget that waves crash and it is the deep currents that have true staying power?  How often do I also get caught up wading in the shallows, fearful of the depth and the darkness that holds the deep currents that are always calling me to ‘go deeper still?’

In addition to waves and shallows, I also experience being in whirlpools.  What others do and think and say can quickly suck me into their vortex.  I am so busy riding waves, wading in the shallows or swirling in whirlpools that I become lost.  More than lost, I am in danger of disconnecting from my soul, from ‘entheos’ (the spirit that animates us and provides us with our life-breath) – that part of me that can only be accessed from the depths of my being.

When I am lost this way I know I must re-find my soul, my sustaining spirit.  I know I must leave the waves, the shallows, the whirlpools and dive into the depths.  Here, in the solitude I am able to renew so I can reenter refreshed and reinvigorated.  The deep currents are patient and as they slowly and powerfully move along they continuously call me to go deeper still.

The water nourishes and cleanses and purifies.  There is, for me, another option – a balance, if you will.

The other option I have is to go, not into the deep currents (the depth), but into the desert, to enter into the wilderness (the negative side of the wilderness is the wasteland – and I have certainly spent time there also).  I enter the desert in order to be still.  To reconnect with the divine within.  To listen for the whisper of the spirit that guides and sustains me.  It is hard for me to hear the soft whisper when I am distracted by all of the noise, my internal noise, and when I am distracted by all of my ‘doings,’ my busyness.  Like so many of us in our Culture, I am not only distracted by my inner noise and external busyness I am also addicted to both.  I am also, like so many of us in our Culture, addicted to the ‘waves’ and to ‘speed.’

Noise, distractions, busyness and speed hinder, if not directly prohibit, my/our going into either the deep currents or seeking solitude in the desert.  Our mantra seems to be: Give us the waves to ride!

 

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