”Time is like a river made up of the events which happen, and a violent stream; for as soon as a thing has been seen, it is carried away, and another comes in its place, and this will be carried away too.”Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 4.43
There’s something romantic about how Marcus has worded this one; I think it’s beautiful to imagine our lives as a series of moments rushing past. Here it comes, here it is, there it goes, but hey now, here’s yet another. It makes me feel like I’m part of something really ephemeral; I’m an experiencing agent within the flow of time… imagine how many things are not! It feels lucky and beautiful.
I’ve made a similar analogy, comparing fate to a river, and our agency to a canoe and a paddle, and of course you already know the one about the dog and the cart.
In a previous episode, last Monday I think, we talked about how perhaps the most central lesson of Stoicism is that nothing but Virtue truly matters; I gave the example of how dying doesn’t hurt us, because the only true hurt is hurt of one’s Virtue, but how failing to do the right thing out of fear, while it may not physically impact us, actually does hurt us because we’ve acted in bad character. At the end of that episode I suggested that understanding this—that Virtue is the only good—might be the most central teaching in Stoicism. If there were a second, it would probably be this: that your life is passing, like a silent raging torrent, and you have only the moment of right now to act and influence your fate (remember, facts happen to us and through us).
These two ideas go rather well together I think! If you can remember the only real harm is the harming of your Virtue, then you can be like a superhuman, afraid of nothing, and always willing to do the appropriate thing. Couple that with the understanding that moments are all we have, and you may be less willing to allow moments to pass unmarked, un-utilized, or un-seized. Carpé Momentum!
Imagine the powerhouse of positive impact you might become if you knew what really mattered and wasted not a single moment of action. That must be what it feels like to be a Sage; and while we’ll very likely never become Sages, I think it’s useful to keep the ideal of Sagehood ever in our mind’s eye, motivating us to never stop trying to be the best and most appropriate versions of ourselves.