As promised, the third installment of the What am I doing with my Soul? series courtesy of Marcus Aurelius, the Philosopher-Emperor of Rome. If you’re just now joining us, well, flip back to Part I and Part II for the meat and potatoes. Otherwise:
Context – I make my English classes write and write often. This week they’re writing me three essays (over the course of three days; I’m not a sadist) over various AP materials, but last week – oh, last week! – they penned a response to the Emperor’s question posited in Book IV of his Meditations: what am I doing with my Soul? Since I use plenty of philosophical material in the classroom (to induce critical thinking), it was little wonder the Emperor would make his way to our collective desktops. But, as Sun Tzu and LTC Agor taught me, if you ask your soldiers to do something, be prepared to do it yourself.
And so, as my young charges penned responses to the Emperor, I too took to the challenge for each class period, writing in cramped, yet calm, script as I shared my thoughts with the page.
And now, dear reader (and student?), I share them here with you.
Muted. The loss of their classmates still weighs heavily upon the class psyche; kids make mistakes. But through their silent acquiescence, much can be gleaned about their demeanor: they are able. Indeed, they are capable of addressing the issue without fear. Or, in some cases, thought. It is certainly easy to write a response to the Emperor’s words without once engaging in critical thinking, but such an attitude leads one only further into the Cave. No, this is one of those questions that cannot be bullshitted; you’re only bullshitting yourself in the end. So take heart, my silent mob, and pen your responses carefully. Being able to look inside yourself without fear shows courage and wisdom. These two traits separate us from the others, those meat puppets I’ve mentioned. Of course it is acceptable to be afraid – what mortal isn’t – but fear must be overcome if one wishes to truly understand themselves. What is fear, anyway, apart from being a distraction of the Self? What is the profit of being afraid, especially of knowing who you are? After all, our purpose is to live, and to live one must be without fear, especially regarding one’s self. You all took to the task, yet a handful have already stopped writing: is it fear? Probably not – I doubt they went far enough along the path to experience fear. No, it is probably far worse: stupidity. Yes, some people are stupid – especially teenagers – who, when given a chance to demonstrate complex thought and reasoning hamstring themselves with a few half-assed lines and call it good. Yours will be a long, arduous road because of your conflated sense of superiority, but I remain optimistic that you’ll grow out of this, your stupidity. Yet I’m keenly aware this advice will be ignored; you certainly aren’t reading this given your penchant for idleness. Growth takes time, and I’ll wave that banner proudly, but self-reflection must begin in youth. As an old man, do you want to finally discover yourself – the beauty of Life – only to enjoy your dotage? Think. Think, damn you, whilst young and capable of doing so, for your light is only the briefest of flashes. Look inside yourself now and liberate your captive Soul – determine your purpose. Then, lead a Good Life so that those around you – old and new – may marvel at your example. Be a beacon, not a simpleton. Yes, I know it isn’t easy, especially at this age, but the more you ponder and argue, the more wondrous Life becomes. Then, and only then, can you claim to be Alive. Once you know yourself – your faults and virtues – everything else becomes secondary. Don’t stare off into space like a cow chewing cud; look into yourself. Purpose. We all have one. Perhaps yours is to serve as an example for others; an example of what not to be: stupid. Perhaps the opposite is true, for your purpose is to guide and encourage others to see the Truth hidden within us all. Search your soul and understand. And maybe – not today or tomorrow – but maybe these words will take root in your breast. Know yourself – know your soul.