Whatever you aspire to from now on, you may even now enjoy and possess if you don't envy yourself of your own happiness. And that will be, if you will forget all that is past, and for the future refer yourself wholly to the Divine Providence, and will bend and apply all your present thoughts and intentions to holiness and righteousness.
To holiness, in accepting willingly whatever is sent by the Divine Providence, as being that which the nature of the universe has appointed to you, which also has appointed you for that, whatever it is.
To righteousness, in speaking the truth freely, and without ambiguity; and in doing all things justly and discreetly. Now, in this good course don't let other men's either wickedness, or opinion, or voice, hinder you; no, nor the sense of your pampered mass of flesh.
Let that which suffers look to itself. If therefore whenever the time of your departing shall come, you will readily leave all things, and will respect your mind only, and that divine part of you, and this shall be your only fear, not that some time or other you will cease to live, but you will never begin to live according to nature. Then will you be a man indeed, worthy of that world from which you had your beginning; then will you cease to be a stranger in your country, and to wonder at those things that happen daily as things strange and unexpected, and anxiously to depend of diverse things that are not in your power.
God beholds our minds and understandings, bare and naked from these material vessels, and outsides, and all earthly dross. For with His simple and pure understanding, He pierces into our inmost and purest parts, which from His, as it were by a water pipe and channel first flowed and issued.
This if you also will use to do, you will rid yourself of that manifold luggage, wherewith you are round about encumbered. For he that regards neither his body nor his clothing nor his dwelling, nor any such external furniture must gain to himself great rest and ease. Three things there are in all which you consist of; your body, your life, and your mind.
Of these the two former, are so far for you, as that you are bound to take care for them. But the third alone is that which is properly yours. If then you will separate from yourself, that is from your mind, whatever other men either do or say, or whatever you yourself have heretofore either done or said; and all troublesome thoughts concerning the future, and whatever, (as either belonging to your body or life) is without the jurisdiction of your own will, and whatever in the ordinary course of human chances and accidents happens to you; so that your mind (keeping herself loose and free from all outward coincidental entanglements; always in a readiness to depart) shall live by herself, and to herself, doing that which is just, accepting whatever happens, and always speaking the truth.
If, I say, you will separate from your mind whatever by sympathy might adhere to it, and all time both past and future, and will make yourself in all points and respects like Empedocles' allegorical sphere1, "all round and circular," and will no longer think of life than that which is now present: then you will be truly able to pass the remainder of your days without troubles and distractions; nobly and generously disposed, and in good favor and correspondence with that spirit which is within you.
I have often wondered how it should have come to pass that every man loving himself best should more regard other men's opinions concerning himself than his own. For if any God or grave master standing by should command any of us to think nothing by himself but what he should presently speak out, no man would be able to endure it, though but for one day. Thus do we fear more what our neighbors will think of us than what we ourselves do.
How did it come to pass that the gods, having ordered all other things so well and so lovingly, should only overlook this one thing, that whereas there have been some very good men that have made many covenants, as it were with God and by many holy actions and outward services, contracted a kind of familiarity with Him; that once these men are dead, should never be restored to life, but be extinct forever.
But this you may be sure of, that this (if it is so indeed) would never have been so ordered by the gods had it been fit otherwise. For certainly it was possible, had it been more just so and had it been according to nature, the nature of the universe would easily have borne it.
But now because it is not so, (if that is not so indeed) be therefore confident that it was not fit, it should be so for you see yourself, that now seeking after this matter, how freely you argue and contest with God.
But were not the gods both just and good in the highest degree, you dare not reason with them. Now if they are just and good, it could not be that in the creation of the world they should either unjustly or unreasonably oversee anything.
Use yourself even for those things that you despair of at first. For the left hand, which for the most part lies idle because it's not used, yet it holds the bridle with more strength than the right, because it's used to it.
Let these be the objects of your ordinary meditation—to consider what manner of men both for soul and body we ought to be whenever death surprises us, the shortness of this our mortal life, the immense vastness of the time that has been before and will be after us, the frailty of every worldly material object. All these things to consider, and behold clearly in themselves, all disguise of the external outside being removed and taken away.
Again, consider the efficient causes of all things, the proper ends and references of all actions, what pain is in itself, what pleasure, what death, what fame or honor, how every man is the true and proper ground of his own rest and tranquility, and that no man can truly be hindered by any other.
That all is but conceit and opinion.
As for the use of your dogma, you must carry yourself in the practice of them, rather like to a pancratiastes, or one that at the same time both fights and wrestles with hands and feet rather than like a gladiator. For if the gladiator loses the sword that he fights with, he is gone, whereas the other has still his hand free, which he may easily turn and manage at his will.
You must behold and consider all worldly things, dividing them into matter, form, and reference, or their proper end.
How happy is a man that has been granted this power, that he needs not do anything but what God shall approve, and that he may embrace contentedly, whatever God sends to him?
Whatever happens in the ordinary course and consequence of natural events, neither the gods, (for it is not possible that they either wittingly or unwittingly should do anything amiss) nor men, (for it is through ignorance, and therefore against their wills that they do anything amiss) must be accused. None then must be accused.
How ridiculous and strange is he that wonders about anything that happens in this life in the ordinary course of nature!
Either fate (and that either an absolute necessity, and unavoidable decree; or a forgiving and flexible Providence), or all is a mere casual confusion, void of all order and government. If it is an absolute and unavoidable necessity, why do you resist?
If a gentle and persuadable Providence, make yourself worthy of the divine help and assistance.
If all is mere confusion without any moderator, or governor, then you have reason to congratulate yourself; that in such a general flood of confusion, you yourself have obtained a reasonable faculty, whereby you may govern your own life and actions.
But if you are carried away with the flood, it must be your body perchance, or your life, or some other thing that belongs to them that is carried away. Your mind and understanding cannot.
Or should it be so, that the light of a candle indeed is still bright until it's put out, and should truth, and righteousness, and temperance cease to shine in you while you yourself have any being?
At the conceit and apprehension that such and such a one has sinned, thus reason with yourself: What do I know whether this be a sin indeed, as it seems to be?
But if it is, what do I know but that he himself has already condemned himself for it? And that is all one as if a man should scratch and tear his own face, an object of compassion rather than of anger.
Again, that he that would not have a vicious man to sin, is like to him that would not have moisture in the fig, nor children to grow nor a horse to neigh, nor anything else that in the course of nature is necessary. For what shall he do that has such a habit? If you therefore are powerful and eloquent, remedy it if you can.
If it isn't fitting, don't do it. If it isn't true, don't say it. Ever maintain your own purpose and resolution, free from all compulsion and necessity.
Of everything that presents itself to you, consider what the true nature of it is, and unfold it, as it were, by dividing it into that which is formal: that which is material, the true use or end of it, and the just time that it is appointed to last.
It is high time for you to understand that there is something in you better and more divine than either your passions or your sensual appetites and affections. What is now the object of my mind, is it fear, or suspicion, or lust, or any such thing?
To do nothing rashly without some certain end; let that be your first care. The next, to have no other end than the common good. For, alas! Yet a little while, and you are no more: no more will any, either of those things that now you see, or of those men that now are living, be any more. For all things are by nature appointed soon to be changed, turned, and corrupted, that other things might succeed in their room.
Remember that all is but opinion, and all opinion depends on the mind. Take your opinion away, and then as a ship that has stricken in within the arms and mouth of the harbor, a present calm; all things safe and steady: a bay, not capable of any storms and tempests, as the poet has it.
No operation ceasing for a while, whatever it is, can be truly said to suffer any evil because it is at an end. Neither can he that is the author of that operation; for this very respect, because his operation is at an end, be said to suffer any evil.
Likewise then, neither can the whole body of all our actions (which is our life) if in time it cease, be said to suffer any evil for this very reason, because it is at an end; nor he truly be said to have been ill affected, that did put a period to this series of actions.
Now this time or certain period depends on the determination of nature: sometimes of particular nature, as when a man dies old; but of nature in general, however; the parts thus changing one after another, the whole world still continues fresh and new.
Now that is ever best and most seasonable which is for the good of the whole. Thus it appears that death of itself can neither be hurtful to any in particular, because it is not a shameful thing (for neither is it a thing that depends of our own will, nor of itself contrary to the common good) and generally, as it is both expedient and seasonable to the whole, that in that respect it must be good.
It is that also, which is brought to us by the order and appointment of the Divine Providence, so that he whose will and mind in these things runs along with the Divine ordinance, and by this concurrence of his will and mind with the Divine Providence, is led and driven along, as it were by God Himself; may truly be termed and esteemed the divinely led and inspired.
There are three things you must have always in a readiness. First, concerning your own actions, whether you do nothing either idly or otherwise than justice and equity require. Concerning those things that happen to you externally, that either they happen to you by chance, or by providence; of which to accuse either two is equally against reason.
Secondly, while our bodies are rude and imperfect until they are animated, and from their animation until their expiration of what things they are compounded, and into what things they shall be dissolved.
Thirdly, how vain all things will appear to you when, from on high as it were, looking down you will contemplate all things on the earth, and the wonderful mutability that they are subject to, considering withal the infinite both greatness and variety of things aerial and things celestial that are round about it.
And that as often as you will behold them, you will still see the same, as the same things, so the same shortness of continuance of all those things. And, behold, these be the things that we are so proud and puffed up for.
Cast away your opinion and you are safe. And what is it that hinders you from casting of it away? When you are grieved at anything, have you forgotten that all things happen according to the nature of the universe? That it only concerns he who is in fault, and moreover, that what is now done, is that which from ever has been done in the world, and will ever be done, and is now done everywhere.
How nearly all men are allied one to another by a kindred not of blood, nor of seed, but of the same mind. You have also forgotten that every man's mind partakes of the Deity, and issues from there; and that no man can properly call anything his own, no not his son, nor his body, nor his life; for that they all proceed from that One who is the giver of all things.
That all things are but opinion, that no man lives properly, but that very instant of time which is now present. And therefore that no man, whenever he dies, can properly be said to lose any more than an instant of time.
Let your thoughts ever run upon them who, once for some one thing or other, were moved with extraordinary indignation; who were once in the highest pitch of either honor, or calamity; or mutual hatred and enmity; or of any other fortune or condition whatever.
Then consider what's now become of all those things. All is turned to smoke; all to ashes, and a mere fable; and perchance not so much as a fable.
As also whatever is of this nature, as Fabius Catulinus in the field; Lucius Lupus, and Stertinius, at Baiae Tiberius at Caprem. and Velius Rufus, and all such examples of vehement prosecution in worldly matters. Let these also run in your mind at the same time; and how vile every object of such earnest and vehement prosecution is, and how much more agreeable to true philosophy it is for a man to carry himself in every matter that offers itself; justly, and moderately, as one that follows the gods with all simplicity.
For a man to be proud and high conceited, that he is not proud and high conceited, is of all kind of pride and presumption the most intolerable.
To them that ask you, "Where have you seen the gods, or how do you know with certainty that there are gods, that you are so devout in their worship?"
I answer first of all, that even to the very eye they are in some manner visible and apparent. Secondly, neither have I ever seen my own soul, and yet I respect and honor it.
So then for the gods, by the daily experience that I have of their power and providence towards myself and others, I know certainly that they are, and therefore worship them.
Herein consists happiness of life: for a man to know thoroughly the true nature of everything. What is its matter? What is the form of it? With all his heart and soul, ever is he to do that which is just, and to speak the truth.
What then remains but to enjoy your life in a course and coherence of good actions, one upon another immediately succeeding, and never interrupted, though for never so little a while?
There is but one light of the sun, though it is intercepted by walls and mountains, and a thousand other objects. There is but only common substance of the whole world, though it is concluded and restrained into several different bodies, in infinite number.
There is but one common soul, though divided into innumerable particular essences and natures. So is there but one common intellectual soul, though it seems to be divided.
And as for all other parts of those generals which we have mentioned, as either sensitive souls or subjects, these of themselves (as naturally irrational) have no common mutual reference to one another, though many of them contain a mind, or reasonable faculty in them, whereby they are ruled and governed.
But of every reasonable mind, this the particular nature, that it has reference to whatever is of her own kind, and desires to be united. Neither can this common affection, or mutual unity and correspondence, be intercepted or divided, or confined to particulars as those other common things are.
What do you desire? To live long. What? To enjoy the operations of a sensitive soul; or of the appetitive faculty? or would you grow, and then decrease again? Would you long be able to talk, to think and reason with yourself?
Which of all these seems to your a worthy object of your desire? Now if of all these you find that they are but little worth in themselves, proceed on to the last, which is, in all things to follow God and reason. But for a man to grieve that by death he shall be deprived of any of these things is both against God and reason.
What a small portion of vast and infinite eternity it is that is allowed to every one of us, and how soon it vanishes into the general age of the world. Of the common substance, and of the common soul also what a small portion is allotted to us. In what a little clod of the whole earth (as it were) it is that you crawl.
After you will rightly have considered these things with yourself, fancy not anything else in the world any more to be of any weight and moment but this, to do that only which your own nature requires; and to conform yourself to that which the common nature affords.
What is the present state of my understanding? For herein lies all indeed. As for all other things, they are without the compass of my own will. If without the compass of my will, then are they as dead things to me, and as it were, mere smoke.
To stir up a man to the contempt of death, this among other things, is of good power and efficacy, that even they who esteemed pleasure to be happiness, and pain misery, did nevertheless many of them contemn death as much as any. And can death be terrible to him to whom that only seems good, which in the ordinary course of nature is seasonable? To him, whether his actions be many or few, so they be all good, is all one; and who whether he beholds the things of the world being always the same either for many years, or for few years only, is altogether indifferent?
Oh, man! You have lived as a citizen, and conversed in this great city, the world. Whether just for so many years or not, what is it to you? You have lived, you may be sure, as long as the laws and orders of the city required; which may be the common comfort of all.
Why then should it be grievous to you, if not a tyrant, nor an unjust judge, but the same nature that brought you in, does now send your out of the world? As if the praetor should fairly dismiss him from the stage whom he had taken in to act a while.
Oh, but the play is not yet at an end, there are but three acts yet acted of it? You have well said. For in matter of life, three acts is the whole play. Now to set a certain time to every man's acting, belongs to him only, who as first he was of your composition, so is now the cause of your dissolution.
As for yourself; you have to do with neither. Go your ways then well pleased and contented, for so is He that dismisses you.