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Saturday, January 10, 2009

Marcus Aurelius' "Meditations" and Descriptive Journal Writing

Alexandra Johnson's "Leaving a Trace" is a very good book about journaling. I read it in one single day at the end of last year and determined that I needed to follow much of her advice to learn how to describe better. Her most insightful idea is to write journal entries without using the first person pronoun. I've actually tried this with my students and they absolutely hate it. The trick is not to allow yourself to then address yourself in the third person; that too seems to invalidate the whole writing exercise. So, I've plucked at the idea for a week now and made little progress here and there. It's interesting and for as difficult as I find it, I am learning a great deal.
A re-reading of Marcus Aurelius' "Meditations" always yields a great deal of wisdom, especially at the very start of the year. For this reason, I decided to begin "The Year of Living Philosophically" with this very excellent, short and amazing little book. I've only re-read the first part of the book (the first Six Books), and I've already underlined things I'd never noticed before that I could use to live a more healthy life. Here are some keepers:

"... not to be led astray into a passion for rhetoric... or play the ascetic or the benefactor in a manner calculated to impress... to be easily recalled to my usual frame of mind, and to be easily reconciled as soon as they [those who have angered me] are willing to make a move in my direction... To be a beneficient, and ready to forgive, and free from guile; to give the impression of being a man who never deviates from what is right rather than of one who has to be kept on the right path... sobriety in all things, and firmness, and never a trace of vulgarity or lust for novelty... At every hour devote yourself in a resolute spirit, as suits a Roman and a man, to fulfilling the task in hand with scrupulous and unaffected dignity, and love of others, and independence and justice; and grant yourself a respite from all other preoccupations... Let your every action, word and thought be those of one who could depart from life at any moment... What then is worthy of our striving? This alone, a mind governed by justice, deeds directed to the common good, words that never lie, and a disposition that welcomes all that comes to pass, as necessary, as familiar, as flowing from a like origin and spring..."

Certainly, I could go on forever and ever, as the entire volume is filled with these thoughts. Perhaps that is a lesson well-learned in these times we are living presently: to seek and want less and less of that which holds us chained to consumerism and materialism. Another great example for this, of course, is Thoreau. I've learned a great deal from this re-read, and, at least for now, I've been able to do something I hadn't been able to do before: slow down.

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