Nam si exaudit rationem sequiturque qua ducitur, iam non est ira, cuius proprium est contumacia; si vero repugnat et non ubi iussa est quiescit sed libidine ferocia-que provehitur, tam inutilis animi minister est quam miles qui signum receptui neglegit. Itaque si modum adhiberi sibi patitur, alio nomine appellanda est, desit ira esse, quam effrenatam indomitamque intellego.
For if anger listens to reason and follows where reason leads, then it is already not anger, of which obstinacy is a proper quality; if, however, it fights back and does not become quiet when it has been ordered, but is carried forward by its desire and ferocity, then it is as useless a servant of the soul as a soldier who disregards the signal for falling back. And thus, if it suffers a measure to be applied to itself, then it must be called by a different name, and it ceases to be anger, which I understand to be unrestrained and untamable.
— Seneca, De ira 1.9.2–3
“Men seek retreats for themselves, houses in the country, sea-shores, and mountains; and thou too art wont to desire such things very much. But this is altogether a mark of the most common sort of men, for it is in thy power whenever thou shalt choose to retire into thyself. For nowhere either with more quiet or more freedom from trouble does a man retire than into his own soul…”
μετάνοια is often translated as “conversion” in the wake of the Christianization of the West. Marcus uses this word to describe his coming to Philosophy. It is more than mere “change of mind,” but also a turning inward, a soul-change as well.
It has been my experience that there are many ‘conversions’ for one on the philosophical path, a constant turning inward and reorienting.
Lately, I’ve gotten awful wrapped up in externals. Things which are rightly by our school things indifferent. And my progress has suffered for it. A philosophical backsliding that is staggering. Today, when I needed it the most, from an unlikely source (for me), I received the reminder that “we are what we eat.” This is true physically as it is spiritually, or philosophically, of you’d rather.
I sat and listened while someone noted that we can monitor our speech, and by watching what comes out in words, actions, deeds, we can get a clue to what’s been going in.
For me, these past several seasons, it has not been a dialogue of virtue, of justice, of fittingness, of wisdom, and of courage. My words have been that of the complainer, the bitter one, the ingrate. Precisely the person that Marcus warns himself, and us, to be prepared to meet every day:
“When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: the people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil.”
This has been me for months. This hasn’t become a premeditatio, but a description of myself. At work, at home, with friends. If it is correct that the soul is colored by the thoughts we entertain, I’ve been working on the quite the dye-job.
At every impression, every judgment lies the opportunity to change. Today, however, I choose to not be the asshole.That call to μετάνοια is present. This ability to change, to make a decision contrary to our urges, instincts, habits, and lifestyle is the core ability for Stoics.
That is my intent today; to turn inward, rededicate myself to my practice and progress.