Today I talked with a client about mortality (among a number of topics) and how we reflexively seek to protect ourselves from the dread and fear evoked by death. I talked with another client about how focusing on the immediate present--being "in the moment"--is helping him navigate a profound personal and professional transition. And tonight, reflecting on these conversations, I was reminded of a passage from Marcus Aurelius' Meditations that I've found both bracing and comforting:
Even were you to live three thousand years or thrice ten thousand, remember that no one loses any other life than this which he is living, nor lives any other than this which he is losing. Thus the longest and the shortest come to the same thing. For the present is equal for all, and what is passing is therefore equal: thus what is being lost is proved to be barely a moment. For a man could lose neither past nor future; how can one rob him of what he has not got? Always remember, then, these two things: one, that all things from everlasting are of the same kind, and are in rotation; and it matters nothing whether it be for a hundred years or for two hundred years or for an infinite time that a man shall behold the same spectacle; the other, that the longest-lived and the soonest to die have an equal loss; for it is the present alone of which either will be deprived, since (as we saw) this is all he has, and a man does not lose what he has not got. [Book II, Chapter 14]
This passage means even more to me in light of R.B. Rutherford's introduction to the Oxford edition: "...Marcus was writing for himself, and seems to have had no thought of making his reflections available to a wider audience in his own lifetime or thereafter... At the end of the day, the emperor would record a few reflections and admonish himself to observe certain precepts and ethical rules which he might have neglected in the course of the day." [pp ix-x] Marcus wasn't rebuking anyone else; he was counseling himself. (You might even say he was self-coaching.)
I was thinking along these lines before my conversations with my clients today. I just turned 45, and while I'm physically active I feel the limitations of age, and I can't do everything I want to do. More seriously, Amy recently had a health issue that turned out to be manageable through medication but which gave us a scare until it was diagnosed. So I've been wrestling with my own perspective on mortality, and my own feelings of dread and fear.
At times like this I find the passage above comforting because I accept Marcus' assertion that "the longest-lived and the soonest to die have an equal loss." I may well live another 45 years (although 3,000 seems unlikely), and I may die tomorrow, and in both cases I'll lose the exact same thing: the present moment.
And I find this passage bracing because, having accepted this assertion, I have to acknowledge that the present moment, this moment, is all I truly have. I can step forward and do something meaningful with it, or (as I so often do) I can sit back and let it pass by. Time to step up.
Photo by Martin Fisch. Yay Flickr and Creative Commons.