“Do the things external which fall upon thee distract thee? Give thyself time to learn something new and good, and cease to be whirled around. But then thou must also avoid being carried about the other way. For those too are triflers who have wearied themselves in life by their activity, and yet have no object to which to direct every movement, and, in a word, all their thoughts. “ - Marcus Aurelius. The Meditations
Sound advice, right? Wrong. Although he doesn’t say so, Marcus surely knows there is often a fine line between trying to learn something new and good, and wearying oneself by such activity. It comes down to finding a way to govern one’s thoughts.
We have all had nights when our body is tired and wants to rest, while our thoughts are flitting around from past to future, from regrets to hopes, and from thought to unrelated thought like a 9-year-old on a Kool-Aid jag.
On such nights, I find Marcus Aurelius to be a bit of a pedantic jerk, full of what purports to be wisdom but empty of a single practical idea for living a peaceful life. I’m unable to sleep anyway, so I might as well fault this preachy pedantic philosopher as admit that while I toss and turn I’m merely stirring up the mud from the bottom of the pool of thought inside my head.
Even that kid with ADD running around on a playground knows that if you stop stirring a muddy pool of water with a stick, it will gradually become clear.
“Who can make the muddy water clear? Let it be still, and it will gradually become clear. Who can secure the condition of rest? Let movement go on, and the condition of rest will gradually arise.” - Lao-tzu, The Tao-te Ching