The more we fill our days with work, content (both constructive and destructive), and constant activity, the further we find ourselves drifting away from our core, losing touch with our true selves. We fall into a rhythm, engrossed in the pursuit of money, achievement, stimulation, and just “being plain old busy.” It appears that everything is thriving, and we feel a sense of pride and accomplishment. However, if we are not mindful, these lower aspects of our lives can gradually expand, take center stage, and dominate us. What was once a pleasant rhythm can morph into an oppressive rut, leaving us feeling trapped and stagnant.
It remains true for us today, just as it did for Marcus Aurelius. He found himself entangled in countless responsibilities and distractions, constantly being pulled in various directions. Consequently, he had less and less time for what truly held significance to him: philosophy. In Book 6 of Meditations, we gain insight into his mindset regarding priorities through an analogy he presents:
"Imagine having both a stepmother and a biological mother. While it is essential to pay respects to your stepmother, it is your biological mother who you would ultimately return home to.
In a similar vein, the court and philosophy bear resemblance: you must fulfill your duties within the court, but it is philosophy that serves as your refuge. It is philosophy that renders the court—and your own existence—bearable."
Here, Marcus tries to illuminate the distinction between obligations and what truly nourishes the soul. While acknowledging the importance of fulfilling duties within the court, he emphasizes the need to prioritize philosophy as the foundation of personal well-being. Just as one would seek solace and connection with their biological mother, returning home to philosophy offers a profound sense of comfort and rejuvenation.
This analogy reminds us of the enduring significance of philosophy in our lives, regardless of the specific circumstances we find ourselves in. It encourages us to pay heed to our essential pursuits, recognizing that while external demands may occupy our time, it is philosophy that provides us with sustenance, understanding, and a sense of purpose.
Therefore, we should resist the temptation of busyness and the deceptive notion of constant progress. We must always bear in mind that philosophy serves as our solid foundation, guiding us like a compass. It is a lifelong commitment that is fueled by our perennial dedication and admiration. By showing reverence to philosophy, we not only honor our true selves but also ensure that the rhythm of our lives stays vibrant and meaningful.