The directing mind

9. 15: Mere things stand isolated outside our doors, with no knowledge or report of themselves. What then reports on them? Our directing mind.

This is the third in a series of blog posts attempting to thematically extract from the 12 books of the ‘Meditations’, the personal and philosophical diary written by Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor from 161 to 180 AD.

His private thoughts were written in numbered paragraphs, without any thought or intention of publication. The reader may find herself returning to them again and again.

Here I have collected his ideas on what he frequently refers to as the ‘directing mind’, which might be described as our ability to think. He calls upon the use of reflection as a tool to steer the directing mind towards logic and away from irrational judgement (i.e. things are neither good or bad but a function of the reason he invites us to contemplate). The mere contemplation of logic and employment of reason then calms the mind; that is, considered reflection of our directing mind redirects it to a calm state.

8. 13: Constantly test your mental impressions – each one individually, if you can: investigate the cause, identify the emotion, apply the analysis of logic.

7. 28: Withdraw into yourself. It is in the nature of the rational directing mind to be self-content with acting rightly and the calm it thereby enjoys.

12. 3: There are three things in your composition: body, breath, and mind. The first two are yours to the extent that you must take care for them, but only the third is in the full sense your own. So, if you separate from yourself – that is, from your mind – all that others say and do, all that you yourself have said and done, all that troubles you for the future, all that your encasing body and associate breath bring on you without your choice, all that is whirled round in the external vortex encircling us, so that your power of mind, transcending now all contingent ties, can exist on its own, pure and liberated, doing what is just, willing what happens to it, and saying what is true; if, as I say, you separate from this directing mind of yours the baggage of passion, time future and time past, and make yourself like Empedocles’ ‘perfect round rejoicing in the solitude it enjoys’, and seek only to perfect this life you are living in the present, you will be able at least to live out the time remaining before your death calmly, kindly, and at peace with the god inside you.

6. 57: Accustom yourself not to be disregarding of what someone else has to say: as far as possible enter into the mind of the speaker.

10. 24: What is my directing mind to me? What am I turning it into now, what use am I making of it? Is it drained of intelligence? Is it divorced and broken off from society? Is it so interfused and welded to the flesh that it sways with its tides?

7. 16: The directing mind does not disturb itself: for example, it does not frighten itself or lead itself to desire. If anyone else can frighten it or cause pain, let him do so: of itself, of its own judgement, it will not deliberately turn to such modes. The body should take care, as far as it can, to avoid harm; the sensual soul, which feels fear or pain, should say if it does so; but that which makes general assessment of all these things will not suffer at all – it will not itself rush to such judgement. Of itself the directing mind is without needs, unless it creates a need for itself: in the same way it is untroubled and unhindered, unless it troubles or hinders itself.

9. 7: Erase the print of imagination, stop impulse, quench desire: keep your directing mind its own master.

2. 2: Whatever it is, this being of mine is made up of flesh, breath, and directing mind. Now the flesh you should disdain – blood, bones, a mere fabric and network of nerves, veins, and arteries. Consider too what breath is: wind – and not even a constant, but all the time being disgorged and sucked in again. That leaves the third part, the directing mind. Quit your books – no more hankering: this is not your gift. No, think like this, as if you were on the point of death: “you are old; don’t then let this directing mind of yours be enslaved any longer – no more jerking to the strings of selfish impulse, no more disquiet at your present or suspicion of your future fate.

8. 61: Enter into the directing mind of everyone, and let anyone else enter your own.

Whilst the below does not refer directly to the directing mind, it describes the mind in terms of having a direction. So I thought it was nice to include here:

8. 57: The sun appears to pour itself down, and indeed its light pours in all directions, but the stream does not run out. This pouring is linear extension: that is why its beams are called rays, because they radiate in extended lines. You can see what a ray is if you observe the sun’s light entering a dark room through a narrow opening. It extends in a straight line and impacts, so to speak, on any solid body in its path which blocks passage through the air on the other side: it settles there and does not slip off or fall. Something similar will be true of the flow and diffusion of the universal mind – not an exhaustible stream but rather a constant radiation. And there will be nothing forceful or violent in its impact on the obstacles it meets: it will not fall off, but will settle there and illuminate what receives it. Anything unreflective will deprive itself of that light.

The first post in this series is on Kindness. The second is on our need for approval. Please leave comments and thoughts as always.

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