Today some human bodies are more like obese rolls of fat and our soul (scientifically called the psyche) is better known as the brain. To go with the flow of modern life might be, sitting on your butt for most of the day, staring into the visual aids of rapidly changing technology. It might be about diabetes from digesting too much genetically modified and processed ‘food stuffs’. It might be about how the ‘soul’ represents the bio-psychology of the human brains plasticity to change, and just like it was in Marcus Aurelius time, it might be about the military. Humans claiming authority over life that belongs to Earth.
Humans enacting their authority to do this in the name of their Gods, just like Marcus Aurelius.
In Marcus Aurelius day, God was Zeus. The earthly nature of his forever changing was all about the human heart and how its body flowed like a river, and how its soul vaporised from its rhythm. Nature is forever changing referred to the activities of Zeus on the ground and how Marcus had to learn to accept it.
Today, despite industrial advances and sophistication, I think not a great deal has changed since his time. People are still learning to accept the activities of Zeus but not as a mythical God, more as a game of economic strategy and war.
Taurus born Marcus Aurelius was a Roman Emperor from 161 to 180 AD. He was the head of all military command. He legitimized Gladiator wars, sometimes alone and sometimes in partnership with other ‘royals’. Today, he is considered by some to be the last of the "Five Good Emperors". He is also considered by some to be an important Stoic philosopher who did not care much for Christianity.
Marcus Aurelius modern claim to fame are his personal diary entries during the decade of 170 to 180. The distribution of his private diaries after his death has increasingly secured him the reputation of being a philosopher king within his lifetime. During his reign, Marcus was considered by his peers to be
"More philanthropic and philosophic"
Than other Roman Emperors of the time.
The historian Herodian wrote
“Alone of the Emperors he gave proof of his learning not by mere words or knowledge of philosophical doctrines but by his blameless character and temperate way of life.”
It seems Marcus was more ‘understanding’ than most and believed in self-improvement through reflective writing. Despite his philosophical leanings, Marcus was a man of his time and he carried out his traditional duties of Emperor as best he could.
The importance of his influence upon the modern term “go with the flow” is that Marcus is credited as being the first one to coin the saying. He wrote a lot about his thoughts of happiness and from his meditations going with the flow implied that keeping the peace, even if that peace was about war, was important. In other words, it was better to get along with other people, in accordance to traditional convention, than to make waves against it and upset the social and cultural flow of early 2nd Century political life.
While ‘going with the flow’ is the more popular expression today, there is also some debate about what it truly means. Most references cited on the internet seem to agree that going with the flow is about a desire to be socially accepted and that to achieve that desire you are to:
- not push against prevailing behaviour/norms/attitudes, occasionally bowing to peer pressure, and
- Not attempt to exert a large amount of influence on the course of events, whether a specific series of events or events in general.
While political ‘go with the flow’ activities both positively and negatively impact on culture and society, for example: through democratic voter apathy or motivations, what about the introduction of the psyche? When Marcus referred to the soul in his meditations, he had no idea that centuries into the future, people called Freud and Jung would be talking about his soul in terms of accepted norms about the psyche.
In his day, the Stoics taught materialism, in which everything, including God and words, was material. Even emotions were considered to be material because of their physical manifestations of say crying and smiling. Not even nothing was immaterial because the Roman world view of the stoic individual was pantheistic, meaning that Stoic Marcus Aurelius believed a divine reality pervaded everything, even nothing, for even in nothing divinity, which in his view arose from fire, remained.
There were two kinds of matter in his philosophy. The larger matter, that could be seen and touched, and the finer matter, that was in the breath and in the spirit of life holding everything together. The Greek God Zeus (the “war” God considered to be of reason) was considered by the Stoics to be ‘a perfectly good and wise vapour of gas’ and as all life began and ended with fire, praying to Zeus as the King of all of the Greek Gods, represented a life of purpose and meaning in the name of fiery wrath. The Stoics also considered that the known Gods of the time did not actually do the things attributed to them, but were rather descriptors of natural events. For example, Zeus as Fire had to have a wife who ‘ inflamed’ him. Therefore, his wife, Hera was as Air.
Marcus believed the human soul stretched throughout the body and had eight parts:
- the five senses of eyes, ears, nose, touch and mouth
- the voice,
- the generative power of reproduction and
- the "leading power" of the mind, which was located in the heart.
As the Stoics believed that their Universe was like their own giant living body, where all parts were interconnected and influencing of each other (much like the economic ripple effect referred to by economic rationalists of today) everything was pre-determined. Therefore, Marcus believed in fate.
However, it is from the stoic realm of free will that Marcus considered his heart as a river of nature forever changing, yet ago with the flow. As his ageing heart was his soul (psyche) and his soul was his heartbeat, and this combination represented a Zeus river of Hera filled blood, human free will had to be like the river of blood, flowing into and out of his heart in accordance to his will. For men, like Marcus, irrespective of any want for a quiet life, commanded political and lawful wars. Men lived and died under his command in the name of Zeus. His stoic rule upheld the will of one man to take the will of another. This meant that nature forever changing was actually like a ‘river with eddies in its current’. In Stoic philosophy this was more than acceptable because all Gladiator men were being carried down the river to perfection and the will to resist this river was an allowable rule under ‘go with the flow’. The harsh reality was, that despite how people may have felt, go with the flow was about getting on with the business of the establishment, irrespective of how much the emotional self may have disagreed with the business. Again, I think that despite industrial progress, not much seems to have changed in the will of human kind from Marcus Aurelius time to ours.
Aurelius and the Stoics believed that, as the world was once fire, the world would become fire again. Therefore, their wars of fire were permitted acts of the divinity of the king of all Gods, Zeus, and to go with the flow in accordance with the divinity of Zeus was a 2nd Century Roman virtue that was more than acceptable.
As reason was the hallmark of a wise Stoic, Aurelius had to practice indifference to everything, but the virtues of his realm, and he could not be seen to be distressed by external circumstances, passions or emotions. The very fact that Marcus Aurelius kept a diary seems to indicate that he was indeed a creative individual who had a need to explore, if not unburden himself of, the philosophical ideals arising from the conflicts he faced in his traditional role of leader of a Gladiator Society.
In war-time, Stoicism developed it strength from its belief in all people as being manifestations of the one universal spirit. The universal spirit in the mind of Aurelius would have been the capability of his military force to win and keep him and Roman society safe from the enemy. Achievement of this would have required the stoic ability to connect with inner calm, logically reflect about possible options and make split second decisions about how to ‘go with the flow’. Stoicism under Zeus offered Aurelius the difference between being murdered, imprisoned, injured or de-throned and living to tell the tale. He was able to ‘go with the flow’ by living a life disciplined by his philosophy and he reflected upon and reviewed his decisions privately as evidenced by his diaries. He wrote:
“Say to yourself in the early morning: I shall meet today ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, uncharitable men. All of these things have come upon them through ignorance of real good and ill... I can neither be harmed by any of them, for no man will involve me in wrong, nor can I be angry with my kinsman or hate him; for we have come into the world to work together...”
Should information age people work together to consider the original relevance of ‘go with the flow’ when making decisions about our future? I think mother earth would say yes.
Now that we know that our bodies are scientifically akin to all mammals, that our minds are located in our heads instead of our hearts, that Zeus is not the king of all Gods, but only one of the many and that global economics is the nature forever changing against the earth: Is Marcus Aurelius stoic definition of ‘go with the flow’ applicable in today’s market? Do we really want to accept traditional warfare as the way forward or do we want the Age of Aquarius teach us something else? In other words, is it time to stop going with the flow, no matter how easy it may be to do so? My short answer, on behalf of preserving life on earth, is yes.
“Nature is forever changing and we must we learn to accept that” wrote Marcus Aurelius in 167 AD
It is now 2012 AD and it is no longer the nature of society that is forever changing, but the very nature of the earth that human society depends on for evolution. The God of fire has changed the ecological footprint of the earth and the children of today are about to face the consequences of that furnace.
In Marcus Aurelius meditations, to go with the flow is not about making a change. It is about accepting what is. It is a reinforcement of societal norms that condones and further enables tradition.
Marcus lived at the beginning of the Pisces Age where traditionalists arguably still practised the ‘bold behaviours’ of the Aries age, but with a growing sense of passivity. Today, we are coming to the end of the Pisces Age of philosophical growth and enlightenment. How this will be interpreted into the new age of Aquarius is already being experienced as a Lions showcase of technology and entertainment. The true implications of the ‘new age’ is anyone’s guess, but one thing is for certain, global peace will only be achieved by trying something different, like protecting and sustaining earthly life instead of setting fire to it. Putting the brakes on traditional economic rationalism with a new wave of reasonable humanitarian preparedness might help to get us ready for the Age of Aquarius. The global increase in corporate philanthropy seems to support this, but this is but a spit in the ocean. The bio-diversity of life earth depends on to sustain life, is diminishing at a rapid rate, while the people who need this life are increasing and yet the economic wars continue. Are the decisions of yesterday, tomorrow’s unsolvable problem? Did our fore-fathers condemn us to death long before we were born?
The nature forever changing in the 21st century is happening now and if you are to believe Marcus, the outcome rests in the fateful hands of his traditional fire God. It’s going to be interesting to see if the Age of Aquarius has the capability to pull life out of the Zeus mentality. I think the capability is there, but is it strong enough to stop wars from successfully ending the world as we know it? I sincerely hope so because I'm buying into the new generation of information natives as being the ones who will lead the way into a new kind of harmonious existence, where materialism is no longer about stoicism or Greek Gods, but about the real spirit of earthly life, biology.
I think going with the flow today is about not so much about stoicism, but about resilience and sustainability. This is the positive psychology approach to climate change. Yet already the USA military are using this approach to enhance their soldier’s ability to endure more war.
The earth is changing and the over concentration on technology may well find us the victims of a Zeus called climate change that may or may not have been due to human activities. Irrespective of what may be at fault, the fact remains that while it might be too late to do something about the loss of fresh water from the rapidly melting polar glaciers, it is not too late to start changing our ways in favour of cultivating earth as a living, life-giving organism instead of the burning rock Marcus believed it to be.
“Change is by way of nature and in the way of nature there can be no evil”
Marcus wrote at the beginning of the era that is now coming to an end. The new dawn is on the horizon and changing the nature of flow is your call and it’s also mine. To prevent the earth from deciding our fate, now is the time to focus on healing the damage already done. The new nature forever changing will be the power of the earth to change us in accordance to its need to survive. Earth will decide the fate of human Gods, and earth will decide the fate of human life, and no amount of good or evil philosophical meditation will stop her activities of flow once her self-healing gets under way. The only way we can slow down our extinction is through preventative activities of environmental renewal. Ignoring the earth will not make it go away because earth’s nature is our only reality. If we want to live we have to stop plundering for marketing purposes and find a better way to live and this does not mean going with the flow. It means taking the time to consider how to make some life-giving changes by no longer taking earth for granted.
© Chris Tyne, 2012.