It is the depressing truth that I get more spam comments than actual comments on this site. So it goes. Thankfully, Akismet has caught every piece of junk so far. Interestingly, some are directed at me, not you, dear reader. They offer me Search Engine Optimization consultations and programs. I found this a particularly clever strategy, the recognition that only the admin will ever see the advertisement. But honestly, I’m still figuring out what Eleventyone is all about, so it’s hard for me to strategize for keyword density. I don’t even know what my keywords are yet. And I’m doing my best to be OK with that, so lay off. Anyway, tonight I found this gem in the spam folder as a comment on Meditation While Avoiding Bird Shit:
“Enjoyed reading through this, very good stuff, regards . ‘Nothing happens to any thing which that thing is not made by nature to bear.’ by Marcus Aurelius Antoninus.”
The comment was back linked to knockoff Isabel Marant shoes. It seems Isabel Marant is some super high end French designer I would know about if I knew anything about fashion. I considered actually approving the comment because the site it pointed to was full of hilarious Engrish. Here’s a sample:
“The design capabilities of Isabel Marant boots are the utilization of fabric, observing the main points of generation, applying versatile and fickle specialized abilities on dyeing, embroidery as well as other aspects. Furthermore, Isabel Marant footwear keeps into the principles of pure, comfy, zero cost and straightforward temperament that has been its dependable pursuit. Water-washed texture that has a large amount of folds and faded materials, foiling the impact of dyeing by purchasing vivid shade, and reserved somewhat abraded burrs at juncture help it become timeworm. Every one of these facts leave us profound perception. Isabel Marant boots are blended with previous periods and present day parts and mirrored the ingenious fusion with numerous cultures.”
Now this is an striking coincidence. Not because I need new shoes (though I actually do,) but because I just started reading Marcus Aurelius. I recently finished The Antidote by Oliver Burkeman and it discusses the value of the Stoic philosophers, of whom Marcus Aurelius is arguably one of the most influential because his work Meditations survives today. I’ve been sorting through my thoughts and feeling on both The Antidote and Stoicism before I wrote about them. And then, out of nowhere, here is this quote in my spam folder dealing with one of the stickiest points of the Stoic philosophy, at least for me: the concept of an intelligent higher order of which all things and events are a part. To some people this idea is the bedrock of existence, while to others the staggering amount of evidence to the contrary closes the discussion for good. But I am in the undecided camp, which is often a lonely place to be. Zealous believers, whether they are for or against this idea can be interesting to listen to, but difficult to engage in open conversation. This is all generalization of course, but it seems many people don’t want to discuss this topic at all. I myself have been sidestepping this issue in my investigation of the Stoics, but here we are.
It would seem that the synchronicity of this message coming to me in such an unexpected way is an argument for this higher order. It is definitely appealing to believe that the universe has sent me a transmission saying I can overcome every obstacle that lies in front of me right now. It is comforting to feel as if my self and my challenges have both been shaped by some invisible hand and that we are matched for each other. But I can not dismiss the possibility that someone, or even some bot, Googled the keywords in the title to my post and came up with some relevant quote. I suppose there aren’t many quotes on bird shit out there, and so we get something relevant to meditation. It is surprising that Marcus Aurelius comes up and not something about Buddhism or Yoga, but maybe these are blocked in China, where it is safe to assume lies the source of this message and our designer knockoffs. So it is very possible that the Aurelius quote comes to me out of the chaos, with no ghost in the machine necessary.
Whether or not the line was fated to come to me is not the central question though. In a matter of days I would have read it anyway. The more pressing question is whether it is true. ’Nothing happens to any thing which that thing is not made by nature to bear.’ At first it reads like Engrish as well. But if we parse it out we have a very strong assertion from almost two thousand years ago. At first I interpreted it as saying that we can overcome anything, but that’s not exactly the message here. Marcus Aurelius is saying we are built to “bear” anything that comes our way. Now that’s a bit different, isn’t it? My knee jerk reaction is to think of examples to the contrary. It’s also my response to the inescapable song that echoes this sentiment with the cliched words “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” It may be morbid, but if something nearly kills you, I think you’re going to be weaker when it is done with you. But Marcus Aurelius is not saying we can succeed in the face of everything in our way, he is not saying we will be stronger after whatever it is has come and gone, he is saying we can take it. And what if it does kill us? It seems we are not made by nature to bear a terminal disease or getting hit by a bus. Perhaps these are extreme examples, but they appear to disprove the quote. Yet, on closer examination they actually affirm it. As much as we love to argue against it and convince ourselves otherwise, we are made by nature to die one day.
So what the hell do we do with that? Maybe we can take some comfort in knowing that the adversity we are experiencing, be it bird shit on our shoulder or the approach of death, is part of a natural order, whether or not it is orchestrated from above by some divine hand or merely of this world. I think it is more comforting to know that those of us who were brave enough to even ask these questions have been struggling to find and hold onto some sense of an answer. Marcus Aurelius didn’t write a book to spread his wisdom to the ages, he kept a journal of personal thoughts to remind himself to be a good person. It can also be helpful to recognize that whatever is happening to us has been happening to people throughout history. Alright, maybe running out of gas in our car and power in our cell phone battery at the same moment is a challenge unique to our age. But come on, think big picture people.
We can avoid thinking of our hardships and our mortality, we can use them to isolate ourselves and strengthen our ego with suffering, or we can use them as a way to open up our humanity and our compassion. Our hardships have been born by others before us and will be born by those that come after us. They may happening to some one else at the exact moment they are happening to us. This might not make the challenge or the pain go away, but it can help us to bear it. And maybe that is all we can do sometimes: bear what is happening. Perhaps we can do more than this as well, but this is the first step.