Today’s reading comes from Marcus Aurelius, who has shamed me out of slumber many a winter’s morn. Aurelius was the last of Rome’s “five good emperors”, and produced a work called The Meditations which has been lauded through the centuries; I’m quoting a modern translation of his work called The Emperor’s Handbook.
In the morning, when you can’t get out of bed, tell yourself: “I’m getting up to do the work only a man can do. How can I possibly hesitate or complain when I’m about to accomplish the task for which I was born? Was I made for lying warm in bed under a pile of blankets?”
“But I enjoy it here.”
Was it for enjoyment you were born? Are you designed to act or to be acted upon? Look at the plants, sparrows, ants, spiders, and bees, all busy at their work, the work of welding the world. Why should you hesitate to do your part, the part of a man, by obeying the law of your own nature?
“Yes, but nature allows for rest, too.”
True, but rest — like eating and drinking — has natural limits. Do you disregard those limits as well? I suppose you do, although when it comes to working, you are quick to look for limits and do as little as possible. You must dislike yourself. Otherwise, you’d like your nature and the limits it imposes. At the same time, you’d recognize that enjoyment is meant to be found in work too and that those who enjoy their work become totally absorbed in it, often forgetting to eat or drink and seek other forms of enjoyment. Do you think less of your life’s work than the sculptor does his sculpting, the dancer his dancing, the miser his money, or the star his stardom? They gladly forgo food and sleep to pursue their ends. To you, does the work of building a better society seem less important, less deserving of your devotion?