The only prize
“What’s left to be prized? This, I think – to limit our action or inaction to only what’s in keeping with the needs of our own preparation … it’s what the exertions of education and teaching are all about – here is the thing to be prized! If you hold this firmly, you’ll stop trying to get yourself all the other things. … If you don’t, you won’t be free, self-sufficient, or liberated from passion, but necessarily full of envy, jealousy, and suspicion for any who have what you prize. … But by having some self-respect for your own mind and prizing it, you will please yourself and be in better harmony with your fellow human beings, and more in tune with the gods – praising everything they have set in order and allotted you.”
— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 6.16.2b-4a
This may seem kind of ironic coming from the Emperor of Rome, but you have to remember he is writing these to himself – not to others. The very effort of prizing those things we don’t have leads to desire for them, which is a slippery slop to jealousy and envy for those who obtain them before us.
In the world today where many of us are in debt and living paycheck to paycheck – all chasing the Kardashians, entertainers, and even friends – we are left desiring more than we need, sometimes more than we even want. In fact, I would debate many of us don’t have a good grasp on what we want. Often choosing to map this wants to our material desires, a house, a car, the new phone. Though, some of us are more interested in experiences and travel. This leaves us longing for the “things” we see on social media, in movies, on tv. We stretch ourselves to acquire things beyond our means, only showing the shiny, feeding back into the loop for all your friends and followers.
What I am reading in the Marcus quote is a refocusing of the attention and desire from those material items, to my internal mind. To focus on my learning, my training, and the things I can provide. Focus on the work that I can do and want to do and take pride in that, letting the chips of ambition fall where they may – be less worried about the raise, the title, the car, the status.
This is not an easy lesson to take to heart, as like most people I have ambitions. I want things for me and my family. I work hard and desire the rewards that should come from it. However, I have had to learn to live with less and define my life based on what I have – in that I have found is that the chase never ends. You will always want more. As in the material you don’t find peace. In the experiences you may find momentary joy, but it is in your mind where happiness endures. Focus there.