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Lying in bed with Marcus Aurelius and Mahatma Gandhi, thinking about work

When our kids reach their eighteenth birthday and start their foray into adulthood, I’m going to give them some books which have helped me in my adult life, and which I think will help them.

One of those books is Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, a relatively slim book which contains the wisdom of someone who was not only a Roman Emperor, but a Stoic philosopher.

I’ve written both here and elsewhere about how much value I get from reading Meditations on repeat along with other books like Baltasar Gracián’s The Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence and Montaigne’s Essays. There are certain books that have layers of depth and meaning that it’s only possible to get to via repeated readings.

The thing I particularly like about the Meditations is that it was originally intended as a journal, as a series of exhortations by Marcus Aurelius to encourage himself to be a better person. As such, it doesn’t have a hypothetical audience, it has an audience of one. We’re merely literary voyeurs benefitting from his insights.

There are 12 books in the Meditations, and some sections are more heavily highlighted in my dead-tree version than others. There’s one bit, though, that’s always kind of baffled me.

At day’s first light have in readiness, against disinclination to leave your bed, the thought that “I am rising for the work of man”. Must I grumble at setting out to do what I was born for, and for the sake of which I have been brought into the world? Is this the purpose of my creation, to lie here under the blankets and keep myself warm? “Ah, but it is a great deal more pleasant!” Was it for pleasure, then, that you were born, and not for work, not for effort? Look at the plants, the sparrows, ants, spiders, bees, all busy with their own tasks, each doing his part towards a coherent world order; and will you refuse man’s share of the work, instead of being prompt to carry out Nature’s bidding? “Yes, but one must have some repose as well.” Granted; but repose has its limits set by nature, in the same way as food and drink have; and you overstep these limits, you go beyond the point of sufficient; while on the other hand, when action is in question, you so sorry of what you could well achieve.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 5

Perhaps it’s because we live easier lives in 2020 than they did a couple of millennia ago, but this passage doesn’t really speak to me. But I feel like it should.

Others point to it as motivation and inspiration to avoid the lie-in and get on with the day. Reader, I have never had that problem, apart from when I’ve been mentally or physically ill.

To me, motivation for work springs not from religion, or fear, or desire for glory, but, as Gandhi famously suggested, from a striving for the kind of happiness that can be achieved when “what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony”.

That’s what gets me out of bed in the morning. How about you?


This post is Day 52 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at 100daystooffload.com

Things I Learned This Week #50

Please note that this will be last of these posts for this year. I’ll be back in 2011 [why?]

A Chance to Cut Is a Chance to Cure

Offline this week I learned that there’s literally two types of people in the world (Dweck was correct!), that ‘female festive frenzy’ is now a term in general use, and that brandy hot chocolate is almost always better without the chocolate… :-p

http://delicious.com/dajbelshaw/TILTW50

Technology

Productivity, Inspiration & Motivation

You probably only have to interrupt someone a couple times a day before they’re unable to work on hard problems at all. (Paul Graham)

  • Do you feel like you do ‘fake work’? Here’s how to spot it and deal with it.
  • Your job is a platform for what you do. So sayeth Seth Godin (with my blessing, obviously)

Education & Academic

[T]here is a class of random walks called Lévy flights, which include occasional long-distance jumps. The distribution of step sizes is described by a power law, which means that there are steps of all sizes and no well-defined “average” step size, at least for one class of Lévy flights. They have been observed in various natural settings, most famously in the search strategy of certain animals when food is scarce. For example, hungry sharks will typically scour back and forth over small areas, but if the search is fruitless, they will intermittently “jump” to new, far-off areas [1]. “People have also [studied] Lévy flights in stock prices, epidemics, and small world networks,” says Ajay Gopinathan, from the University of California, Merced.

Data, Design & Infographics

  • And whilst we’re on the topic of superheroes, this minimalist poster of well-known characters is just fantastic:

Miscellaneous

Why did people stop wearing hats?

Quotations

In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act. (George Orwell)

In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer. (Albert Camus)

The people who matter will recognise who you are. (Alan Cohen)

Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun. (Mary Lou Cook)

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise. (F. Scott Fitzgerald)

(more quotations at my quotabl.es page)

Main image CC BY auspices

Things I Learned This Week – #49

Shmuck

Offline this week I learned to fly direct and take only carry-on luggage where possible, that the UK is ridiculously underprepared for snow compared to other European countries, and that thrash metal isn’t as bad as you’d think… :-p

Continue reading “Things I Learned This Week – #49”

Things I Learned This Week – #48

taste of winter

Offline this week I learned to buy more bags of winter grit than I think I need, to do exercise even when it’s too slippery to go running outside, and that a bad seated posture can give you headaches. 😮

Continue reading “Things I Learned This Week – #48”

Things I Learned This Week – #47

Red trees, LWPF, & a path

Offline this week I learned that large beanbags offer the most comfortable typing position ever, not to drink cheap red wine, and that the seats by the Chinese books in Newcastle City Library are almost always vacant… 😉

Continue reading “Things I Learned This Week – #47”

Things I Learned This Week – #46

Leaf

Offline this week I learned that Twitter is often a quicker and easier place to sell things than eBay, that eagerly pulling decals off a car will can also remove the paintwork, and more than I could ever summarize in one blog post (or indeed the introduction to one) at Interesting North… 🙂

Continue reading “Things I Learned This Week – #46”

Things I Learned This Week – #45

Offline this week I learned that fireworks displays involve a lot of standing around for brief moments of semi-pleasure, that iPads really are ‘magical’, and not to jinx yourself by stating that you’re “the only one in the family who hasn’t been ill” 😮

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Things I Learned This Week – #44

SFW this week. Promise.

Offline this week I learned that exercise is a good preventer of illness, that charity workers and trick-or-treaters are glorified beggars, and that toddlers don’t get clocks going back to GMT. At all. :p

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Things I Learned This Week – #42

I’m just going to place a slightly NSFW warning at the top of these posts every week now. Makes life easier.

Offline this week I learned that it pays to have (certain aspects of) your mid-life crisis early, the power of actually writing rather than typing, and how to ‘take afternoon tea’ like a gentleman. Kind of. :-p

Continue reading “Things I Learned This Week – #42”

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