To Do The Task At Hand

Posted by on Feb 2, 2013 in PGST Reflections | No Comments

These words are from the great Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius

“Develop your own methods for observing how all things are in a continual state of change, one into another. Be ready, and welcome it when it is your turn to experience change, for there is nothing like it to heighten your sensibilities and elevate your mind. At the moment of change, a man’s soul takes flight, and being in this instant reminded that he will soon be called upon to leave the world of things and the company of men, he devotes himself wholeheartedly to justice in whatever he does and to nature in whatever is done to him. His mind is no longer troubled by what someone may say or think about him, or do against him; and he finds perfect contentment in these two things only: to do the task at hand justly and to embrace his fate gladly. Throwing off all other considerations and schemes, his one ambition is to run the straight race marked out by the law, in pursuit of the swift-footed gods, who never leave this sure course.”

Action is change – how can it not be? Whenever we enter into real action we are guaranteed some form of change, but we have no idea what that change/outcome will be. How can we? Yet, I think much of the time, we approach action with the idea that if a specifically imagined result is not achieved, then the action was “bad”. My work with PGST has shown me that not only is this not the case, but that, in actuality, so called “failures” or “mistakes” are the heart, fuel, and perhaps, even the very meaning of action.

As Aurelius says, when actions “don’t work out” we are reminded that ultimately nothing works out! The material world is a rigged game – none of us are getting out alive. Each encounter with action/change offers the opportunity to “heighten your sensibilities and elevate your mind” by reminding us of the only two things we have power over in this world – “to do the task justly” and to embrace fate.

So what exactly does it mean to “to do the task justly” and “embrace fate”? In regard to the former, I would posit that Aurelius is speaking of entering into the next, right action – simply and imperfectly; giving up the impossible quest for emotional and psychological mastery and answering the call of responsibility by metaphorically playing the hand we are currently being dealt. And I would say that “embracing fate” is playing that hand as is. Instead of bemoaning that we don’t have a full house, we may need to bluff, read the other players or even fold this round. The skilled card player totally accepts the hand he is given and does not waste a moment in fantasy wishing he had a different hand – the hand he has is the only hand there is – and he focuses all his energy on the best way to use the actual cards that are staring him in the face.

It is not the deck that gives the card player his meaning – but how he plays the cards. Every movement into true action offers us the opportunity to awaken from the stupor and stagnation of a frozen fantasized perfection and welcome change with open arms. For only in and through action/change/imperfection can we have an experience of being on the path “of the swift-footed gods” – the path of reality.

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