This year, I have read some very interesting, and very “different” books. I read New Earth which is sort of about spirituality and focuses a lot on focusing on the present moment; I read Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World which was a very bizarre story in which death – particularly the imminence of death – featured quite prominently; I read A Tale for the Time Being which dealt with suicide a lot; and, not too long ago, I finished reading Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations which is a philosophical text that addresses, among many things, the idea of transience.
All these books – which, let it be noted, I did not intentionally choose to read in that order, or consciously plan to read them all this year, but rather that it so happened that I came across them or otherwise felt compelled to pick them up when I did – all these books have got me thinking, subconsciously and consciously, from time to time, about how everything is transient and ephemeral and impermanent and all those beautiful words that mean more or less the same thing.
Nothing is everlasting, eternal, immortal, forever. (Honestly, I don’t think these words carry the same beauty as their counterparts in the previous paragraph. Maybe that’s the cynic in me? The tragic romantic? Is that a thing?)
I think Marcus Aurelius captures it well in this quote:
[Consider/remember] that in a short while you will be nobody and nowhere; and the same of all that you now see and all who are now alive. It is the nature of all things to change, to perish and be transformed, so that in succession different things can come to be.
– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 12, section 21
A broader perspective is given in this passage, in which he compares the lifespan of a human being with the timeline of the universe, and compares our place in this world with the vast expanse that surrounds us:
Every ocean is a drop in the universe: Mount Athos is a spadeful of earth in the universe. The whole of present time is a pin-prick of eternity. All things are tiny, quickly changed, evanescent.
– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 6, section 36
It’s really put things into perspective for me. Yeah, sure, we’ve all heard the phrase “life is short” but, for me at least, those three words have lost their impact through ubiquitous and almost indifferent repetition. Sometimes life doesn’t feel like it’s short, but feels like it drags on interminably, and is far too long. But, really, what we have – the present moment – is barely a blip on the timeline of the universe.
There’s nothing quite like ancient philosophy and Roman Stoicism to make one feel utterly insignificant, hey?
But there is a positive spin on this: I firmly believe that life is too short to be miserable or angry or hateful. Sure, these things are inevitable in any human life, but I don’t want to waste too much time in these mindsets. These thoughts of impermanence are a way of prodding and prompting myself to move on, or at least keep moving. I’m hoping, also, that this perspective will help motivate and inspire me to make the most of what time I do have.
Of course, I don’t mean that I want to be constantly doing something, or always involved in some project or worthy endeavour. I simply mean that, if confronted with two options, I hope I’d be quick to choose the one that is most worthy of my limited time and faculty as a human being. And I’ll still happily partake in rest, and leisure, and nothingness – all of which are very necessary – but I’ll try not to get lost in listlessness, or become complacent in repose.