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The Present Is All There Is

Daily Stoic Emails

There’s a constant internal tension within Meditations—between urgency and patience, contemplation and action, focusing in and zooming out. Marcus tells us to forget the future, on the one hand, then to contemplate infinite time on the other hand. At first glance, it can feel like there’s a dissonance there. A contradiction. But the purpose of these seemingly divergent exercises is the same: presence and the present. 

Frank McLynn, writes in his biography of Marcus’s writing, “He very plainly preaches that the present is all there is.” 

It was a struggle for him just as it’s a struggle for us. Which is why he’s reminding himself, as we must, from every possible angle: 

“Not to live as if you had endless years ahead of you. Death overshadows you. While you’re alive and able—be good.”

We’re struggling with similar tensions right now. We’ve been reminded of our mortality, yet we’re wasting days just waiting for things to get back to normal. We’re confined, yet we’re restless. We’ve never had so much time on our hands, yet we have no idea what to do with it. 

There’s nothing new here, Marcus would say. During wartime or a plague, as the emperor or a pauper, in good health or old age—“The present is the same for everyone; its loss is the same for everyone.” 

Stay present, in the present. It’s all there is.