Life is a dirty, dusty affair. It was that way in Rome and it’s that way today. The puddle in the street splashes us. Someone else’s nasty mood sullies our demeanor. The heat makes us sweat. The news of the world makes us worried. We spill some food, we spill out some frustration.
We wake up in the morning fresh and ready to go and by the end of the day, we are covered in dust. The dust of emotions, of work, of stress, of everything.
The Stoics knew this and they knew also that it was critical to find ways to, as Marcus Aurelius put it, wash away the dust of earthly life. There were many ways to do this, literally and figuratively. Seneca noted that Socrates liked to play music and to play games with children to relax and have fun. Cato liked to have long meals over wine where philosophy was discussed. We also know from stories that he would frequent Roman baths, as did Seneca, where the grime of the city could be scrubbed away, but where also they might have some time to think. Even that observation from Marcus Aurelius, in its fuller context, gives us an insight. Marcus was talking about washing away the dust of earthly life by taking a moment to look up at the stars at night. And where was he “talking” about this? In the journal where he often retreated to clear his mind and his soul; where he could find solace and hold himself accountable at the same time. Stoicism and journaling—as we show in The Daily Stoic Journal—are hard to separate for that reason.
The question for you, today and always, is how are you washing yourself clean and clear? Do you have a fun hobby? Do you meditate? Is it a weekly therapy session? Is it swimming laps? Maybe it’s the time after the kids go to bed when you and your spouse read and talk? Maybe it’s a morning walk or an evening prayer?
It certainly can’t be just two weeks of vacation every year. It can’t just be a shower every couple days. It has to be a practice. It has to be a process. This is a dirty, dusty world we live in. And without ritual cleaning, even the purest and strongest souls will become filthy and corrupted.