How to Become a Clear, Sweet Spring

The following quote comes from a thought journal written by Marcus Aurelius, a Stoic philosopher. It’s amazing that he wrote this over two thousand years ago and the topic still resonates today. 

Suppose someone standing by a clear, sweet spring were to curse it: it just keeps right on bringing drinkable water bubbling up to the surface. Even if he throws mud or dung in it, before long the spring disperses the dirt and washes it out, leaving no stain. So how are you to have the equivalent of an ever-flowing spring? If you preserve your self-reliance at every hour, and your kindness, simplicity, and morality.

Marcus Aurelius (April 26, 121–March 17, 180)

Artwork by Laurel Mae Hislop

The excerpt makes me want to be that clear, sweet spring—don’t you? To keep bubbling up to the surface seems a noble aspiration. But rather than attempting to disperse the dung and mud, it’s easier to ignore the cursers and mud-slingers. To that end, and with great personal relief, I’ve cancelled my Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts.  

Sidebar—We must not lose sight of the metaphor here, because presently, the biggest threat to the clear, sweet spring is not a mud-slinging individual, but our human collective. That is, however, a topic for a much longer narrative. 

Marcus Aurelius was a Roman Emperor at the inception of Christianity and during the final stage of Roman greatness. In an era not unlike our present time, he lived through the Antonine plague that killed millions. His lovely, Stoic meditations aside, he ruled during a complicated, warlike age. But history has dealt with Marcus kindly, in part because of his journal. 

Perhaps we need philosophy most urgently during times of chaos and unrest, and maybe that’s why his musings, all those centuries ago, seem so pertinent now. 

So, how do I become the equivalent of an ever-flowing spring in today’s world? 

I’ve made a to-do list. I don’t always succeed, so the undertaking is, sadly, a work-in-progress.

1) To preserve self-reliance, I try to educate myself on diverse viewpoints and learn to see an argument’s values and flaws from all sides. The intolerance of the current ‘cancel culture’ movement reminds me daily of how narrow-minded thinking cripples society. And I wish the people tearing down statues today would stop for a moment and consider how future generations will judge them. 

2) Kindness matters, but no one person can solve the world’s problems. Still, I try to deal kindly with characters in my day-to-day. For example: Tourists often walk four abreast down the middle of the seawall’s bike lane. I brake, take a cleansing breath, and smile instead of yelling.  

3) I strive for moral simplicity. Humans of every culture and creed have always known that conflict and trouble vanish when people apply the ‘Golden Rule.” This one’s dead easy—treat others as you wish to be treated. 

I’ve made a few additions to my Art Gallery lately. Click below to check out the rooms on my website. 

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