“Were you to live three thousand years, or even a countless multiple of that, keep in mind that no one ever loses a life other than the one they are living, and no one ever lives a life other than the one they are losing. The longest and shortest life, then, amount to the same, for the present moment last the same for all and is all anyone can possess. No one can lose either the past or the future, for how can someone be deprived of what’s not theirs?” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 2.14
Fight Club. Great movie. Full of so many quotable lines. One that fits this meditation:
Tyler Durden: The things you own end up owning you.
There is an obvious perception of the “things” Durden speaks of. It’s the idea that material positions consume us. We come to rely on them. We have to maintain them. For their service, we become their slaves. But let’s look at this from a Stoic perspective. What does it mean to “own” something? What are the things we can possess?
Money allows us to buy things. Laws afford us ownership of those things, or at the very least offer us a degree of insurance that if taken from us we might have some retribution. Maybe we don’t get the thing back, but we do get justice as a form of trade. Through such a purchase we know this: before we bought it the thing was not ours (past), and there is no assurance it will be in our possession any second beyond the moment in which we possess it (future). At best ownership is a temporary experience, and the thing itself is an external that can be a distraction.
Getting lost in regrets, and being disappointed with a life not lived serves no purpose. What then do we do with the past and how should we approach the future? Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard may help us with this question. The past is a way of understanding who we are. It should be nothing more. The future is a destination within which future moments will be lived.
“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
Marcus is reminding us that what has passed us by has been lost. Let the future be unknown. We no longer possess those moments already lived. We cannot change the past. In turn, there is nothing in the future that is ours beyond speculation of who we will become. If the future life doesn’t come to be we have lost nothing. The moment is our life. It is our very self. We must be aware of how important the moment is. We must treasure it.