This is a part of a series of meditations on Marcus Aurelius' seminal work Meditations.
I. We Are What We Consume
II. Don't Play the Victim
III. The Consequences of Anger
The soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts.
– Marcus Aurelius
There is a tendency towards reductionism in our modern culture: every single incident, activity, thought, or feeling is isolated, examined, and set apart from the whole. Nothing forms a chain from one moment to another. We are happy simply because we feel happy; we are depressed simply because we feel depressed. We do one thing or another, simply because that is what we want to do.
Yet this Roman Emperor realized, like so many Stoics before him and Christians after him, that life is more like a tapestry. Every action, thought, or feeling is merely another thread woven into this piece of art, influenced by its neighbor and influencing what comes next. To live as if the present does not influence the future is to live very disjointedly and, dare I say, in a robotic and artificial manner.
What are we to make of this then? It means that truly, even the little actions we do can have lasting effects on our life. I would like to focus primarily on mindless consumption in this reflection.
Today, our lives are so filled with stimuli that it is often hard to escape them. There is always another song to listen to, YouTube video to watch, tweet to send, or even book to read. Mental and emotional disturbance is abundant. The issue this causes is that so much of these stimuli have negative impacts on our mood – not necessarily by design, as in some nefarious plot, but rather due to their nature.
Many people inherently recognize the power of music in affecting our moods. It is found everywhere from soccer stadiums where it is used to pump up a crowd to the rooms of teenage girls, attempting to get over a breakup. Yet while we recognize this at a gut-level, we do not use this power wisely that often. And while one angry or sad song won’t hurt you, linking them together to create a pattern most certainly will. For instance, a good friend of mine was in the grips of depression a few years back and during this time constantly consumed dark music and other media. I don’t want to state that was the impetus behind his depression – it wasn’t – the morose emotions he was pumping into his soul artificially kept him down much longer. It is as if a man upset about his weight deals with his feelings with eating, creating a perpetuating cycle of negativity and ill-discipline in his life.
This same action of influence can be extended throughout the entirety of our consumption. Pornography use, for instance, has been shown to morph our desires so that we crave more perverted and “out there” things. I could argue the same for every other form of media that we consume – particularly if it is tied to our smartphones or the internet.
We are not static creatures and we must live deliberately and prudently with that knowledge. If we live a life unplanned, we will look back and realize that we have stained our soul with contrasting, often ugly colors. We all make mistakes but we must not let them inhibit our movement towards virtue and higher things. Examine what you consume – consciously or by routine – and make changes accordingly if you recognize that they are scarring your soul.