Home » Archive » A distinct view of the naked whole

, written by Jeremy. Read the commentary.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations:

“When an object presents itself to your perception, make a mental definition or at least an outline of it, so as to discern its essential character, to pierce beyond its separate attributes to a distinct view of the naked whole, and to identify for yourself both the object itself and the elements of which it is composed, and into which it will again be resolved. Nothing so enlarges the mind as this ability to examine methodically and accurately every one of life’s experiences, with an eye to determining its classification, the ends it serves, its worth to the universe, and its worth to men … What is it? Whereof is it composed? How long is it designed to last? What moral response does it ask of me; gentleness, fortitude, candor, good faith, sincerity, self-reliance, or some other quality?”

A distinct view of the naked whole … love that.

I’ve been thinking of taking up painting again. Something simple and minimal. Something I can’t hide behind. Where it’s plain I was trying to pay attention. Something to minimize the risk that I let the textures of life slip by unnoticed.

My son (he’s one and half) just wandered into the room and is standing here sucking his thumb. How long is he designed to last? What about that alder outside? Or the house sparrow at the feeder? How about that cheap, grey heater growling in the corner? 80 years, 50 years, 12 years, 2 years … life is a very, very narrow window.

One of the widgets I put on my homepage is a countdown of days I have left till I turn 75 (the number of years stats say I should live). I’ve got 16,187 days.

What about you? How many days have you got left?

How long is your marriage designed to last? What about your company? What moral response does your work ask of you?

Of what is your life composed?

Image posted by: cicciostoky


We live in a world of intricate interrelations, increasing choices but lots of uncertainties. The individuals’ control over these choices are however limited. I believe one such lack of control is the future.

I think we suffer from the illusion that we have control over what happens tomorrow, next month, next year…. So we plan and strategize. Banks and accountants and corporate planners are bad with this. Forecast profits, if they do not get, punish their good people. The easiest place to make up for it is cut operating cost.

At times we get confused between what we wish to happen tomorrow and what is going to happen, which we do not have control over. What we have control over is “now”, which unfortunately is gone as soon as it becomes. For me the challenge is therefore, what am I doing now that is under my control so I can get to where I wish to go.

I find white water rafting provides a good analogy for how I look at life, projects, the future, etc. though I am not a white water rafter. I get amused at times jealous, by people who are. You pick the best launching pad “now” and plan how you would head down stream and where to get off and hope things work out the way you wished (planned). In the process you would be dealing with the job at hand, making decisions every second of the ride. You have no idea where you end up until you get there, just an illusion.

If this is the case, why would I take up the challenge of determining “How many days have you got left?” Why should I care when I do not have control over it?

Thanks for putting in a comment Tam.

First, I agree: the world is enormously complex, full of uncertainty, and almost entirely unpredictable.

Second, I agree that I cannot anticipate the date of my death nor any other event with any accuracy.

Finally, I understand that the illusion of control uses up too much time spent planning, predicting, and describing.

The white water analogy is a good and powerful example of controlling the bits we have a grip on and simply enjoying the thrill of massive uncertainty. Because that’s really what’s being enjoyed, isn’t it, the uncertainty? If it was as straight forward as splashing into the river, it wouldn’t be much of a sport.

There are two reasons I think “counting the days” is a worthwhile task.

The best reason is the reminder of what has past and what may lie ahead. Somewhat like the white water story. While in the white, frothy water I am passing through space and time. I am unable to stop the flow and unable to return to the same water I have passed. It reminds me to treasure the moment.

Another reason I enjoy that idea is it helps me explore the purpose of effort. For some things, their purpose is momentary. For others, their purpose is a lifetime. And others, hopefully, are timeless. Without attending to that, without explicitly recognizing the differences of purpose, it is easy to introduce confusion and miss perfection.

I guess I care about what I have left and what I have spent because it reminds me of where I am. I care because of what it teaches me to be.