The busier we get, the more we work, even the more that we learn and read, the further we tend to drift from our center. We get in a rhythm. We’re making money, being creative, we’re stimulated and busy. It seems like everything is going well. But if we’re not careful, those other things grow and grow until they take over completely; and what once felt like a rhythm now feels like a rut.
It’s true for us now just as it was true for Marcus Aurelius. He had an awful lot to keep him busy, to distract him, to push him further and further, which in turn afforded him less and less time for that which really mattered to him: philosophy. We get a good sense of how he thought about his priorities with this analogy in Book 6 of Meditations:
“If you had a stepmother and a real mother, you would pay your respects to your step mother, yes...but it’s your real mother you’d go home to.
The court...and philosophy: Keep returning to it, to rest in its embrace. It’s all that makes the court—and you—endurable.”
His point was that you should return to that which nourishes you. Sure, you have to earn a living and contribute to society (or deal with the court or the demands of office, in Marcus’s case). You may have hobbies and other obligations too. That’s perfectly fine. Just remember that those are your step-parents. Important, but they don’t change who made you.
Philosophy is the essential, centering pursuit. It challenges us. It requires work and reflection and self-criticism. It requires that we hold ourselves to certain standards and that we hold ourselves to account when we fail to. It’s the real work, not the busy work. Philosophy is what birthed you, raised you, and continues to re-make you as life goes on. Don’t let some momentum in your other pursuits fool you into thinking you no longer need it. It’s home. Make sure you’re paying the proper respects. Make sure you’re going back often, so that today’s rhythm does not become tomorrow’s rut.