Ep. 15 - Awakening from the Meaning Crisis - Marcus Aurelius and Jesus



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my notes

  • Last episode: domicide, deep lack of connectedness to one’s home. What happens is a change in the cultivation of wisdom
  • Wisdom takes on therapeutic dimension - cure anxiety
  • Epicurians: diagnosed the problem anxiety of the period as being caused by anxiety about one’s own mortality. How did they respond to that?

(didn’t do this last week: this week should go around talking about our views on accepting own mortality)

  • prescription: acceptance own mortality
  • About experiencing partial loss - remedy - focus on elements constitutive meaningful happieness, philosophically informed friendship
  • Cynics: confrontation and provocation - distinction between morality codes and purity codes - don’t want heart broken on man made impermanent cultural systems and values
  • Zeno: argumentation and confrontation: particular cultures are contingent, being social is not
  • Must realize how we are setting our hearts - pay attention to the process rather than the product
  • Epicureans trying to get insight, changing the meaning of mortality
  • Most of us let this process go by mindlessly - assigning identities
  • Stoics: bring process of co-identification, assuming roles of agency, assigning identities bring co-determination of agency/arena into our awareness


  • Prohoche: pay attention: pay attention to this process
  • Difference between the modal meaning and the event
  • Core of current psychotherapy- distinguish between event and meaning give the event
  • Meaning isn’t part of the event at all
  • If keep them fused will become confused. The only way can alter the meaning is to alter the event. But can’t always do that.
  • Don’t have as much control as think you do
  • Epictus : stoic philosopher. Manual for living: c ore of wisdom is knowing what’s in your control and what’s not in your control. Stop pretending things that are in your control are not.
  • Existentially con-fused
  • Erich Fromm: directly influenced from Stoics
  • Having mode: controlling things. Have to control water, food, air, shelter. But most pertinent needs not met from exercing control, but met by enhancing meaning.

( This is a theme I’ve been seeing in this series. Vervaeke’s position seems to be that we cannot simply choose to resolve this modal confusion. We don’t have control of that. We can do things, exercise certain practices, that put us in a position of having those insights that will result in change. Insight is more than just intellectually understanding. It is grasping - which is more of a feeling I think)

  • We don’t let kids do certain things because they are not allowed to move in that arena. Maturity is an existential meaning.
  • If don’t know how to separate meaning from the events liable to be modally confused. Pursue maturity by trying to have a car, to be in love by having sex
  • But doesn’t work, can’t exercise as much control over the world to stabilize the meaning
  • Setting hearts on things and heart is going to be broken.
  • Anything can fall prey to this.
  • Have to practice bringing into awareness the distinction between events and the meaning of events.

( How about an exercise: let’s do this now. Let’s draw our attention to what we’re doing right now, having this podcast and separate the meaning from the event.)

  • Often act as if have no control over the meaning, then focus on trying to control the event - and have less control than realise. Pull the two apart. Recalibrate your sense of control and identity. Have more control over meaning than realize or practice, way less control over events than realize or practice.

How do you practice that? (15:00)

  • Prochiron: the practice: ready to hand. Remembering (Sati), remembering in a way that brings skills and activities to bear in a modally existential sense
  • Practice psycho-technologies to get them internalized.
  • Moment to moment practices:
    • Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.
    • Not meant to create beliefs for us. Writing for himself. Designed to bring into awareness the co-identifcation process and co-transform the meaning of the world as distinct from attempting to control and manipulate the world by accruing power and fame

(Meditations available from Gutenberg: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/2680 )

  • “possible to be happy, even in a palace”
  • He doesn’t leave the palace
  • Practices:
    • Objective seeing: “ conceive as sex as the friction of two patches of skin and the production of a sticky fluid”
    • Realize the event of sex as distinct from all the meaning we pour into it.
  • Stoics: Get a cup you really like, very familiar, then smash it. Then remmeber the distinction between the meaning and the thing. Practice it with little things. Then can do it with larger things.
  • Premeditatio:
    • When kissing your child tonight. Tell yourself, I may lose him to death tonight. Have tremendous control of the meaning you and so making together. Little control over his mortality.
    • We have entire genres that distort and refuse to gather the meaning and the event; romantic comedies: teach us that the narrative meaning that we assign to things is aligned with the way the world is unfolding.
    • Tragedies to compensate for that.
    • But that’s not how it works.
    • Beyond Fate: Margaret Viser: lost the meaning of a word.

(Beyond Fate: https://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/the-2002-cbc-massey-lectures-beyond-fate-1.2946868 )

  • Lost the meaning of fate. Associate with mortality. But the root of the word. Talking about the way things are fated to happen through own causal necessity
  • When fuse meaning and event together become subject to the fatality of all things. If forget it suffer when it comes apart.
  • Fate - death - that’s where meaning and events come apart.

The view from above: (26:45)

  • Solomon effect: moving from first person perspective to third person perspective. Viewing some situation and immeshed in it.

( I should go back through all the notes and start putting together a checklist of the practices he talks about to start employing them more regularly)

  • Situated the event within toronto, within all of canada, within the whole world, within the whole world in all of time. What happens when do that.

( We could do this exercise)

  • alters the arena. Sense of self being radically transformed. Can become more flexible, rational, etc.
  • Control level theory: bunch of practices designed to get you to bring into awareness this process of meaning making and to give discernment to pull apart the meaning from the event.
  • Most therapy is about getting people to see this. Change sense of self so move off of so much trying to change events can’t control to cognitively reframing the meaning. The identity, participatory meaning, existential mode.
  • Takes practice

Internalizing Socrates: 29:45

  • Trying to do with yourself what socrates did. Get people to stop and be Socratic with themselves.
  • Ex: depression. Not talking about rumination. “Everything I do is a failure”, they say: “Everything?” What do you mean?
  • Often don’t have the internal Socrates: oh wow, you;’re making such powerful claims, you must know and understand. But it’s not what actually mean. May believe.
  • Can keep on challenging what we mean. Ask ourselves questions.
  • Bullshitting ourselves. Motivation and arousal way ahead of understanding. The meaning and event are confused together.
  • By doing this transform capacity to interact with the world.

Alter sense of identity: (33:30)

  • What if alter sense of mortality.
  • What would do? Do all the things want to do? How long? Then what do? More meaningful things. Then what? Then What?
  • Would get bored
  • Stoic idea: as long as formulating identity horizontally, unending duration to life. Going to fail. But even if gave it to you going to fail.
  • What want is Vertical depth of life. Live life as fully as possible.
  • Marcus Aurelius: Everyone dies but not everyone has lived: Not about gusto. Not the having mode, self-transcendence, being mode.
  • What do identify with? Vertical or Horizontal. If identify with vertical and get sense of fulness of being.
  • Even if it lasts a moment that;’s enough.
  • Not about duration but quality.
  • If can achieve that in this moment, right here right now, then I’m done.
  • Stoic’s answer:
    • We can come to realize that I can realize more control over meaning making. One thing that is always good to have: wisdom: have identity in the depths, not historical identity. Would be fulfilled life.
  • Vervaeke : personal:
    • at physiological level avoids death. Do not want to live forever.

(I agree. Would be eventually unbearable)

  • In some ways, tired of life. Tired of ways in which been foolish. Immoral. Let myself and others down. Letting that bear through eternity don’t want that.
  • But: have I seen glimpses of depth? Yes. He has.
  • When people get that depth, lose fear of mortality.
  • We do not have to look to asian history for the psycho-technologies of self-transcendence - western heritage has it too
  • Can do it within a scientific worldview

End of the Hellenistic Period: (43:15)

  • Hellenistic period comes to an end with return to a world empire. Going to be informed by axial revolution but return to pre-axial world. Man can be a god because wield so much power.
  • Within that empire, all these philosophies find home. Even the emperor himself exemplar of legacy of axial revolution.

Ancient israel: (44:30)

  • Israel conquered by Roman Empire
  • Christianity informed by the axial legal of ancient Israel moving from land of slavery to promised land. Real world is the future. God is the open creator. Participatory knowing, involvement in the course of histotry. Sometimes trespass, fall offcourse, have to be redeemed, brought back on course, speak God’s attempt to get back on track with making the future. Co-creating with God. The open future, to bring about a promised land of human beings.



  • jewish man. Millions believe he was literally God.
  • He disagrees but is respectful of this fact. Not trying to give final version of this. But to try and explain what Jesus did to that Israelite axial legacy.
  • Battles of who Jesus was and did not something going to try and resolve here.
  • Kairos : perspectival participatory knowing, knowing exactly the right time to shift the course of events.
  • Ex: romantic relationship: kiss: if get timing right course of relationship alterred. Your and her identity changed.
  • Israelite: whole nation, God intervene Kairodically at certain moments in history.
  • Christianity: propose radical idea that God’s creative Logos - the Word he speaks through the prophets. Same Word he speaks things into existence. Word makes Kairos possible for us. Formative principle. Underlying structure.
  • God’s capacity for producing Kairos through Logos, been incarnated in a particular individual. Jesus is the ultimate Kairos.

(So from this perspective Jesus is Kairos whether or not he’s actually the Son of God - because he certainly was an intervention that caused a radical shift in identity)

  • Ultimate turning point. Represents is personally. Because he is a person, you can identify with him and that Kairos can take place in you personally. Similar to Socrates personalizing axial revolution.
  • You too can experience a profound Kairos.
  • Radical Metanoia: radical shifting. Close to awakening.
  • Meta - beyond - Noia: awareness.
  • Radical transformation of what it’s like to be you.
  • Jesus incarnates the principle by which can intervene in own personal history such that will have a new mind, new heart, new modal existence. Born again.

( Brilliant !)

  • What could so radically transform my salience landscape? Love
  • We use one word to refer to so many things: I love peanut butter, I love my son, I love a good game. Are they the same?
  • We think that love is an emotion. NO! Modal way of being.
  • Loving someone can be expressed by being sad when gone, happy when there, jealous.
  • Modal way of being. Agent/Arena relationship.

(That makes sense. It is an agent/arena relationship that produces a whole host of emotions)

  • Jesus seems to incarnate as a Kairos to change the hisotory of world, and your own: different kind of love: Agape:
  • Eros : love seeks to be one with something. One with nature, or one with a cookie by eating it. Having sex.
  • Philia : love satisfied through consumation. Seeks cooperation. Reciprocity. Love friends because in reciprocity with them.

( That’s the love I push!)

  • Agape: love of parent for child. Don’t try and consume child. Not friendship.
  • You love it, not because can consume or be one with it, or reciprocity. Love it because turn a non-person into a person.
  • Depend on Agape. Because people loved you as a person that you became the person you are.
  • Jesus: offering that love for all. Why Christianity will take Roman Empire culturally.
  • Agape: can take all the non-persons, we will turn you into persons. Persons that belong to the kingdom of God.
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my notes

  • 8:00 - pay attention to how you’re making judgements. recognize that there is a difference between your modal-understanding (evaluative) and the event itself.
  • 10:00 - if the evaluative meaning for the event is necessarily linked to the event itself, you would have to change the event in order to change the meaning. But, we don’t have as much control as we think, and we cannot change the past events that have already transpired.
  • 10:00 Epictetus’ manual for living, his book of wisdom is to recognize what is and is not under you control, and to stop pretending you have control over things you do not.
  • 11:30 - the having mode is defined by what is/can/must be under our control. While being mode is about enhancing meaning, developing the agent-arena relationship. where we must BECOME’ more mature.
  • 14:00 - instead of focusing on changing the event, focus on changing your attitude towards the event, for that is what you have greater control over.
  • 16:00 - you practice certain psycho-technologies, not so that you ‘know’ there’s a distinction between the event and our judgements, but so as to enable that distinction to be made clear and accepted.
  • 17:00 - Aurelius’ Meditations is written to himself. Instead of trying to acrue power and fame, he was practicing making shifts in his mental-models in response to the events that happened to him.
  • 18:00 - "It is possible to be happy, even in a palace. (rather than the buddha’s shirking of responsibilities.)
  • 20:00 - think of sex as the friction between skin that produces a sticky fluid.
  • 21:00 - stoic practice of becoming attached to inconsequential things, and then smashing them, so that you’ll be capable of accepting loss when more important things are taken from you.
  • 25:00 - the root of our troubles is not our fear of mortality, it’s our fear of fate.
  • 27:00 - another stoic practice is to make an observation from above, situate the event steps higher and higher, in how the event relates to the broader picture, rather than the immediate.
  • 31:00 - when catasptrophizing your own predicament, (such as, ‘everything I do fails’), take the time to deconstruct and analyze whether it’s true or not. Because, it can’t be that EVERYthing you do fails.
  • 39:00 - what would you do if given eternal life? Do you even want to live for eternity?
  • 43:00 - [Here is Vervaeke’s project, figuring out a way in which to incorporate the positive psychotechnologies of Platonism, Buddhism, and Stoicism, into a modern and scientific worldview.]
  • 48:00 - kairos, the wisdom of knowing the right timing so as to transform things.
  • 50:00 - John’s message: the eternal logos was a person, that you can know personally, so that you become more like Him. to go through rebirth, or metanoia: a radical shift in perspectival understanding of yourself and your surroundings.
  • 53:00 - How? ‘Love.’ Love is not an emotion, it is a modal-way of being.
  • 55:00 - Three kinds of love: Eros, to be drawn towards something so as to become one with them. Philia, to be in reciprocity, or cooperation, as a friendship. Agape, to parentially transform sluglike babies into miraculous creatures like the parent.
  • 57:00 - Christianity will take over the Roman empire by telling all the ‘recognizes as’ non-persons, and tell them that they will turn them and treat them like persons.
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