Marcus Aurelius, the go-to philosopher for the pithy quote and the Facebook meme, said something that rarely gets highlighted, but I think is especially profound. It’s this: The secret of all victory lies in the organization of the non-obvious.
Not one of those quotes that hits you between the eyes, perhaps, although it did so for me, but that’s perhaps because it touches on some of the essential points in my book, The Untrue Story of You.
‘Unpacking’ the comment (as philosophers love to say) the first important phrase is “victory”, so what is this victory? There is only one victory worth having: victory over ourselves. Why should that be? As I outline in my book, ‘we’ are the creation of the past, which arises as emotions and is translated into thoughts.
Until we see this process, we are victims of the past, destined to recreate past actions over and over again.
So, turning to the next phrase, the organization of the non-obvious, what is it about ourselves that is non-obvious? Well, for one, the very idea of the self itself seems obvious—to the point that we just assume there is an autonomous and constant self in control—but it isn’t obvious at all. In fact, the longer and closer you look, the more opaque it all becomes. Eventually, you will see there is nobody there!
The other non-obvious thing, leading from that insight, is that there is no thinker, only thoughts. As I say in my book’s central koan: The thought thinks the thinker.
And so, when you see these things with absolute clarity, when you see what thoughts are, where they come from and what they are doing—when you have organized the non-obvious—only then will you have victory over yourself.