Posts tagged ‘Marcus Aurelius’

My Journals in The 7th Python

I quote extensively from my journals in The 7th Python. I started a journal in 2001 after writing The Spiritual Teachings of Marcus Aurelius. Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations were basically his journal entries, and Professor Pierre Hadot had written in Philosophy As A Way of Life about how the ancients used journals to support their philosophy. Jules Evans in Philosophy For Life explains that daily journals were called hupomnemata in ancient Greece, and that keeping one brought a kind of Socratic dialogue into your intimate daily life. So inspired by Marcus I started to write about the events that happened to me and what I felt about them. I also considered my health, my meditation practice, and other items of personal interest.

When the dispute with the Pythons began, I started to write about those events, and kept going until the resolution of the case in 2013. In the book I decided to use quotes from the journals to show how the legal events were impinging on my inner life. I documented the stress I was undergoing, the financial struggles caused by the dispute, and my changing feelings towards the Pythons. I was also able to track my relation to the Pythons, which is a history of 40 years, from 1973-2013. In the journals I was able to acknowledge how we related to each other during the making of the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail in 1973-75, and what it was like during the dispute from 2005-2013. I was able, through the keeping of the journal, to recognise and alter my view of myself in relation to our break-up, which was traumatic for me at the time, and which was a constant psychological scar for many years. This ability, to look at the past through the prism of the present, was really helpful to me. I managed to lose a sense of blame and guilt that I had dragged with me for many years. It was in a sense an act of liberation, brought about by having to confront nakedly the painful events of the past through a new perspective of the present.
Here is an early journal entry:

October 29 2005

Today I read an article about I Ching and Synchronicity, which talked about how synchronicity was a resonance between the physical world – external events and happenings – and the psychic world-internal events and especially the meaning that one takes from the things that happen to you or appear to you.

This got me thinking about my Python problem, an external event dealing with money owed me, and which is providing me with some meaning – ie a lesson or advice about how to deal with life now and in the future. Jung’s archetypes and the I Ching hexagrams both provide symbolic images and ideas that reflect on the inner-outer resonance that is occurring between the mind and the world and provides a depth of spiritual meaning for interpreting the situation that exists. Tonight I will consult the I Ching about this situation and see what it says, but perhaps I need to reflect on the meaning of this problem and why it has happened now. What does it mean for me and what lesson does it hold?

It involves money, and would provide security of income for at least 5 years which will give me confidence to pursue my activities- either film or otherwise. It represents a pot of gold – worldly wealth that can provide benefits- security, confidence, reduction of debt etc. If I do not get this money, then what – am I insecure, lacking confidence? Or will I manage to get along, to keep going, find a way. Is my internal self or essence able to carry on as per normal (natural being) even if this money does not get paid to me. What is more important- your money or your life? When I consider the physical and mental state of my being, the quality of my relationships with others, and my relationship with the external environment, then surely this money is not really the important thing. Your life is good and solid, and means so much more than this cash.

Perhaps the lesson to be learned here is about values. What is more valuable and what is it important to maintain or to seek? Is it money or is it something else, something more valuable than money, something which has no cash value. If this problem makes you understand about what is truly valuable in your life, and to really appreciate these things in your life, and to give the value and importance far above the cash that you are owed, then you really would learn a valuable lesson, one that too is priceless.

Money has long been a kind of God for you, even a kind of nemesis, because money was very important to your mother and was the ultimate value system when you grew up. Dealing with money, having the right attitude to it has taken you years of inward therapy and it’s no surprise that it is a hefty money problem that you are forced to now face and to deal with in ways that leave you unhurt, still balanced and stable, not angry, not bitter, not full of regrets.

You have to learn the right perspective, how to live without getting what you are owed and not letting it damage your mind and heart. This is the lesson you must learn now and keep for all time.

Buy the book at http://www.the7thpython.com
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November 26, 2015 at 10:32 am Leave a comment

My Glorious Publishing career- Pt 3- Finding Marcus’ Voice

Liv Blumer. my new agent, approached Hodder and Stoughton to see if they would publish a book as well as an audio of the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. They agreed, so now it was up to me to write an introduction, something that terrified me. I started to do serious research on Marcus Aurelius’ life, the history, beliefs and practises of stoic philosophy, and Roman life, religions and customs. I met with Professor Richard Sorabji of King’s College, London, to discuss stoic philosophy and read voraciously in the Greek and Roman Library at the University Of London.

After about six months I felt that I could discern the forest from the trees. That is, I was not an expert in any of these areas, but I now knew enough to write knowledgably about the subjects. The aim was to impart the knowledge I had gained to a general readership. And so I started to write. After about 20 pages I gave the manuscript to my then wife Jo and asked her for a critique. She said you sound like a professor, and you’re not a professor. What is it that you personally like about this work? Why do you bother to read it? I admitted that the model I was using for the introduction was the Penguin Classics, which are usually written by scholars. Her point was that since I was not a scholar why imitate one, she thought I needed a new approach.

I took myself off to a coffee shop to ponder. And then it hit me. If I was going to write an intro which had any validity, it had to be one that reflected my life and my ideas, and which explained why Marcus Aurelius’ 2000 year old meditations had meaning for me today. So I began with a different approach. I started writing,

“I’m sitting in a cyber cafe in Soho, London, sipping on a cappuccino.
Inside, young business men and women with mobile phones keep in touch with their offices, friends and lovers across the country. Travellers sit at consoles surfing the Internet and collecting e-mail from around the world.
Outside, cars, taxis and buses criss-cross the polluted city ferrying people through the crowded streets. Below my feet, underground trains speed through the bowels of the earth. Nearby, high-speed trains depart for Brussels, Paris and Rome.
Overhead, planes with hundreds of people on board travel vast distances. Unseen, communication satellites circle the earth.
Although we live in a time of an incredible explosion of communications, knowledge, and wealth, we have begun to realise that it will not be possible to sustain the life we are currently leading for very much longer.
We are faced with a world that is suffering at our own hands. Science, technology and ‘progress’, the gods that we believed would provide all the answers, have shown themselves to hold false promises.
Science and technology have extended and increased the power of individuals and groups to an extent undreamt of by our ancestors. The ordinary person in the developed world lives a life of comfort and luxury that most emperors and kings in history could not attain. The rapid access to information and goods, instant communication and high speed travel have transformed our lives.
But there is a price to be paid; there is still no free lunch. This power has had an enormous impact on the environment, human rights and the human condition in general. The major concern we will have to address in the new millennium will not be how to increase technological power but how to control it.
Throughout history technological development has always moved itself forward, leaving the moral order trailing behind. In our time technological change and innovation have been so swift and transformative that the moral order has lagged well behind and is now struggling to catch up.
However, the dynamic nature of morality means that it does eventually catch up and confront the technological order. People are stimulated to rethink moral conventions, to create new values that demand the control and limitation of science and technology.
In this confrontation, ancient Greek philosophy, and in particular Stoicism, is well placed to help us manage the future.”

I had found my voice, and The Spiritual Teachings Of Marcus Aurelius was born.

September 4, 2014 at 10:06 am Leave a comment

My Glorious Publishing Career- Pt 2- Mark meets Marcus Aurelius

Following the success of the Tao te Ching audio, Rupert Lancaster – my editor at Hodder and Stoughton – commissioned me to produce an audio version of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. These short ‘meditations’ were spiritual exercises that Marcus wrote for himself while attending to his day job – Emperor of Rome. He would have preferred to be a stoic philosopher, but Hadrian picked him as his successor and this forced him to keep his philosophy as a private self-help guide. The meditations were a way of reminding himself how to respond to people and events.

Marcus was a Roman but he wrote in Greek, the ancient language of philosophy. Since I don’t know classical Greek (being mono English), I needed to find a translation to work from. I started to read the various translations then in print but didn’t find one that really spoke to me. Some were a bit dated in language, while others were seeped in Christianity, not suitable for a pagan Roman. I saw a reference to a Victorian translation by George Long that was said to be completely literal, and since it was out of copyright, I set about re-writing this archaic language into the kind of contemporary language that I thought reflected Marcus’ vision of life. At the same time I did not want to lose the sense of his second-century mind, so I tried to evolve a style that gave meaning to the text, in a way that would read to a contemporary audience, but which still sounded like the words of a Roman Emperor.

Once I began, I could see that Marcus had a holistic, cosmic view of life resembling the ancient Indian and Chinese philosophers. His ability to look objectively at the world and to penetrate deeply into his own mind seemed similar to Buddhist psychology. I was also impressed that Marcus’ perspective of the world was an ecological one, very close to our own view of the link between humanity and the environment.

Once I had re-written some 10 of the meditations, I realised I was creating a new copyright, and thought perhaps these could serve as a book as well as an audio. I wrote to a handful of New York literary agents to see if there was any interest. One large agency immediately turned me down, but a smaller agent- Liv Blumer-responded almost immediately. When we spoke, I was surprised to hear that Liv had never heard of Marcus Aurelius or his Meditations. The next day she went to a branch of Barnes and Noble and asked the salesperson if they had a copy. The saleswoman responded by telling Liv that it was the best book ever written, that she kept it by her bedside and read a meditation before going to sleep. Serendipity.

Once she understood what I was working on, Liv said she thought a book could get published, but I would have to write the introduction. What! I had never written anything longer than two pages since leaving university, and the thought of writing an introduction to a philosopher filled me with dread.

August 28, 2014 at 7:47 pm Leave a comment

My Glorious Publishing Career Part 1

I have now made all of my books into ebooks, so it’s a good time to look back and reflect on my illustrious publishing career. It’s been an interesting ride so far, and I hope it continues. Book six is about to come out, and I think it’s going to be a bit of a breakthrough.

For the record, my first 5 books are: The Spiritual Teachings of Marcus Aurelius, The Spiritual Teachings of Seneca, The Spiritual Teachings of the Tao, The Spiritual Teachings of Yoga and The Living Wisdom of Socrates. The new one is called I Survived a Secret Nazi Extermination Camp and is coming out in September.

I started writing by accident. In 1997 I thought it would be a great thing to make an audio of The Tao Te Ching, the 2300 year old Chinese Taoist classic. And one day it just happened. I visited Martin Palmer in Manchester and told him this was a book I would love to record. He told me that he made religious programmes for the BBC and maybe he could arrange a recording studio. But who would read it? I hadn’t thought that far ahead, so I needed to think about good actors who could handle the text. Ideally I hoped to find someone who knew the book, but failing that, I needed someone sensitive to ideas and feelings. I settled on the late Nigel Hawthorne, who didn’t know the work but threw himself into the project with great enthusiasm. He did a remarkable job, responding very well to Martin’s directions regarding the meaning of the sometimes inscrutable text. Once we added music to Nigel’s voice, we had a very fine recording of the classic.

I now needed distribution to get the audio (it was a cassette at that time) into shops. Someone introduced me to Rupert Lancaster at Hodder and Stoughton and after he listened to the tape he offered me a deal. A year later, he rang to ask if I had any other audio ideas. It just so happened I did (or at least I did once he put the idea into my mind). I gave Rupert four ideas and he responded best to the notion of recording The Meditations Of Marcus Aurelius.

To be continued (possibly).

August 26, 2014 at 8:39 pm Leave a comment

Standing On Others’ Shoulders – Part 1- (don’t hold your breath for Part 2)

I think it’s time that I started standing on my own creative feet and stop standing on the shoulders of others. In my case that means old philosophers – both east and west.  My first 5 books were all about philosophies or philosophers: Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Taoism, Yoga and Socrates. I explained the ideas behind the philosophy, followed by key texts I had referred to.

My latest book – I Survived A Secret Nazi Extermination Camp – is entirely different. The first part of the new book is a short introduction to  the little known but infamous Nazi death camp called Belzec. In this isolated, forested camp in SE Poland,  the Nazis killed an estimated 650,00 Jews and Gypsies.  The time between arrival by freight train to death in a gas chamber was only two hours. Rudolf Reder, a Polish Jew, managed to stay alive for four months as a worker in the camp, before making a miraculous escape. By the end of the war, Reder was the only survivor of the camp, and he gave a Witness Statement recounting his experiences.

It is this Witness Statement of Reder’s that forms part two of the book. He recounts the horrific, pathetic and harrowing events that took place in Belzec, and the cruel and criminal acts of the Nazi and Ukrainian guards.  It is a difficult account to read – one man recounting the hell that the Nazis’ madness had created, and which he saw first-hand.

Part three is an account by me ( a kind of memoir ) about how and why I came across this Statement of Reder’s. It’s partly about my family and partly about my relationship to the holocaust, and its victims.  A few years ago, I decided to search for my Grandparents’ roots online via JewishGen which led me to discover hundreds of ancestors. This search ultimately led me to Lublin, and it was on a visit to the Majdanek Concentration Camp that I found Reder’s Statement. At the same time I learned the fate of my grandfather’s family – those who he left behind had been sent from their homes in Lublin to be killed in Belzec .

How is this book different to the other 5? Of course it’s much more personal. I am not writing about dead philosophers but about the terrible fate of my own (newly discovered) family. It’s about history, but told in a personal way. I’ve set out my reflections on what I was learning, and my own memories were part of this discovery.   Obviously I am not a survivor of the camps and no known relative of mine had been one either. We were Americans, not Europeans. All my grandparents emigrated to the USA in the early 1900s, and my parents and all of our family had been born in America. Growing up, I never realised that my grandparents had left family behind – parents, sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles. It is the fate of those family members that my search revealed, and my memoir reflects how I came to terms with this dark knowledge.

June 28, 2013 at 9:26 pm 1 comment


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