Breathing in the cosmos

Here is a very beautiful passage from Marcus Aurelius (8.54 in full):

No longer let your breathing only act in concert with the air which surrounds you, but let your intelligence also now be in harmony with the intelligence which embraces all things. For the intelligent power is no less diffused in all parts and pervades all things for him who is willing to draw it to him than the aerial power for him who is able to respire it.

A note (by Gill) in the Hard translation points out that in Stoicism the mind functions via ‘breath’ (pneuma) – so MA’s comparison here seems apt.

But also, while not an exact comparison, the image recalls meditation techniques that focus on the breath as a means of liberation from individual attachments and elevation to a more universal perspective.

The stress here, though (as befitting Stoicism), is on the cognitive: we are still thinking and using our intelligence – but now it is harmonised with the cosmic intelligence, and moreover we are accessing its “power”. Note also that this power is always there and available to us – we only have to want to draw it in to us.