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The unity of all substance

Posted byWritten by David

Marcus Aurelius wrote that we should often meditate on the “interconnectedness and mutual interdependence of all things in the universe.”

Here was a guy — a stoic philosopher and Roman emperor — writing and living in the second century and fully understanding that everything is connected.

Push on one element of society or nature and another element of society and nature reacts.

Aurelius says, “[A]ll things are mutually woven together and therefore have an affinity for each other — for one thing follows after another according to their tension of movement, their sympathetic stirrings, and the unity of all substance.”

The unity of all substance.

Now, there’s a phrase to meditate on.

As this writing hits your inbox, I will begin two full days of hiking in the Adirondacks. This is an opportunity for me to disconnect and, in a sense, reconnect to my principles and purpose.

I am also taking on what’s called the Saranac 6 — a collection of six mid-height peaks around Saranac Lake, NY. If you hike all six you’re a Saranac 6’er. I am not doing them all within 24 hours — that’s called an ultra; but I did want to do them on successive days. I will hike a total of 28.8 miles and climb 8,210 feet in 48 hours.

The digital world will take a backseat for an embrace of the physical world.

As much as I’m disconnecting from most of the comforts of the twenty-first century, my goal is to better align my relationship and connection to those comforts.

All things may be mutually woven together, as Aurelius proclaims, but if the connection is bad, the net positive effect on others around me is reduced.

Last time in this space I wrote that everything is figureoutable. What I think is figureoutable is addiction.

Having thought about this problem for over a decade and worked on potential spot solutions, I’ve concluded on a solutions framework. To solve addiction we need to focus on Connection, Capital, and Choice.

This and the next few writings will be about connection.

Back to Marcus Aurelius.

That which isn’t good for the hive, isn’t good for the bee.


In other words, things that harm the community, inherently harm the individual.

Addiction is one of these harms. We’re seeing it ravage entire communities in Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia. The stress of economic despair, coupled with intergenerational trauma has opened the door for individuals and groups to seek refuge and relief in substances and behaviors that are not good for the individual and disastrous for the whole.

The grief from lives lost rolls through communities like a tsunami.

Individual action seems moot.

What is one to do?

If you were hoping that this is where the punchline solution would appear, you’ll have to continue reading in disappointment.

Before we can start naming solutions, we have to first accept that each of our individual impulses — good and bad — produce community-wide consequences.

Sadly, however, this concept lacks a supporting audience in our “me first, you be damned” society. The classical sense of individualism has been bastardized. It is harder to gain traction with a message of interconnectedness and mutual interdependence with individuals that actively reject a sense of community.

But ultimately, we don’t need to change the hearts and minds or worldview of all individuals if we want change for the whole.

Addiction, for example is a byproduct. It is the harmful smoke coming out of the smokestack at the power plant. A lot of things go into the power plant to make those noxious fumes. Understand the underlying elements, change the recipe, eliminate the byproduct.

Marcus Aurelius one more time.

That which doesn’t harm the community can’t harm the individual.

— Marcus Aurelius

Don’t mistake this analogy for an individual abstinence position or a prohibition of substances stance. Far from that.

But absolutely understand that individual impulses naturally impact the whole. And if the whole is able to act in good and wise ways, each individual benefits.

We are very much scratching the surface on connection.

Your task is to contemplate your actions over the last 24 hours. What actions did you take that impacted others for good or bad? How do you think those actions impacted the greater whole?

More to come on connection.

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