Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
This is a life-changing collection of philosophical and spiritual thoughts from the former Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. The work is grounded in Stoicism, a practical philosophy that encourages us to keep our mortality in mind at all times, view things as they are, reflect thoughtfully, focus on what’s within our control, and practice virtues like generosity, honesty, and self-control.
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Change your expectations
“When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own—not of the same blood or birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me. No one can implicate me in ugliness.”
If you start with the expectation that people will be ungrateful, dishonest, and jealous, how can they disappoint you?
Work with purpose
“People who labor all their lives but have no purpose to direct every thought and impulse toward are wasting their time—even when hard at work.”
Life is short. Don’t waste it doing work that you don’t find meaningful.
Why we need to hurry
“So we need to hurry. Not just because we move daily closer to death but also because our understanding—our grasp of the world—may be gone before we get there.”
Not only do we all inch closer to death every day, but we also have no idea how long our mental facilities will be strong.
“Nowhere you can go is more peaceful—more free of interruptions—than your own soul. Especially if you have other things to rely on. An instant’s recollection and there it is: complete tranquillity. And by tranquillity I mean a kind of harmony.”
“Either pain affects the body (which is the body’s problem) or it affects the soul. But the soul can choose not to be affected, preserving its own serenity, its own tranquillity. All our decisions, urges, desires, aversions lie within. No evil can touch them.”
Your soul has the answer. It’s up to you to find a way to tap into it.
“The world is nothing but change. Our life is only perception.”
“Choose not to be harmed—and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed—and you haven’t been.”
Life is perception. So if something “bad” happens to you, you can choose to perceive it differently. You can choose not to let the situation harm you, and in doing so, you are no longer harmed.
“If you seek tranquillity, do less.” Or (more accurately) do what’s essential—what the logos of a social being requires, and in the requisite way. Which brings a double satisfaction: to do less, better. Because most of what we say and do is not essential. If you can eliminate it, you’ll have more time, and more tranquillity. Ask yourself at every moment, “Is this necessary?”
What are the 10% of activities that bring you 90% of the joy and results in your life? What can you eliminate from your to-do list right now? Don’t waste time on the non-essential.
Existence is a river
“Keep in mind how fast things pass by and are gone—those that are now, and those to come. Existence flows past us like a river: the “what” is in constant flux, the “why” has a thousand variations. Nothing is stable, not even what’s right here. The infinity of past and future gapes before us—a chasm whose depths we cannot see.”
Every day, we keep moving down the river of life. It keeps flowing, and we keep floating – until we don’t.
From misfortune to fortune
“It’s unfortunate that this has happened. No. It’s fortunate that this has happened and I’ve remained unharmed by it—not shattered by the present or frightened of the future. It could have happened to anyone. But not everyone could have remained unharmed by it. Why treat the one as a misfortune rather than the other as fortunate? Can you really call something a misfortune that doesn’t violate human nature? Or do you think something that’s not against nature’s will can violate it? But you know what its will is. Does what’s happened keep you from acting with justice, generosity, self-control, sanity, prudence, honesty, humility, straightforwardness, and all the other qualities that allow a person’s nature to fulfill itself? So remember this principle when something threatens to cause you pain: the thing itself was no misfortune at all; to endure it and prevail is great good fortune.”
I turn to this quote when I’m feeling at my lowest.
“Practice the virtues you can show: honesty, gravity, endurance, austerity, resignation, abstinence, patience, sincerity, moderation, seriousness, high-mindedness. Don’t you see how much you have to offer—beyond excuses like “can’t”? And yet you still settle for less.”
Marcus Aurelius focuses on living a life of virtue. No matter the external circumstances in this life, you can practice these virtues.
Your thoughts matter
“The things you think about determine the quality of your mind. Your soul takes on the color of your thoughts.”
What are your destructive thought patterns? How can you stop these? If you don’t, they will determine the quality of your life.
The obstacle is the way
“The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”
“But if you accept the obstacle and work with what you’re given, an alternative will present itself—another piece of what you’re trying to assemble. Action by action.”
The biggest challenge in your life at the moment will become your biggest source of growth if you lean into it.
“Or making love—something rubbing against your penis, a brief seizure and a little cloudy liquid.”
A remarkably plain way to describe sex.
Think about the qualities of others
“When you need encouragement, think of the qualities the people around you have: this one’s energy, that one’s modesty, another’s generosity, and so on. Nothing is as encouraging as when virtues are visibly embodied in the people around us, when we’re practically showered with them. It’s good to keep this in mind.”
Write the names of your 5 closest friends. What is the one quality of each that you admire? When you’re struggling, look at that list. Perhaps someone’s patience or compassion will inspire you to adopt more of that quality yourself. Perhaps doing so will allow you to endure and conquer your challenge.
When people injure you
“When people injure you, ask yourself what good or harm they thought would come of it. If you understand that, you’ll feel sympathy rather than outrage or anger. Your sense of good and evil may be the same as theirs, or near it, in which case you have to excuse them. Or your sense of good and evil may differ from theirs. In which case they’re misguided and deserve your compassion. Is that so hard?”
We learn to practice understanding and compassion instead of judgment and resentment, life gets a lot easier.
“The cucumber is bitter? Then throw it out. There are brambles in the path? Then go around them. That’s all you need to know. Nothing more. Don’t demand to know “why such things exist.” Anyone who understands the world will laugh at you, just as a carpenter would if you seemed shocked at finding sawdust in his workshop, or a shoemaker at scraps of leather left over from work.”
Don’t be so surprised that the world isn’t perfect or exactly as you expected. Instead, accept reality for what it is and move on.
“So this is how a thoughtful person should await death: not with indifference, not with impatience, not with disdain, but simply viewing it as one of the things that happen to us. Now you anticipate the child’s emergence from its mother’s womb; that’s how you should await the hour when your soul will emerge from its compartment.”
When you start understanding death as an event, it loses parts of its grip on your mind.
“Whereas humans were made to help others. And when we do help others—or help them to do something—we’re doing what we were designed for. We perform our function.”
Life is not about you. Help others.
Prepare for the worst
“So too a healthy mind should be prepared for anything. The one that keeps saying, “Are my children all right?” or “Everyone must approve of me” is like eyes that can only stand pale colors, or teeth that can handle only mush.”
Bad things will happen in your life. Instead of worrying about them, prepare yourself for a life in which bad things happen.
“When you start to lose your temper, remember: There’s nothing manly about rage. It’s courtesy and kindness that define a human being—and a man. That’s who possesses strength and nerves and guts, not the angry whiners.”
Kindness trumps anger every day.
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