Marcus Aurelius is regarded as one of the three most prominent Stoic philosophers. After his death, his personal journal was made public, in which he recounted the many life lessons and self-affirmations that he learned. One of the unique aspects of the book is its repetitiveness. Throughout the book, Marcus Aurelius reminds himself of the different tenants of Stoic philosophy and this act of reminding becomes a lesson: As human beings, we need constant reminders in order to stay on the right path.
This post covers the second book out of the twelve books, which comprise Meditations.
Control Your Pleasures
You are old; don’t then let the directing mind of yours be enslaved any longer — no more jerking to the strings of selfish impulse, no more disquiet at your present or suspicion of your future fate
Don’t allow yourself to be moved by pleasure. Instead, give authority to your directing mind, which is reason. Your actions and choices should be reason-based. It is not reasonable to lament your past or fear your future. We should instead focus the directing mind on present actions.
Remember how long you’ve been putting this off, how many extensions the gods gave you, and you didn’t use them. At some point you have to recognize what world it is that you belong to; what power rules it and from what source you spring; that there is a limit to the time assigned to you, and if you don’t use it to free yourself it will be gone and will never return.
One solution to procrastination is to remind yourself of two things: first, the previous broken promises, and second, the limitation of time. A reminder of previous promises creates a feeling of guilt and also shows you that you’ve been down this path before and different action is required. While the reminder of time creates a sense of urgency. Time does not stop. Opportunities do not wait. The more you wait, the less likely it is that you will accomplish that task.
Importance of a Focused Aim
Every hour of the day give vigorous attention, as a Roman and as a man, to the performance of the task in hand with precise analysis, with unaffected dignity, with human sympathy, with dispassionate justice — and to vacating your mind from all its other thoughts. And you will achieve this vacation if you perform each action as if it were the last of your life; freed, that is, from all lack of aim, from all passion-led deviation from the ordinance of reason, from pretense, from love of self, from dissatisfaction with what fate has dealt you.
This is a solution to the wandering mind. Perform each task as if it were your last. Choices and decisions and to-do lists overwhelm you, and this leads to inaction. But when you push all that noise out of your head and focus on the task at hand as if it’s the only task that matters. This way, you also exercise an important muscle: the ability to focus and work deeply.
Step by step, one focused session at a time, one task at a time, that’s the secret to progress.
You Are Your Worst Enemy
Self-harm, my soul, you are doing self-harm: and you will have no more opportunity for self-respect.
A painful truth can be the realization that you are responsible for all the things that have gone wrong in your life. Your thoughts, inaction, behaviours, choices, attitudes reflect the current state you are in. When you commit bad actions which you have deemed to be wrong, then you lose a level of respect for yourself. It is by understanding that you can be your own worse enemy and that your impulses and actions need to be steered by reason, that you come to hone in and control yourself.
Failure to read what is happening in another’s soul is not easily seen as a cause of unhappiness: but those who fail to attend to the motions of their own soul are necessarily unhappy.
Know thyself is etched in the temple’s stone of Delphi. The ancient Greeks understood the importance of self-knowledge. You are the source of your well-being and happiness. Take ownership and responsibility for this. If there is a disconnect between you and your soul, then you will never find the solution to make yourself content in life. You will always search and look for the next thing to make you happy.
How all things quickly vanish, our bodies themselves lost in the physical world, the memories of them lost in time; the nature of all objects of the sense — especially those which allure us with pleasure, frighten us with pain, or enjoy the applause of vanity — how cheap they are, how contemptible, shoddy, perishable, and dead: these are matters for your intellectual faculty to consider.
The end of all things is the same, to diminish. Then, don’t waste your time chasing things just for the sake of pleasure and vanity. If you make that an aim, then you will constantly be on the chase, going from one pleasure to the next, aiming for more pleasure as you get used to a baseline, craving more attention and applause as you get used to the old ones. These are cheap aims that do not last and chasing them is a waste of your life.
To put it shortly: all things of the body stream away like a river, all things of the mind are dreams and delusion; life is warfare, and a visit in a strange land; the only lasting fame is oblivion.
Five Ways Dangers To Our Soul
The soul of man violates itself, especially so when it becomes, as far it is able, an abscess and like a growth on the universe. For feeling dislike for anything which happens is an apostasy from Nature, in a part of which the natures of each of the remaining parts are involved. And secondly, whenever the soul turns away from some man, or even does things contrary to him, on the grounds of harming him, such as are the souls of those who are enraged. Thirdly when one is bested by either pleasure or toil. Fourthly, whenever it plays a part, and is false or dissembling in either doing or saying something. Fifth, when it casts its own act or desire at no goal, but vainly and inconsequently spends energy on anything whatsoever, although it is necessary for the smallest things to occur with an eye to the end in view. And the end of logical animals is in following the reason and law of the city and government which is oldest.
So, in order to preserve your soul and have it excel, be one with nature’s will. Don’t separate from your fellow man. Don’t give in to pleasure and pain. Follow the truth. Have an aim in life.
What It Means to Live a Stoic life
This consists in keeping the divinity within us inviolate and free from harm, master of pleasure and pain, doing nothing without aim, truth, or integrity, and independent of others’ action or failure to act. Further, accepting all that happens and is allotted to it as coming from that other source which is its own origin: and at all times awaiting death with the glad confidence that it is nothing more than the dissolution of the elements of which every living creature is composed.