Lessons From Books: Meditations By Marcus Aurelius

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. 

On Procrastination

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. 

Self Reflect

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. 

Everything Perishes

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.

Reflection: The Importance of Internal Dialogue

I have often wondered how it is that everyone loves himself more than anyone else, but rates his own judgment of himself below that of others. Anyway, if a god or some wise tutor appeared at his side and told him to entertain no internal thought or intention which he won’t immediately broadcast outside, he would not tolerate this regime for a single day. So it is that we have more respect for what our neighbors will think of us than we have for ourselves. (Marcus Aurelius – Meditations)

The only person that can ever know you completely is yourself, your own mind. Your mind knows all that you wish to be, all that you want from life and all that you are afraid of. In doing so, it becomes both, your greatest ally and your greatest enemy. A negative mindset will keep you cemented at the start line. It will fill your head with thoughts of anxiety, fear, failure, humiliation, embarrassment and stop you from attempting anything.

But that’s not all. When you don’t have control of your mind it will reign free which often means that it’s lead by the ego. It’s concerned about how we are perceived by others. What our image is like. In this manner, our mind is free but we aren’t because we get shackled and chained by the thoughts of other people. How would so-so think of us if we act on this feeling? How would so-so react if we were to follow this thought?

If we were to broadcast our thoughts they would be conformed to the group, to the mob, to other people. All because of the mind which doesn’t want to stand out. It wants to blend in and shield itself from judgment. Or because we believe that our own thoughts aren’t important, intelligent or worthwhile.

This conformist way of living then creates a paradox like the one Marcus Aurelius mentions where we love ourself but we rate the judgment of others more highly than our own.

What requires an alignment is the mind. In order to align the love you have for yourself and to respect our own decisions/feelings/thoughts more than of our neighbors, we need to change the mindset from a negative one to a more positive one.

The reason for this is because a positive mindset can keep you going, it can help you overcome obstacles and hardships and it can make you grow into the person that you wish to be.

With positivity comes respect, patience, and forgiveness. We come to respect ourselves and show patience towards our slow progress and growth and forgive ourselves when we do make mistakes.

This requires practice. This requires reigning in the mind and setting boundaries for what kind of thoughts it’s allowed to follow and unpack. The negative ones push you down and raise the stranger up while the positive thoughts put you and the stranger on equal plains. So, the practice needs to be one of where you recognize when negativity arises in your mind and either change it or let it fuel you towards a positive direction.

In this manner, not only is your self-love expanded but also the respect you have for yourself.

Stoic Lesson: An Exercise In Being Grateful

Marcus Aurelius was an emperor of Rome and he is considered one of the most influential Stoics in history. During his reign as an emperor, he had to deal with enemies in the East, several Germanic tribes in Central Europe, famines, natural disasters, plagues and not to mention personal tragedies such as his step brother’s death and the death of eight children.

On the other hand, being an Emperor of Rome essentially meant that he was the most powerful individual of his known world. This kind of power comes with the usual temptations like corruption, an indulgence of pleasure, giving into the immediate gratification, sexual deviancy, and failure of work ethic. A normal individual suffers from these as well but to a lesser degree, however, when you combine these temptations with the Emperorship of Rome, then, these temptations are taken to another degree because one is able to indulge in them all any time they want to.

With all of this bearing down upon his character, Marcus Aurelius did not give in, instead, he turned to a life of a Stoic and used the Stoic philosophy to help guide him through the ups and downs of life. Constantly reaffirming the kind of individual he wished to be, working on his character and staying clear of his temptations.

All of this is outlined in his journal, Meditations, which was not supposed to be public knowledge and yet, to the benefit of those who came after him, the journal was made public.

The practical application of Stoicism has been its major attraction to me. In the Meditations, Marcus Aurelius begins the book by thanking family and friends for instilling in him certain characteristics and virtues. Being grateful for those who had impacted his life. Keeping his perspective grounded for by acknowledging the help of others, one is able to keep their own ego at bay and keep the mind clear of thoughts of grandeur.

From my grandfather Versus: Decency and a mild temper.

From my mother: piety, generosity, the avoidance of wrongdoing and even the thought of it; also simplicity of living, well clear of the habits of the rich.

From my tutor: to work with my own hands and mind my own business; to be deaf to malicious gossip.

From Diognentus: To avoid empty enthusiasms.

From my [adoptive] father: Gentleness and an immovable adherence to decisions made after full consideration. Never satisfied with first impressions and leaving a question prematurely. The acts of a man with an eye for precisely what needs to be done, not the glory of its doing.

I have often taken many things for granted. Too many people have impacted my life without me being completely grateful to their help. These are family members, friends but also writers that I admire, individuals whose character I look up to and work habits of some that have shaped my own. Small character changes or large changes, it doesn’t matter, I have a lot to be grateful for.

Through this exercise, you can reflect upon the lessons they have learned and be thankful to those who have taught them. One thing about Marcus Aurelius was that he attempted to keep a good perspective about him and not allow negatives of the outside world to infect him internally. By practicing gratefulness you are able to improve upon the positives of your thoughts and actions for you are forced to put aside your ego and reflect upon others.

And if you find it hard to come up with a list of individuals that you are grateful for, well then that is something to reflect upon as well.

Reflections: On Reminders

One of my favorite books is Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. Aurelius is considered one of the three pillars of Stoic philosophy and his book, Meditations, is a war journal in which he wrote down his thoughts and ideas. I’m sure I will make posts directly from this wonderful book and get deep into Aurelius’ ideas at some point but the reason for this post is due to one of the messages I took from the overall concept of the text.

I need constant reminders. In Meditations, you see Aurelius essentially repeating a handful of topics over and over again. The reason for this is that the war journal was never meant for publication so, the texts were messages to himself, constantly reminding himself to be fair, to be a good person, to keep his emotions under control, to look at things from other peoples perspective, to understand that time is finite and soon he will be dead and this theme goes on. The theme of reminding himself how he should behave and what he should do.

I used to think there was a problem with my thought process when I didn’t understand something right away. I believed I was insufficient in some way and I probably am but through Meditation I saw that there was at least one other like myself, who too required reminders, who also forgets every now and then what matters and what to do and who uses his writing to keep his mind focused on the good.

I am sure I will repeat certain topics on here. That I will come close to writing the same blog more than once. But it is more so because my mind needs repetition and constant flow of similar thought to grow, change and adapt. I need to remember, be told more than once or twice, to read over and over and so, my writing also mimics this procedure. My writing also acts as a way to understand the same topic over a span of time. I also feel that most people work this way. That if you constantly jump from one thing to another, one topic to the next, you don’t fully grasp and understand that topic or idea.

In order to change you need time. With time you adapt. Also, one needs time to remember.