Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
Marcus Aurelius is one of the most successful emperors of Rome and this book is a compilation of his writings to himself. He kept a journal where he reflected on his life, interacting with others, dealing with adversity, and dealing with nature. Marcus Aurelius was a stoic philosopher and so if you're familiar with stoicism then you will see this reflected in a lot from his writings. This book is the Gregory Hays's translation of Meditations and is the one that I have seen recommended the most. It is also the one I would recommend since it was much easier to read than the other Meditations edition I read.
xx Of the doctrines central to the Stoic worldwide view, perhaps the most important is the unwavering conviction that the world is organized in a rational and coherent way. More specifically, it is controlled and directed by an all-pervading force that the Stoics designated by the term logos...At a basic level it designates rational, connected thought - whether envisioned as a characteristic (an intelligible utterance or a connected discourse).... In individuals it is the faculty of reason. On a cosmic level it is the rational principle that governs the organization of the universe.
All events are determined by the logos, and follow in an unbreakable chain of cause and effect.
The discipline of perception requires that we maintain absolute objectivity of thought: that we see things dispassionately for what they are.
It is in other words, not objects and events but the interpretations we place on them that are the problem. Our duty is therefore to exercise stringent control over the faculty of perception, with the aim of protecting our mind from error.
Death is not to be feared, Marcus continually reminds himself. It is a natural process, part of the continual change that forms the world. At other points it is the ultimate consolation. "Soon you will be dead," Marcus tells himself on a number of occasions, "and none of it will matter."
All things change or pass away, perish and are forgotten.
Marcus [Aurelius] does not offer us a means of achieving happiness, but only a means of resisting pain.
Your ability to control your thoughts - treat it with respect. It's all that protects your mind from false perceptions - false to your nature, and that of all rational beings. It's what makes thoughtfulness possible, and affection for other people, and submission tot he divine.
Forget everything else. Keep hold of this alone and remember it: Each of us lives only now, this brief instant. The rest has been lived already, or is impossible to see. The span we live is small - small as the corner of the earth in which we live it.
Nothing is so conducive to spiritual growth as this capacity for logical and accurate analysis of everything that happens to us.
Nowhere you can go is more peaceful - more free of interruptions - than your own soul.
Or is it your reputation that's bothering you? But look at how soon we're all forgotten. The abyss of endless time that swallows it all.
i. That things have no hold on the soul. They stand there unmoving, outside it. Disturbance comes only from within- from your own perceptions. ii. That everything you see will soon alter and cease to exist. Think of how many changes you've already seen. "The world is nothing but change. Our life is only perception."
Life is short. That's all there is to say. Get what you can from the present-thoughtfully, justly.
The value of attentiveness varies in proportion to its object. You're better off not giving the small things more time than they deserve.
What is "eternal" fame? Emptiness. Then what should we work for? Only this: proper understanding; unselfish action; truthful speech. A resolve to accept whatever happens as necessary and familiar, flowing like water from that same source and spring.
Constant awareness that everything is born from change. The knowledge that there is nothing nature loves more than to alter what exists and make new things like it. All that exists is the seed of what will emerge from it.
The things you think about determine the quality of your mind. You soul takes on the color of your thoughts. Color it with a run of thoughts like these: i. Anywhere you can lead your life, you can lead a good one. - lives are led at court... Then good ones can be. ii. Things gravitate toward what they were intended for What things gravitate toward is their goal.
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.
Remember: Matter. How tiny your share of it. Time. How brief and fleeting your allotment of it. Fate. How small a role you play in it.
But true good fortune is what you make for yourself. Good fortune: good character, good intentions, and good actions.
If anyone can refute me - show me I'm making a mistake or looking at things from the wrong perspective - I'll gladly change. It's the truth I'm after, and the truth never harmed anyone. What harms us is to persist in self-deceit and ignorance.
Keep reminding yourself of the way things are connected, of their relatedness. All things are implicated in one another and in sympathy with each other. This event is the consequence of some other one. Things push and pull on each other, and breathe together, and are one.
You take things you don't control and define them as "good" or "bad." And so of course when the "bad" things happen, or the "good" ones don't, you blame the gods and feel hatred for the people responsible - or those you decide to make responsible. Much of our bad behavior stems from trying to apply those criteria. If we limited "good" and "bad" to our own actions, we'd have no call to challenge God, or to treat other people as enemies.
Frightened of change? But what can exist without it? What's closer to nature's heart? Can you take a hot bath and leave the firewood as it was? Eat food without transforming it? Can any vital process take place without something being changed? Can't you see? It's just the same with you - and just as vital to nature.
To feel affection for people even when they make mistakes is uniquely human. You can do it, if you simply recognize: that they're human too, that they act out of ignorance, against their will, and that you'll both be dead before long. And, above all, that they haven't really hurt you. They haven't diminished your ability to choose.
Before long, nature, which controls it all, will alter everything you see and use it as material for something else - over and over again. So that the world is continually renewed.
Discard your misperceptions. Stop being jerked like a puppet. Limit yourself to the present. Understand what happens - to you, to others. Analyze what exists, break it all down: material and cause. Anticipate your final hours. Other people's mistakes? Leave them to their makers.
And why should we feel anger at the world? As if the world would notice?
You've wandered all over and finally realized that you never found what you were after: how to live. Not in syllogisms, not in money, or fame, or self-indulgence. Nowhere. Then where is it to be found? In doing what human nature requires. How? Through first principles. Which should govern you intentions and actions. What principles? Those to do with good and evil. That nothing is good except what leads to fairness, and self-control, and courage, and free will. And nothing bad except what does the opposite.
For every action, ask: How does it affect me? Could I change my mind about it?
When you have to deal with someone, ask yourself: What does he mean by good and bad? If he thinks or y about pleasure and pain (and what produces them), about fame and disgrace, about death and life, then it shouldn't shock or surprise you when he does x or y. In fact, I'll remind myself that he has no real choice.
Remember that to change your mind and to accept correction are free acts too. The action is yours, based on your own will, your own decision - and your own mind.
Give yourself a gift: the present moment.
Nothing that can happen is unusual or unnatural, and there's no sense in complaining. Nature does not make us endure the unendurable.
External things are not the problem. It's your assessment of them. Which you can erase right now. IF the problem is something in your own character, who's stopping you from setting your mind straight? And if it's that you're not doing something you think you should be, why not just do it?
Don't look down on earth, but welcome it. It too is one of the things required by nature. Like youth and old age. Like growth and maturity. Like a new set of teeth, a beard, the first gray hair. Like sex and pregnancy and childbirth. Like all the other physical changes at each stage of life, our dissolution is no different. 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.
Then isn't it better to do what's up to you - like a free man - than to be passively controlled by what isn't, like a slave or beggar?
Epicurus: "During my illness, my conversations were not about my physical state; I did not waste my visitors' time with things of that sort, but went on discussing philosophy, and concentrated on one point in particular: how the mind can participate in the sensations of the body and yet maintain its serenity, and focus on its own well-being.
When you run up against someone else's shamelessness, ask yourself this: Is a world without shamelessness possible? No. Then don't ask the impossible. There have to be shameless people in the world. This is one of them. The same for someone vicious or untrustworthy, or with any other defect. Remember that the whole class has to exit will make you more tolerant of its members.
To bear in mind constantly that all of this has happened before And will happen again - the same plot from beginning to end, the identical staging. Produce them in your mind, as you know them from experience or from history: the court of Hadrian, of Antoninus. The courts of Philip, Alexander, Croesus. All just the same. Only the people different.
Don't let anything deter you: other people's misbehavior, your own misperceptions, What People Will Say, or the feelings of the body that covers you (let the affected part take care of those).
If it's not right, don't do it. If it's not true, don't say it.
At all times, look at the thing itself-the thing behind the appearance - and unpack it by analysis: cause, substance, purpose, and the length of time it exists.
That before long you'll be no one, and nowhere. Like all the things you see now. All the people now living. Everything's destiny is to change, to be transformed, to perish. So that new things can be born.
It's all in how you perceive it. You're in control. You can dispense with misperception at will, like rounding the point. Serenity, total calm, safe anchorage.
That before long you'll be no one, and nowhere. Like all the things you see now. All the people now living.
To be angry at something means you've forgotten: that everything happens is natural [and] that the responsibility is theirs, not yours. And further... That whatever happens has always happened, and always will, and is happening at this very moment, everywhere. Just like this. What links one human being to all humans: not blood, or birth, but mind.
That the present is all we have to live in. Or to lose.