Marcus Aurelius was a Roman emperor from 161- to 180 AD. His book meditations was essentially a diary to himself that was never intended to be published.
Meditations provides one of the greatest works on ethical and spiritual reflection ever written. It contains nuggets of practical advice on dealing with adversity, living in this world, understanding human behaviour and much more.
Many influential and successful people have read meditations. Some include but are not limited to:
- Bill Clinton ( he reads it every year)
- Theodore Roosevelt
- Arnold Schwarzenegger
- George Washington
- Thomas Jefferson
Meditations is also part of volume 2 of the Harvard classics and has become required reading by statesmen and philosophers.
Marcus Aurelius Was A Proponent of Stoicism
To be stoic is to show strength and courage in adversity and misfortune. As Marcus says ” To be like a rock that the waves keep crashing over. It stands unmoved and the raging of the sea falls still around it” can be related back to the stoic adjective.
At the heart of stoicism is the belief that everything is interconnected and that everything happens for a reason.
” Nothing can happen to me that isn’t natural” and ” I can keep from doing anything that god and my own spirit don’t approve. No one can force me to”.
“It was for the best. So Nature had no choice but to do it”.
Two things that Marcus goes back to over and over again is the willing acceptance of all external events and conducting your life in a virtuous way.
To put it in a different way it’s not what happens to us that matters it’s how we respond that really matters. And we must respond in a virtuous manner so we can flourish.
In Stoicism Virtue Is The Highest Good
“If, at some point in your life, you should come across anything better than justice, honesty, self-control, courage—than a mind satisfied that it has succeeded in enabling you to act rationally, and satisfied to accept what’s beyond its control—if you find anything better than that, embrace it without reservations—it must be an extraordinary thing indeed—and enjoy it to the full.”
Throughout stoicism, a common idea is that virtue is the highest good. And essentially virtue is just good moral behaviour. If we conduct ourselves virtuously in this world, we’ll become more effective, more successful and become better people.
Marcus thinks that the 4 greatest virtues are: justice, honesty, self-control, and courage. If we think of the opposite of these virtues like injustice, dishonesty, indiscipline or loss of control, and cowardice.
You can see that the opposite of these virtues are inherently bad and the virtues themselves are inherently good.
I like to think of justice as treating people as they deserve to be treated. If someone was going to be rude to you, would you be nice to them? No, you’d probably not want to associate with them. Just keep your distance.
This simply means, to tell the truth, to never lie.
Self-control means simply not losing control. This might be needed so you don’t eat the whole bag of crisps when you’re trying to lose weight.
Or it might mean not losing your composure when someone cuts you off in traffic.
It could also mean not engaging in unhealthy behaviours like doing drugs, smoking, and excessively drinking alcohol.
At its most basic level courage is the strength to follow through on your actions. A basic amount of courage is needed to follow through on the aforementioned virtues.
On a larger scale, it’s the 300 Spartans and 700 Thespians who fought against the 100’s of thousands of Persians during the battle of Thermopylae.
Or the Chernobyl Liquidators who put their health on the line to prevent worse consequences of the Chernobyl disaster.
At its highest level courage is putting yourself on the line for the benefit of the greater good.
Courage is the strength to do the right thing. Because doing the right thing is the only thing that matters.
My Top 7 Takeaways
1.) ” 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? But we need to eliminate unnecessary assumptions as well. To eliminate the unnecessary actions that follow.”
Imagine a life where all we did was do what was essential? For me, I’ve got rid of unnecessary and ineffective habits/behaviours such as:
- Deleted social media (it’s a massive time suck. Basically the mental equivalent to junk food).
- Stopped drinking alcohol (primarily for health reasons).
- Stopped watching porn ( It’s a time suck, unproductive, provides instant gratifaction at its finest and it has many negative consequences, I don’t see any benefits in it at all ).
And some more of the essential more productive things I’ve focused my attention on are:
- Watching sport
How Do You Determine Whats Essential And Innesential?
When determining what’s essential in your life it’s extremely important to not make assumptions.
To determine if something is essential in my life I ask myself these questions?
- How does this activity / behavior make me feel during and after?
- Am I benefiting myself and the common good by doing it.
- Is my precious time being wasted?
- Could I spend the same amount of time being more effective on something else?
How Essentialism Has Made Me More Productive
For my blog to grow and help more people/ be more effective, good content is at the heart of that.
If I make it my primary focus to make good content (mainly articles), instead of spending lots of time on marketing, answering questions, and making social media posts then I’d of focused on what is essential.
Because I’m focusing on the most essential part of my blog, (writing articles) I’m enjoying writing more, and my output has increased.
Whatever You Do In Life Focus On The Essentials, And Avoid The Innesentials.
2. ” The tranquillity that comes when you stop caring what they say. Or think, or do. Only what you do. (Is this fair? Is this the right thing to do?) <… > not to be distracted by their darkness. To run straight for the finish line, unswerving. “
To give any mind space, to other people’s actions, or what they think or do is a waste of time (especially if they’re unhelpful). At the end of the day, we can only control our thoughts, our actions and our intentions.
If we’re trying to do the right thing, have the best intentions, and focus our actions on the common good does it really matter what other people say, think or do? I don’t think so.
As an emperor of Rome Marcus knew this all too well. He knew that we shouldn’t let praise or criticism get to our heads. We should be objective and see things as they are.
” Then what is to be prized? An audience clapping? No. No more than the clacking of their tongues. Which is all that public praise amounts to—a clacking of tongues. “
Do the right thing, nothing else matters and become indifferent to praise and unworthy criticism.
This isn’t to say that some criticism can’t be helpful and productive. Because it can.
” 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. “
3. ” It’s silly to try to escape other people’s faults. They are inescapable. Just try to escape your own. “
Sure there are a lot of people and things in the world that can frustrate us. But there are a lot of people and things in this world that are good and positive.
This is the way the world has always been, and always will be.
It’s extremely unproductive to judge other people’s faults and actions.
No one is perfect.
All we can do is become the very best versions of ourselves, escape our faults (everyone has them, I’m sure Marcus did) and we can hope to set an example to others.
“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”Mahatma Gandhi
4.) ” Not to assume it’s impossible because you find it hard. But to recognize that if it’s humanly possible, you can do it too. “
If you have an ambitious goal that has been achieved before by others, then why can’t you achieve it?
No one is inherently special. And we shouldn’t put others on pedestals. Throughout history, people just like you and me have achieved great things.
Keep this in mind always, in whatever you’re trying to achieve. And yes, maybe you might need help from others and there’s no shame in that.
” Don’t be ashamed to need help. Like a soldier storming a wall, you have a mission to accomplish. And if you’ve been wounded and you need a comrade to pull you up? So what “.
5.) ” It’s normal to feel pain in your hands and feet, if you’re using your feet as feet and your hands as hands. And for a human being to feel stress is normal—if he’s living a normal human life. And if it’s normal, how can it be bad? “
Although in theory, it might seem like a good thing to be happy all of the time. But it’s just not realistic.
The unhappy and stressful times in life are needed for the happy ones and vice versa.
We do live in a culture with social media where everyone portrays themselves in the best light. You only see the good times on social media. Not the bad. Social media just gives us a perspective, not the truth.
Marcus said ” Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”
It’s okay not to feel happy all of the time. In fact, it’s normal. And if it’s normal how can it be bad.
6. “What injures the hive injures the bee.”
When you punish or hurt someone. You inadvertently hurt yourself.
To harm the individual is to harm humanity and to harm humanity is to harm the individual.
7. ” At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: “I have to go to work—as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for—the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?” —But it’s nicer here.… So you were born to feel “nice”? Instead of doing things and experiencing them? Don’t you see the plants, the birds, the ants and spiders and bees going about their individual tasks, putting the world in order, as best they can? And you’re not willing to do your job as a human being? Why aren’t you running to do what your nature demands? “
Even Marcus Aurelius the emperor of one of history’s greatest empires struggled with procrastination.
But he reminded himself of the workings of nature, how the ants, spiders and bees go about their individual tasks putting the world in order.
We live in the age of entitlement, where everyone wants to get paid for travelling the world being an “influencer” doing very little work.
Life doesn’t work like that and that’s a good thing.
” If you don’t have a consistent goal in life, you can’t live it in a consistent way.” Unhelpful, unless you specify a goal. There is no common benchmark for all the things that people think are good—except for a few, the ones that affect us all. So the goal should be a common one—a civic one. If you direct all your energies toward that, your actions will be consistent. And so will you. “
If we can direct our attention towards helping others, and giving more than we take (there are many ways to do this) then not only will we flourish, we’ll help others flourish as well.
Some More Of My Favourite Quotes From Meditations By Marcus Aurelius
“To stop talking about what the good man is like, and just be one.”
“Joy for humans lies in human actions. Human actions: kindness to others, contempt for the senses, the interrogation of appearances, observation of nature and of events in nature.”
” You could be good today. But instead, you choose tomorrow. “
” Think of yourself as dead. You have lived your life. Now take what’s left and live it properly. “
” No one objects to what is useful to him. To be of use to others is natural. Then don’t object to what is useful to you—being of use.”
” Take care that you don’t treat inhumanity as it treats human beings. “
” The best revenge is not to be like that. “
” Concentrate every minute like a Roman—like a man—on doing what’s in front of you with precise and genuine seriousness, tenderly, willingly, with justice. And on freeing yourself from all other distractions. Yes, you can—if you do everything as if it were the last thing you were doing in your life, and stop being aimless, stop letting your emotions override what your mind tells you, stop being hypocritical, self-centered, irritable. You see how few things you have to do to live a satisfying and reverent life? If you can manage this, that’s all even the gods can ask of you. “
The Bottom Line On Why You Should Read Meditations By Marcus Aurelius
Meditations has stood the test of time, it’s almost 2000 years old and It wasn’t even intended to be published! It contains nuggets of wisdom that we can all use. It’s one of my favourite books and I always find myself going back to it.
Have you read it? If you have, let me know what you think in the comments below.