Recently I read the book Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius. It is the collected work of all the books which Marcus Aurelius wrote to reflect on life. Reading the book was really insightful and in this blog post I will share five passages that really moved me.
Marcus Aurelius was the Roman Emperor from 161 to 180 and a stoic philosopher. ‘Meditations’, the writings of ‘the philosopher’ are a really good source for understanding the ancient Stoic Philosophy. The writings are still relevant to this day, which is really impressive because they are written around 2000 years ago.
Here are five passages I would like to share with you. I will also share my thoughts on them. These are, of course, my interpretations. The passages could mean something else to you.
Book 2, Passage 5
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 vocation 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. You see how few things a man needs to master for the settled flow of a god-fearing life. The gods themselves ask nothing more of one who keeps these observances. (Marcus Aurelius)
This passage, to me, goes on about being present. Present of the current situation you are in. Being present in the task you are executing. We live in a day and age where multi-tasking is still ‘cool’, even though it does not work at all (please, read the research on it). Besides that, we are way too connected with too many things at once which makes our mind cluttered.
It is of great importance to be aware of that and emphasize being focused on the thing you are doing right now. A hard thing to do, but working on being more focused in the present is a skill that makes you so much more efficient and effective. It will be worth it to constantly be aware of it and work on it.
Book 5, Passage 22
What is not harmful to the city does not harm the citizen either. Whenever you imagine you have been harmed, apply this criterion: if the city is not harmed by this, then I have not been harmed either. If on the other hand harm is done to the city, you should not be angry, but demonstrate to the doer of this harm what he has failed to see himself. (Marcus Aurelius)
The first thing that popped to mind after reading this passage was the word: negativity. Negative people usually drag you down or try to alter your perspective in a way which does not benefit you both in the present and the future. However, you should not become resentful or bitter towards negative people. That does not help anyone at all. Help them to alter their way of thinking while at the same time not having them impact yours. If, however, the person refuses to take responsibility in his way of thinking and does not have an open mindset towards change, it is a wise thing to distance yourself from that person.
Book 7, Passage 7
Do not be ashamed of help. It is your task to achieve your assigned duty, like a solider in a scaling-party. What, then, if you are lame and cannot climb the parapet by yourself, but this is made possible by another’s help? (Marcus Aurelius)
This passage made my think about ego. The ego. A force of positive power and malevolence. The voice in our head that sometimes tries to tell us we are not good enough, while at the same time refusing to take or ask another’s help.
Sometimes it is good to stumble and fall. To fail forward by yourself. But sometimes, you cannot get to the next level just by yourself. Know that difference.
Book 9, Passage 23
Just as you yourself are a complementary part of a social system, so too your every action should complement a life of social principle. If any action of yours, then, does not have direct or indirect relation to the social end, it pulls your life apart and destroys its unity. It is a kind of sedition, like an individual in a democracy unilaterally resigning from the common harmony. (Marcus Aurelius)
Every action you take should have a direct or indirect relation to the social end and the greater good. Be a positive force in this world and make an impact. Everything you say or do impacts others, even far away from you. That is what is also known as the Ripple Effect. Be aware of that. Give more than you take. Create things and put them out there. Share your wisdom, creativity and story with the world.
Book 12, Passage 4
I have often wondered how it is that everyone loves himself more than anyone else, but rates his own judgement of himself below others. Anyway, if a god or some wise tutor appeared at this 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)
Your own judgement about yourself should always be above the judgement someone else has about you. Of course, it is important to ask for someone’s feedback or opinion in case you need it. But other than that, you should get really quiet in your head and not worry about what others have to say about you. Your journey is unique and it is only you that can judge how you are doing thus far and what you should be doing next.