Meditations – by Marcus Aurelius
Date read: 4/5/17. Recommendation: 10/10.
A cornerstone of Stoic philosophy, along with Letters from a Stoic by Seneca. It's critical which interpretation you read. I highly recommend the Modern Library version with an introduction by Gregory Hays. It's a short read with some of the most useful insights and aphorisms that money can buy.
See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.
Introduction by Gregory Hays
"States will never be happy until rulers become philosophers or philosophers become rulers." -Plato
Ancient philosophy had a more practical dimension. It was not merely a subject to write or argue about, but one that was expected to provide a "design for living" - a set of rules to live one's life by.
One pattern of thought that is central to the philosophy of the Meditations (as well as to Epictetus)...the doctrine of the three "disciplines": the disciplines of perception, of action, and of the will. Together, the three disciplines constitute a comprehensive approach to life, and in various combinations and reformulations they underlie a large number of the entries in the Meditations.
Everywhere, at each moment, you have the option:
-to accept this event with humility (will)
-to treat this person as he should be treated (action)
-to approach this thought with care, so that nothing irrational creeps in (perception)
When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly. They are like this because they can't tell good from evil. 2.1
Make time for yourself to learn something worthwhile; stop letting yourself be pulled in all directions. 2.7
People who labor all their lives but have no purpose to direct every thought and impulse toward are wasting their time - even when hard at work. 2.7
If it doesn't harm your character, how can it harm your life? 2.11
You cannot lose another life than the one you're living now, or live another one than the one you're losing. The longest amounts to the same as the shortest. The present is the same for everyone...For you can't lose either the past or the future; how could you lose what you don't have? 2.14
We should remember that even Nature's inadvertence has its own charm, its own attractiveness. The way loaves of bread split open on top in the oven; the ridges are just by-products of the baking, and yet pleasing, somehow: they rouse our appetite without our knowing why. 3.2
Don't waste the rest of your time here worrying about other people - unless it affects the common good. It will keep you from doing anything useful. You'll be too preoccupied with what so-and-so is doing, and why, and what they're saying, and what they're thinking, and what they're up to, and all the other things that throw you off and keep you from focusing on your own mind. 3.4
If at some point in your life, you should come across anything better than justice, honestly, 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. 3.6
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. 3.10
Nowhere you can go is more peaceful - more free of interruptions - than your own soul. 4.3
Not to live as if you had endless years ahead of you. Death overshadows you. While you're alive and able - be good. 4.17
The tranquility that comes when you stop caring what they say. Or think, or do. Only what you do. 4.18
People who are excited by posthumous fame forget that the people who remember them will soon die too. And those after them in turn. Until their memory, passed from one to another like a candle flame, gutters and goes out. 4.19
Everything is transitory - the knower and the known. 4.35
It's unfortunate that this has happened. No it's fortunate that this has happened and I've remained unharmed by it - not shattered by the present or frightened of the future. It could have happened to anyone. But not everyone could have remained unharmed by it. 4.49a
Does what's happened keep you from acting with justice, generosity, self-control, sanity, prudence, honesty, humility, straightforwardness, and all the other qualities that allow a person's nature to fulfill itself? 4.49a
So remember this principle when something threatens to cause you pain: the thing itself was no misfortune at all; to endure it and prevail is great good fortune. 4.49a
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? 5.1
Practice the virtues you can show: honesty, gravity, endurance, austerity, resignation, abstinence, patience, sincerity, moderation, seriousness, high-mindedness. Don't you see how much you have to offer - beyond excuses like "can't"? And yet you still settle for less. 5.5
In a sense, people are our proper occupation. Our job is to do them good and put up with them. But when they obstruct our proper tasks, they become irrelevant to us - like sun, wind, animals. Our actions may be impeded by them, but there can be no impeding our intentions or our dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle of our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way. 5.20
So other people hurt me? That's their problem. Their character and actions are not mine. 5.25
But true good fortune is what you make for yourself. Good fortune: good character, good intentions, and good actions. 5.37
Just that you do the right thing. The rest doesn't matter. 6.2
The best revenge is not to be like that. 6.6
Like seeing roasted meat and other dishes in front of you and suddenly realizing: This is a dead fish. A dead bird. A dead pig. Or that this noble vintage is grape juice, and the purple robes are sheep wool dyed with shellfish blood...Perceptions like that - latching onto things and piercing through them, so we see what they really are. That's what we need to do all the time - all through our lives when things lay claim to our trust - to lay them bare and see how pointless they are, to strip away the legend that encrusts them. 6.13
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. 6.19
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. 6.21
Fight to be the person philosophy tried to make you. Our lives are short. The only rewards of our existence here are an unstained character and unselfish acts. 6.30
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? 6.33
The only thing that isn't worthless: to live this life out truthfully and rightly. And be patient with those who don't. 6.47
When you need encouragement, think of the qualities the people around you have: this one's energy, that one's modesty, another's generosity, and so on. Nothing is as encouraging as when virtues are visibly embodied in the people around us... 6.48
Ambition means tying your well-being to what other people say or do.
Self-indulgence means tying it to the things that happen to you.
Sanity means tying it to your own actions. 6.51
You don't have to turn this into something. It doesn't have to upset you. Things can't shape our decisions by themselves. 6.52
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? 7.18
Look at what you have, the things you value most, and think of how much you'd crave them if you didn't have them. But be careful. Don't feel such satisfaction that you start to overvalue them - that it would upset you to lose them. 7.27
To watch the courses of the stars as if you revolved with them. To keep constantly in mind how the elements alter into one another. Thoughts like this wash the mud of life below. 7.47
Look at the past - empire succeeding empire - and from that, extrapolate the future: the same thing. No escape from the rhythm of events. 7.49
Everywhere, at each moment, you have the option:
-to accept this event with humility
-to treat this person as he should be treated
-to approach this thought with care, so that nothing irrational creeps in. 7.54
Think of yourself as dead. You have lived your life. Now take what's left and live it properly. 7.56
Perfection of character: to live your last day, every day, without frenzy, or sloth, or pretense. 7.69
It's silly to try to escape other people's faults. They are inescapable. Just try to escape your own. 7.71
You've given aid and they've received it. And yet, like an idiot, you keep holding out for more: to be credited with a Good Deed, to be repaid in kind. Why? 7.73
When you have trouble getting out of bed in the morning, remember that your defining characteristic - what defines a human being - is to work with others. 8.12
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. 8.16
Just as nature takes every obstacle, every impediment, and works around it - turns it to its purposes, incorporates it into itself - so, too, a rational being can turn each setback into raw material and use it to achieve its goal. 8.35
You want praise from people who kick themselves every fifteen minutes, the approval of people who despise themselves. 8.53
Fear of death is fear of what we may experience. Nothing at all, or something quite new. But if we experience nothing, we can experience nothing bad. And if our experience changes, then our existence will change with it - change, but not cease. 8.58
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. 9.3
To do harm is to do yourself harm. To do an injustice is to do yourself an injustice - it degrades you. 9.4
And you can also commit injustice by doing nothing. 9.5
Leave other people's mistakes where they lie. 9.20
Everything that happens is either endurable or not.
If it's endurable, then endure it. Stop complaining.
If it's unendurable...then stop complaining. Your destruction will mean its end as well. 10.3
To stop talking about what the good man is like, and just be one. 10.16
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...All just the same. Only the people different. 10.27
The natural can never be inferior to the artificial; art imitates nature, not the reverse. In which case, that most highly developed and comprehensive nature - Nature itself - cannot fall short of artifice in its craftsmanship. 11.10
The soul as a sphere in equilibrium: Not grasping at things beyond it or retreating inward. Not fragmenting outward, not sinking back on itself, but ablaze with light and looking at the truth, without and within. 11.12
To live a good life:
We have the potential for it. If we can learn to be indifferent to what makes no difference. This is how we learn: by looking at each thing, both the parts and the whole. Keeping in mind that none of them can dictate how we perceive it. They don't impose themselves on us. They hover before us, unmoving. It is we who generate the judgments - inscribing them on ourselves. 11.16
When you start to lose your temper, remember: There's nothing manly about rage. It's courtesy and kindness that define a human being - and a man. That's who possesses strength and nerves and guts, not the angry whiners. To react like that brings your closer to impassivity - and so to strength. Pain is the opposite of strength, and so is anger. 11.18
It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own. 12.4
When someone seems to have injured you:
But how can I be sure?
And in any case, keep in mind:
-that he's already been tried and convicted - by himself.
-that to expect a bad person not to harm others is like expecting fig trees not to secrete juice, babies not to cry, horses not to neigh - the inevitable not to happen. 12.16
At all times, look at the thing itself - the thing behind the appearance - and unpack it by analysis... 12.18
Constantly run down the list of those who felt intense anger at something: the most famous, the most unfortunate, the most hated, the most whatever. And ask: Where is all that now? Smoke, dust, legend...or not even legend. 12.27