Meditations (Marcus Aurelius)

marcus aurelius meditations“…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…” Approximately 1,900 years after this was first published, I wonder how the author would feel to know his collection of thoughts are currently at number 2 on the Amazon best seller list for the category Society/History/Philosophy. It would certainly be something for him to ponder.

This was the personal philosophical diary of the last “good emperor” of the Roman Empire. In this work Marcus Aurelius draws a picture Stoicism. It is a harsh self discipline that trains its practitioners to be champions (of a sort). Champions of what? Mastery of the self. The heart of the book is that in order to make oneself free, people must train themselves to become indifferent to externals. The externals are those elements in life of which we have no or little control: our ethnicity, sex appeal, intelligence, lifespan, the opinions of others, etc. We must also become very aware of the one thing which we do have control over: our perceptions. Through harsh self analysis, training of the reason and self-discipline, we can learn to take control of our perceptions, and in this way become impervious to all misfortune/suffering.

Through this practice one cuts the puppet strings by which most people are jerked through life: pleasing others, seeking fame, sexual dominance, material goods, etc., and in the process also is freed of the suffering that stems from not having these false goals met. This is a book that is extremely empowering. Even if some of the ideals and aims might be utterly impossible (but for a handful of great sages), they are worthy and worth striving towards. Another aspect that I found interesting, was that here we are able to open a window into the life of a great and noble soul who was struggling to come to terms with the universe.

We read the personal thoughts of the master of the civilized world, a man utterly alone and free of peers, who is grappling with the need to find meaning in life. His efforts and obvious agonies are touching. This is a deeply humane work. In many sections he has to repeatedly remind himself of the nature of death (that it is an essential and good part of nature), and often repeated are metaphors relating to the death of a child. These reminders are made very poignant when you understand that several of the Emperor’s children (whom he apparently loved very much) were taken by disease. This was the one understanding that he seemed to have the hardest time coming to terms with or accepting.

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Comments

  1. This sounds like a deeply interesting and philosophical work, I’ll be sure to read it in order to put my mindset in good stead for 2017 (which is coming ever closer!). Excellent review as always, thanks for sharing! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you! 🙂

    Like

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