This was the personal journal of the most powerful man in the world. He never thought it’d be published. If I tried to highlight all of its important lines, I’d run out of ink.
Marcus Aurelius was the ruler of the Roman Empire and quite possibly the closest thing we’ve ever had to a philosopher king. I’m reading this version with an introduction by Gregory Hays for a second time, and I thought it would be helpful to take notes.
Many people have been influenced by Meditations and/or Stoic philosophy: among them are Theodore Roosevelt, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ben Roethlisberger, Lupe Fiasco, Anna Kendrick, JK Rowling, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nassim Taleb, Tim Ferriss, Jack Dorsey, and David Heinemeier Hansson. (See more in The Definitive List of Stoicism in History & Pop Culture.)
Book One: Debts and Lessons
Marcus Aurelius lists the people he admired and the virtues they held, likely using them as a framework for his own personal development:
Control your mind. Live simply. Don’t take sides. Learn to deal with discomfort. When writing, be straightforward. Be the same in all cirumstances. Don’t get emotional, but be full of love. Be patient with others. Recognize that “good families” can be ruthless. Don’t waste time debating unanswerable questions. Don’t lie. Make sure people know how you feel. Work without complaining. Have a sense of humor. Ask searching questions. Be independent. Be cheerful. Use material comforts without apology, but without arrogance. Don’t be swayed by flattery. Don’t have secrets. Stay calm, cool, and collected. Never show stress. Know that it’s always your fault.
Book Two: On the River Gran, Among the Quadi
Other people might get mad, but that’s okay. Don’t let it get to you. We’re all part of the same thing, so we need to find ways to work together.
Change is the natural order of the world, and nothing natural is evil. Don’t keep your head stuck in a book – actually live and experience life so when you die you won’t be filled with regret.
Find your purpose, and then work towards it. Give 100% of your focus to whatever it is you’re doing at any given moment. Those who work without purpose are wasting their lives.
Ignoring what goes on in other people’s souls – no one ever came to grief that way. But if you won’t keep track of what your own soul’s doing, how can you not be unhappy?
Everything is decaying – including the things that entice us with pleasure or frighten us. It’s a natural process. Do what you need to while you’re here.
Pay attention to your own internal state. Take care of yourself. Listen to your own inner power, and you will guard against aimlessness and discontent.
It all keeps recurring.
Everything is just an impression; a reflection of others.
Book Three: In Carnuntum
Don’t waste time worrying about what other people are doing – unless it affects the common good. It will keep you from doing anything useful. It will prevent you from focusing on your own thoughts, achieving your own goals.
Practice focusing. Practice not letting your mind be controlled by random urges.
Never regard something as good if you’d want to hide it from others.
In times of stress, remind yourself: I’m going to die someday. When you accept this, your mind will be in the right state to deal with whatever is happening.
Nothing is so conducive to spiritual growth as our capacity for logical and accurate analysis of everything that happens to us. To always define whatever it is we perceive so we can trace its substance. What is this thing that forces itself upon my notice? If it’s due to humans, treat it with kindness. If it’s due to God, treat it as God deserves to be treated.
Remember: you can turn obstacles into fuel.
Any time you need a break, you can retreat into your mind. It is calmer than the mountains, the beach, or the countryside could ever be.
Doing what’s right sometimes requires patience.
And no one does the wrong thing deliberately.
Think of the number of people who have feuded and envied and hated and fought and died… and been buried.
Your reputation? Ha! Look at how soon we’re forgotten. The emptiness of those clapping hands. The abyss of endless time that swallows it all. The people who praise us – how capricious they are, how arbitrary.
The back roads of yourself are a refuge. They have no strain, no stress.
Disturbance comes only from within.
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.”
That sort of person is bound to do that. You might as well resent a fig tree for secreting juice. (Anyway, before very long you’ll both be dead – dead and soon forgotten.)
Choose not to be harmed – and you won’t feel harmed.
Don’t feel harmed – and you haven’t been.
It can only ruin your life if it ruins your character. Otherwise it cannot harm you.
That every event is the right one. Look closely and you’ll see. Not just the right one overall, but right. As if someone had weighed it with scales.
The tranquility that comes when you stop caring what they say. Or think, or do.
(Imagine everyone vanished. You’re now by yourself. How does it feel? What do you do?)