The book Meditations takes a look into the life of the 1st century Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius. It was meant to be a personal journal and never meant to be published. The 10 chapters are random thoughts and musings – sometimes disjointed, often repetitive, but always insightful.
It's fascinating to be able to read the private journal of an emperor that existed two millennia before you were born and understand that even he faced similar situations that people go through today.
Marcus Aurelius’s philosophy is aligned to the Stoic school of thought, founded by Seneca and Epictetus.
Here are some of the common themes from the journal:
The book starts out by listing the good qualities of the people he spends time with and traits he wants to imbibe from them. You can run this exercise yourself by seeing what you can learn from your friends and family.
And to have learned how to accept favors from friends without losing your self-respect or appearing ungrateful
Competitive sports has a winner and a loser. Same with politics. It usually makes you feel worse when your team loses. So it's better not to be fully swayed by the outcome of the matches.
Not to support this side or that in chariot-racing, this fighter or that in the games.
Living your life with intentionality is important. Can you imagine this was a problem 2000 years ago as well? At the time, there was no internet or weaponized apps and media constantly fighting for our attention.
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
This is quite similar to the previous point of intentionality. You need to focus on the present, leave the past and not worry about the future.
The present is all that they can give up, since that is all you have, and what you do not have, you cannot lose.
Humans have evolved as pessimists. It was always better to be on the safer side and assume that the rustle in the bushes was a tiger rather than a deer. Modern life is less physically threatening, but we always tend to look at the negative side of things.
And to help others and be eager to share, not to be a pessimist, and never to doubt your friends’ affection for you
Don’t try to picture everything bad that could possibly happen.
We are always made to believe that there are only two outcomes - good or bad, also called All or Nothing thinking. Life has many shades of gray, almost everything is a spectrum.
But death and life, success and failure, pain and pleasure, wealth and poverty, all these happen to good and bad alike, and they are neither noble nor shameful—and hence neither good nor bad.
Often what we perceive of situations is much worse than the situation itself.
Disturbance comes only from within—from our own perceptions.
We also care more about what others might think of us, than we do of ourselves.
If you can cut yourself—your mind—free of what other people do and say, of what you’ve said or done, of the things that you’re afraid will happen, the impositions of the body that contains you and the breath within, and what the whirling chaos sweeps in from outside, so that the mind is freed from fate, brought to clarity, and lives life on its own recognizance—doing what’s right, accepting what happens, and speaking the truth
Don’t snooze the alarm clock.
You are in this world to make a difference. Don’t just talk about what a good person is like, rather just be one. Find your purpose in life and work towards it.
Marcus talks about the impermanence of life – how when your life is over, you will just be one of the many who have walked this planet.
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?
This book has so many profound quotes. But the one I would like to leave you with is life-changing:
Think of yourself as dead. You have lived your life. Now take what’s left and live it properly.