Meditations – Marcus Aurelius

This is a defining book on the subject of Stoic philosophy and is the personal journal of Marcus Aurelius who was emperor of Rome between 161 and 180 AD, and the most powerful man in the world. This personal diary was never meant to be published. Emperor Marcus Aurelius is remembered as one of the most influential stoic philosophers.

There was a period of prosperity in the Roman Empire starting around 100 AD, after a lot of hardship and turmoil. During this period of peace and prosperity, there were 5 roman emperors. Marcus Aurelius was the last of these “Five Good Emperors”.

Stoicism is a greek school of thought that focuses on self-control, rationality and calmness to deal with large challenges and negative emotions. Here we look at all major elements of stoicism and Marcus’ interpretation of them.

  • “Logos” is a stoic concept that means “reason” pioneered by Aristotle and Heraclitus.
  • Logos makes up everything physical in the world: our environment, ourselves, all events and the general notion of order in the world.
  • Logos determines people’s status in society, and rationalizes their current standing relative to other people. It embraces the fact that some are given preferential treatment over others.
  • Logos is constantly evolving and advancing our world and our universe. It’s a master plan for everyone that lives.
  • Logos gives us the notion of a “greater purpose” even if we may not be religious. Marcus Aurelius stayed calm and content even after losing most of his family and facing uprisings from his citizens, believing that it’s all part of a larger master plan of Logos.
  • Death should not be feared. It’s inevitable.
  • Logos states that there is “recycling of essence” of those who die into other young living beings.
  • There are millions of hypothetical things that could kill you. It’s a useless exercise to be afraid of all of them.
  • You could die frail of old age, or in a war, or from an unforeseen accident. It’s all the same in front of Logos and the natural order of things.
  • The emperor frequently reminded himself that he was going to die and forced himself to embrace that fact.
  • Since we can only control the events that occur in the present time, we must focus on our current efforts. There is no point in worrying about hypothetical scenarios.
  • There is also no point in complaining, because action to rectify a situation is more useful.
  • Complaining causes suffering to others. Marcus felt it was not fair to expose them to that, so he did not complain when having to do things he hated, such as holding court.
  • Stoicism focuses on the scarcity of time, and the shortness of your life, so it discourages over-sleeping or laziness.
  • Even though people often wasted Marcus’ time with small talk or arguments, he was at peace with that because it too was part of Logos and his greater purpose.
  • Think rationally and not emotionally.
  • Be calm, analytical and logical. Do not let desires, emotions and feelings throw you off or affect your clarity.
  • Every event has many perspectives. Be prepared to examine them, and focus on the positive ones.
  • A perception of an event is more important than the event itself. Your mind can overcome the negative feelings that event brings, by viewing it from a different angle.
  • If a bad event happens to you, keep in mind the notion of serendipity and opportunity that got created by fate for you, when dealing with the aftermath of that event.
  • Emotional desires and obsessions will skew how your mind works, and introduce confusion.
  • Marcus fought feelings like lust, revenge and hatred, instead focusing on a reasonable, calm and collected response. His primary objective was to remain an effective ruler.
  • Marcus frequently reflected and meditated on Logos, what it meant, and how he fit into its greater picture.
  • Some people suffer unbearable physical pain, sickness, danger and torture. Even these things were necessary for Logos to continue, and were meant to happen.
  • Marcus had 13 children, but lost most of them at infancy. His wife also died at a young age. He was able to cope with these losses by focusing on Logos and requiring clarity from his mind. Perhaps practicing dealing with loss can make you more resilient in the long term.
  • We have full control of our own actions and in that there is freedom. Complaining and claiming to be unlucky is disrespecting the natural order of things, and refusing to accept reality as it unfolds.
  • If you make the best actions you could according to your own choices, then there can not be any regret or suffering as a result of your own actions.
  • Taking the high road of kindness, fairness and dignity is always the right choice, when responding to any person’s action and elevates those around you.
  • All things happen for a reason – which is an all-encompassing governing force around society and the world.