It sometimes only takes several pages to know that a book is going to occupy a space in your mind for yonks. The words and wisdom from these texts shovel away at your neurotransmitters, and you find yourself bathing in dopamine with each turn of the page.
Under the banner of the ancient (and recently re-popularised) philosophy of Stoicism, Meditations is Marcus Aurelius’s manuscript on self-guidance and improvement. And after finishing the thing in two days, my body and brain feel suitably scrubbed by some awesome endogenous chemicals. I can already tell that this book will be a constantly revisited favourite of mine.
While we may take esteemed advice from such modern day success junkies as Tony Robbins, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and the like, it’s hard to pass up the wise counsel of a Roman Emperor.
Aurelius outlines the detestable effects of desiring fame, possessions, and excess pleasures, while almost ridiculing the otherwise powerful restrictions we place on ourselves, such as fear and the simple inanimateness of taking offence to something or someone. It is an incredible guide for leaders, and a timeless promoter of self-discipline.
Probably the most fascinating this is that he wrote it for his own development, with no intention of sharing or publishing his sage advice.
A few things I took away from it..
“You can rid yourself of many useless things among those that disturb you, for they lie entirely in your imagination; and you will then gain for yourself ample space by comprehending the whole universe in your mind, and by contemplating the eternity of time, and observing the rapid change of every part of everything, how short is the time from birth to dissolution, and the illimitable time before birth as well as the equally boundless time after dissolution.” (Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 72)
The last of the ‘Good Emperors’ in Ancient Rome, Aurelius simplifies the constraints on living through perspective. How small we are in the scheme of the universe, how fleeting our time on earth is, and thus how unnecessary our self-imposed boundaries can be (such as anxiety and overthinking/analysing).
Fear & Ego
“I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but sets less value on his own opinion of himself than on the opinion of others.” (Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 94)
This is my favourite passage of all.
Fear is a masked by an outer vulnerability called the ‘ego’ (potentially described best by philosophical champion, Eckhart Tolle).
Aurelius outlines this idea several times throughout his text, with the notion that a man is only hindered by himself, and not by another’s opinion – and “everything is opinion” (Meditations, 95).
Seeking Life Purpose
“How small a part of the boundless and unfathomable time is assigned to every man! For it is soon to be swallowed up by the eternal… Reflecting on all this, consider nothing to be great except to act as your nature leads you, and to endure that which the common nature brings.” (Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 98)
Aurelius promotes the notion that we should not be surprised by what life brings in each moment, and perhaps that exercising presence holds the key to finding out what is ’nature’. Whatever it is we choose to apply our life to, we must focus on it “seriously, vigorously, calmly, without allowing anything else to distract you” (Meditations, 16).
Even Hannibal Lecter confirms – clearly having read Meditations – that by nature we will seek to covet stability.
I highly recommend this book to anyone seeking to do away with anxiety, or attempting to pursue passions and even small life victories, but who are stumped by fear.
Cast off the skepticism on “old” teachings, and give this immensely influential book a read. Aurelius will get you more fired up than in his opening scene of Gladiator.