Meditations

Meditations

by Marcus Aurelius
 

The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius are perhaps the only document of its kind ever made. They are the private thoughts of the most powerful man in the world who advises himself on fulfilling the responsibilities and obligations of his office. Trained in Stoic philosophy, Marcus Aurelius practiced a series of spiritual exercises, reminders designed to make him humble, patient, empathetic, generous, and strong in the face of whatever he was dealing with. 

Summary Notes

Book I

“Nothing now prevents me from living the life of nature.”

In this first Book, Marcus Aurelius begins by writing from whom he has learned each of the things that make up this volume:

From Rusticus: reading with precision and not being content with global considerations. 

The ability to read is possibly one of the most underrated skills. Isn’t reading how we discern what works for us and what doesn't? Isn't it how we learn the most? What could you do to read more accurately?

From Apollonius: freedom of judgment, and not looking at anything other than reason.

Putting emotions aside and attending to reason is how we can see the spirit of things. What emotion is blurring your vision in difficult situations?

From Sextus: be tolerant with the ignorant and with those who express their opinions without reflection. 

The lesson here is to respect the opinions of others. One may have a strongly formed idea about something, and you cannot prove them wrong. Neither should you. They may be seeing something you cannot. How would your critical thinking improve if you thought like this?

From Maximus of Ephesus: No one should think he was belittled or considered superior to others.

This mindset is essential in developing long-lasting relationships. Treat others as equals - because they are. Give others the respect they deserve. How would you like to be treated?

Actions to take

Book II

“Life for each of us is a mere moment.”

In his second Book, Marcus Aurelius teaches us about the passing of time and how to come to love what we do. He states that you will achieve all your goals with passion, freedom, and justice as long as you execute each action as if it were the last of your life.

Marcus Aurelius' most vital philosophy emerges when he talks about the eternally changing nature of the universe and the acceptance of death. He reminds us that we will all die, yet we only miss the present moment because that is all we have. No one "loses more" by dying early. The longest and shortest life will end the same way and will end for the same eternity.

Considering that your life can end at any time: do, say, and think every one of the things in line with that idea.

Your time here will come to an end sooner or later. Therefore, do not waste time and do what you have come to do. Tell your loved ones that you love them, act professionally in your workplace and be a conscientious citizen. 

How would your life improve if you acted on the fact that you could die within a week?

Actions to take

Book III

“Each of us lives only in the present moment.”

Book III comes with the message that the present is all we have in our life. The past is gone; the future is not here yet. Live in the present moment. Remember that each one lives exclusively in the present, the fleeting moment. The rest have either lived or are uncertain. 

What can you do to become more aware of when you are distracted by the future or the past?

If you carry out your present tasks following the right reason, diligently, firmly, with benevolence, and without any accessory concern, you will live happily. Focus on what you are doing in the present moment, and put distractions aside.

Actions to take

Book IV

“What does not make a human being worse in himself cannot make his life worse either: it cannot harm him from outside or inside.”

Often we are searching for a place to escape, either in the countryside, on the coast, or in the mountains. We are not aware that there is a retreat closer to us that can be accessed anywhere at any time of the day. 

You can, whenever you feel like it, withdraw into yourself, and experience a sense of calm and tranquility.

Tolerance is part of justice, and the mistakes of others are usually involuntary.

People are not wrong to want something even if it may bother you. Think about when you made a mistake about something; did you do it on purpose? Others have the same right to make mistakes as you do.

Further, direct your gaze to the promptness with which everything is forgotten, the versatility and thoughtlessness of those who give the impression of adoring you. Because the entire Earth is just a point in the Universe, and of it, how much does the little corner that we inhabit occupy?

Actions to take

Book V

“Nothing happens to any creature beyond its own natural endurance.”

When you get up in the morning, you have two options:

1) Thinking: "How lucky am I to be here to live another day. I'm going to enjoy the day and make the most of it".

2) Thinking: "I am so tired; why did the alarm clock ring so soon? I want to stay in bed all day."

Which one do you choose? 

What have you come to this world for? To do your best or to succeed? To try to be a person of integrity or to be lazy? 

How do you want to be remembered when you are gone?

When you know that you can give more and don't, you are not fooling anyone, just yourself. Try to give 100% in everything you do for a month and see if your life changes at all.

Don't beat yourself up too hard when you fail or make mistakes. Analyze yourself severely but kindly, think about what you have failed and why. Next time, do better.

Actions to take

Book VI

“Even people asleep are workers in the factory of all that happens in the world.”

Book VI tells us to be helpful to others. Personal growth and development are fine, but all of this has a single purpose: to be helpful to as many people as possible. We were born to help each other.

If you ever find yourself in a confusing situation and do not know how to proceed, return to your inner self. Breathe, relax, and think calmly. What is it that confuses you so much? 

Ask yourself the following questions: "Is it really like that, or do I see a reality filtered by my emotions? Is it so much? How can I face this situation with serenity?"

Do not idolize anyone more than they deserve, much less feel small when comparing yourself to another person. Don't get too impressed by things that have no value.

In three generations, no one on this planet will know that you have existed, so you should not worry what they will think of you. Also, even if you do, it is not under your control. However, you can act to positively impact those who share with you on a day-to-day basis.

Actions to take

Book VII

“A person’s worth is measured by the worth of what he values.”

Book VII encourages us not to worry too much about the future. What has to come will come, and you will face it with the same capabilities that you have now. Nothing is as big as it seems to be, and you can pull it off when the time comes.

Live in the present moment, but really live there - not thinking about the future or the past. It will help you do all things well because if you are present, you will be more concentrated, you will do it better and more effectively.

When someone does something that you don't like, they probably didn't mean to do it. One may have done it out of ignorance or carelessness. Breathe, and don't react. Calm down, breathe again, think clearly, and then act.

Get to know yourself, spend time with yourself. Learn to understand why you think what you think and who you are. You will discover new things about yourself constantly. Some will please you; others will not. Work on both. And focus only on what you can change. You can change yourself, but not others.

Actions to take

Book VIII

“Joy varies from person to person.”

Every action, no matter how insignificant it may seem, says something about you. Think about what kind of person you want to be, and make every decision that brings you closer to being that person.

Do good whenever you can and let that good be useful to others. If you regret something you have done, analyze that action (or inaction) and think about what exactly you regret. It will give you a hint on how to do it better next time.

Changing your mind is fine, contrary to what we have always been told. If your new judgment is based on valid information and deep reflection, don't be afraid to change your mind.

Don't procrastinate and do what you have to do right now while being vigilant as well. Suffering rarely comes from having to do something - rather, it comes from constantly putting things off.

Lastly, be precise with your words. Think carefully about what you want to say and express it clearly. Do not ramble or go to another topic. Adapt your language to the person you are talking to. Don't speak to your grandmother as if she were a judge, for example, and vice versa.

Actions to take

Book IX

“Loss is nothing more than change.”

No matter how afraid one is of death, you are not going to avoid it. When and how you will die is beyond your control. It is the nature and order of life. It will come when it has to come.

Being happy is not about having everything you want, but about wanting as little as possible and living your day as it was your last.

Marcus Aurelius also invites us to think that the one who does nothing often commits injustice, not just the one who does something. Lack of action can be action. When you see something that is wrong, and you do nothing, you are participating.

On the other hand, you should not be rewarded for acting well, because it is what you have come here to do. Is what you've done any less good if no one pats you on the back? Would you make that donation if no one knew it was named after you? Would you do a good thing if no one knew you did it? Sometimes the best actions are loaded with selfishness.

Actions to take

Book X

“All that happens is an event either within your natural ability to bear it or not.”

Book X comes with a powerful message: Whatever happens to you is already decided. We thus can deal with everything that happens to us. However, we sometimes need to give ourselves time and strength to determine that it is a bearable phenomenon. And when is it a terminal illness? What if they tell us that we have only three months to live? 

Marcus Aurelius says not to bother, because if it is inevitable, what is the point of it consuming our resources ahead of time?

If we know that we will die in three months, do we want to live them in the best possible way or by constantly regretting them? It is a delicate subject, but we can also decide how we want to act before it.

Marcus Aurelius had his internal battle with this issue. Was it difficult for the most powerful man in the world to accept the designs of destiny? If the Emperor of Rome worked daily to deal with it, why should it be easier for us? It is indeed difficult to accept what we do not want to happen to us, but that is where a large part of happiness lies.

Actions to take

Book XI

“What is your profession? Being a good man.”

Any situation is ideal for putting Stoicism into practice. Do not wait for some misfortune to happen to wake up because it will be more difficult. It starts today, now. Focus on doing good, and others can think what they want. The first is under your control; the second is not. 

Epictetus also says: "It is not the facts that hurt us, but our opinion about them."

It is much more challenging to remain calm, composed, and in control than to lose your bearings. That's why almost no one does it.

An excellent exercise to keep the gift of life in mind is to treat your loved ones as if you would never see them again, without taking it to the extreme, of course. It is about valuing, not suffering. 

Actions to take

Book XII

“See things for what they are, analyzing material, cause, and reference.”

Why do we always care more about the opinions of others than our own? If we love ourselves, why do we downplay what we think? Do good, even when nobody sees you or when nobody knows. Self-esteem is the reputation you have with yourself. 

The present moment is the only thing you will always have. Embrace it and live in the world, not in your head. Present, not past, not future.

And once again, act according to your nature. Do good whenever you can.

Actions to take

Don’t just read. Act.
Read comprehensive summaries and discover carefully compiled action lists for active learning
Phone

Our site saves small pieces of text information (cookies) on your device in order to deliver better content and for statistical purposes. You can disable the usage of cookies by changing the settings of your browser. By browsing our website without changing the browser settings you grant us permission to store that information on your device.