Favourite quotes from Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius is one of the best books I’ve read, and definitely something I’d recommend anybody to read.
It’s the journal of a Roman Emperor, his thought process, and his experiences turned into a book for all of us to learn from.
Here are my favourite bits from the book:
Stop being a Grammar Nazi
Not to be constantly correcting people, and in particular not to jump on them whenever they make an error of usage or a grammatical mistake or mispronounce something, but just answer their question or add another example, or debate the issue itself (not their phrasing), or make some other contribution to the discussion-and insert the right expression, unobtrusively.
Don’t reply to others with “I’m busy”
Not to be constantly telling people (or writing them) that I’m too busy, unless I really am. Similarly, not to be always ducking my responsibilities to the people around me because of “pressing business.”
A reminder to yourself in the morning
When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own-not of the same blood or birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me. No one can implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my relative, or hate him. We were born to work together like feet, hands, and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and lower. To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on him: these are obstructions.
On focusing on your task at hand
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. Yes, you can-if you do everything as if it were the last thing you were doing in your life, and stop being aimless, stop letting your emotions override what your mind tells you, stop being hypocritical, self-centered, irritable. You see how few things you have to do to live a satisfying and reverent life? If you can manage this, that’s all even the gods can ask of you.
Thinking about death
You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.
Think of yourself as dead. You have lived your life. Now take what’s left and live it properly.
On worrying about what other people think about you
Don’t waste the rest of your time here worrying about other people-unless it affects the common good. It will keep you from doing anything useful. You’ll be too preoccupied with what so-and-so is doing, and why, and what they’re saying, and what they’re thinking, and what they’re up to, and all the other things that throw you off and keep you from focusing on your own mind.
It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own. If a god appeared to us-or a wise human being, even-and prohibited us from concealing our thoughts or imagining anything without immediately shouting it out, we wouldn’t make it through a single day. That’s how much we value other people’s opinions-instead of our own.
No one can harm you. No words can harm you.
Choose not to be harmed-and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed-and you haven’t been.
When you want to sleep in
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?
-But we have to sleep sometime…. Agreed. But nature set a limit on that-as it did on eating and drinking. And you’re over the limit. You’ve had more than enough of that. But not of working. There you’re still below your quota. You don’t love yourself enough. Or you’d love your nature too, and what it demands of you. People who love what they do wear themselves down doing it, they even forget to wash or eat. Do you have less respect for your own nature than the engraver does for engraving, the dancer for the dance, the miser for money or the social climber for status? When they’re really possessed by what they do, they’d rather stop eating and sleeping than give up practicing their arts. Is helping others less valuable to you? Not worth your effort?
When you have trouble getting out of bed in the morning, remember that your defining characteristic-what defines a human being-is to work with others. Even animals know how to sleep. And it’s the characteristic activity that’s the more natural one-more innate and more satisfying.
Dealing with others
The best revenge is not to be like that.
Someone despises me. That’s their problem.
Mine: not to do or say anything despicable.
Someone hates me. Their problem.
Mine: to be patient and cheerful with everyone, including them. Ready to show them their mistake. Not spitefully, or to show off my own self-control, but in an honest, upright way. Like Phocion (if he wasn’t just pretending). That’s what we should be like inside, and never let the gods catch us feeling anger or resentment.
As long as you do what’s proper to your nature, and accept what the world’s nature has in store-as long as you work for others’ good, by any and all means-what is there that can harm you?
Defining things as good or bad
You take things you don’t control and define them as “good” or “bad.” And so of course when the “bad” things happen, or the “good” ones don’t, you blame the gods and feel hatred for the people responsible-or those you decide to make responsible. Much of our bad behavior stems from trying to apply those criteria. If we limited “good” and “bad” to our own actions, we’d have no call to challenge God, or to treat other people as enemies.
Focusing on what you can control
External things are not the problem. It’s your assessment of them. Which you can erase right now. If the problem is something in your own character, who’s stopping you from setting your mind straight? And if it’s that you’re not doing something you think you should be, why not just do it? -But there are insuperable obstacles. Then it’s not a problem. The cause of your inaction lies outside you. -But how can I go on living with that undone? Then depart, with a good conscience, as if you’d done it, embracing the obstacles too.
My thought process when faced with a problem or an obstacle
You don’t have to turn this into something. It doesn’t have to upset you. Things can’t shape our decisions by themselves.
Originally published at https://haikal.blog on August 24, 2021.