MEDITATIONS BY MARCUS AURELIUS- A Guest post by a dear friend (wishes to stay anonymous)
A self-help book which is primarily a compilation of journal entries of Marcus Aurelius, the then emperor of Roman empire. These listings were originally not intended to be discovered or to be read by the public but for his on clarity on various aspects of life therefore the audience may find it hard to fully comprehend the context and make sense of who is being addressed in few of the journal recordings. Contrary to the name the book doesn’t talk about meditations or its traditional practices in true sense but preaches about his ideology for life and the stoic philosophy which the emperor himself embodied in order to attain mental peace and tranquility which is the perceived product of meditation.
In order for the readers to better understand the actual journal entries that constitute the latter part of the book, the author gives a detailed account of history relevant to that era and bombards the readers with names and chain of events which for most would be no less than a dull lecture. The remainder portion of the book is composed of the journal listings categorized into 12 chapters (Books) shedding light on various facets of life. Unless the motivated enough the reader might lose his interest in continuing with the book as the journal entries may appear to be series of hackneyed idioms teaching the fundamental moral principles to conduct which at some level you already knew but every now and then you come across the a certain entry which strikes a chord and you can relate to. A stunning feature of Marcus’s notes is the way he remarkably finds analogies in simple natural phenomena to make an invoking point.
Talking about the instilling discipline and avoid over indulging in humanly needs he converses with himself in one his entries and even evokes a sense of guilt for having wasted time, he states:
“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?”
Marcus highlights the fleeting and transient nature of time and explains how the concept of death should be perceived as a naturally occurring phenomenon and one should embrace it open heartedly. He notes down:
“A given action that stops when it’s supposed to is none the worse for stopping. Nor the person engaged in it either. So too with the succession of actions we call “life.” If it ends when it’s supposed to, it’s none the worse for that. And the person who comes to the end of the line has no cause for complaint. The time and stopping point are set by nature—our own nature, in some cases (death from old age); or nature as a whole, whose parts, shifting and changing, constantly renew the world, and keep it on schedule.”
According to Marcus everything that happens, no matter how minute or substantial, in nature is a part of a bigger scheme all planned out beforehand by Gods and our aim as rational beings is to take things as they are given to you without any resistance however extreme or difficult they seem. He records:
“When a slave runs away from his master, we call him a fugitive slave. But the law of nature is a master too, and to break it is to become a fugitive. To feel grief, anger or fear is to try to escape from something decreed by the ruler of all things, now or in the past or in the future. And that ruler’s law, which governs what happens to each of us. To feel grief or anger or fear is to become a fugitive—a fugitive from justice.”
In an another entry he even goes on to state that any reluctance to pursue the course of naturally happening things would be to disrupt harmony of the entire world therefore the only right course of action would be to embrace things as it is.
“People who feel hurt and resentment: picture them as the pig at the sacrifice, kicking and squealing all the way……Like the man alone in his bed, silently weeping over the chains that bind us….That everything has to submit. But only rational beings can do so voluntarily.”
The emperor believed that the only real purpose of an intelligent being is to work to for the benefit of humanity and in only doing so one can truly feel satisfied. He says:
“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.”
The Roman ruler making a note to himself in his journal on how to react to other people’s opinion and comments quite logically argues:
“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”
Perhaps the most the important point that is reiterated throughout his journal in various entries is that everything that the mind perceives is completely under our control and hence our emotion and feelings. The emperor suggests that we should never take things for their outward appearance rather than analyzing them unbiasedly and carry out our actions based on that. He records:
“Things wait outside us, hover at the door. They keep to themselves. Ask them who they are and they don’t know, they can give no account of themselves. What accounts for them? The mind does.”
Having mentioned above that this book does have the tendency to bore you out but for someone who is looking to make positive changes in life this book is highly recommended because when you come across sound reasoning and logical ways to perceive life repeatedly it finds a way to get to you. Moreover, Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, is a fascinating way to get into the thinking of one of the most influential ruler of the world’s most powerful empire.