Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
Sit Down and Read
One Line Summary
Roman Emperor teaches you how to ace life
“Shame on the soul, to falter on the road of life while the body still perseveres”
-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
Meditations is the personal musings of the great Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius. After his death, his writings were collected into several books and published for availability to the general public. It’s a good thing they were, because in this book contains some of the best wisdom that a human being could ever acquire through words. He touches on emotions, life purpose, success and, most importantly, what it means to be happy.
I read this book almost a year ago, so some of the details have escaped me. But in general, Aurelius espouses the stoic philosophy to the core.
Why it’s Awesome
“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”
-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
I’m not sure it’s possible to dislike this book. Aurelius’s ability to express his ideas and his command over language is absolutely beautiful. And anyone who really applies these ideas would see a radical shift in their life.
This book has so much wisdom that I’m going to focus on just one key area. Otherwise I’ll never be able to get to it all properly. The area I want to focus on is this idea that your external world is ultimately determined by your internal world.
We talk a lot about being a victim in self-development, and it’s something a lot of people seem to get confused. They seem to think that if I say “no one is a victim”, that means that no one has ever had bad things happen to them. That maybe they didn’t grow up in some horrible home life that is contributing to their depression. Or that their boss really isn’t a dick. But that’s not what is trying to be said.
Rather, a victim is someone who has failed to grasp this concept that Marcus Aurelius is talking about. Your external world is determined by your internal world.
What does this mean? It means that no matter what happens in life, you have a CHOICE in how to respond to it. As Shakespeare said, “nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so”.
If your boss is a dick, that is the reality of your situation. You can choose to view this negatively (my boss is out to get me!) or positively (he is just doing his job the best he can and is hard on me because I have potential). But notice that whatever choice you make, your external world will begin to reflect your internal choice.
Let’s say you choose the negative view. Because your boss is now in your mind your enemy, you will respond back with more negativity like anger, frustration and hatred. This will, of course, only cause your boss to be more of a dick in the future. You’ve solved nothing and only exacerbated your situation.
Let’s say you choose the positive view. Notice that because your thoughts are more positive, you will feel more positive, and this will flow over into positive action. It can’t NOT. Have you ever seen a happy person really act angry? Of course not, the idea doesn’t even make sense because angry action comes from the emotion of anger.
It’s very hard to be a dick to someone who is constantly positive towards you. I’d encourage you to try. Your boss will likely have a hard time doing it as well. Your external situation has changed for the better. You’ve become ANTIFRAGILE. And even if it doesn’t, notice that because you’ve ACCEPTED the reality of your boss being a dick first, it’s essentially become a non-issue.
Another way to summarize this idea: what you resist, persists. When you resist your boss being a dick, the situation only compounds or stays the same. When you accept the situation FULLY AS IT IS, it tends to eventually dissolve.
This is completely counter-intuitive to the way most people tend to want to behave. If we have a problem, we want to resist and fight against it. And while there certainly is a time for action, the reality is that without first accepting your situation, no action will be valuable anyway.
I struggle with implementing this philosophy very often. It’s not a habit you will simply pick up by reading me or Marcus Aurelius. The first step is just to become AWARE of when you’re doing this in your life. For the next week, try and spot all the situations where you’re believing yourself a victim.
One situation I struggled with this for a while was with social conditioning. It’s very easy to feel angry and disconnected from the world as your learn just how much bullshit is out there that we’re being fed 24/7. The news, the food you eat, organized religion, politics, science, marketing, family, healthcare, the financial industry and so many other areas of mainstream culture can be utterly toxic to your success and happiness. It’s easy to feel like the whole world is against you and you’d be better off saying fuck it all.
And while this is a reality, ultimately any anger or depression that comes from becoming aware of this situation is you allowing yourself to still be a victim. It doesn’t matter if it’s your boss or the entire world that’s against you, a victim is a victim. And your happiness is being diminished because of it.
When it’s all said and done, everyone and everything is exactly how it should be. Desire for “things to be different” is really no more insane than a person who wishes they could redo yesterday. It’s not possible.
Why Does It Suck
The only fault I can imagine someone finding with this book is that the language Marcus Aurelius uses can be very “over the top” so to speak. Don’t get me wrong, it’s beautiful and I love it. But there certainly were times where I wished he just cut to the chase.
I also believe there are higher truths out there, mainly spiritual truths. And I can’t say Aurelius was really aware of any of these, although he might have been. So there is another level even beyond this book. Don’t think the journey ends here.
The Wrap Up
Mediations is a life-changing, beautiful work that will transform your entire life if you can see the wisdom written here and apply it over the years. I love this book and will continue to read it many times in the future. Highly recommended for anyone.