I am fascinated by the Roman Empire. In particular, I have a keen interest in Stoic philosophy. Marcus Aurelius was one of the important figures in Stoicism. His philosophy, also known as Meditations was never intended to be published, rather they were sources of wisdom to guide him through his own journey of self-improvement.
It’s up to historical debate, but many will argue that Marcus Aurelius’s rule as emperor marked the end of Rome’s golden era. Shortly after his death, his son Commodus became emperor who in short was a colossal fuckup. His reign marked the beginning of the untimely fall of Rome. If you ever watched Gladiator, these names will seem familiar, but for historical context, it’s important to note that Russell Crowe’s character (Maximus) was fictional and the entirety of the movie was loosely based on real events. Yes, I was heartbroken when I actually learned the history because the movie is simply, the shit (the shit — something that kicks ass. Not to be confused with shit, which is something that sucks ass).
Today I wanted to share some words from Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations, and provide commentary on how to approach it today. I hope the words move you, help you to be kinder to yourself and others, and ultimately bring you a truth that is unique to you.
1. No one can lose either the past or future — how could anyone be deprived of what he/she does not possess. (Book 2–14)
Whether we like it or not, we are bound by the present moment. You may anguish over yesterday, or anticipate tomorrow, but you can only entertain these modes of thought right now. When losing a job, family member, relationship, or any other event that might drop us into a temporary well of despair, gather yourself and understand that at this moment right now the world is new, young, eternal and ready for you to take the next brave step forward. Clear the fires of yesterday and the anticipatory woes of tomorrow, and make this moment the best you can. Moments of clarity come into play when we block out the noise and give NOW precedence over everything.
2. Think of the whole of existence, of which you are the tiniest part: think of the whole of time, in which you have been assigned the brief and fleeting moment, think of destiny — what fraction that are you? (Book 5–24)
On the cosmic scale, our existence on this planet is a blink of an eye. Tomorrow, I’ll wake up to be 60 and many of the elders I hold dear will be gone. This can be scary, but when you approach our short lives with sincerity, good things blossom. When we are younger we have the impression that life is infinite, well at least I did. We may feel there’s always tomorrow, but for me getting older has been a humbling experience. It’s kept my ego checked, and has made me less reactionary to negative as well as positive events in life. Negative events don’t bother me as much, because time is finite and worrying about something yesterday robs the peace that can be attained today. Positive events bring me joy, but I hold onto them little, because the next moment is not to be missed. The fleeting of time has opened up a renewed sense of urgency. I don’t have tomorrow to forgive, I must do it now. I don’t have tomorrow to share the great things I have learned with others, I must do it now. I don’t have tomorrow to say I love you, I must do it now.
3. If someone can prove me wrong, and show me my mistake in any thought or action, I shall gladly change. I seek the truth, which never harmed anyone: the harm is to persist in ones’ own self-deception and ignorance. (Book 6–21)
The ability to be open-minded is a gift. As we grow older many of us run the risk of getting more ingrained into our views/beliefs making it harder to entertain a different perspective. I fell into this trap of rigidity but later realized that being open-minded is bringing out the potential to be better than yesterday. To listen to another’s view without emotionally reacting has challenged my previous ways of thinking and introduced new ones. When it comes down to it, we are not all that different.
4. Love only what falls your way and is fated for you. What could suit you more than that? (Book 7–57)
Gratitude is an important practice. When I was alone and without love, I turned towards gratitude and started to find love within. When I was dealing with unsettling family drama, I turned towards gratitude. Being grateful became infectious because it brought forth the feeling of abundance. I felt rich when I had little. I was happy to even have a family that I could have drama with and I was blessed beyond measure to have a few friends that I could call when needing a sounding board. As esoteric as it sounds, when I started to be thankful for what I have, more started to come. Nothing has changed, except I have more to be grateful for. I am thankful that you are reading this and hope it makes you grateful for what you have and that you realize that you have always been enough.
5. What dies does not pass out of the universe. If it remains here and is changed, then here too it is resolved into the everlasting constituent, which are the elements of the universe and you yourself. (Book 8-18)
Whether cremated and your ashes dance with the ether or buried and your body decomposes to bring new life to our planet, you and I, and everything that exists is part of this past comic clash we call Earth. We are bound by the invisible shackles to this planet, with no guarantee of a next time, but yet we are needed to keep existence alive because the matter from our bodies isn’t created nor destroyed, instead it is merely transferred giving another life a chance. Death is a phase and stark reality of the continuum we will all share, but this reminder is not one of morbidity, rather it’s the realization that time is precious. It helps me see my neighbor, family, friends and those that have wronged me, differently. I am quicker to forgive, more eager to live the next moment and less tied to what someone has or should have done to appease my existence. I can love without knowing, because we are here, together as one.
The fragility of the mind and spirit must be harnessed and worked on every day. Life is a beautiful path met with sorrow, pain, love, happiness, and joy. It’s up to each of us to walk this path the best we can. I hope you do.