Rome has had its ups and downs through history, its own fair share of good and bad rulers, but Marcus Aurelius will be remembered as one of Rome’s last good emperors and a man who genuinely cared about helping its citizens and learning about how to live a good life. It’s very rarely that we don’t associate ourselves with one philosophy or another, formally introduced or named or not. Marcus was no exception here and found that the method of viewing the world most conducive to productivity, personal growth and satisfaction was Stoicism. It’s a branch of Hellenistic philosophy founded by Zeno in Athens early 3rd century BC. Marcus Aurelius took their postulates to hart and wrote down some thoughts as a manual for himself to never forget, but they later became known as The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. No matter the span of millennia dividing us from this emperor of Rome and his own personal worries and battles, things he wrote about are so deeply human that they inevitably ring true to us today since they are not era specific but pertain to just being human and figuring out how to be the best most content and useful version of self. The Meditations hold infinite lessons, conclusions and advice and here are some to remind us of the things we’ve always known but tend to forget when life comes pouring down on us with all it has.
1. Do not waste what remains of your life in speculating about your neighbours. Anything that distracts you from fidelity to the ruler within you means a loss of opportunity for some other task – meaning – Ignore what others are doing.
This one may be especially important for us today when the world economy is powered on envy and social media are a means to generate and enhance this envy by posting the perfect reel of our highlights for others to stare at. The more you scroll you can’t help but constantly compare and your shirts are never white enough, your kitchen never organized or clean enough, your food pictures never picture perfect enough. So we start worrying what others think of us and will what we’re doing be confirmed by likes. Translating our own view of self as something to be edited to suit the gaze of another is a dangerous game to play, distracting from our real goal in order to satisfy an image and it’s a very often taken road to depression. Stop being addicted to praise and acknowledgment and getting frustrated by it never being enough. Focus on what is important – to you, for you. Spend less time on social media and more time really socializing.
2. Life is but what you deem it. Life is opinion – meaning we choose the world we live in and shape it by our own thoughts, opinions and emotions. There is no objective reality and the world is first created within before it manifests on the outside. Sure, circumstances can get hard and you may not have any real control over them, but you always have a choice to choose how you’re going to see and handle anything life throws you. None of us asked to have our businesses and health endangered by the pandemic, but it is here now. How any of us choose to use this time, be it for worry, complaining or germ phobic paranoia, or as an opportunity for some self-reflection and growth, change of habits, beautification of a living space… this is completely up to you.
3. If thou wouldst know contentment, let thy deeds be few, better still limit them strictly to such as are essential – meaning stop hiding behind “busy” all the time. Do less, do what is necessary and don’t pretend that being busy equals productivity or usefulness. So many things we do and say are unnecessary and we’re just going through the motions of useless actions.. Clean up your schedule from the inessentials you don’t want to do anyway. Stop spending ridiculous amounts of time watching things you are not that interested in, having empty meaningless conversations, buying craps that clutters your life and then spending more time getting rid of it. Do less, have less. Limit your actions and possessions to necessary and minimal. Clean up and streamline your lifestyle Elegance is in removing anything that is unessential and a distraction.
4. Take it that you have died today and your life story is ended […] regard what further time may be given you as an unconvenant surplus – meaning memento mori. Remember you are mortal and imagine you have died. Really try to imagine this and take all of the time from that moment on as extra time given. Something strange happens to people when faced with a near death experience or when they are given a terminal diagnosis. They stop wasting time and become more honest, reminded by this jolt how really limited our time here is. It’s like a wake up slap that makes us become more of who we are. Distractions have no more power and each new day is viewed as a gift and blessing, as it should be. Unshaken by our inevitable mortality we can easily slip into the illusion of having forever and postponing important things to “someday”. A lot of dreams die in the wasteland of “someday” which never comes. Remember your time is limited and take that into consideration when saying “yes” to things. Say “no” more often to free up your time for the things you really want to say “yes” to.