My overall impression of this classic is that it is overrated. Perhaps with this, I am really judging the translation because it was a pretty hard read even when I’m someone who is actually used to reading hard, academic books. I read Robin Hard’s translation, which featured an introduction and selected correspondences between Marcus Aurelius and his teacher, Marcus Fronto. I really don’t expect my impression to change much even if I read a different translation.
Despite this, I think it was a great gateway to the philosophy of Stoicism and I did found a few valuable lessons on how to live life from the book. Interestingly, some of these are lessons I first learned from reading Eastern philosophy. This convinces me all the more that the themes in the art of living are universal.
Also, Marcus had a couple of really weird and quirky metaphors that struck me. These hidden gems provided the much needed comic relief to a rather dull and monotonous ancient book.
Here are, in my opinion, the Meditations’ greatest hits delivered through direct quotes, paraphrases, and commentaries.
2.2 Fuckin’ grow up dude!
2.5, 2.11 Perform every action as though it is your last. (I find this really interesting. We’re more familiar with the modern adage, “Live this day as if it was your last.” Marcus intensified this by encouraging us to focus on the tiniest unit of life—our actions. Frequent awareness of one’s mortality is a constant topic throughout the Meditations and it is a happiness practice that modern positive psychology supports.)
2.11 Things that happen to both good and bad people are not innately good or bad. They just happen. This is similar to a belief I am partial to called “ethical nihilism.”
2.12 Don’t be afraid of death.
2.14 The present moment is all that matters. (Mindfulness is not just a Buddhist concept!)
2.17 Philosophy is a practical guide to life.
3.1 Don’t procrastinate. Death can happen anytime and old age will make it impossible for you to do what you want to do
3.4 Comparing yourself to others deprive you of the energy you could use to work on yourself.
3.11 Approach life methodically. This is where Marcus laid down his process of thinking.
4.3 You don’t need to retreat to a place. You can easily retreat within yourself.
4.7 If you give up victimhood, you stop being a victim.
4.11 See things as they truly are.
4.19 Thinking about your legacy is idiocy. Those who will remember you after you die will themselves die eventually. And even if your legacy continues, come on, your’re dead! What use is that to you?
4.20 “Is this necessary?” Ask this to actions and ideas. If the answer is “No,” eliminate.
4.31 Love the art that you have learned and take your rest in it.
4.32 The returns should determine the amount of effort you put on any activity.
4.36 Universal nature is all about changes. (“Change” is not just a Chinese concept!)
4.39 Nothing is bad on its own. Your mind creates value judgments: statements about things being bad or good. This is a very amoralist stance which is similar to the Buddhist concept of nonjudgment.
5.3 Never mind the opinion of others. Follow your own mind.
5.5 Be grateful of your qualities and talents.
5.6 Do something good then move on. No need to announce or boast it.
5.11 Ask yourself this always: “To what purpose am I presently using my soul?”
5.16 “Where it is possible to live, there it is also possible to live well.”
5.20 The obstacle is the way. (This is where Ryan holiday took it!)
5.23 Everything pass including your troubles. So chill.
5.28 “You are angry with a man if he smells of stale sweat, or has bad breath? What good will it do you? He has such a mouth, he has such armpits; and being as they are, such exhalations are bound to arise from them. ‘Yes, but the man is endowed with reason, and if he would only think, he could recognize his fault.’ Gracious me, you have reason too, so set his powers of reason to work by making use of your own! Show him his fault, call it to his attention; for if he listens, you will cure him, and there will be no need for anger.” (Haha, laugh trip!)
5.29 Smoke fills the room, and I leave it: why think it any great matter?
6.6 “The best way to avenge yourself is not to become as they are.”
6.11 Great advice for building habits: “Never miss twice. Return to your equilibrium immediately.”
6.12 Outer work vs. Inner work
6.13 “So follow this practice throughout your life, and where things seem most worthy of your approval, lay them naked, and see how cheap they are, and strip them of the pretences of which they are so vain.”
6.15 Change renews.
6.18 Legacy is useless.
6.19 If others can do it, so can you.
6.21 The pursuit of truth requires that you are willing to change your mind.
6.22 Focus on your own duty.
6.27 Even bad behavior is useful because it satisfies a particular need. Anger against bad behavior is not the best response—truthful correction is.
6.28 Death is a rest from our impulses.
6.47 In this world, there is only one thing of real value, to pass our days in truth and justice, and yet be gracious to those who are false and unjust.
6.49 Be contented with the time given to you in this world.
6.53 “Acquire the habit of attending carefully to what is being said by another; and of entering, so far as possible, into the mind of the speaker.”
7.7 Don’t be ashamed of receiving help.
7.8 Don’t let the future trouble your mind.
7.18 Do not be afraid of change.
7.21 Close is the time when you will forget all things; and close, too, the time when all will forget you.
7.27 Be grateful for what you have. But not too much you can’t let go when they’re gone.
7.28 Your mind can be a source of serenity, a place of rest.
7.34 Famous people are easily replaced by new famous people.
7.46 How can you live your best life possible in the time granted to you?
7.58 “Only pay attention, and resolve to act rightly in your own eyes in all that you do.”
7.59 “Dig within; for within you lies the fountain of good, and it can always be gushing forth if only you always dig.”
7.61 Life is not a dance. It is a wrestling match.
7.63 People don’t intentionally become ignorant. If you remember this, you’ll be more empathetic.
7.64 Happiness in life depends on very few conditions.
7.68 You can preserve peace of mind even in the middle of chaos.
7.69 “Perfection of character requires this, that you should live each days as though it were your last, and be neither agitated, nor lethargic, nor act a part.”
7.70 It is impossible to escape from the wickedness of others. It’s very possible to escape from yours.
7.74 Do not be tired of receiving benefits!
8.16 Changing your mind to follow someone else’s advice is still a free action—you acted, not someone else.
8.27 You have three relationships: (1) your relationship to yourself, (2) your relationship to God/Universe, and (3) your relationship with others.
8.28 Nothing painful comes from the outside. Pain is an internal judgment of a value-free phenomenon coming from the outside. The mind constructs pain and suffering. (Very Buddhist.)
8.32 You must fashion your life one action at a time, and if each attains its own end as far as it can, be satisfied with that.
8.33 “Accept without arrogance, relinquish without a struggle.”
8.36 Great therapeutic advice on dealing with problems. His advice: Let go of the past and future. Focus on the present. Interestingly, this advice sounds a lot like mindfulness.
8.44 “See that you award this present time to yourself.”
8.46 The universe doesn’t give you something you can’t endure.
8.48 The mind is a refuge.
8.49 “Always keep to first impressions.”
8.51 Independence + kindness + singularity + reverence = a resilient and temperate mind or life
8.52 To understand yourself, understand the Universe. Physics and metaphysics is important in learning how to live.
8.54 Thinking and learning should be like breathing—you observe what is arround you then you share it everywhere.
8.56 Each individual has a mind of his own.
8.60 The mind is like an arrow—sharp and accurate in hitting its mark.
9.11 If you can’t change people, then just be kind to them. Kindness is useful when you can no longer change people.
9.15 There is no value in the physical world. Value judgments are created by the mind.
9.21 Each change is a death. Death is just change, not something to be afraid of.
9.29 Do what you have to do even if nobody notices. Be satisfied to make even the smallest advance. “The work of philosophy is simple and modest; do not seduce me into vain ostentation.”
9.30 Neither remembrance nor fame nor anything else whatever is worth a passing thought.
10.16 Stop the talking. Just do it.
10.24 Great questions to ask about how one uses one’s mind.
10.35 A healthy mind should be ready for everything that could come about.
11.5 What is your profession? To be a good person.
11.9 It is possible to continue living according to your beliefs and being gentle toward those who oppose your beliefs.
11.15 “In short, a good and honest person should resemble one who smells like a goat in this respect, that anyone who comes near him is immediately aware of it whether he wishe it or not.” (Haha)
11.18 When annoyed and loosing patience, remember: you could die any time.
11.19 It is not the actions of others that trouble us. It is our interpretation/judgment/reaction to their actions that trouble us. Fix your interpretation and you will fix your trouble. Your anger towards a behavior will bring you more suffering than the behavior itself.
11.29 You cannot be an artist of life if you haven’t lived yet.
12.1 All those things which you hope to attain by a circuitous route, you can secure at this moment, if you do not deny them to yourself.
12.4 “So much greater is our respect for what our neighbors think of us than what we think of ourselves!
12.6 “Practice even at the things that you have lost all hope of achieving.”
12.17 “If something is not right, do not do it, if something is not true, do not say it; for you should keep your impulses under your own control.”
12.21 “In no great while you will be no one and nowhere, and nothing that you now behold will be in existence, nor will anyone now alive. For it is in the nature of all things to change and alter and perish, so that others may rise in their turn.”
12.23 One’s death is not bad. It is good and beneficial because it is according to the law of the universe.
12.26 “…the life of every one of us is confined to the present moment and this is all that we have.”
12.27 “…the pride that prides itself on its freedom from pride is the most objectionable pride of all.”
12.29 Our security in life is to see each things as it is in its full nature, in both its material and its causal aspect; and to do what is right and speak what is true with all our heart. What remains but to enjoy one’s life, linking one good act to another, so that not even the smallest space is ever left between?
12.32 “…imagine nothing to be of any great moment apart from this, that you should act as your own nature directs, and endure whatever universal nature brings.”
12.33 Everything rests on how you use your mind.