Meditations, Marcus Aurelius

Book Two

When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly. They are like this because they can't tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own - not of the same blood or birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me. No one can implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my relative, or hate him.

Concentrate every minute like a Roman - like a man - on doing what's in front of you with precise and genuine seriousness, tenderly, willingly, with justice. And on freeing yourself from all other distractions. Yes, you can - if you do everything as if it were the last thing you were doing in your life, and stop being aimless, stop letting your emotions override what your mind tells you, stop being hypocritical, self-centered, irritable. You see how few things you have to do to live a satisfying and reverent life? If you can manage this, that's all even the gods can ask of you.

Do external things distract you? Then make time for yourself to learn something worthwhile; stop letting yourself be pulled in all directions. But make sure you guard against the other kind of confusion. People who labor all their lives but have no purpose to direct every thought and impulse toward are wasting their time - even when hard at work.

Ignoring what goes on in other people's souls - no one ever came to grief that way. But if you won't keep track of what your own soul's doing, how can you not be unhappy?

The present is the same for everyone; its loss is the same for everyone; and it should be clear that a brief instant is all that is lost. For you can't lose either the past or the future; how could you lose what you don't have?

Everything is just an impression.

Book Three

You need to avoid certain things in your train of though: everthing random, everything irrelevant. And certainly everything self-important or malicious. You need to get used to winnowing your thoughts, so that if someone says, "What are you thinking about?" you can respond at once (and truthfully) that you are thinking this or thinking that. And it would be obvious at once from your answer that your thoughts were straightforward and considerate ones - the thoughts of an unselfish person, one unconcerned with pleasure and with sensual indulgence generally, with squabbling, with slander and envy, or anything else you'd be ashamed of thinking.

[...] an athlete in the greatest of all contests - the struggle not to be overwhelmed by anything that happens.

To care for all human beings is part of being human. Which doesn't mean we have to share their opinion. We should listen only to those whose lives conform to nature. And the others? He bears in mind what sort of people they are - both at home and abroad, by night as well as day - and who they spend their time with. And he cares nothing for their praise - men who can't even meet their own standards.

To stand up straight - not straightened.

Your ability to control your thoughts - treat it with respect. It's all that protects your mind from false perceptions - false to your nature, and that of all rational beings. It's what makes thoughtfulness possible, and affection for other people, and submission to the divine.

Book 4

Our inward power, when it obeys nature, reacts to events by accomodating itself to what it faces - to what is possible. It needs no specific material. It pursues its own aims as circumstances allow; it turns obstacles into fuel.

People try to get away from it all - to the country, to the beach, to the mountains. You always wish that you could too. Which is idiotic: you can get away from it anytime you like.

By going within.

Nowhere you can go is more peacful - more free of interruptions - than your own soul.

Is it your reputation that is bothering you? But look at how soon we're all forgotton. The abyss of endless time that swallows it all. The emptiness of all those applauding hands. The people who praise us - how capricious they are, how arbitraty. And the tiny region in which it all takes place. The whole earth is a point in space - and most of it unhabited. How many people there will be to admire you, and who they are.

Among the things you turn to, these two:

i. That things have no hold on the soul. They stand there unmoving, outside it. Disturbance comes only from within - from our own perceptions.

ii. That everything you see will soon alter and cease to exist. Think of how many changes you've already seen.

The world is nothing but change. Our life is only perceptions.

That sort of person is bound to do that. You might as well resent a fig tree for secreting juice.

Choose not to be harmed - and you won't feel harmed. Don't feel harmed - and you haven't been.

It can ruin your life only if it ruins your character. Otherwise it cannot harm you - inside or out.

Not to live as if you had endless years ahead of you. Death overshadows you. While you're alive and able - be good.

The tranquillity that comes when you stop caring what they say. Or think, or do. Only what you do.

<...> not to be distracted by their darkness. To run straight for the finish line, unswerving.

If you seek tranquillity, do less. Or (more accurately) do what's essential - what the logos of a social being requires, and in the requisite way. Which brings a double satisfaction: to do less, better.

Because most of what we say and do is not essential. If you can eliminate it, you'll have more time, and more tranquillity. Ask yourself at every moment, "Is this necessary?"

Love the discipline you know, and let it support you.

The value of attentiveness varies in proportion to its object. You're better off not giving the small things more time than they deserve.

Look into their minds, at what the wise do and what they don't.

To be like the rock that the waves keep crashing over. It stands unmoved and the raging of the sea falls still around it.

- It's unfortunate that this has happened.

No. It's fortunate that this has happened and I've remained unharmed by it - not shattered by the present or frightened of the future. It could have happened to anyone. But not everyone could have remained unharmed by it.

Book Five

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 as 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?

- But we have to sleep sometime...

Agreed. But nature set a limit on that - as it did on eating and drinking. And you're over the limit. You've had more than enough of that. But not of working. There you're still below your quota.

To shrug it all off and wipe it clean - every annoyance and distraction - and reach utter stillness.

Child's play.

If the things themselves were good, it could hardly be good to give them up. But in reality the more we deny ourselves such things - or are deprived of them involuntarily, even - the better we become.

The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting.

The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.

True good fortune is what you make for yourself. Good fortune: good character, good intentions, and good actions.

Book Six

The best revenge is not to be like that.

Like seeing roasted meat and other dishes in front of you and suddenly realizing: This is a dead fish. A dead bird. A dead pig. Or that this noble vintage is grape juice, and the purple robes are sheep wool dyed with shellfish blood.

Perceptions like that - latching onto things and piercing through them, so we see what they really are. That's what we need to do all the time - all through our lives when things lay claim to our trust - to lay them bare and see how pointless they are, to strip away the legend that encrusts them.

Pride is the matster of deception: when you think you're occupied in the weightiest business, that's when it has you in his spell.

Not to assume it's impossible because you find it hard. But to recognize that if it's humanly possible, you can do it too.

Nothing has meaning to my mind except its own actions. Which are within its own control. And it's only the immediate ones that matter. Its past and future actions too are meaningless.

Remember that our efforts are subject to circumstances; you weren't aiming to do the impossible.

- Aiming to do what then?

To try. And you succeeded. What you set out to do is accomplished.

Ambition means tying your well-being to what other people say or do.

Self-indulgence means tying it to the things that happen to you.

Sanity means tying it to your actions.

You don't have to turn this into something. It doesn't have to upset you. Things can't shape our decisions by themselves.

Practice really hearing what people say. Do your best to get inside their minds.

Book Seven

Our own worth is measured by what we devote our energy to.

So many who were remembered already forgotten, and those who remembered them long gone.

It doesn't hurt me unless I interpret its happening as harmful to me. I can choose not to.

What are you doing here, Perceptions? Get back to where you came from, and good riddance. I don't need you. Yes, I know, it was only force of habit that brough you. No, I'm not angry with you. Just go away.

They haven't really hurt you. They haven't dimished your ability to choose.

Treat what you don't have as nonexistent. Look at what you have, the things you value most, and think of how you'd crave them if you didn't have them. But be careful. Don't feel such satisfaction that you start to overvalue them - that it would upset you to lose them.

[On Ambition:] How their minds work, the things they long for and fear. Events like piles of sand, drift upon drift - each one hidden by the next.

Why should we feel anger at the world?

As if the world would notice!

If you want to talk about people, you need to look down on the earth from above.

Think of yourself as dead. You have lived your life. Now take what's left and live it properly.

Book Eight

Stick to what's in front of you - idea, action, utterance.

This is what you deserve. You could be good today. But instead you choose tomorrow.

To accept it without arrogance, to let it go with indifference.

Just as nature takes every obstacle, every impediment, and works around it - turns it to its purposes, incorporates it into itself - so, too, a rational being can turn each setback into raw material and use it to achieve its goal.

Don't let your imagination be crushed by life as a whole. Don't try to picture everything bad that could possibly happen. Stick with the situation at hand, and ask, "Why is this so unbearable? Why can't I endure it?" You'll be embarrassed to answer.

People out for posthumous fame forget that the Generation To Come will be the same annoying people they know now.

External things are not the problem. It's your assessment of them. Which you can erase now.

Stick with first impressions. Don't extrapolate. And nothing can happen to you.

You want praise from people who kick themselves every fifteen minutes, the approval of people who despise themselves?

Book Nine

To do harm is to do yourself harm. To do an injustice is to do yourself an injustice - it degrades you.

And you can also commit injustice by doing nothing.

Today I escaped from anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions - not outside.

Enter their minds, and you'll find the judges you're so afraid of - and how judiciously they judge themselves.

Endless suffering - all from not allowing the mind to do its job. Enough.

Do what nature demands. Get a move on - if you have it in you - and don't worry whether anyone will give you credit for it. And don't go expecting Plato's Republic; be satisfied with even the smallest progress, and treat the outcome of it all as unimportant.

Remembering that the whole class has to exist will make you more tolerant of its members.

Isn't it yourself you should reproach - for not anticipating that they'd act this way? The logos gave you the means to see it - that a given person would act a given way - but you paid no attention. And now you're astonished that he's gone and done it.

Book Ten

You can endure anything your mind can make endurable, by treating it as in your interest to do so.

To stop talking about what the good man is like, and just be one.

Possibilities:

i. To keep living (you should be used to it by now)

ii. To end it (it was your choice, after all)

iii. To die (having met your obligations)

Those are the only options. Reason for optimism.

Stop whatever you're doing for a moment and ask yourself: Am I afraid of death because I won't be able to do this anymore?

When faced with people's bad behavior, turn around and ask when you have acted like that. When you saw money as a good, or pleasure, or social position. Your anger will subside as soon as you recognize that they acted under compulsion.

Or remove the compulsion, if you can.

Keep at it, until it's fully digested. As a strong stomach digests whatever it eats. As a blazing fire takes whatever you throw on it, and makes it light and flame.

Learn to ask of all actions, "Why are they doing that?"

Starting with your own.

Book Eleven

Characteristics of the rational soul:

Self-perception, self-examination, and the power to make of itself whatever it wants.

It reaps its own harvest, unlike plants, whose yield is gathered by others.

The despicable phoniness of people who say, "Listen, I'm going to level with you here." What does that mean? It shouldn't even need to be said. It should be obvious - written in block letters on your forehead. It should be audible in your voice, visible in your eyes, like a lover who looks into your faces and takes in the whole story at a glance. A straightforward, honest person should be like someone who stinks: when you're in the same room with him, you know it. But false straightforwardness is like a knife in the back.

To live a good life:

We have the potential for it. If we can learn to be indifferent to what makes no difference. This is how we learn: by looking at each thing, both the parts and the whole.

When you start to lose your temper, remember: There's nothing manly about rage. It's courtesy and kindness that define a human being - and a man. That's who possesses strength and nerves and guts, not the angry whiners. To react like that brings you closer to impassivity - and so to strength. Pain is the opposite of strength, and so is anger. Both are things we suffer from, and yield to.

This advice from Epicurean writings: to think continually of one of the men of old who lived a virtuous life.

Book Twelve

It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own.