05 July 2020

Lessons from the book : Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

I got 'meditations' by Marcus Aurelis as a Father's day gift(2020). I actually chose the book. The family happily gifted it. The book has been on my reading list for a while, especially after I read the 'The daily stoic'. The Daily Stoic by Ryan holiday does an excellent job of articulating principles of stoicism, but I have always wanted to read the sourcebook. This is it.

Below are some of my notes or learnings which i took while reading the book. I took the help of my daughter to type up some notes, so I can share the lessons from the book 'Meditations' with others and hopefully help spread the word of Stoicism and writings of Marcus Aurelius to others.

Marcus Aurelius Wrote this diary "To Himself" as the original title, during the intervals of the battle.

Before I jump into sharing my learnings and specific quotes from The legend here are some observations on the book itself:
  1. It's a short book but may not be a short read.  
  2. English writing can be very cryptic at times
  3. Some pages are loaded with wisdom and points. So, take the time to read and absorb.
  4. Reflection is part of reading this book. I found myself reflecting on some thoughts post reading through it.
  5. It goes to show that even in 100 AD and before, men have always faced the biggest challenges in front of them. Most of them begin within the heads. hence, "tame your own mind" continues to be the age-old wisdom.
Now, let me share some of the quotes from his book, which I thought are extremely valuable. Some of these, you have to read a couple of times to let them sink in. It is amazing still that thousands of years ago, someone was thinking and answering what we constantly battle with, even today.

On Focus and getting things done

  • "Do not act as if you were going to live ten thousand years. Death hangs over you. While you live, while it is in your power, be good. How much trouble he avoids who does not look to see what his neighbor says or does or thinks, but only to what he does himself, that it may be just and pure: or as Agathon says, look not round at the depraved morals of others, but run straight along the line without deviating from it."
  • "Very short time both you and he will be dead; and soon even your names will be left behind. Note that everything that happens, happens justly, and if you observe carefully, you will find it to be so, not only with respect to the continuity of the series of things but with respect to what is just, as if it were done one by one who assigns to each thing its value. The other to change your opinion if anyone sets you right and dissuades you from any opinion. But this change just of opinion must proceed only from a genuine conviction about what is just or of common advantage, and the like, not because it appears pleasant or brings reputation."

On Thankfulness & meeting crazy people

  • "Begin the morning by saying to yourself, I shall meet with the busybody, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial. I can neither be injured by any of them, for no one can fix on me."
  • "Show those qualities then that is altogether in your power: sincerity, gravity, the endurance of labor, aversion to pleasure, contentment with your portion and with a simple life, benevolence, frankness, no love of superfluity, freedom from trifling magnanimity. Do you see how many qualities you are immediately able to? One man, when he has done a service to another, is ready to set it down to his account as a favor conferred. Another is not ready to do this but still thinks of the man as his debtor, and he knows what he has done. A third in a manner does not even know what he has done, but he is like a vine that has produced grapes and seeks nothing more after it has once produced its proper fruit. So a man when he has done a good act, does not call out for others to come and see, but he goes to another act."
    • Marcus explains that there is so much more to you than keeping records of the help you did for someone. instead, keep going. There are a lot of people who just are busy keeping records. Instead, continue working on the qualities which you have been given and shower those flowers everywhere.
  • "Judge every word and deed that are naturally fit for you, and do not be diverted by words of blame or criticism; if it is good do or say."

On focusing within and what others think

  • "How much trouble he avoids who does not look to see what his neighbor says does or think, but only to what he does himself, that it may be just and pure."
  • "Regulate every act and thought accordingly. But death and life, honor, and dishonor, pain and pleasure- all these things equally happen to good men and bad, being things which make us neither better nor worse. Therefore they are neither good nor bad."
  • "Labor willingly and diligently, undistracted, and aware of the common interest. Not either a man of many words or busy about too many things. Be cheerful also, and do not seek external help or the tranquillity that others give. A man then must stand erect, not be kept erect by others."
  • "Hippocrates, after curing many diseases, himself fell sick and died. Do not waste the remainder of your life in thoughts about others, when you do not refer your thoughts to some object of common utility. For you to lose the opportunity of doing something else when you have such thoughts as these. What is such a person doing, and why, and what is he saying, and what is he thinking of, and what is he thinking of, and what is he contriving, and whatever else of the kind makes us wander away from the observation of our own ruling power."
  • "Since the greatest part of what say and do is unnecessary, dispensing with such activities affords a man more leisure and less uneasiness. According on every occasion, a man should ask himself, Is this one of the unnecessary things? Now a man should take away not only unnecessary thoughts so that superfluous acts will not follow after. Don’t distract yourself. Make yourself all simplicity. Be sober in your relaxation."

On being humble and happy

  • "He was almost ready to give away without envy to those who possessed any particular faculty, such as that of eloquence or knowledge of the law of the morals, or of anything else."
  • "An olive falls off when it is ripe, blessing nature, who produced it and thanking the tree on which it grew. I am unhappy because this has happened to me. Not so: I am happy, though this has happened to me, because I continue free from pain, neither crushed by the present nor fearing the future. Accordingly, say and do everything in conformity with the soundest reason."
  • "Always observe how ephemeral and worthless human things are, and what was yesterday a speck of semen tomorrow will be a mummy or ashes. Pass then through this little space of time conformably to nature, and end your journey in content."

On Finding Purpose

  • "Let no act be done without a purpose, nor otherwise than according to the perfect principles of art. Men seek retreats for themselves. Most common sort of men. Whenever you choose to retire into yourself. Tranquillity; and tranquillity is nothing else than the good ordering of the mind. Constantly then give to yourself this retreat and renew yourself. And fundamental, which, as soon as you recur to them, will be sufficient to cleanse the soul completely, and to send you back free from all the discontent with the things to which you return."

On Opportunity

  • "Remember how long you have been putting off these things, and how often you have received an opportunity from the gods, and yet do not use it. That a limit of time is fixed for you, which if you do not use for clearing away the clouds from your mind, it will go and you will go, and it will never return. A man to do what you have in hand with perfect and simple dignity and feeling of affection and freedom and justice; give yourself relief from all other thoughts. You see how few things are, which if possessed by a man, enable him to live a life that flows in quiet, and is like the existence of the gods; for the gods on their part will require nothing more from him who observes these things. Give yourself time to learn something new and good, and cease to be whirled around. For those, too, are triflers who have wearied themselves in life by their activity and yet have no object to which to direct every movement and every thought. Those who do not observe the movements of their own mind must of necessity be unhappy. Offenses committed through desire are more blamable than those committed through anger."
  • "Never value anything as profitable that compels you to break your promise, to lose your self-respect, to hate any man, to suspect, to curse, to act the hypocrite, to desire anything that needs walls and curtains. He will go as readily as if he were going to do anything else that can be done with decency and order."

Living in the moment

  • "Reverence. Even if you were going to live three thousand years, and even ten thousand times that still remember that no man loses any other life than this which he now lives, nor lives any other than this which he now loses. For a man cannot lose either the past or the future: for what a man has not, how can anyone take this from him? It makes no difference whether a man shall see the same things during a hundred years or two hundred, or an infinite time; and the second, that he who lives longest and he who will die soonest lose just the same. The present is the only thing of which a man can be deprived if it is true that this is the only thing which he has, and that a man cannot lose something he does not already possess."
Overall, an excellent book to find inspiration from timeless principles. 
I have read the book from Ryan Holiday, The Daily stoic, and it's an excellent book however, going back to the classics is amazing if you get past the writing(at times).

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