Meditations on ‘Meditations’

“If someone puts to you the question ‘How is the name Antonius spelt?’, will you shout your way through each of the syllables? What then if they get angry? Will you lose your temper too? Will you not rather calmly go through the sequence of letters, telling each one in turn? So also in your life here remember that every duty is the completed sum of certain actions. You must observe these, without being disconcerted of answering others’ resentment with you own, but following each purpose methodically to its end.”

Sometimes I wish I had studied philosophy. Maybe even just as an elective in high school so that I felt like I had a decent foundation of knowledge. But alas, I have never. The only thing close to “studying philosophy” is when I am a bit too tipsy and start questioning life and its meaning and try to engage with the people around me. Other times is when I read an exceptional book like Meditations from Marcus Aurelius. Manalive. All that being said, I am probably not the most qualified person to discuss Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. At the same time however, I too am a person trying to navigate through life, does that not make me qualified already? So bear with me, while I organise my thoughts… and please, don’t hesitate to disagree.

Don’t be fooled however, I might sound jokey and fun, but Meditations is heavy, intense, motivational, thought-provoking, depressing, uplifting and really hard to read all at once. All I can say is I absolutely adored it, but it took me about 6 months to go through the whole thing. I could mull over half a page for days on end, or just read a whole chapter in one afternoon and still not get enough. Meditations is one of those books that you’ll probably read in the order it was intended in — but every once in a while you will open it on a random page and read something that will stay with you for the next fortnight at least. You’ll want to discuss some of it with people, or keep it all to yourself at other times. Meditations is not the answer to all the questions you have about life. But it’s a damn good book for referencing and reality-checking your thoughts.

So! About this man… Aurelius was a practitioner of Stoicism and an emperor of Rome some 2000 years ago. Time is of little matter here because his meditations actually can guide you a bit through life as we know it now. Meditations is literately a collection of Marcus Aurelius’ writings that he used as a source for his own guidance and self-improvement. He wrote the 12 books to himself. It is unlikely that Aurelius ever intended the writings to be published. You can read more praise and/or backstory here or here.

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

I started reading Meditations soon after I was getting slightly less catatonic last autumn. I was incredibly impatient with myself and wanted to learn and educate myself so I could grow and move on (what’s new?). I soon put Meditations away though, it was all overwhelmingly too much. It might be a big understatement to say that it was too early for me to read this then. Yet I have zero regrets for picking up Meditations back when I did. During that time I managed to read a couple of passages that struck a chord. Big time. Which helped a lot with getting my mind back on track — and still do, many moons later. I don’t want to sound dramatic, that’s not my style, but experiencing how something can strike a chord when you feel that numb, out of touch with reality and with oneself was, quite frankly, like I could breathe again.

“Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.”
“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”
“Think of yourself as dead. You have lived your life. Now, take what’s left and live it properly. What doesn’t transmit light creates its own darkness.”

Is it too late to put in a little disclaimer? For those who don’t know, in the past year I’ve stumbled upon a bit of a mental mess inside my brain. You could call it depression, if it makes it easier or more relatable. Getting at war with myself somehow really helped to start out the process of sorting myself out… (and learning to being more honest and open about it) a thing I now know we all should do if we’re not careful. Be kind to your mind, please!!

But moving on! I think that the lessons or statements that seem most ‘easy’ are actually the most hard to grasp, live by or ‘do’. I’m not one for over-simplifying everything — but yes, I am in search of simplicity. I do like to hold logic and reason high, I think you shouldn’t make this harder then they already are. Intuition is extremely important to me too. Even though I’m not quite sure how this all works. Reading these passages by Aurelius made me realise that questioning these things is only human. It makes me feel less of a weirdo. I don’t discuss the inner workings of my mind usually, so seeing it put into words so easily (?) gives me comfort. Does it make sense if I put it like this?

“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”
“Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself in your way of thinking.”

Meditating on Meditations has made me realise that we are all human, and we all do not really know what we are doing. There’s no absolute certainty to hold on to, and we as humans seem so desperate to want to cling onto things that are steady, certain. Yet, we don’t?

I certainly do not possess the skill to fully explain myself in simple terms. What I mean is, well let’s just say this from my own perspective. As an introvert…as me (?), I like to mull over things and make up my mind about things after really seeing things from different perspectives, and even then I like to be mindful about even different perspectives. Yet, if I live like that — especially after talking to people, I seem to not be a steadfast, unwavering, confident person… because I seem easily swayed in my opinion. But I realised again and again: opinions aren’t facts! Opinions don’t make me more confident, don’t make me more devoted, committed, steady. Unpredictable, maybe… but I wouldn’t say I’m unpredictable per se?

One of the things I realised from reading Meditations is that we so easily judge, form opinions, label things as to ‘make life easier’. Yet it only makes it that much harder if you’re not open-minded about it. If you’re not open-minded about it, you might limit yourself in your thinking. Do you catch my drift?

“I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinion of himself than on the opinion of others.”
“That which is really beautiful has no need of anything; not more than law, not more than truth, not more than benevolence or modesty.”
I am fully aware that I will probably need (and want) to reread Meditations many more times. If you’re looking for life lessons from a stoic, a good philosophy book — or just a very intense read: I’d highly recommend this book. Even though that wasn’t really the point of this post, but put it on your to-read list anyway. You’ll probably very much appreciate it at one time in your life. Or not. Do as you please. Have a lovely day! x