I’ve been reading Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations lately, and am much impressed by the last of the Five Good Emperors of Rome. Aurelius was one of the most notable Stoic philosophers. His work, his advice, are fresh and relevant, almost 2,000 years after his death, and I offer a little of it here.
Mostly, he writes of (and Stoicism propounds) the need to jettison thoughts about what we can’t control and focus on what we can. To live in the present moment fully, without worry or anxiety about the future, without regret about the past.
“Forget everything else. Keep hold of this alone and remember it: Each one of us lives only now, this brief instant. The rest has been lived already, or is impossible to see.”
It starts – and ends – within ourselves, in our own minds.
Worry and anxiety are akin to fear – and fear is nothing but a roadblock. It’s our fear, worry, and anxiety which afflict us, not external events beyond our control.
“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.”
We control our thoughts, and our thoughts influence our happiness. We don’t need to worry or to be anxious – what purpose, after all, does it serve? Does it help us address, now, what we need to do this minute? No, it does not.
Stoicism is about acceptance – of what reality is, of our purpose in life, and the duties laid on us by our purpose. It is about the rejection of unreal burdens, which are no more than figments of our imagination, so that we can shoulder the burdens we must.
“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 which I was brought into the world to do?”
When we worry about others’ opinions, aren’t we giving away our power of judgment to illusions? Because it is not actual people we are thinking of, but merely our mental images of them.
“How much time he gains who does not look to see what his neighbor says or does or thinks, but only at what he does himself, to make it just and holy.”
If we make our minds and our hearts havens of peace and acceptance, instead of engines churning out fears, we have a refuge no-one can take from us.
“Nowhere you can go is more peaceful — more free of interruptions — than your own soul.”
Marcus Aurelius speaks to me on a deep level – he reinforces precepts I’ve already found true and valuable and he shows me new ones which support and complement the old.
And I love this:
“Today I escaped from anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions; not outside.”
Because, in the end, our best and truest power is over ourselves, and the right – and righteous – exercise of that power can bring us peace in action.
What philosophers – or philosophies – speak to you? How do they help you take charge of your life?
Please click here to email me directly – I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Until next Wednesday –