Something like a year ago I went into a bookstore and bought myself a few classics. Among them was Marcus Aurelius' Meditations. I knew Aurelius from name and it is usually sufficient for me to buy a book. If it has passed the test of age, there is certainly something of value in it for me. Other than that I had no idea what to expect.
Self-harm, my soul, you are doing self-harm: and you will have no more opportunity for self-respect. Life for each of us is a mere moment, and this life of yours is nearly over, while you still show yourself no honour, but let your own welfare depend on other people's souls.
Marcus Aurelius - Meditations - 2.6
There is something intimate and reassuring in reading the self-reflections of a fellow human being and see that they are the masterful expression of intuitions you have unknowingly been looking for. That these thoughts belong to Roman emperor who lived circa 1900 years ago certainly tells something about the intemporality of human experience. A communion, showing you that you are not alone in your doubts and struggles neither in space nor time.
Accept humbly: let go easily.
Marcus Aurelius - Meditations - 8.33
It turns out that Aurelius belongs to a long line of Philosophers called Stoicists. Other great reads from this philosophical trend include Seneca's Letters from a Stoic and Epictetus' Enchiridion (I must have read that manual like 20 times already). In the video below Prof. Massimo Pigliucci (who has a great blog about stoicism) gives a brilliant introduction to stoicism and how its simple concepts still apply to our own daily lives.
Simply put stoicism is based on two fundamental pillars:
- The 4 cardinal virtues:
- Practical wisdom: Knowledge of what is good for you / not good for you.
- Courage: Do the right thing.
- Justice: Know what the right thing is.
- Temperance: Always do things in the right measure.
- The dichotomy of control: Some things are up to us, other things are not up to us. Only worry about the former, never about the latter.
Some things are within our power, while others are not. Within our power are opinion, motivation, desire, and, in a word, whatever is of our own doing; not within our power are our body, our property, reputation, and, in a word, whatever is not of our own doing.
Epictetus - Enchiridion 1.1
In everything you do, only attach your self-esteem to the intent, which is under your control, not to the outcome which is not. The outcome is to be chosen, but not to be desired.
Finally decide that you are an adult who is going to devote the rest of your life to making progress. Abide by what seems best as if it were an inviolable law. When faced with anything painful or pleasurable, anything bringing glory or disrepute, realize that the crisis is now, that the Olympics have started, and waiting is no longer an option; that the chance for progress, to keep or lose, turns on the events of a single day. That's how Socrates got to be the person he was, by depending on reason to meet his every challenge. You're not yet Socrates, but you can still live as if you want to be him.
Epictetus - Enchiridion 51.2