Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

  • Authors: Marcus Aurelius & Gregory Hays
  • Get the book: Amazon
  • Rating: 7/10.

High-level summary

Marcus Aurelius was a Stoic philosopher and the last of the Five Good Emperors. This book contains some of the stoic wisdom Aurelius wrote down throughout his life. From dealing with misfortune, to having clear principles to guide you, to applying Stoicism.

The book contains some notes that make zero sense without knowing the context of what situation Aurelius found himself in. Some sound like personal reminders, others like drafts of ideas. It has some good nuggets, but it’s aimed at being able to survive, not thrive.

Notes

  • Philosophical study in ancient Rome was more practical than it is now. In Rome, philosophy was used as a set of rules to live by. Religion was about ritual and obedience, philosophy was more about having moral and ethical guidelines.
  • Objects & events are neutral. It’s our interpretation of it that determines whether or not we suffer. It’s therefor crucial we pay close attention to how we perceive and interpret things. The goal is to protect our mind from error.
  • Stoicism consists of 3 disciplines: will, action, and perception:
    1. Will means to accept events even if you don’t like it. => “The art of acquiescence” (reluctantly accepting something without complaint)
    2. Action means to treat others how they should be treated. What ‘should’ means is unclear.
    3. Perception means making sure we don’t interpret something in an irrational way.
  • Sins committed out of desire are worse than sins committed out of anger. The angry man commits a sin because he is in pain and something was done to him. The man who committed a crime out of desire did so because of self-indulgence and choice.
  • Justice, honesty, self-control, and courage are the most important things in life. They help you rationally accept what is outside of your control.
  • The thing that separates good men from bad men & animals is their commitment to justice, honesty, self-control, and courage. Animals can feel sensations just as humans can. Dictators follow their desires just like other people. Traitors use their brains just as much as good men. The good man, however, focuses on practicing the most important values.
  • External events will only harm you if you let them. Decide that it won’t harm you and it won’t.
  • Don’t worry about what other people are thinking of you. It can only harm you if you allow it. Events are neither good nor bad.
  • Keep seeing things for what they are. A piece of crispy bacon is a dead animal, fine wine is grape juice, sex is body parts rubbing against each other. The moment you convince yourself what you’re doing is super important is the moment pride has taken over.
  • If you’re scared of change remember that nothing in life can exist without it. Baking bread, traveling, even sleep are all change.
  • You have to put your life together piece by piece, action after action. There may be external obstacles, but there’s nothing stopping you from acting with justice, self-control, and good sense. Those things are all within your control. Accept external obstacles for what they are and carry on.
  • Don’t think of everything bad that can happen. Focus on the things right in front of you and ask yourself why you find it painful. The past doesn’t exist anymore and the future hasn’t happened yet. They have no power over you in the present moment. Only the present is important enough to care about, and even then the importance of objects and events should be minimized.
  • You can already be the person you want to become by letting go of the past and having the confidence that the future will sort itself out. You should only focus on guiding the present toward your goal.
  • You can get rid of your misconceptions anytime you want. You’re the only one holding on to them. But ask yourself why you’re holding on to them. What benefit do they give you?