Meditations

By

Marcus Aurelius

My Thoughts

A look into the mind of one of history's most powerful people. Filled with knowledge on how to interact with others, being a good person and dealing with life in general.

Highlights & Summary Notes

Key takeaways:

  • Everything is nature, it comes from the soil and returns to the soil.
  • Life is fleeting and insignificant.
  • Don't lie or mislead.
  • Don't be jealous, only look to others if you are trying to help them.
  • Fame after death is overrated, those who remember you will also die one day.
  • Think about death often and as though it's right in front of you.
  • Don't crave gratification from good deeds, be content with the fact that you have helped someone else.
  • If you aren't getting on with someone either make a change or accept it and move on.
  • Anger is a mark of weakness.
  • Hold your own opinion of yourself higher than that of others.

Book One

It was the critic Alexander who put me on my guard against unnecessary fault-finding.

People should not be sharply corrected for bad grammar, provincialisms, or mispronunciation; it is better to suggest the proper expression by tactfully introducing it oneself in, say, one’s reply.

The qualities I admired in my father were his lenience, his firm refusal to be diverted from any decision he had deliberately reached.

No hint of jealousy showed in his prompt recognition of outstanding abilities, whether in public speaking, law, ethics, or any other department, and he took pains to give each man the chance of earning a reputation in his own field.

He never grew heated, as the saying is, to sweating-point; it was his habit to analyse and weigh every incident, taking his time about it, calmly, methodically, decisively, and consistently.

Book Two

Neither can I be angry with my brother or fall foul of him; for he and I were born to work together, like a man’s two hands, feet, or eyelids, or like the upper and lower rows of his teeth.

Think of your many years of procrastination; how the gods have repeatedly granted you further periods of grace, of which you have taken no advantage.

Your time has a limit set to it.

Our mental powers should enable us to perceive the swiftness with which all things vanish away: their bodies in the world of space, and their remembrance in the world of time.

This means that the longest life and the shortest amount to the same thing. For the passing minute is every man’s equal possession, but what has once gone by is not ours.

First, that all the cycles of creation since the beginning of time exhibit the same recurring pattern, so that it can make no difference whether you watch the identical spectacle for a hundred years, or for two hundred, or for ever.

Secondly, that when the longest-and the shortest-lived of us come to die, their loss is precisely equal. For the sole thing of which any man can be deprived is the present; since this is all he owns, and nobody can lose what is not his.

Book Three

We must press on, then, in haste; not simply because every hour brings us nearer to death, but because even before then our powers of perception and comprehension begin to deteriorate.

Do not waste what remains of your life in speculating about your neighbours, unless with a view to some mutual benefit.

Avoid talkativeness, avoid officiousness.

In a mind that is disciplined and purified there is no taint of corruption, no unclean spot nor festering sore.

Treat with respect the power you have to form an opinion

Remember that man lives only in the present, in this fleeting instant: all the rest of his life is either past and gone, or not yet revealed.

This mortal life is a little thing, lived in a little corner of the earth; and little, too, is the longest fame to come – dependent as it is on a succession of fast-perishing little men who have no knowledge even of their own selves, much less of one long dead and gone.

Book Four

Take no enterprise in hand at haphazard, or without regard to the principles governing its proper execution.

What does not corrupt a man himself cannot corrupt his life, nor do him any damage either outwardly or inwardly.

Do not copy the opinions of the arrogant, or let them dictate your own, but look at things in their true light.

Live not as though there were a thousand years ahead of you. Fate is at your elbow; make yourself good while life and power are still yours.
A good man does not spy around for the black spots in others, but presses unswervingly on towards his mark.

The man whose heart is palpitating for fame after death does not reflect that out of all those who remember him every one will himself soon be dead also, and in course of time the next generation after that, until in the end, after flaring and sinking by turns, the final spark of memory is quenched.

All things fade into the storied past, and in a little while are shrouded in oblivion

Observe carefully what guides the actions of the wise, and what they shun or seek.

Book Five

Was it for pleasure, then, that you were born, and not for work, not for effort?

Do not be put off by the criticisms or comments that may follow; if there is something good to be done or said, never renounce your right to it. Those who criticize you have their own reason to guide them, and their own impulse to prompt them; you must not let your eyes stray towards them, but keep a straight course and follow your own nature and the World-Nature (and the way of these two is one).

Cultivate these, then, for they are wholly within your power: sincerity, for example, and dignity; industrousness, and sobriety. Avoid grumbling; be frugal, considerate, and frank; be temperate in manner and in speech; carry yourself with authority.

There are two reasons, then, why you should willingly accept what happens to you: first, because it happens to yourself, has been prescribed for yourself, and concerns yourself, being a strand in the tapestry of primordial causation; and secondly, because every individual dispensation is one of the causes of the prosperity, success, and even survival of That which administers the universe.

To pursue the unattainable is insanity, yet the thoughtless can never refrain from doing so.

Reflect often upon the rapidity with which all existing things, or things coming into existence, sweep past us and are carried away.

Book Six

Look beneath the surface: never let a thing’s intrinsic quality or worth escape you.

To refrain from imitation is the best revenge.

Because a thing is difficult for you, do not therefore suppose it to be beyond mortal power. On the contrary, if anything is possible and proper for man to do, assume that it must fall within your own capacity.

Think often of the bond that unites all things in the universe, and their dependence upon one another.

All that befalls the good of the individual is for the good of the whole.

Try to move men by persuasion; yet act against their will if the principle of justice so direct. But if someone uses force to obstruct you, then take a different line; resign yourself without a pang, and turn the obstacle into an opportunity for the exercise of some other virtue.

The man of ambition seeks to find his good in the operations of others; the man of pleasure in his own sensations; but the man of understanding in his own actions.

What is no good for the hive is no good for the bee.

Book 7

A man's worth is no greater than the worth of his ambitions.

Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.

Soon you will have forgotten the world, and soon the world will have forgotten you.

Do away with all fancies. Cease to be passion's puppet. Limit time to the present. Meditate upon your last hour. Leave your neighbours wrongdoings to rest with him who initiated it.

'A man has only one thing to consider when performing any action: that is, whether he is acting rightly or wrongly, like a good man or a bad one' (From Plato.)

Cast no side glance at the instincts governing other men, but keep your eyes fixed on the goal whereto nature herself guides you.

Take it that you have died today, and your life's story is ended; and henceforward regard what further time may be given you as an uncovenanted surplus, and live it out in harmony with nature.

When you have done a good action, and another has had the benefit of it, why crave for yet more in addition - applause for your kindness, or some favour in return - as the foolish do?

Book 8

If possible, make a habit to discover the essential character of every impression, its effect on the self, and its response to a logical analysis.

To change your mind and defer to correction is not to sacrifice your independence; for such an act is your own, in pursuance of your own impulse, your own judgment, and your own thinking.

We have three relationships: one to this bodily shell which envelops us, one to the divine Cause which is the source of everything in all things, and one to our fellow-mortals around us.

Accept modestly; surrender gracefully.

I, who have never wilfully pained another, have no business to pain myself.

If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing but to your own estimate; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.

How can a man be pleased with himself, when he repents of well-nigh everything he does?

Men exist for each other. Then either improve them, or put up with them.

Book 9

It is a sin to pursue pleasure as a good and to avoid pain as an evil. It is bound to result in complaints that Nature is unfair in her rewarding of vice and virtue; since it is the bad who are so often in enjoyment of pleasures and the means to obtain them, while the pains and events that occasion pains descend upon the heads of the good.

If a man is afraid of pain, he is afraid of something happening which will be part of the appointed order of things, and this is itself a sin; if he is bent on the pursuit of pleasure, he will not stop at acts of injustice, which again is manifestly sinful.

Work yourself hard, but not as if you were being made a victim, and not with any desire for sympathy or admiration. Desire one thing alone: that your actions or inactions alike should be worthy of a reasoning citizen.

Penetrate into their inmost minds, and you will see what manner of critics you are afraid of, and how capable they are of criticising themselves.

Leave another's wrongdoings where it lies.

First get at the nature and quality of the original cause, separate it from the material to which it has given shape, and study it; then determine the possible duration of its effects.

Book 10

Whatever befalls, Nature has either prepared you to face it or she has not. If something untoward happens which is within your powers of endurance, do not resent it, but bear it as she has enabled you to do.

If a man makes a slip, admonish him gently and show his his mistake. If you fail to convince him, blame yourself, or else blame nobody.

All parts of the Whole - by which I mean everything naturally comprehended in the universe - must in time decay; or to speak accurately, must suffer a change of form.

Realise the nature of all things material, observing how each of them is even now undergoing dissolution and change, and is already in process of decay, or dispersion or whatever other natural fate may be in store for it.

Let no one have the right to say truthfully of you that you are without integrity or goodness; should any think such thoughts, see that they are without foundation.

Book 11

Will anyone sneer at me? That will be his concern; mine will be to ensure that nothing I do or say shall deserve the sneer.

When offended. Remember the close bond between myself and the rest of mankind. If what they are doing is right, you have nor claim to be annoyed. You yourself offend in various ways, and are no different from them. You have no assurance that they are doing wrong at all, for the motives of men's actions are not always what they seem. Tell yourself, when you feel exacerbated and out of all patience, that this mortal life endures but a moment; it will not be long before we shall one and all have been laid to rest.

Anger is as much a mark of weakness as it is grief; in both of them men receive a wound, and submit defeat.

The Spartans used to seat their guests out of the dun at all public spectacles, and themselves sat where they could.

Accept no favour which you cannot repay.

Book 12

I often marvel how it is that though each man loves himself beyond all else, he should yet value his own opinion of himself less than that of others.

Abstain then from all thoughts of blame.

If it is not the right thing to do, never do it; if it is not the truth, never say it. Keep your impulses in hand.

The passing moment is all that a man can ever live or lose.

How is my soul's helmsman going about his task? For in that lies everything. All else, within my control or beyond it, is dead bones and vapour.