The Urgent Wisdom of Marcus Aurelius

marcus a.

If someone can prove me wrong and show me my mistake in any thought or action, I shall gladly change.  I seek the truth, which never harmed anyone: the harm is to persist in one’s own ignorance.  – Marcus Aerelius, Meditations (Book 6)   

Over the holiday season, I had the good fortune of free time allowing me to read several books.  Among them was Marcus Aurelius’s famous collection of journal entries, “Meditations”.  For those requiring a refresher on Aurelius, he was a 2nd century Roman emperor steeped in Greek philosophy and one of the forefathers of what would become Stoicism.  Stoic philosophy has enjoyed a cultural renaissance as of late functioning as an antidote to our divisive political environment. It has emerged as a real frame to think about how we can individually rise above the frequent shallowness and contrived debates in our social media fueled lives.   And while I am not deeply educated in Stoic philosophy, I have found some of it’s leading figures including Aurelius, Seneca, and Epictetus to be deeply convincing.

Meditations struck me as urgently necessary at this particular point in our history.  It compels us to look within ourselves to make change before we project our insecurities outward.  It asks us to observe our own minds for obfuscations, limiting beliefs, and emotional hindrances.  It reminds us to establish and hold ourselves accountable to foundational values while exercising the discipline to abandon vanity, status, and gossip.  I could go on endlessly in admiration of the virtues that Aurelius extols.  But for the time being, I’ll enumerate one theme and several quotes that that I found especially important.

  1. The Reasoned Pursuit of Truth – At a time when political and cultural partisanship is historically acute, we must challenge ourselves to marshal the tools of philosophical reason to arrive at our conclusions.  Preconceived biases and emotion play too large of a role in the ways that we arrive at decisions.  We must apply what Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki called “Beginner’s Mind”, seeing each moment with fresh eyes devoid of established preconceptions and use intellectually honest means of logic to make better decisions  (see more on this Suzuki theory here:

“The directing mind is that which wakes itself, adapts itself, makes itself of whatever nature it wishes, and makes all that happens to it appear in the way it wants”.  Book 4

“Up, down, round and round are the motions of the elements, but the movement of active virtue follows none of these; it is something more divine and it journeys on to success along a path hard to understand” Book 6

“So keep yourself simple, good, pure, serious, unpretentious, a friend of justice, god fearing, kind, full of affection, strong for your proper work.  Strive hard to remain the same man that philosophy wished to make you.  Life is short.  The one harvest of existence on earth is a godly habit of mind and social action”.  Book 6

Enjoy the wisdom of Marcus Aurelius – truly timeless!