Love at First Glance
One day about 7 years ago I was bored. I decided to go into my sister’s room and rummage through her dilapidated book case. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, I was just simply looking. I had snuck into her room about 1 year earlier and picked out a book that made me fall in love with reading. It was Twilight. The fan-fiction gone bestseller. I figured if I had gotten lucky then, it could happen again. As I was sifting through her plethora of books, a book fell out and caught my attention. Some of the pages had 'dog ears' and certain pages were highlighted. Obviously my sister had been through this book many times. I read the back and a couple of the introductory paragraphs and I was intrigued. Little did I know this tiny book would forever shape the way I saw and interacted with the world.
That book I haphazardly found 7 years ago was Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. To think I could have just picked it up and put it back and continued on racking through her books sends shivers through my body. This book would come in handy throughout my tumultuous years as a teen. It was a sort of survival guide for me at times, helping me weather the harshest of storms. Marcus Aurelius was a man of virtue. As a Stoic and an emperor; he sought after the idea of what it meant to live a virtuous and fulfilling life. As a kid who often felt like a victim of circumstance, his words resonated with me every step on my path towards realization. He helped me reflect on some disheartening questions I repressed for many years. Bad breakups, depression, not having motivation in life, school troubles, the list went on and on. His aphorisms and insightful phrases brought me solace. Each and every page riddled with truth and pertinence. His philosophical notions helping me reflect on my own mortality; short and impermanent.
The true genius and beauty of the work comes from an unlikely place. Marcus never wanted these works to be published. So what we get is a man toiling with intimate, personal ideas of right and wrong; all whilst managing an empire. It is as political as it is enlightening. Meditations gave me an unparalleled, uncensored gaze into the thought process of one of the most brilliant men I have ever had the opportunity of reading. He truly believed that what ever happened in your life, it was ultimately up to you to discern whether or not that occurence was 'bad' or 'good’. This is the one thing that has stayed with me over the years. It invokes in me a sense of ultimate control over my own life. This shattered my victim complex as I could now see myself and my life completely anew. Without trying, my life began to unfold in an authentic way that I was happy with. No more looking to others for approval or engaging in vain, meaningless relationships, I was finally becoming my own person. To say Marcus Aurelius saved me would be dramatic, but he did lead me to become the person I am today. All by chance some time ago.
Another idea that stuck with me was Marcus’s importance on reason. He believed that God gave each and every one of us the capacity to use reason to govern our minds and subsequently our everyday lives. To not use this reason was what he considered tomfoolery. For Marcus, reason was the impenetrable bunker that protected our mind from intruders. These intruders being the desire for fame, wealth, status and promiscuity to name a few. He never discouraged thinking because he was certain you would succeed sooner than later. But the point here was to always look inward. Reflection is a recurring theme through Meditations. Within this framework, there was no space for passion and fiery emotion. Anything that interfered with your capacity for reason was to be thrown out. Once again reiterating this notion of supreme control over one’s life. For as long as the directing mind trudged onward, reason would always accompany it.
It was this mental training that stuck with me. I was so caught up in conditioning my physical self as if that would solve my internal problems. It was a very backwards way of thinking that lead to many sleepless nights and empty tissue boxes. I wasn’t using my “God-given” reason to reflect on the futility of my life. Instead, I would go day by day functioning as a spectator — watching my own life pass me by. It wasn’t until I put the utmost importance on strengthening my mind did my life begin to change. I wasn’t at the whim of others or catastrophizing when my plans or expectations went awry. In one sense, I had the ultimate protection: reason. This isn’t some sappy feel good story. There were times where I felt like I couldn’t push on; that circumstances were too much to bear but still I persevered. Only emerging from perceived failure stronger and more adept. It was not the situation itself that caused me harm, it was my interpretation and reaction to it. Once I learned to manage that variable in life, I found myself more relaxed. Once an argumentative person, I became quiet. No more overreacting and telling people how to live their lives, I just simply existed. The peace was intoxicating, but even that wears off and it just becomes a habit. Thanks to Marcus and his brilliant words, I was able to transform my mind and transform my life.
Lastly, Marcus helped instill in me an acceptance of death. Before reading Meditations, I had an extreme fear of death. I would always think about all the things I had to do before I died. Get married, buy and own a house, have sex, try certain drugs — the list ran deep. His direct wording helped elucidate the simplicity of life we should gravitate towards. One of his idioms has stuck with me over the years. “Today a sperm, tomorrow a mummy or ashes.” It is this idea of our short time here that brings our lives into focus. We won’t be here forever, so why not try to live your life in the most fulfilling way possible? No more worrying about vanity and fitting in — for Marcus, that was a waste of your reason. Instead, look to helping others as your greatest source of joy and fulfillment. We never know what tomorrow holds, so why not diligently focus on the present moment. Right here and right now.
In conclusion, so many great things came from reading this one book. It sparked my interest in philosophy, which I now study in university. I now have a wealth of books on everything ranging from New Age literature to Kant’s metaphysics to Principles of Taoism. But none of this would have came to fruition without that chance encounter with Marcus Aurelius. For that, I am forever grateful and forever a student of him and the Stoics.