7 key takeaways from Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations
When I first heard about Stoicism, it didn’t make much sense to me. I mean why would I want to abstain from worldly pleasures? After all, You only live Once right. But as with every beginner who starts reading philosophy, I got a lot of things wrong about stoicism.
I was always fascinated by philosophical wisdom. But whatever I knew about it was from the Internet through random articles here and there, social media posts and memes. Then I realized that it is a very shallow way of learning about anything, if not philosophy or stoicism for that matter.
I decided that I needed to read books on philosophy to understand the teachings of the greats more deeply and thoroughly. But I didn’t know where to start. I asked for recommendations on Reddit forums and Facebook groups. I also asked a few philosophy enthusiasts personally. What I noticed was that almost everybody recommended this one particular book called Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.
When I first read meditations I didn’t understand it completely. Maybe the language was too archaic for me or perhaps I bought the badly translated edition. But few ideas from the book stuck with me. And recently after I finished listening to the audiobook, I got a more emphatic understanding of the book. so I thought I should share some key takeaways from this timeless masterpiece. Here they are:
1. All things depend on how You interpret them
Your interpretation of things that happen in your life is all that matters. Marcus Aurelius quotes a Cynic philosopher who says, “Everything is interpretation.” Although it’s meant in a figurative context, you can make great use of this idea in your daily life with remarkable outcomes.
You can’t handle things that are out of your control. However, you can control how you react to them. Remember that it is your mind’s perception of events that determines how they affect you, not the events themselves.
“Your mind will take the shape of what you frequently hold in thought, for the human spirit is coloured by such impressions.” V.16
2. Your opinion of yourself matters more than that of others
You live your own life, not other people’s. So why should their opinion matter?
You must do the right thing, regardless of how others react. You don’t need to explain yourself to everyone since you know what you’re about and why you’re doing what you’re doing.
Marcus Aurelius encourages the readers to think what is the contribution of praise or shame to your being. Instead of taking it to heart, you should question yourself whether it even makes a difference?
“It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own” XII.4
3. You should be the Master of your mind and not the other way round
Man is different from animals because he has a mind. Your mind is the biggest asset you have in this world. You must learn to control it. But in today’s world, all of us are slaves to our minds. With this instant-gratifying culture, we quite literally have any pleasure imaginable all around us.
You already know what you should be doing, but you’re not doing it.
Because you have no control over your thoughts, every time you decide to do something but don’t, it’s because your body has given you a reason not to.
Take command of your thoughts. Only by acquiring control can you live a more fulfilling life.
4. Accept Criticism
You can never grow if you don’t face criticism. Be open to correction, Marcus Aurelius says.
If the facts turn against you, changing your viewpoint is not “losing” or “being compelled.” In fact, It is a voluntary and moral effort on your side to alter your perspective. Simply don’t modify it due to peer pressure or to gain favour with others.
“Remember that to change your mind and to accept correction are free acts too. The action is yours, based on your own will, your own decision — and your own mind” VIII.16
5. Pain is Inevitable
Life cannot exist without predicaments. No matter how much you pray and to whatever god you believe in, the universe does not care.
Accept it for what it is: challenges, setbacks, and even tragedies are a part of life, and they are even a part of what it is to be alive; everyone will face them.
“why not rather pray for the gift to fear none of these things, to desire none of
them, to sorrow for none of them, rather than that any one of them should be present or absent?” IX.40
Try to focus only on what’s under your control. Endure the strength of character to withstand all adversity, rather than changing things outside your control like Life’s challenges.
6. Adversities will only make you stronger
Constant comfort will ruin your life. Adversities happen so you can learn to fight back and overcome the challenges.
Life has an ironic beauty in that it is precisely these difficulties that allow us to put ourselves to the test and become stronger.
“It’s unfortunate that this has happened. No. It’s fortunate that this has happened and I’ve remained unharmed by it — ” IV.49
7. Practice Gratitude
The first chapter of Meditations by Marcus Aurelius is devoted to a list of the things he feels grateful for having learned as a child. Some of the things that jump out to me are the following:
❖ That I need to improve my own mentality.
❖ Consistency of purpose, self-control in not being disturbed, and the ability to make decisions without being affected by emotion.
❖ How to gently accept presents without losing self-respect or looking ungrateful, as well as how to compliment without creating a display.
❖ To stop nitpicking and correcting people all the time.
I believe that anybody who is struggling in their lives should read Meditations at least once.
You might ask what it could possibly teach you about Modern Life? It was after all written in the medieval period by a Roman Emperor. However, This book is ever-relevant and if you do apply these simple yet effective principles in your daily life, your life is bound to change for all the good reasons.
But as I said reading online is a shallow way of learning things. You need to read the book for yourself and decide. Since you have read this post, just know that you have taken a good step toward making positive changes in your life and as Marcus Aurelius said:
“To stop talking about what the good man is like, and just be one”