Marcus Aurelius’ life was a lot more complicated than yours.
He was emperor of Rome during times of war and plague. He suffered an attempted revolt as he neared death. He endured the death of several of his own children, and complicated relationships with those closest to him.
You don’t have problems like Marcus had problems. You don’t have temptations like Marcus had temptations.
Marcus didn’t just survive these challenges; he learned from them, and in spite of them, he was able to live a life of virtue.
The wisdom he left behind can help us do the same, but perhaps the most important thing we can adopt from Marcus was his devotion to philosophy as a daily practice.
Indeed, his Meditations is essentially a bible for stoic thinkers, but he wasn’t writing it for us. These are reminders to himself to continue living a good life and doing the right thing in spite of everything that would pull him — and that pulled nearly every other leader of his stature in human history — off course.
When jarred, unavoidably, by circumstances, revert at once to yourself, and don’t lose the rhythm more than you can help. You’ll have a better grasp of the harmony if you keep going back to it.
~ Marcus Aurelius
For Marcus, the “music” of life was his philosophy. This does not mean we should all become philosophers in the formal sense, but we should follow his example in the general sense of philosophy as the search for wisdom.
Socrates said “an unexamined life is not worth living,” and Marcus recognized this. Throughout Meditations, he is constantly analyzing and critiquing his own behaviors, thoughts and emotions, as if to capture his insights for his own future reference.
To live a good life today, the prescription is no different than it was 2,000 years ago. After every interaction, and at the end of each day, assess whether you performed your duties with virtue and in a way that is true to your nature. Not as a judgement of your character, but to identify your successes and challenges, so that you might live even better tomorrow.
Philosophy is not a subject you learn in college. It is the search for wisdom, and it should never end. It is not a part of your life, but the very heartbeat of it. Seek wisdom and improvement every day. This is your duty, above all else.
If you had a stepmother and a real mother, you would pay your respects to your stepmother, yes … but it’s your real mother you’d go home to. The court … and philosophy: Keep returning to it, to rest in its embrace. It’s all that makes the court — and you — endurable.
~ Marcus Aurelius