Book Quotes: The Essential Marcus Aurelius

February 15th 2013

The Essential Marcus Aurelius

“The real secret of the book lies in the fact that Marcus is writing these meditations to himself and to himself alone.”
Pg. xi
We are being given a taste of what it means to step back in ourselves and develop an intentional relationship to our own mind. […] I am first and foremost a human being, and it is the essence of a human being that he has the possibility (and, as Marcus will tell us, the high duty) to cultivate the capacity to step back from himself and become conscious of himself.”
Pg. xiv
“To be a philosopher in Marcus’ time was to dedicate oneself to a particular school and to adhere to its daily practices.”
Pg. xix
“In A.D. 180 it was believed that Marcus himself—Rome’s highest citizen—succumbed to plague, lending grim credence to Marcus’ repeated claims in the Meditations that nobody, regardless of personal rank, is immune to the forces of nature.”
Pg. xxi
In the course of his own inner searching, Marcus is giving us an opportunity to witness the workings of our own minds, to really know and use this capacity for stepping back and becoming truly aware of who we are, what we are doing, and the reasons for our actions. This ability, argues Marcus, is the only way to freedom.”
Pg. xxiv
From my great-grandfather, the need to have good teachers at home, and to know that one should spare no expense on such things. –Pg. 1
From Rusticus […] To read with precision and not be satisfied with the mere gist of things, nor to agree too quickly with clever debaters. –Pg. 5
From my adoptive father, Antoninus Pius, Mildness of temper and unshakable resolution in matters which he had determined after due deliberation. –Pg. 8
Each and every hour make up your mind steadfastly as a Roman and as a man to accomplish the matter presently at hand with genuine solemnity, loving care, independence, and justice, and to provide yourself with relief from all other worries; and you will achieve this if you perform every action in your life as if it were your last, putting aside all aimlessness and emotional resistance to the choices of reason, and all pretense, selfishness, and discontent with what has been allotted to you. See how few are the things which a person must gain control of in order to live a peaceful and godlike existence, for the gods will ask nothing more from the person who does so. –Pg. 12
Go ahead, soul, be destructive, but you may not have another opportunity to honor yourself, for each person has only one life—and yours is almost finished; yet you still do not respect yourself, but locate your own happiness in the minds of others. –Pg. 12
Not easily will you find a person who is unhappy due to ignorance of what goes on in another person’s soul; but those who do not follow the movements of their own soul will surely be unhappy. –Pg. 13
Hippocrates, after healing so many sick people, became sick himself and died. The Chaldeans prophesized countless deaths, and yet their own dark prophecies caught up even with them. What does all this mean? It means that you have boarded your ship, you have set sail, and that you have made it to your destination: now step ashore. If, on the one hand, you go on to another life, that life will not be lacking in gods. If, on the other hand, it is mere unconsciousness, then you will no longer be at the mercy of pains and pleasures as a servant to this earthly vessel. –Pg. 18
Do not waste what remains of your life with anxiety about others, unless you can elevate those thoughts and bring them in relation to some common good. For otherwise you will surely neglect some other important task, when you worry in this way about what some clever person is doing and why, what he is saying, what he has in mind, what he is contriving, and all such thoughts and worries which distract you from keeping watch over your guiding part. […] He is a contender in the greatest competition of all: the struggle not to be overthrown by our emotions. […] Rarely if ever, unless required by some urgent communal necessity, does he busy himself with what someone else is saying, doing, or thinking, for he is focused on doing what is required of him, and he thinks only of those duties and circumstances which, of everything in the universe, have been spun by Fate for him alone. He strives to make them noble and beautiful, for he is convinced that they are good. This is because each person’s guiding part not only directs that person, but is itself directed by something higher. –Pg. 20
Never consider anything to be beneficial to you, which could ever compel you to violate your faith in yourself, to abandon your modesty, to hate anybody, to be overly suspicious, cursing, disingenuous, or to lust after anything which must be hidden behind walls or veils. For the person who has chosen his own intelligence and inner spirit, and the sacred reveling in this kind of excellence, does not play a tragic role, does not groan with lament, and has no need of either complete solitude or excessive company. Most important, such a person will live life neither chasing it nor fleeing from it. –Pg. 22
That power which rules us from inside, when it is in its natural state, stands in such a way in relation to whatever may happen that it easily adapts itself at all times both to its own capabilities and what it has been given by fate. For it is not attracted toward one kind of material thing or event but adapts itself to all internal and external limitations, whether those limitations are due to ability or fate. Nevertheless, it converts into usable fuel anything that opposes it, just as fire does when it consumes what is thrown upon it, by which a small fire would have been extinguished. But a blazing fire quickly assimilates to itself whatever is cast upon it, engulfing it as fuel and rising even higher because of it. –Pg. 27
People seek retreats for themselves in the country, by the sea, and near the mountains; and you too are especially prone to desire such things. But this is a sign of ignorance, since you have the power to retire within yourself whenever you wish. –Pg. 27
As Agathon said, do not peer into the darkness of another’s character, but run straight toward the finish line without straying from your path. –Pg. 30
It has been said, “If you want to be content, occupy yourself with few things” […] for this brings the contentment which comes from doing things well, and doing only a few things. Since most of what we say and do is entirely unnecessary, if a person could get rid of these, he would have more leisure and be in less of a state of confusion. Therefore we all must remember to ask ourselves: “Is this one of the truly necessary things?” But we must leave aside not only unnecessary activities but even unnecessary thoughts, so that unnecessary activities do not follow from them. –Pg. 32
Soon you will be dead, and not yet are you of one mind, undisturbed, or without suspicion that you can truly be harmed by external things; nor yet are you gracious in all circumstances; nor are you truly convinced that wisdom and right actions are the same thing. –Pg. 34
Harm to yourself cannot originate in the ruling part of another person, and surely not in some turn of events or alteration of your surroundings. On what, then, does it depend? Upon that part of you which judges what is bad. So prevent this part from making such a decision, and all will be well for you. –Pg. 34
Always keep in mind how short-lived and insignificant human things really are: yesterday a glob of mucous, tomorrow a corpse or a pile of ashes. –Pg. 36
Be like the jutting rock against which waves are constantly crashing, and all around it the frothing foam of the waters then settles back down. “Oh, I am so unfortunate that this has happened to me.” Not at all, but rather “How fortunate I am that, even though this has happened to me, I continue uninjured, neither terrified by the present, nor in fear of the future.” So such a thing could happen to anyone, but not just anyone would persevere unharmed. So why is this considered bad fortune rather than good fortune? And do you think something to be wholly unfortunate for a man when it is not even a defect in his nature? And would that which is not contrary to the plan of his nature seem to you a defect in his nature? What then? You have already learned this plan; does what has happened to you prevent you from being just, great-souled, self-controlled, considerate, deliberate, honest, modest, independent, and all other such qualities which, when present, allow us to realize our true nature? For the remainder of your life, whenever anything causes pain for you, make use of this principle: “This is not unfortunate. Indeed, to bear such things nobly is good fortune.” –Pg. 36-37
Why are you not hurrying to do what is in accordance with your nature? “But one must also rest.” I agree, but Nature has set limits to this, too, just as she has set limits to eating and drinking, and in these you go well beyond the limits. In your actions, however, you stay well within the limits of what you are capable of. You do not love yourself, or else you surely would love your nature and what it intends for you. –Pg. 39-40
Toward what end am I now making use of my soul?” Each day question and cross-examine yourself. –Pg. 42
From one point of view, every human being is closely connected to us; therefore all people must be treated well and tolerated. But from another point of view, insofar as any human stands in the way of actions which are my proper duty, then mankind becomes just another one of all the things which are not my concern, no less than the sun or the wind or a wild animal. Though my action could be hindered by one of these, my motivation and state of mind cannot be hindered, thanks to my ability to step back and adapt to any circumstance. For the mind can convert all that hinders its activity into things which help it, all that checks its work into assistance in that very task, and all that stands in its path into an escort on its journey. –Pg. 43
It is always within your power to make life flow favorable if you can choose the right path, that is, if you can think and act rightly. Both the gods and humans (who are creatures instilled with Reason) have these characteristics in common: the ability not to be hindered by externals, and to understand that the good consists in the cultivation of a just attitude and just actions, and to limit one’s desire according to this. –Pg. 46
“There was a time, long past, when fate was kind to me.” But the truly fortunate person has created his own good fortune through good habits of the soul, good intentions, and good actions. –Pg. 46
Always look to what is inside. Never allow the true essence and worth of a thing escape you. –Pg. 47
The noblest way of taking revenge on others is refusing to become like them. –Pg. 47
The governing part is that which rouses itself and adapts itself; it makes itself into whatever it wishes, and whatever may happen to the governing part, it makes all circumstances appear to be in accordance with its wishes. –Pg. 48
Whenever you are forced by circumstances to be disturbed in some way, quickly return to yourself, and do not lose your footing any longer than is absolutely necessary; for you will have more control over your internal harmony by continually returning to it. –Pg. 48
If something is difficult for you to accomplish, do not then think it impossible for any human being; rather, if it is humanly possible and corresponds to human nature, know that it is attainable by you as well. –Pg. 50-51
If someone is able to show me that what I think or do is not right, I will happily change, for I seek the truth, by which no one ever was truly harmed. Harmed is the person who continues in his self-deception and ignorance. –Pg. 51
How cruel not to allow people not to pursue what appears proper and beneficial to them. Yet in a sense you prevent them from doing just this when you are irritated at their mistake; for they are certainly drawn toward what seems proper and beneficial to them. “But they are mistaken,” you might say. Then teach and enlighten them, but don’t be irritated. –Pg. 51
It is disgraceful for the soul to fail in this lifetime, even before the body does. –Pg. 51
Turn your attention within, for the fountain of all that is good lies within, and it is always ready to pour forth, if you continually delve in. –Pg. 58
Remember that the ruling part of the self becomes unconquerable when it collects itself and is contented with itself, doing nothing it does not will, even if the stand it takes is unreasonable. How much more, then, when it judges with reason and considers all sides of a matter? Thus the mind which is free from disturbance is a citadel of refuge, for humans have nothing stronger in which they can find refuge and remain uncaptured. Whoever has not seen this is ignorant; whoever has seen this and does not seek refuge is doomed. –Pg. 64
The sun seems to pour itself down, and pours itself in every direction, but it is not emptied. For this pouring is an extension, and its rays are so named because of their extension. You can observe this if you watch sunlight shining through some narrow crack in a dark room. It extends itself in a straight line until it encounters some solid body which stops its extension. There the light rests, and it does not move or fall off. This is how the pouring and diffusion of the mind must be, for it is not a pouring our, but rather an extension of itself; and it should not make a violent or angry impact upon whatever stands in its way; nor should it simply fall away, but rather it should stand firm and illuminate whatever receives it. Whatever does not accept it and help it on its way only deprives itself of the light. –Pg. 66
Continually be mindful of how everything that happens now has also happened in previous times and will happen in the future. And place before your eyes all the dramas and stage-sets, which you have learned either from experience or from older accounts, such as the royal court of Hadrian, of Antoninus, of Philip, Alexander, and Croesus—for those were the same dramas as we see now; only the actors are different. –Pg. 77
Remember that your puppet-strings are pulled by what is hidden within. This is the source of activity, this is the source of life, this—if it must be said—is man. Never confuse it with the flesh that surrounds it like a vessel or with your limbs and organs, for these are all “tools” which have been attached to you. They are like an axe or any other tool, the only difference being that they are permanently attached. These “tools” are of no more use without the cause which manipulates and restrains them than the loom without the weaver, the pen without the writer, or the whip without the charioteer. –Pg. 79
Characteristics which are unique to the reasoning soul: it truly sees itself, shapes itself, and makes itself into whatever it wills. It harvests the fruit which it bears (whereas the fruits of plants or the hunt are gathered by others). It accomplishes its goal, whenever the limit of its life may come. If something should hinder it, its entire action is not therefore incomplete, as in a dance or play or something of the sort. Rather, in every aspect, and at whatever point it is overcome, it fully accomplishes what it had set out to do, so that it can say: “I possess what is truly my own.”
Moreover, the reasoning soul penetrates the whole Cosmos as well as the surrounding void, learning its shape, extending itself into the infinity of the ages, embracing and understanding the cyclic rebirth of the universe. It perceives that those who come after us will see nothing new and that those who came before did not see anything more; but that, in a sense, the man of forty, if he has any real understanding at all, has seen all that has happened and all that will happen within the pattern that shapes all things.
Another attribute unique to the reasoning soul is love of one’s neighbor, love of truth, self-respect, and honoring nothing above the soul itself. This is also an attribute of law, for in this sense, there is no difference between right reason and the principle of justice. –Pg. 82
Those who try to hinder you as you move forward according to right reason do not have the power to turn you away from sound actions. Neither should you allow them to drive away the benevolent disposition that you have toward them. So guard yourself equally in these two circumstances: not only firmness in your judgments and actions but also gentleness with those who try to hinder or annoy you in some other way. For to be angry with them is weakness, just as much as it is weakness to abandon your practices or to yield because of fear. For both are deserters of their post: the trembling coward, as well as he who is alienated from a natural kinsman and friend. –Pg. 84
A contrived simplicity is like a dagger. Nothing is more shameful than the wolf’s friendship; avoid this most of all. –Pg. 85
Nine principles to remember
when dealing with those who offend you
Fourth, remember that you yourself are often mistaken, and so you are just like them; also that; even if you manage to refrain from doing some wrongs, you nevertheless have it in you to do such things, were it not for the fact that fear, thirst for reputation, or some other unworthy motive keeps you from doing what they do.
Fifth, that you are not even sure that they do wrong, for many actions are done within a certain context, and in general, one must know many things before correctly judging the actions of another.
Eighth, that anger and the sorrow it produces are far more harmful than the things that make us angry.
It is this person who has strength, nerve, and courage, not a person who is angry and dissatisfied, for the closer one is to being unaffected, the closer he is to real power; and just as excessive sorrow is a mark of weakness, so is anger, for whoever gives in to these has not merely been wounded, but he has surrendered to his wounds. –Pg. 85-87
The Epicureans in their writings established this precept: always keep in your mind one of those ancients who practiced virtue. –Pg. 88
In the disciplines of writing and recitation, you cannot make new rules if you have not first learned how to follow rules. Even more so with living.
You are composed of three parts: body, vital spirit, and mind. The first two belong to you only insofar as you are obliged to take care of them, but only the third, mind, is truly yours. –Pg. 90
I have often been amazed at how every person loves himself more than he loves others yet places less value on his own judgment of himself than on the judgments of others concerning him. If a god or some wise teacher were to stand next to him and order him not to think or conceive of anything without at the same time speaking it for all to hear, he would not be able to endure it even for a single day. This shows us that what others think of us counts more for us than our own estimation of ourselves. –Pg. 91
Either predetermined necessity and unalterable cosmic order, or a gracious providence, or a chaotic ungoverned mixture. If a predetermined necessity, why do you resist? If it is a gracious Providence that can hear our prayers, then make yourself worthy of divine assistance. If a chaotic ungoverned mixture, be satisfied that in the midst of this storm, you have within yourself a mind whose nature it is to govern and command. So even if the storm should carry you off, let it carry off your flesh, your vital breath, and the rest, for it will not take your mind. –Pg. 92
The salvation of human life is in this: seeing what each thing is in its entirety, both its material and its cause; also in performing just actions and speaking the truth with one’s entire soul. What is left but to enjoy the benefits of such a life, joining one good action to another without leaving the smallest interval between them? –Pg. 94
CONTEMPLATION (theorein): This is the origin of the English words “theory,” “theoretical,” as well as related terms. This was viewed by many ancient philosophers as the highest and most abstract function of the intelligence. –Pg.97
EMOTION (pathos): The English word is derived from Greek and Latin words meaning “to move.” Therefore, emotions have been conceived of as things which move us and are somewhat out of our control. The task of philosophy, then, is to train our emotional reactions so that we are not ruled by these “movers.” –Pg. 98
GOD/GODS (theos): Also translated as “the divine.” Many translators of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries translated this word as “God,” for they saw it as parallel to the Christian God. We must keep in mind, however, that Greek and Roman philosophers, and Stoics in particular, were generally opposed to viewing the gods as personifications, and rather understood a god as a governing and ordering principle of the cosmos. We have retained the word “god,” but with a lowercase “g” so as to avoid confusion with its Judeo-Christian counterpart. –Pg. 99
GODLIKE (theoeides): Closely related to the notion of acting in accordance with NATURE, the Stoic ideal is to live a life which is closest to that of the gods. This notion is based on the idea that we all have a divine “spark” inside us, which gives us all superhuman, or divine potential. To be merely human is to deny the divine part of ourselves, whereas to tend and cultivate the divine element of ourselves is to be truly human. This theory is most likely influenced by Plato, who says in his dialogue Theaetetus that the best way of life is to be as godlike as possible. –Pg. 100
INDEPENDENCE (eleutheria): This word is often translated as “freedom.” For Marcus Aurelius, the word refers primarily to a state of inner freedom, rather than freedom from external constraints, which are often beyond one’s control. –Pg. 101
Leisure (schole): Also translated as “rest” or “relief.” This is the source of the English word “school,” and so we must assume it is not the same as idleness. On the contrary, for the Greek and Roman philosophers, it is idleness which motivates people to be busybodies and workaholics. Leisure, on the other hand, is the environment and state of mind in which one is relatively free from manual labor and concerns of survival, which only then allows time for study and meditation. –Pg. 102
PRINCIPLE (dogma): Also translated as “guiding-principle,” “life-principle,” or “rules of living.” This word, which has been transliterated into English as “dogma,” has not been a popular word in recent times. For the Greeks, (and many Christians) however, it is not a rigid law to be accepted and followed blindly, Rather, a dogma is a concept which is meant to be meditated upon and realized or actualized in one’s life, the value of which is learned through experience and adherence. –Pg. 103
SPIRIT (daimon): Also “divine spirit.” This is the origin of the English word “demon,” but here it does not yet have a purely negative association. For the Greeks, a daimon is a lower class of deity, which could enter (or possess) a person. The most famous daimon of Greek philosophy is that of Socrates. In the Apology, Socrates says that his daimon is a sort of inner guide, which tells him only when he is not doing what he ought to. For the Stoics, it also serves as an internal guide, to whom we refuse to listen at our peril. In the Symposium, Plato describes Eros, the god of love, as a daimon because he is an intermediary between humans and gods. The Christian concept of spirit (especially the Holy Spirit) comes from a different Greek term, pneuma, which is associated with breath. –Pg. 105
                                                                                                                                                                                    February 15th 2014