One example that will strike almost any reader is the sense of mortality that pervades the work. Death is not to be feared, Marcus continually reminds himself. It is a natural process, part of the continual change that forms the world. At other points it is the ultimate consolation. “Soon you will be dead,” Marcus tells himself on a number of occasions, “and none of it will matter” (cf. 4.6, 7.22, 8.2). The emphasis on the vanity and worthlessness of earthly concerns is here linked to the more general idea of transience. All things change or pass away, perish and are forgotten. This is the burden of several of the thought exercises that Marcus sets himself: to think of the court of Augustus (8.31), of the age of Vespasian or Trajan (4.32), the great philosophers and thinkers of the past (6.47)—all now dust and ashes.
To accept it without arrogance, to let it go with indifference.
The human body itself is no more than “rotting meat in a bag” (8.38). “[D]espise your flesh. A mess of blood, pieces of bone, a woven tangle of nerves, veins, arteries” (2.2). Perhaps the most depressing entry in the entire work is the one in which Marcus urges himself to cultivate an indifference to music (11.2).
To put up with discomfort and not make demands. To do my own work, mind my own business, and have no time for slanderers.
Not to be constantly correcting people, and in particular not to jump on them whenever they make an error of usage or a grammatical mistake or mispronounce something, but just answer their question or add another example, or debate the issue itself (not their phrasing), or make some other contribution to the discussion—and insert the right expression, unobtrusively.
Unwavering adherence to decisions, once he’d reached them. Indifference to superficial honors. Hard work. Persistence.
His constant devotion to the empire’s needs. His stewardship of the treasury. His willingness to take responsibility—and blame—for both.
No one ever called him glib, or shameless, or pedantic. They saw him for what he was: a man tested by life, accomplished, unswayed by flattery, qualified to govern both himself and them.
He never exhibited rudeness, lost control of himself, or turned violent. No one ever saw him sweat. Everything was to be approached logically and with due consideration, in a calm and orderly fashion but decisively, and with no loose ends.
You could have said of him (as they say of Socrates) that he knew how to enjoy and abstain from things that most people find it hard to abstain from and all too easy to enjoy. Strength, perseverance, self-control in both areas: the mark of a soul in readiness—indomitable.
Do external things distract you? Then make time for yourself to learn something worthwhile; stop letting yourself be pulled in all directions. But make sure you guard against the other kind of confusion. People who labor all their lives but have no purpose to direct every thought and impulse toward are wasting their time—even when hard at work.
Duration: Nature: changeable. Perception:dim.</;em> Condition of Body: decaying.</;em> Soul: spinning around.</;em>Fortune: unpredictable.</;em> Lasting Fame: uncertain.</;em> Sum Up:The body and its parts are a river, the soul a dream and mist, life is warfare and a journey far from home, lasting reputation is oblivion.</;em></;li>
Don’t waste the rest of your time here worrying about other people—unless it affects the common good. It will keep you from doing anything useful. You’ll be too preoccupied with what so-and-so is doing, and why, and what they’re saying, and what they’re thinking, and what they’re up to, and all the other things that throw you off and keep you from focusing on your own mind.
That things have no hold on the soul. They stand there unmoving, outside it. Disturbance comes only from within—from our own perceptions. That everything you see will soon alter and cease to exist. Think of how many changes you’ve already seen.
“The world is nothing but change. Our life is only perception.”
It can ruin your life only if it ruins your character. Otherwise it cannot harm you – inside or out.
Beautiful things of any kind are beautiful in themselves and sufficient to themselves. Praise is extraneous. The object of praise remains what it was—no better and no worse. This applies, I think, even to “beautiful” things in ordinary life—physical objects, artworks.
Things are wrapped in such a veil of mystery that many good philosophers have found it impossible to make sense of them. Even the Stoics have trouble. Any assessment we make is subject to alteration—just as we are ourselves.
All right, but there are plenty of other things you can’t claim you “haven’t got in you.” Practice the virtues you canshow: honesty, gravity, endurance, austerity, resignation, abstinence, patience, sincerity, moderation, seriousness, high-mindedness. Don’t you see how much you have to offer—beyond excuses like “can’t”? And yet you still settle for less.</;li>
So other people hurt me? That’s their problem. Their character and actions are not mine. What is done to me is ordained by nature, what I do by my own.
The best revenge is not to be like that.
Like seeing roasted meat and other dishes in front of you and suddenly realizing: This is a dead fish. A dead bird. A dead pig. Or that this noble vintage is grape juice, and the purple robes are sheep wool dyed with shellfish blood. Or making love—something rubbing against your penis, a brief seizure and a little cloudy liquid.
Perceptions like that—latching onto things and piercing through them, so we see what they really are. That’s what we need to do all the time—all through our lives when things lay claim to our trust—to lay them bare and see how pointless they are, to strip away the legend that encrusts them.
Pride is a master of deception: when you think you’re occupied in the weightiest business, that’s when he has you in his spell.
The elements move upward, downward, in all directions. The motion of virtue is different—deeper. It moves at a steady pace on a road hard to discern, and always forward.
If anyone can refute me—show me I’m making a mistake or looking at things from the wrong perspective—I’ll gladly change. It’s the truth I’m after, and the truth never harmed anyone. What harms us is to persist in self-deceit and ignorance.
Don’t be ashamed to need help. Like a soldier storming a wall, you have a mission to accomplish. And if you’ve been wounded and you need a comrade to pull you up? So what?
Everything is interwoven, and the web is holy; none of its parts are unconnected. They are composed harmoniously, and together they compose the world.
When people injure you, ask yourself what good or harm they thought would come of it. If you understand that, you’ll feel sympathy rather than outrage or anger. Your sense of good and evil may be the same as theirs, or near it, in which case you have to excuse them. Or your sense of good and evil may differ from theirs. In which case they’re misguided and deserve your compassion. Is that so hard?
Treat what you don’t have as nonexistent. Look at what you have, the things you value most, and think of how much you’d crave them if you didn’t have them. But be careful. Don’t feel such satisfaction that you start to overvalue them—that it would upset you to lose them.
No chorus of lamentation, no hysterics.
Secondly, to resist our body’s urges. Because things driven by logos—by thought—have the capacity for detachment—to resist impulses and sensations, both of which are merely corporeal. Thought seeks to be their master, not their subject. And so it should: they were created for its use.</;li>
And in most cases what Epicurus said should help: that pain is neither unbearable nor unending, as long as you keep in mind its limits and don’t magnify them in your imagination.
Nature did not blend things so inextricably that you can’t draw your own boundaries—place your own well-being in your own hands. It’s quite possible to be a good man without anyone realizing it. Remember that.
Perfection of character: to live your last day, every day, without frenzy, or sloth, or pretense.
You’ve given aid and they’ve received it. And yet, like an idiot, you keep holding out for more: to be credited with a Good Deed, to be repaid in kind. Why?
Everything is here for a purpose, from horses to vine shoots. What’s surprising about that? Even the sun will tell you, “I have a purpose,” and the other gods as well. And why were you born? For pleasure? See if that answer will stand up to questioning.</;li>
Human actions: kindness to others, contempt for the senses, the interrogation of appearances, observation of nature and of events in nature.
The mind without passions is a fortress. No place is more secure. Once we take refuge there we are safe forever. Not to see this is ignorance. To see it and not seek safety means misery.
Injustice is a kind of blasphemy. Nature designed rational beings for each other’s sake: to help—not harm—one another, as they deserve. To transgress its will, then, is to blaspheme against the oldest of the gods.
Blot out your imagination. Turn your desire to stone. Quench your appetites. Keep your mind centered on itself.
Do what nature demands. Get a move on—if you have it in you—and don’t worry whether anyone will give you credit for it. And don’t go expecting Plato’s Republic; be satisfied with even the smallest progress, and treat the outcome of it all as unimportant. And a commitment to justice in your own acts. Which means: thought and action resulting in the common good. What you were born to do.
People who feel hurt and resentment: picture them as the pig at the sacrifice, kicking and squealing all the way. Like the man alone in his bed, silently weeping over the chains that bind us.
To acquire indifference to pretty singing, to dancing, to the martial arts: Analyze the melody into the notes that form it, and as you hear each one, ask yourself whether you’re powerless against That should be enough to deter you. A branch cut away from the branch beside it is simultaneously cut away from the whole tree. So too a human being separated from another is cut loose from the whole community. The branch is cut off by someone else. But people cut themselves off—through hatred, through rejection—and don’t realize that they’re cutting themselves off from the whole civic enterprise.
They flatter one another out of contempt, and their desire to rule one another makes them bow and scrape.
The despicable phoniness of people who say, “Listen, I’m going to level with you here.” What does that mean? It shouldn’t even need to be said. It should be obvious—written in block letters on your forehead. It should be audible in your voice, visible in your eyes, like a lover who looks into your face and takes in the whole story at a glance. A straightforward, honest person should be like someone who stinks: when you’re in the same room with him, you know it. But false straightforwardness is like a knife in the back.
False friendship is the worst. Avoid it at all costs. If you’re honest and straightforward and mean well, it should show in your eyes. It should be unmistakable.
We have the potential for it. If we can learn to be indifferent to what makes no difference. This is how we learn: by looking at each thing, both the parts and the whole. Keeping in mind that none of them can dictate how we perceive it. They don’t impose themselves on us. They hover before us, unmoving. It is we who generate the judgments—inscribing them on ourselves. And we don’t have to. We could leave the page blank—and if a mark slips through, erase it instantly.
remember: There’s nothing manly about rage. It’s courtesy and kindness that define a human being—and a man. That’s who possesses strength and nerves and guts, not the angry whiners.
It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own.