Marcus Aurelius’s primer to Stoicism is good. Like really, really good. Somewhere between philosophy and psychology, Meditations is a recommendation to a lifestyle of productivity and internal peace. I’ll give you an example of one my favorite quotes:
“How much trouble he avoids who does not look to see what his neighbor says or does or thinks, but only to what he does himself, that it may be just and pure; or as Agathon says, look not round at the depraved morals of others, but run straight along the line without deviating from it.” (Book IV)
What Aurelius prescribes, is more than quant aphorisms that are all too common to self-help books today. He advocates for a personal sense of tranquility, independent of the chaotic nature of the world around us.
Moreover, the style of writing is deeply personal, humanized by the fact that these pieces were never intended to be compiled and shared for others. They were written in his personal reflection, titled “To Himself” between “intervals of Battle [after his] return to the Danube with his son” (Introduction).
“In the morning, when you rise unwillingly, let this thought be present: I am rising to the work of a human being. Why then am I dissatisfied if I am going to do the things for which I exist and for which I was brought into the world? Or have I been made for this, to lie under the blankets and keep myself warm? But this is more pleasant.” (Book V)
I can really get behind the idea of philosophy when it attempts to detail the smallest parts of life like this: waking up in the morning. Where I’ve made brief forays into other philosophies, the writing is heavy, it racks my mind with the necessity for heavy concentration and an inability to enjoy the piece. (Interesting link on rack vs. wrack etymology) Perhaps these are the musings of an amateur, but I do really feel closer to the author when the problem he outlines – thousands of years ago – is a problem that I share now, in the present. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to share the inner thoughts of such a introspective character.
Ironically, even though he was known best for persecution of Christians, his writing takes on a sense of gravity that feels deeply intimate with religion, if not Christianity itself. While I do not make any claims as to understanding his intentions in his actions as emperor, (I believe that task is better left to historians) perhaps the two share a commonality in lifestyle. The writing feels intuitively profound, but I will reserve judgment as I continue to go through the book.
The copy I’m reading is the Dover Thrift edition (Amazon Link), which I got for $1 (actually though!) and shipping was covered by Amazon Prime. It’s a great read so far, (disclaimer: I haven’t finished it yet because of studies!) but I look forward to finishing the book in bits and pieces as I get through the rest of the year.