Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

Did you know that today, April 26th, is the 1,900th birthday of Marcus Aurelius, a famous Stoic philosopher and Roman Emperor? We are left with one of his intimate and personal writings, his diary that today is known as “Meditations” through which we have insights into who Marcus Aurelius was as a human being and philosopher.

Today we seem to doubt the possibility of living philosophically, or justly and wisely, in times of materialism and consumerism. But in Marcus Aurelius we find one of the examples that an environment, social pressure or life’s circumstances can’t “corrupt” an individual who is incorruptible. 

In his Meditations he reminds himself of three things:

  • Erase your fantasies, illusions, clouded and biased judgements, projections
  • Stop an impulsive action
  • Extinguish your desire
  • Focus your will on the guiding principles (or timeless ideals of Nature), i.e. harmonise your Reason with Nature and practice truth, justice and goodness

When he writes “You have power over your mind — not outside events. Realise this and you will find strength”, he suggests gaining inner distance from our emotional impressions of events and fantastical interpretations of our mind, we need to use our intelligence to discern what truly is in its essence. Simpler said than done, correct?

The first step is to have a deep need to live by these guiding principles, the wisdom of Nature, but most importantly to live these highest principles of humanity voluntarily in our daily lives. Otherwise we never truly understand their impact and meaning. And if we read Marcus’ reflections, only in this way can we build an “inner citadel” within ourselves, which leads to freedom – not merely of a choice – but more, the real freedom to be, and express a tremendous potential of humanity within us.

Marcus’ impact was this, being able to govern from the point of view of justice, goodness, truth, benevolence and perseverance. He is the last emperor of the Golden Age of the Roman Empire, the time of peace (in Latin “Pax Romana”) and in itself it was a tremendous accomplishment to harmonise different fractions of Roman politics and society in times of war, plague and personal tragedies.

He says: What must you practice? One thing only.

  • Devote your thoughts to justice and actions in the service of community
  • Speech which can never deceive
  • An inner disposition which lovingly greets each event, recognising it as necessary, familiar, and flowing forth from so great a principle