Three Life Lessons From Marcus Aurelius

How To Live Like A Stoic

I consistently tell people trying to develop a reading habit to “Read what you love until you love to read”. It worked for me and it will work for anyone else. I built my love for reading on finance and business books which has in turn given me interest to pursue other subjects. Recently? Philosophy.

For those of you still reading…A few weeks ago I finished reading Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, a new translation. It’s taken me those few weeks to digest my takeaways. Today, I’m going to be covering the three major themes from the book and my takeaways.

Marcus Aurelius, a noted philosopher and Roman emperor from 161-180 AD, spends the course of this text listing short thoughts that provide a basic understanding of life and how to live. Marcus, along with other philosophers such as Seneca, laid the groundwork for what is referred to as stoicism, a belief system that teaches self mastery. Meditations provides frameworks for how to handle your time, find inner peace, and living as you’re required. It carries my highest recommendation for anyone interested in learning to lead a better life.

Guard Your Time

Throughout Meditations, Marcus continually references the limitations of time. His focus lies with with present moment but not in a “eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die” kind of way. Marcus points out that because unalterable state of the past and the unknowableness of the future, there is truly only today worth focusing on. This isn’t to say don’t plan for the future but more-so don’t worry; the worry of past or future cripples the moment today you’re offered and stymies you to inaction.

Another famous stoic, Seneca, said

“Life is very short and anxious for those who forget the past, neglect the present, and fear the future.”

Every day, thousands of opportunities come knocking at your door. Not all are friendly. Time is your most sacred resource - be selfish with it. Don’t offer the one thing you can’t get more of to people or things that aren’t of the utmost priority.

How to implement

Build daily, weekly, and monthly to do lists and organize them by importance and time sensitivity. This not only ensures productivity, but a way to focus on accomplishing the right things. When I write my lists, I try to write it thinking 5 years ahead from now - what would I thank myself for doing today in 5 years?

Find Internal Peace

We each have a calling to act just, honest, courageous, generous, humble, and in control. These are all things represented by your true spirit. We are in a constant battle for our spirit to win out over selfish desires. We lose this fight when we give in to temptation and act in ways that aren’t in accordance with our calling. 

True inner peace is found by being in continuous pursuit of what is right; becoming a servant of your own spirit. This fight highlights our ability to choose between right and wrong, act independently without outside control, and focus our own thoughts. This is one of our greatest gifts - one that no living thing on this planet is afforded. Honor and protect it. 

The pursuit of your spirit undoubtedly requires change from our natural course. Without correction, our course is like an unbridled river, following the path of least resistance. This ends in temporary satisfaction and never true fulfillment. The change from our natural state toward pursuit of our spirit shouldn’t be avoided; all vital processes require it. Our physical growth from childhood to adulthood and food cooking to become edible both represent vital processes. Our internal change is no different. This process is free and only requires humility. 

“Your spirit and the fire contained within you are drawn by their nature upward. But they comply with the world’s designs and submit to being mingled here below. And the elements of earth and water in you are drawn by their nature downward. But are forced to rise and take up a position not their own. So even the elements obey the world - when ordered and compelled - and man their stations until the signal to abandon them arrives.”

How to implement

While it sounds cliche, meditation has helped me on my journey for inner peace. I’ll tell you what other people don’t say though - meditation looks different for different people. I found my best moments were walking, another habit I’ve picked up in the last few months. Meditation isn’t about sitting cross legged and hmming and haaing until you reach some state of ecstasy. Meditation is about reaching the point where there are no more thoughts running through your mind.

I’m still very new at it, but I’ll explain my process.

I go for a walk - phone stays at home. No determined path, no time limit, just start walking. As I walk I’m naturally thinking of different things and thats good. Most people think you force yourself into a meditative state and that’s not how it works. You need to allow your mind to work through everything that comes up. The first few times walking my mind just jumped from one thing to the next to the next; I just let myself think through whatever it was until I felt I had “resolved” it. Then I noticed after several times, I’d start running out of things to process. Then it became almost immediately after starting the walk. It’s a rather strange experience, but having your mind completely empty is quite nice; it provides a window into what feels like untapped brainpower.

Live As Required

The things you do and how you act towards other people are measures of your internal change. Actions moving you closer to your purpose should be done with intentionality and maximum effort. Actions that don’t are distractions and diluting you.

Focusing solely on intentional action means you actually do less which feels counterintuitive. By doing less, you maintain an appropriate state of readiness and mental clarity; ready to act and to think clearly as problems arise. The less focused your mind is, the more likely you are to misstep and act in ways that don’t align with your interests.

In states like this, it’s easy to react and mistreat people who wrong you. Your actions in moments of anger or fear reflect not only how you see the world but how you see yourself. Only you are responsible for them. The more consistent the pursuit of truth, the quicker we are able to return to path from moments of weakness.

The same patience and grace you are offered in your trying moments should be reciprocated to others. Offering patience to people who misbehave comes from the realization and acceptance that you have acted or were once that way. 

How to implement

Reflect, consistently and often. One of the most powerful forces for change I’ve seen in my own life is looking at moments of weakness during the day; times I: raised my voice, lost patience, wasn’t fair, had poor thoughts. Honestly looking at what led up to an event gives context to incorrect action. Then asking “What could I do differently next time to avoid that?” Reflection is only as good as the change instituted.


Just a final closing thought.

“..But there can be no impeding our intentions or our dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting.

The impediment to action advances action.

What stands in the way becomes the way.”

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