Marcus Aurelius, is perhaps the most famous of the Stoics. All the more compelling is the fact that Aurelius was Emperor of Rome. As such, Meditations gives us some direct insight into the mind of the man who ruled an empire.
Aurelius, like Epictetus before him, offers the same message, namely that nothing is of human concern except the mind. No person or thing can control anyone’s thoughts, and this is man’s real province.
All things are born and live and die, and change is the rule of all things. It is how we in our minds determine to relate to this swift passage of time and all that happens within it.
Like Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius suggests that all of nature works inexorably toward an end which is by definition just and right. Since we cannot and should not interfere in what is a given, all efforts to fight off death, change outcomes to suit our passions and so forth, are by their very nature wrong and evil. First, they do not work, and keep us from our true purpose, to control how we think.
Aurelius sees the emotional state when it veers away from calm, equanimity in all things as counter productive. It changes nothing, and in the end we often find that what appears to us at one time as unfair to us or injurious in some way, turns out in the end to be a good. This because of course, nature works all things for good.
Thus we impede good when we try to force outcomes to our way. Our job is to face the reality of each situation with pleasantness, quiet, and acceptance. Our job is to feed the body as it needs, and beyond that, whether we are healthy or ill is not within our power. We accept that sometimes the body is ill, and we, as best we can, ignore that illness and continue on as before.
It is a short read in actuality but one that is best read in fairly short sessions, allowing one to savor and think deeply about what has been said. One should remember that Aurelius says all this while being the most powerful man in his world, and living in circumstances that one can only describe as choice. It is stunning in some ways to see that he sees all this as unimportant to him and to every person in the end.
He continually reminds us that we all die, and that our lives pass out of human thought for the most part, as if we had not been. This is true of all living things. If it all is a transition, than it was meant to be that. If it is final the end, then it was meant to be that. In either case, we can change nothing, and so we should spend no time whatever in worrying about it, or wailing our fate.
These are true stoic sentiments, and ones that we all could benefit from.
We as humans spend so much of our time (proven by study after study) rehashing the past or contemplating and worrying about the future. But the present is all we have, and we have no idea how “long” that present might be. Such is our life, and so our lives to be of value, must be used to make the most of each moment.
As with all material of this sort (meaning written in a language other than English), translations vary and can impact greatly how much the reader gets from the material. I have no recommendation, but I would suggest that before ordering any translation, it might be best to read a sample of the text to see whether it appeals to you.
Mine was one I had on hand, and not the best I feel, yet I am satisfied that I gleaned the points Aurelius set out to make.
I highly recommend you secure a copy and learn the merits of the stoic life.