4/28/17

Lessons From: Marcus Aurelius' Meditations

How to use stoicism to get rid of your negative emotions


Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus was emperor of Rome and the last of the Five Good Emperors. He was beloved during and after his reign and was generally considered to be intelligent and wise, having dedicated his life to studying what was known of the natural sciences, the arts, and philosophy, which he was eager to learn. He even slept on the floor until his mother stopped him from doing so. 

He is considered one of the greatest stoics, despite the fact that he never called himself one, and he kept a journal while on military campaigns for ten years which he called To Myself but is popularly known as his Meditations. It's not really organized by themes, but is more of a collection of thoughts which he would write down every now and then, and still it is considered one of the greatest works of philosophy to exist. 

Meditations itself is divided into 12 books, and is pretty straightforward and written pretty much so anybody could understand it, which reflects his nature of dressing like philosophers would instead of carrying himself in the emperor's garments. In this post we'll focus on his ideas on perspective, and how to use them to have a more tranquil mind. 


Everybody will run into terrible people from time to time, and sometimes that can ruin the whole day for you, but you must realize that life is too fleeting to focus on this. Anger deteriorates the mind, and yet the mind is the most important part of your existence and letting it be a slave to reactions and selfish passions, or letting it be injected with fear of the present or anxiety about the future is a waste. Sure, you can't tell where you're going to be in five years, or one, or even tomorrow, but you can keep your mind calm and do the best with what you have, whether you have nothing but yourself or the world as your oyster. 

Remember, too, that there is always solitude in the mind so you might as well learn to deal with it, and that you should not worry too much of what others think of you because you cannot control it, and it is not as much as you usually would presume anyways. Still, to avoid any bad impressions, think and act like you would want to be seen thinking and acting, and live with virtue, for the pursuit of good will leave you with a mind unburdened with guilt or shame and will let you focus on actual personal growth. 



Be aware of your judgement of self, because you must love yourself best and value your self esteem above that of others, with the caution of not letting it get over your head. Generally negative emotions, especially if left to ferment and grow, will lead you to underestimate yourself and undervalue your actions. It would still be wise to underestimate yourself, not from a position of weakness, but from a position of acknowledging that other people can have great capacity as well, but overvalue your actions while being humble so you are not taken advantage of. 

How can we apply this?

There's a reason stoicism has remained popular throughout the millenia, and that's because it's probably the most practical philosophy that there is. In modernity it's pretty much Buddhism and Taoism without the religious aspects, although there were some metaphysical thoughts thrown around back then, but these have been largely ignored with the advance of science and our understanding of the universe. 



If you're feeling a negative reaction to any situation, be it immediate or long-term, remember that it is not what happened that is affecting you deeply but your perspective of the event itself, and so you must allow yourself to let go of this and realize that there are always more important things to take care of so you might as well do so. 

Say a close relative died, they would not want you to suffer long for them and they would want you to live your life, for it is a privilege that they do not have anymore and if they could, they would realize it is precious. 

Say you've been dumped by your significant other, or worse, caught them cheating. Realize that it is no longer your problem and you must walk away both to protect your dignity and to begin the transition to move on, and forgive yourself for feeling sad, because emotion is human, but do not allow yourself to dwell on it.

Say you've been fired for any number of reasons that don't have to do with you. Realize that you have skills and are therefore valuable and can promptly either find another job or create a company yourself, and if you are not skilled enough, then you must pull yourself up by the bootstraps and learn, so you can actually make something of value. 



This time of year is pretty complicated to handle for a lot of young people because they're usually in exams, and sometimes the amount of work you have to do is too much for them to deal with. Remember this: It's a big effort in a small amount of time and the fact that you even have the possibility to study and prove your knowledge puts you in a privileged position compared to most people, so chin up. The rest of the world will still be there when you're done, and if it won't, then you need to reassess your priorities. 

So it goes, generally you'll confront adverse situations and thus need a solution in one way or another, and dwelling on the bad will not let you focus on the good. Change the way you see the world, and the world shall utterly change for you. 

Read more about Marcus Aurelius here:

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