Marcus Aurelius

Moreso than notes, below are quotes categorized by major takeaways and Stoic philosophical principles.

Aside: I listened to this audiobook version of Meditations, and after a quick comparison to my written copy, it looks like this audiobook’s translation is to a relatively more basic and modern English. It makes for easier comprehension, though it might lose some of the original meaning.

Be deliberate with your words and action. Behave in a principled and intelligent manner. Pursue reason.

“Let no act be done without a purpose.”

“He who does wrong, does wrong against himself. He who acts unjustly, acts unjustly to himself, because he makes himself bad. He often acts unjustly who does not do a certain thing, not only he who does a certain thing.”

“The offenses that are committed through desire are more blamable than those that are committed through anger, for he who is excited by anger seems to turn away from reason with a certain pain and unconscious contraction, but he who offends through desire, being overpowered by pleasure, seems to be in a manner more intemperate and less manly in his offenses.”

Your habitual thoughts are the character of your mind.

“If the intellectual faculty is common to all, then rational reason is also common to all.”

“Examine men’s sovereign principles, even those of the wise, what kind of things they avoid and what kind they pursue.”

Do not be discouraged or dissatisfied if you fail. Reflect. Ensure you stick to your core principles.

“Speak both in the Senate and every man, whoever he may be, appropriately, not with any affectation. Use plain discourse.

The universe merely is; you must accept it on its terms. What matters is not what happens, but how you react to it.

“Good fortune is something you assign yourself. And a good fortune is a good disposition of the soul, good emotional responses, good actions.”

“Be like the promontory against which the waves continually break. It stands firm and tames the fury of the water around it.”

Do not resent pain or misfortune.

“I am unhappy because this has happened to me. No. Say instead: I am happy though this has happened to me, because I endure it free from pain, neither crushed by the present nor fearing the future. For such a thing as this might have happened to any man, but not every man would have endured it free from pain on such an occasion. Why then is that experience taken to be a misfortune, any more than your ability to endure it is a good fortune? And do you in all cases call that which is not a deviation from man’s nature a man’s misfortune? And does a thing seem to you to be a deviation from man’s nature when it is not contrary to the will of man’s nature? Well, you know the will of nature. Will then this that has happened prevent you from being just, magnanimous, temperate, prudent, secure against inconsiderate opinions and falsehood? Will it prevent you from having modesty, freedom, and everything else by the presence of which man’s nature is fulfilled? Remember too on every occasion that leads you to vexation to apply this principle: not that this is a misfortune, but that to bear it nobly is good fortune.”

“In every pain, let this thought be present: there is no dishonor in it. Nor does it make the governing intelligence worse, for it does not damage the intelligence either so far as the intelligence is rational nor so far as it is social. Indeed, in the case of most pains, let this remark of Epicurus aid you. That pain cannot be intolerable and everlasting, if you bear in mind that it must have its limits, and if you add nothing to it by your imagination. And remember this too: there are many things we do not perceive as pain even though they are disagreeable to us, such as unquiet slumber, being too hot, or having no appetite. When then you are discontented about any of these things, say to yourself that your courage is failing you. You are yielding to pain.”

“It is in our power to have no opinion about a thing and not to be disturbed in our soul, for things in themselves have no natural power to form our judgements.”

“The whole earth is merely a point in the universe.”

“Whatever may happen to you, it was prepared for you from all eternity, and the implication of causes was from eternity spinning the thread of your being, and of that which is incident to it. Whether the universe is a concourse of atoms or nature is a system, let this first be established, that I am part of a whole which is governed by nature. Next, I am in a manner intimately related to the parts which are of the same kind with myself. For remembering this, inasmuch as I am a part, I shall be discontented with none of the things which are assigned to me out of the whole. For nothing is injurious to the part if it for the advantage for the whole. For the whole contains nothing which is not for its advantage, and all natures indeed have this common principle, but the nature of the universe has this principle besides, that it cannot be compelled even by any external cause to generate anything harmful to itself. By remembering then that I am part of such a whole, I shall be content with everything that happens.”

Death is a part of life. There is no use in dreading it. Live as though you should already have died and your time now is a gift.

“Though you should be going to live 3,000 years and as many times 10,000 years, still remember that no man loses any other life than this which he now lives, nor lives any other than this which he now loses. The longest life and the shortest are thus brought to the same condition. For the present is the same to all, and that which perishes is also the same. And so that which is lost is but a mere moment, for a man cannot lose either the past or the future, for how can anyone take from a man that what he does not have?

“What are you discontented with? The wickedness of men? Recall to your mind this conclusion, that rational animals exist for one another, and that to tolerate is a part of justice, and that men do wrong involuntarily. And consider how many already after mutual enmity, hating, and fighting, have been stretched dead, reduced to ashes, and be quiet at last.”

“Bear this in mind. Within a very short time, both you and he will be dead, and soon not even your names will be left behind. Take away your judging thought, and then there is taken away the complaint: “I have been harmed”. Take away the complaint “I have been harmed” and the harm is taken away.”

“Everything is only for a day. Both that which remembers, and that which is remembered. Observe constantly the changing nature of all things, and accustom yourself to consider that the nature of the universe loves nothing so much as to change things from how they are into something else, new and yet similar. For everything that exists is in a way the seed of that which will be. Even the idea of the seed which you hold on to as unchangeable that which is cast into the earth or into a womb is quite unphilosophical.”

“For this act by which we die is still one of the acts of life. It is sufficient, then, in this act if we can do well what we have before us.”

“You will soon die. And you are not yet clear-minded, nor fear of anxiety, nor fear of being hurt by external things, nor kindly disposed towards all, nor do you yet look for wisdom only in acting justly.”

“Why do I care about anything other than how I shall at least become earth? Why am I disturbed, for the dispersion of my elements shall happen no matter what I do?”

“How many with whom I came into the world are already gone out of it?”

“Imagine that your life should have rightfully ended now. And therefore live the remainder, this gracious addition, according to nature.”

“How short is the time from birth to dissolution, and the illimitable time before birth, and the equally boundless time after dissolution?.. He who dies at the extremist old age will be brought into the same condition with him who died prematurely.”

“The same as if a magistrate who has employed an actor dismisses him from the stage. But I have not finished! I have but performed three acts! True, but in life the three acts are the whole drama, for what shall be a complete drama is determined by him who was once the cause of its composition, and is now of its dissolution. But you are the cause of neither. Depart then, satisfied, for he also who releases you is satisfied.”

Seek internal calm and pursue principled thought and behavior; do not seek excessive pleasure or external praise

“Those who do not observe the movement of their own minds, must of necessity be unhappy.”

“Do not waste the remainder of your life in thoughts about other people which do not refer to some object of common utility. For you lose the opportunity to do something else when you have such thoughts as “what is such a person doing and why and what is he saying and what is he thinking of and what is he contriving?” And whatever else of the kind that makes us wander away from the observation of our own sovereign mind. We should put a stop to everything that is without a clear purpose and useless in the series of our thoughts, but most of all the prying and the malignant. A man should learn to turn his mind only to those things about which if one should suddenly ask “what do you have now in your thoughts?”, with perfect openness you might immediately answer this, or that, so that from your words it should be plain that everything in you is benevolent.

“Men seek retreats for themselves, houses in the country, seashores, and mountains, and you too tend to desire such things very much. But this is altogether a mark of the most common sort of man. For it is in your power to retire into yourself whenever you choose to. For there is nowhere with more quiet or freedom from trouble for a man to retire to than his own soul, particularly when he has within him such thoughts that by looking into them, he is immediately in perfect tranquility, and by tranquility I mean nothing else than the good ordering of the mind. Constantly then, give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself, and let the principles you turn to be brief and fundamental, which as soon as you shall recall them will be sufficient to cleanse the soul completely and to send you back free from all discontent with the things to which you must return.”

“Neither must we value the clapping of tongues, for the praise they comes from the public is just that, a clapping of tongues. Suppose then that you have given up this worthless thing called fame. What remains that is of value? It is of my opinion, to move or to restrain yourself in conformity with your own constitution.”

“To revere and honor your own mind will make you content with yourself, and in harmony with society, and in agreement with the gods.”

“How strangely men act. They will not praise their contemporaries and neighbors, but to be themselves praised by posterity, by those whom they have never seen or ever will see, this they set much value on. This is very much the same is if you were to be grieved if someone who lived before you failed to praise you.”

“Only look to yourself, and resolve to be a good man in every act. And remember, look within. Within is the fountain of good, and it will ever bubble up, if you will ever dig.”

“It is possible to be a divine man and to be recognized as such by no one.”

“A good disposition is invincible if it be genuine and not an affected smile and acting a part. For what will the most violent man do to you if you continue to be of a kind disposition towards him?”

To deprive yourself of objects and pleasure, or to patiently endure being deprived of them, is strength and character.

Objects are short-lived and worthless. Principles are foundational and timeless. Principles and morals should be pursued, not objects.

“Things do not touch the soul. Your anguish comes only from judgements within. The universe is transformation. Life is judgement.”

“Think not so much of what you do not have as of what you do have, and of these things which you do have, select the best, and then reflect how eagerly they would have been sought if you had not had them. At the same time, however, take care that you do not through being so pleased with them accustom yourself to overvalue them, so as to be disturbed if ever you should not have them.”

The mind which is free from passions is a citadel. For man has nothing more secure to which he can fly for refuge, and for the future, be invincible. He then who has not seen this is an ignorant man, but he who has seen this and does not fly to this refuge is unhappy.”

“And indeed he who pursues pleasure as good and avoids pain as evil is guilty of impiety, for of necessity, such a man must often find fault with universal nature, alleging that it assigns things to the bad and good contrary to its desserts, for frequently the bad enjoy pleasure while the good suffer.”

“It would be a man’s happiest lot to depart from mankind without having had any kind of lying and hypocrisy and luxury and pride. However, to breathe out ones life when a man has enough of these things is the next best voyage.”

Act in accordance with nature

“What is the nature of the whole? What is my nature?”

“Does the sun undertake to do the work of the rain?”

“An act that is in accordance with nature, is also in accordance with reason.”

“Cleanse your imagination by often saying to yourself: now it is in my power to let no badness be in this soul. Nor desire, nor perturbation at all. But looking at all things, I see what is their nature, and I use each according to its value. Remember this power which you have from nature.”

This universal nature is named truth, and is the prime cause of all things that are true. He then who lies intentionally is guilty of impiety inasmuch as he acts unjustly by deceiving. And he also who lies unintentionally inasmuch as he is at variance with the universal nature and inasmuch as he disturbs the order by fighting against the nature of the world, for he fights against it who is moved of himself to that which is contrary to truth, for he had received powers from nature through the neglect of which he is not able to now distinguish falsehood from truth.”

“He who is afraid of pain will sometimes also be afraid of some of the things which must naturally happen in the world.”

“[The universal nature] would not have made both unless it was equally affected towards both. Towards these, they who wish to follow nature should be of the same mind with it and equally affected. With respect to pain, then, and pleasure, or death and life, or honor and dishonor, which the universal nature treats equally, whoever is not equally affected is manifestly acting impiously.”

“Do not despite death, but be well content with it, since this too is one of those things which nature wills.”

Take care of your body as you do your mind

“The body ought to be compact and to show no irregularity either in motion or attitude. For what the mind shows in the face by maintaining in it the expression of intelligence and propriety, that ought to be required also in the whole body.”

Be kind to your fellow citizen

“That which is not good for the swarm, neither is it good for the bee.”

“Men exist for the sake of one another. Teach them then, or bear with them.”

“Inasmuch as I am in a manner intimately related to the parts which are of the same kind with myself, I shall do nothing unsocial, but I shall rather direct myself to the things which are of the same kind with myself, and I shall turn my efforts to the common interest, and divert them from the contrary.”

“Suppose any man shall despise me. I will not be discovered doing anything deserving of contempt… I will be mild and benevolent towards every man and ready to show even him his mistake, not reproachfully, nor making a display of my endurance, but nobly and honestly.”

Have a purpose and pursue it

Consider your place and role in the world.

“He who does not know what the world is does not know where he is. And he who does not know for what propose the world exists does not know who he is nor what the world is. But he who has failed at any one of these things could not say for what purpose he exists himself.”

Be grateful and respectful towards those who have enabled you to become who you are

“When you wish to delight yourself, think of the virtues of those who live with you. For instance, the ceaseless activity of one, the modesty of another, the liberality of a third, and some other good quality of a fourth, for nothing delights so much as the exemplification of virtues when they are exhibited in the morals of those who live with us, and the more abundantly they present themselves, so much the better. So keep these examples before you.”

And just a great quote…

“To those who ask: where have you seen the gods or how do you comprehend they exist and so worship them? I answer: in the first place, they may be seen even with the eyes. In the second place, neither have I seen even my soul, and yet I honor it. This then with respect to the gods, from what I constantly experience of their power, from this I comprehend that they exist and I venerate them.”