Dissecting Meditations, a personal journal by Marcus Aurelius Part #10

What you are getting into: 651 words, 4mins read + 6mins video

Here, I will share my contemplations upon reading the published personal journal of Marcus Aurelius, a roman emperor from 161-180 AD. Thoughts mainly stemmed from Stoicism, and Marcus Aurelius used the notes for guidance and self improvement. It’s a translated book by Gregory Hays, or you can read it online.

For this and upcoming posts I attempt to dissect quotes I favour upon reading the book.

Photo via Pixabay

Keep in mind how fast things pass by and are gone — those that are now, and those to come. Existence flows past us like a river: the “what” is in constant flux, the “why” has a thousand variations. Nothing is stable, not even what’s right here. The infinity of past and future gapes before us — a chasm whose depths we cannot see.

So it would take an idiot to feel self-importance or distress. Or any indignation, either. As if the thing that irritate us lasted.

“Life follows where the river flows.” I came across this quote somewhere but can’t quite find it. Like a river, the source flows away from me. Like life, it’s always in constant flux. Like emotions, it will soon go away.

If only we are like the zen stones, sitting by the river bank, watching the water flowing by. Appreciating the source of life. Appreciating that we are blessed with a life. Appreciating a life full of experience. Why would we want to cause harm to others? Why do we seek out revenge or damage someone’s reputation? Why wouldn’t we be nice?

We can control our emotions. We can learn to tame our deepest desires. We can do it by acknowledging it. By understanding where the malicious thought came from. It must have come from somewhere. Are we hiding a wound so deep that the conscious mind rejects even the slightest acknowledgement that we are indeed, a little broken?

Even if we are a little broken, what gives us the permission to cause harm? Wouldn’t you agree that everyone else is a little broken, given the fact that everyone suffers some form of setbacks? If so, why are there people out there who still believes in humanity? We say we have faith in humanity, then take out a pen and paper, write down 3 things you did in the last 3 months as an act of kindness.

Marcus Aurelius labels people who feel self-importance, distress, or indignation as idiots. I think there’s some truth to it.

  1. Self-importance: Narcissism gets you nowhere. The world don’t revolve around us. Nobody likes someone who is self-centred. Yes it’s hackneyed, but it’s true. We live in a world where isolation will drive us crazy, and narcissistic behaviour will make you an outcast.
  2. Distress: Why get caught up with worrying or anxiety? Don’t we already know the future is uncertain? What we can do is work on alleviating the uncomfortable feeling.
  3. Indignation: Nothing is fair. To assume all things should be fair is ignorance. But we can be fair to ourselves, by avoiding self provocation. We don’t have to be angry just because we think the situation is unfavourable. We can choose to remain calm and move on.

Next time when you feel anger rising, remember this, the emotions will pass. Change is the only constant. Everything in life is in constant flux. Everything is ephemeral. What we care now may not matter in years to come. Things that we hold onto dearly will cease to exist. Everything will end.

On days when you feel depressed to the core and want every single thing to end, remember this:

”This too, will pass.”

Live life. Suck the marrow out of life. Carpe Diem. Sleep feeling satisfied with everything you have done and wake up with excitement. Take heart in everything we have, right now, here, this very moment.

Watch this before you go off and live an amazing life.

Dissecting Meditations, a personal journal by Marcus Aurelius Part #9

What you are getting into: 796 words, 5mins read + 3mins video

Here, I will share my contemplations upon reading the published personal journal of Marcus Aurelius, a roman emperor from 161-180 AD. Thoughts mainly stemmed from Stoicism, and Marcus Aurelius used the notes for guidance and self improvement. It’s a translated book by Gregory Hays, or you can read it online.

For this and upcoming posts I attempt to dissect quotes I favour upon reading the book.

Some people, when they do someone a favour, are always looking for a chance to call it in. And some aren’t, but they’re still aware of it — still regard it as a debt. But others don’t even do that. They’re like a vine that produces grapes without looking for anything in return.

A horse at the end of the race..

A dog when the hunt is over..

A bee with its honey stored..

And a human being after helping others.

They don’t make a fuss about it. They just go on to something else, as the vine looks forward to bearing fruit again in season.

We should be like that. Acting almost unconsciously.

— Yes. Except conscious of it. Because it’s characteristic of social beings that they see themselves as acting socially. And expect their neighbours to see it too!

That’s true. But you’re misunderstanding me. You’ll wind up like the people I mentioned before, misled by plausible reasoning. But if you make an effort to understand what I’m saying, then you won’t need to worry about neglecting your social duty.

You walk into a grocery store, pick up milk and some food to cook dinner tonight, push your trolley along the aisle, picking up random little things for your kids, stroll to the cashier counter, unload the groceries, take out your credit card, and pay.

That is a purchase.

A purchase is an exchange between a currency (i.e. money) and a product or service. In other words, a transaction. Helping others is not a transaction. It is if you have expectations that a transaction will occur, soon or sometime later.

Don’t. By lending a helping hand, you are doing goodwill, a one way street. Don’t be mistaken, says Marcus Aurelius.

Have you ever felt unappreciated? Chances are, you are mentally calculating the amount of effort and resources you’ve put in. Often in relationships, couples get into huge arguments because they feel their partner is not putting in the effort. Don’t you feel that’s transactional? If I’m loving you 110%, I have a right to be mad at you when you don’t give me 110%. This sort of mentality is absurd, malicious even. Go read The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman if you are such person.

But don’t beat yourself up. It’s just a human tendency to expect reciprocation. We are social animals after all. Prisoners who are locked up in solitary confinement go crazy due to lack of social activities.

Explaining why isolation is so damaging is complicated, but can be distilled to basic human needs for social interaction and sensory stimulation, along with a lack of the social reinforcement that prevents everyday concerns from snowballing into pychoses, said Kupers.

Blaise Pascal goes even further:

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

This is why meditation is so hard, we are unable to bear with our own thoughts. Spending alone time by ourselves if even harder! The problem is magnified by the rise of smartphones. We whip out our mobile devices the minute we are left alone. If we don’t get distracted with texts, articles, social feeds, emails, or whatnot, we seek out problems — whether knowingly or unknowingly. We find problems to entertain ourselves.

“But everyone I know is doing that.”

“But this is the world we live in now.”

“But people are like that.”

Even if you know that other people are behaving this way, you have a choice to be like them, or be you.

My non-empirical hypothesis is this: The more we avoid spending time with our thoughts, the more we fall into the trap of seeking validation from our social circle.

As with most things, balance is key. Too much rumination and little action leads to depression. Too much action and little rumination leads to burnout. This is what Marcus Aurelius calls it, act unconsciously but conscious of it.

Lastly, every time you find yourself thinking about cashing in on a favour, come back and read the quote again.

Read it until you understand.

Help people out, and then go about your day without thinking about it. If they want to, ask them to pay it forward.

With that, I’ll leave you with this.

Dissecting Meditations, a personal journal by Marcus Aurelius Part #8

What you are getting into: 832 words, 5mins read

Photo via Pixabay

Here, I will share my contemplations upon reading the published personal journal of Marcus Aurelius, a roman emperor from 161-180 AD. Thoughts mainly stemmed from Stoicism, and Marcus Aurelius used the notes for guidance and self improvement. It’s a translated book by Gregory Hays, or you can read it online.

For this and upcoming posts I attempt to dissect quotes I favour upon reading the book.

At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: “I have to go to work — as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for — the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?”

— But it’s nice here…

So you were born to feel “nice”? Instead of doing things and experiencing them? Don’t you see the plants, the birds, the ants and spiders and bees going about their individual tasks, putting the world in order, as best as they can? And you’re not willing to do your job as a human being? Why aren’t you running to do what your nature demands?

— But we have to sleep sometime…

Agreed. But nature set a limit on that — as it did on eating and drinking. And you’re over the limit. You’ve had more than enough of that. But not of working. There you’re still below your quota.

You don’t love yourself enough. Or you’d love your nature too, and what it demands of you. People who love what they do wear themselves down doing it, they even forget to wash or eat. Do you have less respect for your own nature than the engraver does for engraving, the dancer for the dance, the miser for money or the social climber for status? When they’re really possessed by what they do, they’d rather stop eating and sleeping than give up practicing their arts.

Is helping others less valuable to you? Not worth your effort?

My favourite quote in the book of Meditations. If there’s nothing you took from all the posts on Stoicism, take this quote away.

It’s so straight forward. I want to sleep more, but I have yet to hit our quota for work. Doing good for myself, love ones, and the world is working. Why do I want to indulge in more sleep as compared to doing good?

By reading this over and over again it reframes my mind from lazing to being a workhorse. “The time for lazing is over, it is time to work,” I should remind ourselves the moment I wake up from slumber. If I compare the quota of sleeping and working with eating and drinking, it brings me clarity. At times I overeat, then I hate myself for doing so. But the times I sleep above my quota, I don’t feel guilty. Why? Because I neglected loving myself. If, I love myself enough, I will take care of my body. This capsule that I reside in, called ‘body’, takes me from birth to death. If, I love myself enough, I will have adequate sleep. If, I love myself enough, I will give my body the nutrients it needs so I have energy to work. If, I love myself enough, I will exercise my body to keep it fit and healthy. If, I don’t have proper nutrition and exercise, I may have troubles sleeping, resulting in irregular sleeping cycles. And in turn I am not able to show up and do my best work.

My point: Take care of yourself before taking care of others.

Most people who only leech without providing any value have some form of care and concern from someone else. What about those people who are able to provide care? It takes work to provide care. They must have taken good care of themselves didn’t they? Why don’t I take care of myself so I can take care of others?

Once you I yourself enough, I will understand that working gives me meaning. It gives me a sense of purpose. Purpose cannot be found. Purpose is found by doing. Don’t listen to the millions of blogs and books that preach ‘find your passion’. Show up and do the work. If don’t I know what to work on, then the work is finding work I can lose yourself in. Passion cannot be discovered by tests, questionnaires, or travel1 — it’s an abstract concept, much like love. There’s no one true definition, everyone holds a different opinion, yet we all have a common understanding on what it is.

So stop with the hedonistic behaviours. Get disciplined and go get stuffs done.

  1. This is the biggest misconception. “Finding yourself through travel” may be the second most outrageous slogan after “diamonds are forever”. Believing this hype may be disastrous.