Dissecting Meditations, a personal journal by Marcus Aurelius Part #2

What you are getting into: 568 words, 4mins read

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.

Even if you’re going to live three thousand more years, or ten times that, remember: you cannot lose another life than the one you’re living now, or live another one than the one you’re losing. The longest amounts to the same as the shortest. The present is the same for everyone; its loss is the same for everyone; and it should be clear that brief instant is all that is lost. For you can’t lose either the past or the future; how could you lose what you don’t have?

Remember two things:

  1. that everything has always been the same, and keeps recurring, and it makes no difference whether you see the same things recur in a hundred years or two hundred, or in an infinite period;
  2. that the longest-lived and those who will die soonest lose the same thing. The present is all that they can give up, since that is all you have, and what you do not have, you cannot lose.

On the surface, this quote reminds us to think about our mortality and to focus on the now. We do not possess the past nor the future, thus we cannot lose them away. Once we allow our minds to flow uncontrolled into the past or future, we think we may have a chance to change them. However, reality is we can only change the now.

This quote is sticky if shown to a depressed person. Their minds are filled up with existential and suicidal thoughts, they might just decide to end it all since it mentions life will always be the same. On the flip side, if the future can’t be lost, then it could be argued that the future may not be depressing at all, that one has the capacity to influence our future. Thus, someone who is suffering from depression may then choose to not take themselves seriously and change their lifestyle.

On a stoic perspective, one ought to not engage in materialistic pleasures. Remember the times we feel a deep sense of sorrow when we lose a material item. Why do we get so attached to an item when the greatest possession we can lose is this brief instant moment?

Three things we need to remember:

  1. the only life we will be losing is the one we have right now in this instant moment, not the future or someone else’s life
  2. the universe remains the same long after we are gone
  3. a long life or a short life is one and the same

Not meant as a pithy quote, but as a reminder when we get distracted with the intricacies of life. When we get too full of ourselves we, the quote can serve as a poignant reminder to not let material possessions define our identity. When we get too depressed, the quote can serve as a reminder that the future can be shaped by our actions. And that the future is not the reality. The reality is now, and we can change it.

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