Dissecting Meditations, a personal journal by Marcus Aurelius Part #3

What you are getting into: 1074 words, 6mins 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.

Photo via Unsplash

Human life.

Duration: momentary. Nature: changeable. Perception: dim. Condition of Body: decaying. Soul: spinning around. Fortune: unpredictable. Lasting Fame: uncertain. Sum Up: The body and its parts are a river, the soul a dream and mist, life is warfare and a journey far from home, lasting reputation is oblivion.

Then what can guide us?

Only philosophy.

Which means making sure that the power within stays safe and free from assault, superior to pleasure and pain, doing nothing randomly or dishonestly and with imposture, not dependent on anyone else’s doing something or not doing it. And making sure that it accepts what happens and what it is dealt as coming from the same place it came from. And above all, that it accepts death in a cheerful spirit, as nothing but the dissolution of the elements from which each living thing is composed. If it doesn’t hurt the individual elements to change continually into one another, why are people afraid of all of them changing and separating? It’s a natural thing. And nothing natural is evil.

What is human life? Marcus Aurelius penned his thoughts as above.

This journey entry is multifaceted. Not just explanation and acceptance of life, but also advice in keeping you grounded. Many people keep themselves grounded with knowledge, ethics, principles, religion, ideology, or philosophy. Take your pick, it does not have to be philosophy.

Once we discover our tenets1, malicious behaviour dissipates like vapour. Akin to having an inner citadel that protects you from the outside world of harm. The outside world is full of change, and change is the constant, thus change is not evil. But our tenets won’t change.

It encourage us to contemplate on death. Death, despite being a taboo topic, we should ruminate about death. Our life journey is always in constant flux, yet death is certain, so why do we avoid thinking about it? Like a good story, life itself has an end. What truly matters is what we write in the story. How we live our lives, the people we meet, how we love and receiving love, our amazing experiences, the agonising phases, all the suffering we have to endure, such make up our life story. Any matured adult will gladly tell you life is not all rainbows and sunshine, but it’s also not all dim and repulsive. And like a good story, it consists underlying, overlapping, intertwined themes. That’s where our tenets comes into play.

Despite sounding like existentialism, thinking about the story you wish to tell before taking your last breath is a good exercise. You may have read the stories of top regrets from people who are on their dying bed. How else in our short lives can we prevent regrets?

“You live as if you were destined to live forever, no thought of your frailty ever enters your head, of how much time has already gone by you take no heed. You squander time as if you drew from a full and abundant supply, though all the while that day which you bestow on some person or thing is perhaps your last.”

Seneca, On the Shortness of Life

We won’t live forever, thus every day is precious, but that is not to say we should treat each day as our last in a literal manner. Just don’t waste the limited time we have. On average we may live up to 80 years old. Minus away sleep, formal education, work, and whatnot, we are left with what we have to make out of life.

By making the most out of life, we can accept death in a cheerful spirit.

Steve Jobs put it bluntly in his famous 2005 Stanford commencement speech:

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like, “If you live each day as if it were your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.”

It made an impression on me… and since then, for the past 33 years I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself, “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I’m about to do today.”

And whenever the answer has been, “no” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything: all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure… these things just fall away in the face of death… leaving only what is truly important.

Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked; there is no reason not to follow your heart.

(Later in the speech…)

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to Heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet, death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It’s life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.

Right now, the new is you, but someday not to long from now you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it’s quite true. Your time is limited; so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.

”Go live.”

Everyone says that, but remember, when nothing is happening, you are living it too. Therefore, if you have been answering “no” for a long time, do remember this, don’t squander time away dreaming or trapped in dogma, do your best to answer “yes” as much as you can, before taking your last breath.

  1. Or principle, belief, doctrine, precept, creed, credo, article of faith, axiom, dogma, canon; theory, thesis, premise, conviction, idea, view, opinion, position; code of belief, teaching(s). Choose the word that resonates with you.

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