Oh, Marcus Aurelius, for me, it started with you.
It’s been a short while it would seem, since I first acquainted myself with stoic philosophy. I knew of it, I knew about it, and I heard many great names associated with it. Often, our minds are not always fertile for the seeds we are presented with. But there comes a time when the information comes back around to serve us. In my case, the stoic seeds began taking root when I started reading Meditations.
Since then, I have gone on to study the wisdom of all the Stoics. Although I may have much left to learn, what Stoic philosophy has taught me so far has impacted me greatly.
What I Admire Most About Marcus Aurelius
What I admire most about Aurelius, is he wrote for himself. It seems he never intended for his words to be published.
Aurelius has a poetic way of presenting many concepts in life. He strips down life by breaking it into parts, technically known as merismos,
“How all things quickly vanish, our bodies themselves lost in the physical world, the memories of them lost in time; the nature of all objects of the senses – especially those which allure us with pleasure, frighten us with pain, or enjoy the applause of vanity – how cheap they are, how contemptible, shoddy, perishable, and dead: these are matters for our intellectual faculty to consider.”
“How all things quickly vanish, our bodies themselves lost in the physical world, the memories of them lost in time; the nature of all objects of the senses – especially those which allure us with pleasure, frighten us with pain, or enjoy the applause of vanity – how cheap they are, how contemptible, shoddy, perishable, and dead: these are matters for our intellectual faculty to consider.”2.12
He takes this merismos a step further in 6.13 – speaking of the ‘friction of a membrane.’ Leave it to Aurelius to turn anyone vegetarian, ‘impress on your mind that this is the dead body of a fish…of a bird or pig.’
I find comfort in this stripping down, of taking a step back and seeing life for what it truly is.
In the art of rhetoric, we see then how many things we attribute to our happiness. What foolish things we regard as so high, and yet, when we break them down, what are they? Afterall, ‘Falernian wine is the mere juice of grapes.’
Many times Meditations had me stop and close the book. I had to let it sink in, let it infuse in my mind – which, was suddenly very fertile for Stoicism.
Such delights as these lines,
“So does the truly beautiful need anything beyond itself?…Does an emerald lose its quality if it is not praised? And what of gold, ivory, purple, a lyre, a dagger, a flower, a bush?”
Aurelius And The Soul
“So does the truly beautiful need anything beyond itself?…Does an emerald lose its quality if it is not praised? And what of gold, ivory, purple, a lyre, a dagger, a flower, a bush?”4.20
And Aurelius speaks of the Soul of the Universe in ways which I can’t help but be in awe of,
“Think always of the universe as one living creature, comprising one substance and one soul: how all is absorbed into this one consciousness; how a single impulse governs all its actions; how all things collaborate in all that happens; the very web and mesh of it all.”4.40
And of the Soul itself,
“A soul is a sphere which retains the integrity of its own form if it does not bulge or contract for anything, does not flare or subside, but keeps the constant light by which it sees the truth of all things and the truth in itself.”11.12
Meditations sparked something inside me to start writing my own thoughts down. To share the philosophical reverie which I so often lose myself in. My pen has flowed with much more ease since then, because, like Aurelius, I am writing for myself, and quite often, to myself.
Marcus Aurelius has taught me to look differently at the world around me. To look deeper and to find meaning, not to simply give everything meaning.
I have learned that refraining from such pleasures in life, is not to condemn oneself from the joy in living. But to ask, what is the joy in living? It doesn’t come from such pleasures which please only the flesh, for their effects are temporary.
The Joy In Living
The joy in living comes from seeing beyond these pleasures, from separating ourselves from them. Satisfying our souls by way of virtue. Only then are we content to live in the present. When we fully embrace our wholeness, and remember who we truly are.
If you found these quotes inspiring, I highly recommend getting a copy of Meditations.
Until next time,