Written during the height of the Roman empire, Meditations chronicles the "last good emperor," Marcus Aurelius' personal life advice. A student of stoicism, Aurelius follows in the footsteps of Seneca and Epictetus. His lessons endure the test of time, with stoicism seeing renewed interest from pop culture to military circles, leading to the success of contemporary writers like Ryan Holiday. I find myself coming back to Meditations at different stages of my life and consider it one of my favorite books. I don't always live up to his ideals, but I aim to.
Here are some of my notes.
Keep the mind clear
If you can cut yourself—your mind—free of what you’ve said or done, of the things that you’re afraid will happen, the impositions of the body that contains you and the breath within, and what the whirling chaos sweeps in from the outside, so that the mind is freed from fate, brought to clarity, and lives life on its own recognizance—doing what’s right, accepting what happens, and speaking the truth.
In other words, stay in the present and focus on one's tasks.
You need to avoid certain things in your train of thought: everything random, everything irrelevant. And certainly everything self-important or malicious. You need to get used to winnowing your thoughts, so that if someone says, “What are you thinking about?” You can respond at once (and truthfully) that you are thinking this or that. And it would be obvious at once from your answer that your thoughts were straightforward and considerate ones—the thoughts of an unselfish person, once unconcerned with pleasure and with sensual indulgence generally, with squabbling, with slander and envy, or anything else you’d be ashamed to be caught thinking.
Keep one's thoughts pure. Always be ready to tell someone what one is thinking about.
Work with your fellow human
When you face someone’s insults, hatred, whatever...look at his soul, get inside him. Look at what sort of person he is. You’ll find you don’t need to strain to impress him. But you do have to wish him well. He’s your closest relative. The gods assist him just as they do you—by signs and dreams and every other way—to get the things he wants.
Or as W.H. Auden writes, "love your crooked neighbor with your crooked heart."
The branch is cut off by someone else. But people cut themselves off—through hatred, through rejection—and don’t realize that they’re cutting themselves off from the whole civic enterprise.
Community is the tree of life–to cut oneself off at the branch is to cut off the support system.
Keep death in mind
The first step: Don’t be anxious. Nature controls it all. And before long you’ll be no one, nowhere—like Hadrian, like Augustus. The second step: concentrate on what you have to do. Fix your eyes on it. Remind yourself that your task is to be a good human being; remind yourself what nature demands of people. Then do it, without hesitation, and speak truth as you see it. But with kindness. With humility. Without hypocrisy.
Life is short. Worry less. Be a good human.
You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.