In the final decade of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius’ life he wrote a series of personal philosophies intended for himself; these would later be published as Meditations. Some are quotes, most are prescriptions for self-improvement. Aurelius was a student of stoic philosophy. Stoicism deals with emotional intelligence, mind over matter, being tied to nature, and exercising philosophy through actions over words. Meditations is repetitive of it’s central themes. Considering that this was essentially his notebook, he was most likely engaging in behavior modification through written affirmations. Here are some of the highlights from selected themes.
Rise above the bullshit.
Tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own—not of the same blood or birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me. No one can implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my relative, or hate him. We were born to work to together… To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on him: these are obstructions.
Choose not to be harmed—and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed—and you haven’t been.
We all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own.
It can only ruin your life only if it ruins your character. Otherwise it cannot harm you—inside or out.
The tranquility that comes when you stop caring what they say. Or think, or do. Only what you do.
It’s silly to try to escape other peoples’ faults. They are inescapable. Just try to escape your own.
Leave other peoples’ mistakes where they lie.
That kindness is invincible, provided it’s sincere—not ironic or an act.
Conduct yourself properly.
Independence and unvarying reliability … to be the same in all circumstances—intense pain, the loss of a child, chronic illness … a man can show both strength and flexibility … accept favors from friends without losing your self-respect or appearing ungrateful.
… fatherly authority in the home … Gravity without airs. To show intuitive sympathy to friends, tolerance to amateurs and sloppy thinkers … ability to get along with everyone … To investigate and analyze, with understanding and logic … Not to display anger or other emotions. To be free of passion and yet full of love. To praise without bombast, to display expertise without pretension.
Not to be constantly correcting people, and in particular not to jump on them whenever they make an error of usage or a grammatical mistake or mispronounce something, but just answer their question or add another example, or debate the issues itself (not their phrasing), or make some other contribution to the discussion—and insert the right expression, unobtrusively.
Never under compulsion, out of selfishness, without forethought, without misgivings … No surplus words or unnecessary actions. Let the spirit in you represent a man … Taking up his post like a soldier and patiently awaiting his recall from life. Needing no oath or witness. Cheerfulness. Without requiring other people’s help. Or serenity supplied by others. To stand up straight—not straightened.
Use your mind as the powerful tool that it is.
Concentrate every minute … on doing what’s in front of you with precise and genuine seriousness, tenderly, willingly, with justice. And on freeing yourself from all other distractions … you do everything as if it were the last thing you were doing in your life, and stop being aimless, stop letting your emotions override what your mind tells you, stop being hypocritical, self-centered, irritable.
You need to avoid certain things in your train of thought: everything random and irrelevant. And certainly everything self-important or malicious.
You can lead an untroubled life provided you can grow, can think and act systematically.
Not to assume it’s impossible because you find it hard. But to recognize that if it’s humanly possible, you can do it too.
…your responsibilities can be broken down into individual parts as well. Concentrate on those, and finish the job methodically…
Practice really hearing what people say. Do your best to get inside their minds.
Today I escaped from anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions—not outside.
Focus on your own internal rhythms.
People try to get away from it all—to the country, to the beach, to the mountains … Which is idiotic: you can get away from it anytime you like. By going within. Nowhere you can go is more peaceful—more free of interruptions—than your own soul.
Ignoring what goes on in other people’s souls—no one ever came to grief that way. But if you won’t keep track of what your own soul’s doing, how can you not be unhappy?
To shrug it all off and wipe it clean—every annoyance and distraction—and reach utter stillness.
The things you think about determine the quality of your mind. Your soul takes on the color of your thoughts.
When jarred, unavoidably, by circumstances, revert at once to yourself, and don’t lose the rhythm more than you can help. You’ll have a better grasp of the harmony if you keep on going back to it.
You have to assemble your life yourself—action by action. And be satisfied if one achieves it goal, as far as it can. No one can keep that from happening.
Everything is interconnected.
Constant awareness that everything is born from change. The knowledge that there is nothing nature loves more than to alter what exists and to make new things like it. All that exists is the seed of what will emerge from it. You think the only seeds are the ones that make plants and children? Go deeper.
Some people, when they do someone a favor, are always looking 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.
People exist for one another. You can instruct or endure them.
You participate in a society by your existence. Then participate in its life through your actions—all your actions. Any action not directed toward a social end is a disturbance to your life, an obstacle to wholeness, a source of dissension.
To enter others’ minds and let them enter yours.
A branch cut away from the branch beside it is simultaneously cut away from the whole tree. So too a human being separated from another is cut loose from the whole community. 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… We can reattach ourselves and become once more components of the whole. But if the rupture is too often repeated, it makes the severed part hard to reconnect, and to restore. You can see the difference between the branch that’s been there since the beginning, remaining on the tree and growing with it, and the one that’s been cut off and grafted back.
Be grounded, diminish the ego.
In the ring, our opponents can gouge us with their nails or butt us with their heads and leave a bruise, but we don’t denounce them for it or get upset with them or regard them from then on as violent types. We just keep an eye on them after that. Not out of hatred or suspicion. Just keeping a friendly distance. We need to do that in other areas. We need to excuse what our sparring partners do, and just keep our distance—without suspicion or hatred.
If anyone can refute me—show me I’m making a mistake or looking at things from the wrong perspective—I’ll gladly change. It’s the truth I’m after, and the truth never harmed anyone. What harms us is to persist in self-deceit and ignorance.
Is my intellect up to this? If so, then I’ll put it to work, like a tool provided by nature. And if it isn’t, then I’ll turn the job over to someone who can do it better—unless I have no choice.
When faced with people’s bad behavior, turn around and ask when you have acted like that.
That to expect bad people not to injure others is crazy. It’s to ask the impossible. And to let them behave like that to other people but expect them to exempt you is arrogant.
What is quoted above is edited. Aurelius has much more to say in Meditations. It’s the favorite book of several powerful people for a reason. Do yourself a favor, pick up a copy, and read it often.
Read More: Top 14 Quotes From Robert Greene’s Mastery