Marcus Aurelius was a Roman Emperor in the second century A.D. He was also a philosopher and one of the great Stoics. In his work “Meditations”, he outlines the philosophy of Stoicism and how this applies to life. Essentially, it means being aware of the greater plan of the universe, while letting our actions be guided by the needs of others, as well as our own. If you have ever wondered about your purpose in life and how to reach it, read on. Get ready to learn about Stoicism and how it can be applied to your own life!
Aurelius explains that the universe is governed by an intelligence that dictates all, and that the universe has a plan for every one of us. Everything in life happens for a reason, and we all have our part to play. This means that whether we suffer or whether we’re happy, it has all been predestined for us. “What a glorious power is granted to man! Never to do any action, but such as God is to commend; and to embrace kindly, whatever God appoints for him.”
The universe has a plan for you, and this knowledge should guide your actions. It means that all things are connected to create a continuity of substance.
For example, a physician will not always prescribe agreeable medicine or treatment to cure you. But you still accept it, as you trust it will heal you. So it is with the will of the universe – there is a plan and all your suffering is part of it: “As, when ’tis said, that, Aesculapius hath prescribed to one a course of riding, or the cold bath, or walking bare-footed; so it may be said, that the nature presiding in the whole, hath prescribed to one a disease, a maim, a loss of a child, or such like.”
So, don’t oppose any harsh events happening in your life – instead, trust in the plan of the universe. That is why Marcus Aurelius kept strong even in the face of terrible events in his life. He lost his wife at a young age, and many of his children died in infancy. When you believe that whatever happens is part of a greater plan, you can be calm in the face of challenges and hardships.
When you struggle to get up in the morning, think to yourself that you are rising to do the business that destiny intends you to do. You were not created to sink into your bed and spend the morning lazing about, but instead to exercise your powers in the world.
We are made up of three parts: the flesh, the animal spirit, and the governing part. Our governing part (our soul) is our connection to divinity. The way we see the world is dictated by it. This also connects us to the greater plan of the universe.
So seek not outer praises, fame, or worldly goods. You alone have the power to make yourself happy. Stop attaching such value to money or admiration. Rather, you should find enjoyment in your own intellect to “attain freedom, self-contentment, independency, or tranquillity.”
If you are trusting in the universe and in your own soul, this will mean that anything connected with nature will seem agreeable to you. Since you are connected with everything around you, all is beautiful as it follows a greater plan.
While only you can make yourself happy, this also means that only you can cause your own distress. This happens in two ways: First, you may resist things happening to you, meaning you resist the universe and becoming averse to the natural course of things.
The second way in which your soul hurts itself is by letting itself be guided by emotions. You are the master of your emotions, and only you can raise feelings such as fear or sorrow. Control the way you react to external events and you will never be unhappy again.
Don’t let yourself be distracted by outer influences and don’t wander from the path providence has intended for you. Always follow the guidance of your own soul: “Seldom are any found unhappy for not observing the motions and intentions in the souls of others. But such as observe not well the motions of their own souls, or their affections, must necessarily be unhappy.”
Since the soul is our own part of divinity, you can always find calm and happiness there, by accessing it through philosophy. Philosophy is the only way of leading an honorable life, as it helps you to preserve the divinity within you, and prevents your soul from being influenced by others. Knowledge of your soul also helps you accept whatever life has in store for you, including death at the inevitable end point of life.
You should not let yourself be guided by emotions, but rather by your rational mind. Don’t be scared of death – this would mean you’re letting yourself be guided by the emotion of fear. Death is inevitable, and will happen when the universe has planned for it to happen.
Death simply means to dissolve back into the universe and become part of something great. It is the natural progress of things and nothing natural can be evil. Therefore, death ought not to induce fear.
If your actions are confused by emotions, or events happening around you, return to yourself through meditation or philosophy and find harmony in your soul. Tranquility will allow you to follow the plan of the universe, as your soul provides you with “the most graceful order.”
Rationality and reason are guided by your inner divinity. “They act from their internal principle, and go straight forward to the end set before them. The actions are called right, or straight, from their straight road to their end.”
As a rational being, your actions will simultaneously be agreeable to both nature and reason, as these are one and the same. If you struggle to keep a clear head, consider whatever it is that is disturbing you. Do not fret or complain about what is happening to you – if you prefer your soul above everything else, these things cannot affect you.
We all are born, and we all die. Eventually, we will return to the universe around us. Life is short! So make the most of it. “Some things hasten into being: Some hasten to be no more: Some parts of things in being, are already extinct.”
Always live in the present moment. The past has happened and cannot be changed, and the future is dictated by providence. The best way of making the most of your life is by focusing on the here and now, and by attempting to behave in the best way possible.
You should always aim to be truthful. When others would tell Aurelius ways in which to improve his behavior, he would listen to them and would gladly amend it. Many people remain in ignorance as they are hurt when improvements are suggested. But this would mean letting your life be governed by hurt feelings, and not by rational thinking.
Moreover, behaving as the universe would have you behave means acting “with true unaffected dignity, kindness of heart, freedom, and justice.” Your behavior and thoughts dictate how you experience the present moment. So, attempt to have a mind that is simple and good-natured, meaning when asked what you are thinking about, you can easily answer the question. Do not let your thoughts be governed by feelings such as envy, suspicion, or any other passion.
Life passes quickly and you never know which moment might be your last. Live each moment to the fullest and perform every action as if it were your last. It doesn’t matter whether you live a long or a short life, “since the present time is equal to all, what is lost or parted with is equal to all.”
Men were created to help one another. Opposition to one another is contrary to nature. So, let your actions be guided by a social purpose. Your lot is determined by the universe, meaning you should strive to make the best out of it by loving the people it is your destiny to live with. We are all co-operating to reach the same aim - that which the universe has designed for us.
When someone does you a favor or shows kindness, he will conduct himself in one of three ways. Either he will make you feel that you owe him something, he may feel you owe him something, even if he does not voice it, or, as Aurelius suggests, he may see his actions as the natural course, and nothing out of the ordinary. That is what you should aim for as well.
Just like the vine continuing to produce grapes or the bee continuing to make honey, so should man continue doing good acts towards his fellow beings without expecting anything in return.
Thinking about what others do or plan to do will only distract you from your purpose. Only think of their actions when they directly affect public interest. Otherwise, let your actions be governed by your soul.
Finally, when you are in conflict with someone, remember that your destinies are the same. You will both die eventually, and your names will be committed to oblivion. So, think twice whether you want to spend your precious time in the world arguing or holding grudges.
If something is difficult for you to attain, it doesn’t mean it is impossible for everyone. And if you see something to be possible for others, you should believe this to be attainable for yourself as well. Every one of us is unique and has their purpose dictated to them by the universe – so listen to your inner divinity and worship it.
Be kind, truthful and just. The universe has a plan for you and whatever happens in your life has been predestined. This means do not let yourself be guided by others, but only by your soul. Do not let emotions govern your life – they will only distract you from the right path to follow.
Marcus Aurelius’ “Meditations” is still one of the great works of philosophy. It simultaneously provides us with an immediate and unexpected insight into life in ancient Rome, while also providing guidance on how to live a fulfilling life that is still relevant today.
You are unique! Every one of us has a hidden talent, so discover yours and listen to your inner voice to guide your actions.
Marcus Aurelius was the Roman emperor from 161 to 180 AD. He was the last emperor of the Pax Romana, when the Roman Empire enjoyed great peace and stability. He was... (Read more)
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