Meditations is a collection of twelve books of the personal writings of Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Aurelius was a practitioner of Stoic philosophy and Meditations is the result of analysis of Stoic philosophy and the application of it to his life.
Don’t despair, the book isn’t nearly as long, boring, or complicated to read as you’d expect. It is quite the opposite. Short and to the point; Meditations gets to the heart of the issues Aurelius was contemplating and sets out reminders on how to live a good life.
“A series of spiritual exercises filled with wisdom, practical guidance, and profound understanding of human behaviour, Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations remains one of the greatest works of spiritual and ethical reflection ever written. Marcus’ insights and advice—on everything from living in the world to coping with adversity and interacting with others—have made the Meditations required reading for statesmen and philosophers alike, while generations of ordinary readers have responded to the straightforward intimacy of his style.” (GoodReads blurb)
I read Gregory Hays’ translation and in his introduction he describes how philosophy was more than a set of ideas to Aurelius and his contemporaries:
“But philosophy also had a more practical dimension. It was not merely a subject to write or argue about, but one that was expected to provide a “design for living”—a set of rules to live one’s life by.”
Meditations, then, is a kind of journal and serves to remind us of simple truths about how we can best live our lives; a blueprint for successful living. I enjoyed reading it; he was my kind of guy. He contemplated life, death, and change a lot; but he also dealt with the smaller, yet equally important, stuff like handling other people. For example:
“The best revenge is not to be like that.”
I liked that. When people talk about Meditations, though, they tend to describe it as life-alteringly profound. And profound it is; but I think a lot of what you find in Meditations you may have heard in some form before.
“The things you think about determine the quality of your mind. Your soul takes on the colour of your thoughts.”
This book is a very eloquent reminder of some key pieces of advice that without doubt will help you in your life but which you may already have encountered. But read it because he’s an interesting guy and he has a great way of putting things. It’s a classic for a reason.
There’s some advice we may have forgotten as we continue to industrialise and incorporate technology into our lives:
“The world as a living being—one nature, one soul. Keep that in mind. And how everything feeds into that single experience, moves with a single motion. And how everything helps produce everything else. Spun and woven together.”
Even back then people were aware of how important it is to look after nature and each other because we’re all connected.
All in all, to my relief, Meditations wasn’t what I was expecting. It was a far easier and more comprehensible book than I was expecting having been written so long ago. It was a pleasant and highly quotable read.