A Stoic's Guide to the Good Life

November 06, 2020

What a Roman Emperor taught about how

When you wake in the morning, reflect on the day ahead. Know that you will meet people who will be “busybodies, ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, selfish,” wrote Marcus Aurelius in "Meditations."

Needy people zap your energy. Social media zap your energy. Stop doing things that do not have a clear purpose.

Watch what you think about, and don’t get waylaid by passions, aggrievements, gossip–anything that distracts you from your chief purpose.

“Those who do not observe the movements of their own minds must of necessity be unhappy,” Aurelius wrote.

Men’s acts do not not disturb us, as it is our opinions of these acts that bother us. Take away the opinions and you remove the disturbance. Things that happen to us come to use by either by chance or by providence, and so why feel slighted by either?

Being vexed by outside events separates us from our own true nature. Ignore these distractions and instead spend the time learning something new.

Marcus Aurelius

Focus on your limited time here on earth: If you do not clear the “the clouds from your mind,” this time – and your opportunities in life – will vanish. Think more about your purpose, and less about what others may think of you.

“Reverence of the guardian spirit consists in keeping it pure from passion and thoughtlessness, and dissatisfaction with what comes from Gods and men,” he wrote.

When successful at this, you can deal with all things with benevolence, and without guile.

For in the end, we are only in the present, the past is an illusion, as is the future. “The present is the only thing of which a man can be deprived,” he wrote.

All Experience is Formed by Thinking

In the introduction, Aurelius thanks those who have been a positive influence. This includes his tutor, for, among other things, teaching how “to endure pain, and to want little. And to work with my own hands. And not to meddle with other people’s affairs, and not to be ready to listen to slander.”

From others he has learned as well, including:

  • “ read carefully, and not to be satisfied with a superficial understanding of a book.”
  • “...freedom of will, and undeviating steadiness of purpose, and to take no other viewpoint, even for a moment, than that of reason.”
  • “...the power of readily accommodating himself to all, so that conversation with him was more agreeable than any flattery.”
  • “...To refrain from fault-finding, and from chidingly breaking into someone’s utterance to correct a barbarous choice of vocabulary, or a solecism of syntax or pronunciation, but dexterously, to introduce in the proper expression in the form of an answer, or a confirmation. “

Stoic, Zen, Tao

Stoicism is a new one for me. Marcus Aurelius, a Roman emperor, helped defined the philosophy through a set of notes to himself that later was turned into this book, “Meditations.”

Stoicism not unlike Zen Buddhism, though while Zen maintains happiness is an illusion , stoicism asserts unhappiness is a delusion. Stoicism is also not that far from the Eastern Tao philosophy, but more concerned with the ways of human nature rather than all of nature.

Like the Tao, Stoicism encourages us to foster a contemplative view, seeing how things change into one another. “All things are formed by nature to change, and be turned, and to perish, in order that other things, in continuous succession, may exist,” Aurelius wrote.

Sandra Cinto