We talk a lot about Marcus Aurelius, but often know nothing beyond the 100-odd pages of Meditations, the published collection of his private notebooks.
Frank McLynn corrects this with a comprehensive biography of the famed philosopher-king. It’s a weighty read, but fascinating. I came away a much richer understanding of Roman history, economy, geography and military as well as some insight into the man and his beliefs.
I think it’s fair to say that McLynn is no Stoic himself, but it is interesting to understand the history of Stoicism and how it was understood in Marcus’ own time.
If I’m not too late, this would make a fantastic holiday read.
To be in the process of change is not an evil, any more than to be the product of change is a good.
Marcus Aurelius (AD 120 – 180), Meditations (4.42)
‘If thou wouldst know contentment, let thy deeds by few,’ said the sage. … Most of what we say and do is not necessary, and its omission would save both time and trouble. At every step, therefore, a man should ask himself, ‘Is this one of the things that are superfluous?’ Moreover, not idle actions only but even idle impressions ought to be suppressed; for then unnecessary action will not ensue.
Marcus Aurelius (AD 120 – 180), Meditations (4.24)
I travel the roads of nature until the hour when I shall lie down and be at rest; yielding back my last breath into the air from which I have drawn it daily, and sinking down upon the earth from which my father derived the seed, my mother the blood, and my nurse the milk of my being – the earth which for so many years has furnished my daily meat and drink, and, though so grievously abused, still suffers me to tread its surface.
Marcus Aurelius (AD 120 – 180), Meditations (5.4)
Observe how all things are continually being born of change; teach yourself to see that Nature’s highest happiness lies in changing the things that are, and forming new things after their kind. Whatever is, is in some sense the seed of what is to emerge from it. Nothing can become a philosopher less than to imagine that seed can only be something that is planted in the earth or the womb.
Marcus Aurelius (AD 120 – 180), Meditations (4.36)
Everything that happens is as normal and expected as the spring rose or the summer fruit; this is true of sickness, death, slander, intrigue, and all the other things that delight or trouble foolish men.
Marcus Aurelius (AD 120 – 180), Meditations (4.44)
Particularly pertinent for our times.
In the life of man, his time is but a moment, his being an incessant flux, his senses a dim rushlight, his body a prey of worms, his soul an unquiet eddy, his fortune dark, and his fame doubtful. In short, all that is of the body is as coursing waters, all that is of the soul as dreams and vapours; life a warfare, a brief sojourning in an alien land; and after repute, oblivion.
Marcus Aurelius (AD 120 – 180), Meditations, Book 2, verse 17
“Accustom yourself to give careful attention to what others are saying, and try your best to enter into the mind of the speaker.”
Marcus Aurelius (AD 120 – 180), Meditations
Image: Copyright : Vladimir Korostyshevskiy at 123rf.com
Throw off the corporate comfort blanket? Why would you?
Your cosy company role gives you pension, healthcare, (usually) decent equipment when your working and paid holidays when you’re not. And, if you’re a creative, you don’t worry about all that tawdry sales stuff. If you’re in sales, you can dodge the tedious admin.
But, we do. The ranks of the sovereign professional continue to swell.
The thinking sovereign plans and deals with all of the above. But, uncertainty is unavoidable. Being independent is enormously thrilling, but it’s scary too. All the things you never worried about – like regular money – are no longer a given.
You need strategies to cope. Happily, the Art of Manliness blog has five tools for thriving in uncertainty.
Unsurprisingly, stoicism, of simply keeping things in perspective, is top of the list.
The rest of the list is interesting, too. The common thread is frame of mind: staying agile, generating options, maintaining perspective.
It reminds me of a valuable, little book I read years ago, Who Moved My Cheese, by Spencer Johnson.
Other useful resources include:
Beyond that, you should:
- Laugh regularly
- Play great music daily
- Walk outdoors, feel the rain and the wind and hear the trees
Read the full piece, here.
Photo by Edu Lauton on Unsplash
The Daily Stoic suggests 28 must-read books on stoicism.
I’ve only read one.
My Amazon wish-list has exploded.
Ones that caught my eye include:
It might be a busy weekend.
Photo by Giammarco Boscaro on Unsplash