You know what I love more than journalling? Reading other people’s journals.
What’s with the look? You’ve probably done the same, or at least know someone who did. Anne Frank’s diary, perhaps? Leonardo da Vinci’s? Sylvia Plath’s?
Anyway, the journal in question (Meditations by Marcus Aurelius) is a couple thousand years old, so I doubt that there’s any invasion of privacy. Besides, Meditations is loaded with so much wisdom that it’d be a waste not to share it with the world.
Here’s my best takeaway to entice you to read more: No matter how separated we are by time and culture, we all still share the same fears, hopes, and desires.
But that’s not the only lesson I’d gleaned from the Roman emperor. So here I present to you, all the ways I’m butchering Marcus Aurelius’s philosophies to suit my own life.
1. You’re not headed for death. You’re already dying.
This was a huge perspective shift for me, because I, like many others, tend to look at death as a destination in the (hopefully) distant future, almost as if we’re on a road trip.
But the Stoics like to believe that we’re dying every minute. So instead of a road trip, we’re actually dissolving in acid, one tiny bit at a time. Death isn’t something that’s going to happen. It’s already here, and it’s slowly claiming us.
In fact, the couple of seconds it took you to read this sentence already belongs to Death. With every tick of the clock, your lose one more second of potential that could’ve been used for many other great things.
Okay maybe I shouldn’t have put this as my first point. Don’t want you closing this tab and actually doing something productive. Just make sure you get to the end before you make up your mind, yeah?
“Think of yourself as dead. You have lived your life. Now, take what’s left and live it properly.”—Marcus Aurelius
2. There’s always a positive
I’ve taken a liking to running lately, but that doesn’t mean I enjoy it. And some days I hate it more than usual. I’ll moan and whine, and I’ll wonder why I didn’t pick something less painful as a hobby, say like walking on hot coals or jumping on Lego bricks.
Then I remember that I can always flip the script. There’s always something to be grateful for. In fact, how many people would I be pissing off with my complaints about running?
Because how many of them would love to feel tired? And there I am, hating life just because my ankle’s a little sore?
That thought usually shuts me right up. And it works for all the other privileges I deign to complain about, such as having to eat wholemeal bread (some people don’t even have food) or being stuck in traffic (the car gives me freedom of travel).
“Convince yourself that everything is the gift of the gods, that things are good and always will be.”—Marcus Aurelius
3. Are you really living your true life?
We sometimes fall into a groove without first reflecting on whether we’re actually stepping closer to our life’s purpose.
Yes, we need to hold jobs, along with the myriad other responsibilities that being an adult entails. But how important is the thing you’re doing right now (I mean, reading this post is kinda awesome, no?) and what role does it play in your life?
Is your daily Netflix binge a purposeful way to unwind after your nine-to-five, or are you just filling up a void? Would you be doing the same thing if death was just around the corner?
On the flip side, if you’ve ever found yourself annoyed by everyday duties such as washing the dishes or doing the laundry, then ask yourself: If it was a choice between doing this or dying, which would I prefer?
Often, your answers would give you a pretty good insight on the state of your life.
“In everything that you do, pause and ask yourself if death is a dreadful thing because it deprives you of this.”
“People who labor all their lives but have no purpose to direct every thought and impulse toward are wasting their time—even when hard at work.”—Marcus Aurelius
4. We are all one
Cheesy, isn’t it? But we are. Even back to our Paleolithic days. And that’s darned beautiful if you ask me.
Because while our ancestors didn’t have access to microwaves or Joe Rogan podcasts, they still lived through wars, and plagues, and riots, all of which are happening today.
Like it or not, you are a part of this human experience, which had started since the dawn of mankind, and will continue to the day of our extinction.
And you know what? We’re not all that different. Once you realise how small of a speck you are on the timeline of… well… time, it’s so much easier to feel compassion for your fellow human. Because no matter how culturally or physically different we are, we’re all pretty much the same.
Sure, this sounds like a passage out of a cheap self-help book, but it’s comforting to know that whatever you’re going through right now has been repeated time and time again through history. In fact, the people before us have had it worse.
Which means we’ll never be alone in our struggles. And that’s a pretty cool thing to know.
“Look at the past—empire succeeding empire—and from that, extrapolate the future: the same thing. No escape from the rhythm of events. Which is why observing life for forty years is as good as a thousand. Would you really see anything new?”—Marcus Aurelius
5. Just do it
My dad used to have a huge issue with road rage, and as a child in the backseat, I’d been a witness to all that was wrong on the road—which only existed in my dad’s mind.
Sometimes, the trigger would be something as simple as a slow driver in the fast lane. Most times, these molehills could’ve turned into ancient history by the time we drove home, had he not made mountains out of them.
Thank heavens for my mother, the more level-headed of the two—on the road, at least—because she’d always ask what his point was.
“So what if he cut you off?” she’d ask, curbing his temper that would fester as long as the offender was still within eyeshot. “We’re all fine now, right? Why can’t we just go on with our lives?”
Her presence was probably why my dad’s road rage didn’t turn into any permanent regrets.
The point of this story? It’s that bad things happen. And there’s no reason to stew over something or someone that doesn’t care about you.
Ride your frustrations. Move on. Because that part of your life has now been claimed by Death. No need to let claim all the following moments too.
“The cucumber is bitter? Then throw it out. There are brambles in the path? Then go around them. That’s all you need to know. Nothing more. Don’t demand to know ‘why such things exist.’”—Marcus Aurelius
I’m probably twisting Aurelius’s words
But then again, I don’t care. Because that’s the point of reading, isn’t it? To take in a string of words and use them to change your point of view?
All I know is that reading through Aurelius’s journals have helped me think in ways I never would have, and it’s made me want to write this piece so that I too can do the same for others.
Sure, I might not hold a candle to the man that was a Roman emperor, but if you’ve read all the way to the end, then at least I’ve managed to coax you into staying. And that’s something.
Which is why it’s time to remind you to close this tab and go on with your day, because time’s a-ticking, and we wouldn’t want to gift Death with too many wasted moments now, do we?
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