Monday, 16 July 2012

The Therapeutic Value of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius

I love Aurelius's Stoic philosophy. Meditations is pretty much the first self-help book ever written, and to my eyes it is better than those around today. For me it's like a resource, to refer back to and dwell upon regularly. It mainly covers death, the universe as one entity, the importance of the present, and the necessity of a simple and well-intentioned life. If you often worry about the past or future, about death or self-control, you should really read this.

The book is a collection of short to medium statements that jump around in topic, as written by a guy who was not only a Stoic philosopher, but also a Roman Emperor (living AD121-180). His recorded thoughts weren't intended for publication, and therefore there's something very personal about Meditations. It's a bit CBT-esque, recording your thoughts in a journal, and Jules Evans has written a lot of interesting information on the bridge from ancient philosophy to modern CBT. I'd really recommend his book Philosophy for Life and Other Dangerous Situations, which I mentioned in this post.

Below are some passages from Meditations that I particularly enjoy, although the list is by no means conclusive.

On the fear of being judged:
"Say to yourself first thing in the morning: today I shall meet people who are meddling, ungrateful, aggressive, treacherous, malicious, unsocial. All of this has afflicted them through their ignorance of true good and evil. But I have seen that the nature of good is what is right, and the nature of evil what is wrong; and I have reflected that the nature of the offender himself is akin to my own - not a kinship of blood or seed, but a sharing in the same mind, the same fragment of divinity. Therefore I cannot be harmed by any of them, as none will infect me with their wrong."
I think that this photo conveys "mental calm" quite well,
although water has always made me rather stressed.
Hopefully others will find it calming.
On the importance of mental calm:
"No retreat offers someone more quiet and relaxation than into his own mind, especially if he can dip into thoughts there which put him at immediate and complete ease: and by ease I simply mean a well-ordered life. So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself." 
On the powerful influence of judgement on your wellbeing:
"Remove the judgement, and you have removed the thought "I am hurt": remove the thought "I am hurt", and the hurt itself is removed."
On the brevity of life:
"No, you do not have thousands of years to live. Urgency is on you. While you live, while you can, become good."
On the fear of death: 
"On death. Either dispersal, if we are atoms: or, if we are a unity, extinction or a change of home."

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