Meditations by Marcus Aurelius is best for those who are interested in philosophy, especially around death, character, and mindfulness. It’s also best for those who don’t mind reading older texts to dig out powerful insights.
Difficulty to digest:
Meditations is a bit harder to digest simply because of its age. Don’t let that deter you though, there are lots of great insights – there’s a reason the texts are still read.
If you don’t already know, Marcus Aurelius was a great Roman Emperor. Meditations are his personal thoughts and philosophies. While the age of this book might be daunting to some, there’s definitely a reason his writings are still in circulation. I’ll briefly outline a few key ideas I pulled from reading the text.
Death Is Inevitable, Value The Present
Marcus Aurelius spends a good amount of time speaking about conquering the fear of death. He speaks at length about how our time on earth is exceedingly short. Death is inevitable for all of us, so why fret about it?
Aurelius also speaks at length about being mindful and valuing the present, as that’s all we have. There’s an argument saying that whether you’ve lived 5 or 500 years death takes the same thing from all of us – the present. He also goes on to describe the beauty in everything. If you look carefully at any object you can find beauty in it.
Do Good To Others
Another major theme is to do as much good to others as possible. As social creatures, Aurelius argues this is our nature and we should act accordingly. In addition, we should not feel owed for these good acts. As part of our nature, it is simply something we should do to fill fulfilled.
Aurelius holds this view even when others have malicious intent. Others will do us harm, we cannot expect otherwise. Since negative thoughts toward these people waste time, Aurelius argues it’s only worth using thoughts on others for charity. If someone does us harm we can only adjust to it. Retaliation is futile and against our nature.
Create Internal Resolve
Another theme is building your own internal mental harmony. Aurelius argues we must stand on our own and remain calm about events. Our only options are to change ourselves, change the event, or change our attitude. Aurelius says we should pray for release from the mental state not from the thing itself. When external events cannot change, internal thoughts can.
All in all, this book is an engaging and useful delve into philosophy. If you’ve got the guts to wade through a bit of antiquated language, I highly recommend giving Meditations a read. It’s not very long, but the ideas are powerful and impactful. There’s a reason it’s still around!
Obviously, this book is a bit dated. Unless you’re a scholar of the period, there’s likely to be outdated references and phrasing. There are also references to the existence of gods and other concepts we’ve long left behind.
Don’t let that scare you – reading Meditations is valuable. Many of the points are illustrated using approachable metaphors. Much of the book is still applicable today. Marcus Aurelius illuminates many principles which are scientifically validated to create happiness today – though some of his specifics are a bit off.