The Essential Marcus Aurelius
Translated & Introduced by Jacob Needleman & John P. Piazza
I have felt it all this year—grief, rage, confusion, loneliness, despair. And also: overwhelming gratitude, quiet bursts of joy, intimate connection, sparks of inspiration, and resounding waves of hope. Thankful for these silver linings as I reflect on a challenging year.
"Remember how long you have been putting these things off, and how often you have received an opportunity from the gods and have not made use of it. By now you ought to realize what cosmos you are a part of, and what divine administrator you owe your existence to, and that an end to your time here has been marked out, and if you do not use this time for clearing the clouds from your mind, it will be gone, and so will you."
(Book Two, 2.4, p. 12)
"For the person who has chosen his own intelligence and inner spirit, and the sacred reveling in this kind of excellence, does not play a tragic role, does not groan with lament, and has no need of either complete solitude or excessive company. Most important, such a person will live life neither chasing it nor fleeing from it."
(Book Three, 3.7, p. 22)
"Nothing is so productive of greatness of mind as the ability to examine systematically and truthfully each thing we encounter in life, and to see these things in such a way as to comprehend the nature of the Cosmos, and what sort of benefit such things possess for both the Whole and for humans, all of whom are citizens of the most supreme City, that is the entire world, compared to which all actual cities are like mere households. This thing or circumstance that now gives me an impression: What is it? What is it made of? How long will it last? And, most important, what quality does it require of me, such as gentleness, courage, honesty, faith, simplicity, independence, and the like? Therefore it is necessary in each case to say the following: this circumstance has come from god and is in keeping with fate or with coincidence; while this other circumstance is caused by a relative and neighbor, though such a person is ignorant of what his nature requires of him. But I am not ignorant, and therefore I will treat them well and justly, according to the natural law which governs any community. At the same time, in morally neutral matters I will work with them in pursuit of what is right."
(Book Three, 3.11, p. 24)
"For nowhere can a person retire more full of peace and free from care than into one's own soul; above all, if one has that place within oneself into which one can turn one's attention one is immediately at ease. And by ease I mean nothing other than the right ordering of the whole person. Continually give yourself this kind of retreat and regenerate yourself, but keep your rules of living brief and basic so that, when consulted, they will immediately wash away all distress and send you back to your work without resentment. What is it that disturbs you? Human evil? Recall this truth to your mind: rational beings have come into existence for the sake of each other; and tolerance and patience are aspects of what it means to be just; and people do not do wrong intentionally. Also, consider how many people, having lived in enmity, suspicion, hatred, and combat—how many have been laid out as corpses and reduced to ashes. Recall this, and cease your discontent. But will you let mere fame distract you? Turn your gaze to the quick forgetfulness of all things, the abyss of the ages on either side of this present moment, and the empty echo of praise, the transitory quality and lack of judgment on the part of those who praise, and the tiny area in which all this is confined. For the entire Earth is only a mere point in the universe, and what a small corner of the Earth is our dwelling place; and in that place, see how few and of what sort are the people who celebrate you! For the time that remains, remember the humble refuge which is yourself. And, above all, do not be anxious or overextend yourself, but be truly independent and see circumstances from the perspective of a man, of a human being, of a citizen, a creature who will surely die. But among the thoughts that are closest at hand, which you willl look to, let these two be there: first, the various difficulties need not penetrate to your soul but can remain external, unaffecting—such disturbances come from nothing other than your internal judgments; second, remember that all the things which you now see are changing and will not continue to exist as they are. Continually bear in mind how many changes you have already witnessed. The Cosmos is constant change, and our lives are but a series of choices."
(Book Four, 4.3, p. 28)