This Meditations summary looks at a book unlike any other. It is a collection of thoughts written down by the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.
At the time of these writings, Marcus was the most powerful man in the world. He commanded the Roman Empire from a position of absolute authority.
Marcus did not write down these thoughts with the intention of them being published at a later date. They were private thoughts intended to give himself advice on the responsibilities and pressures of his role.
It’s unlikely the book would have ever seen the light of day had it not been for someone at Heidelberg University in 1558 who decided to print the works.
Whoever this person was, I thank you!
Meditations is one of the most profound and important books I have ever read. It’s likely the only book of its kind in existence.
To be able to read the thoughts of the man who oversaw an Empire at the height of its power is a gift. No matter who you are, you will be able to find this book accessible and take something away from it.
The book is grounded in Stoicism, a philosophy based on personal ethics informed by its system of logic and its views on the natural world, and provides a fantastic introduction to that philosophy.
Whatever your profession or persuasion in life, this is a book that will teach you something and will enrich your life.
Table of Contents
Takeaway 1 – Obstacles are there to be overcome
One of the most profound passages in the book refers to Marcus Aurelius’s thoughts on obstacles. Instead of avoiding and finding a way to get around them, he believes we have to face up to them.
The passage is as follows:
“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”
No matter what we do in life we will always come against obstacles. It’s a fact of life and one we have to accept no matter how uncomfortable.
The problem is, it’s easier to run away from issues instead of confronting them. What Marcus is saying here is that you have no choice but to face them.
Think of a big rock blocking your path. You have two options, turn around and go back the way you have come, or find a way past the rock.
This is what you have to do in life. When an obstacle presents itself to you, it’s your responsibility to face up to it and get past it.
Whatever obstacles are in our way, we should embrace them, not fear them. It is the tough moments in life that lead to growth and strengthening of character. Without them, we would lead a stale existence.
Life is about pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and tackling the problems you face. A life of leisure and a life of luxury is a waste of a life.
To truly prosper you have to challenge yourself and when you are challenged by what the world throws at you, you have to rise to it.
Takeaway 2 – Life moves on, even without us
One of the most difficult things in life is to consider your own mortality. For the majority of your life, it’s something you may not think about.
When you’re young, you do not worry about old age, the inevitable end and what will happen when your time is up.
However, when you get older, these thoughts will be more common. You start to wonder what life will be once like you’re gone. Will anyone notice? Will anyone care?
A lot of these thoughts are the trappings of ego. It’s damaging to the go-to imagine that one day we might be forgotten and slide into obscurity.
However, this is the reality for the majority of us. Even those whose names echo down the ages, will not echo in eternity.
The best we can do is to live a plentiful and purposeful life while we can. We must do our best, do what is right and strive to be better people.
Death is the great equaliser. It does discriminate, it does care how much you have done, how much you have earned, or how many Instagram followers you have, it comes for everyone.
You will be no different. Accept this. Remember that your death, Memento Mori as the Romans used to say, is inevitable and live your life accordingly.
Even Marcus Aurelius, the ruler of the Roman Empire, was aware of his ultimate fate:
“Soon you will have forgotten the world, and soon the world will have forgotten you.”
Takeaway 3 – Do not become your own worst enemy
One of the best qualities of humans is our ability to think. It has led us to become the dominant species on the planet and achieve wondrous things.
However, this ability is also one of our greatest downfalls. It is all too easy to overthink and make situations worse than they actually are.
The source of most of the unhappiness in our lives is the result of our thinking. We cannot control events, what happens, happens. It is our response to these events that we do control.
It is here that we must focus our attention. We have the ability to accept the events for what they are to rail against them and wallow in anger or self-pity.
Worrying about the future is one of the many counter-productive habits we have. If you observe animals, you will notice that they are engrossed in the moment. There is no thought of what might come, the moment is all that matters to them.
The curse of humanity is that we have the ability to look into the future and ponder what may or may not happen. Sometimes, this is beneficial, but most of the time it is unhelpful.
Getting your hopes up and becoming depressed about what may happen only lead you to become anxious and depressed.
It’s better to accept that the future is undecided. Anything can, and will, happen. Doing your best in the present is all that you can ever do.
We must accept what comes our way and face up to it when it does. Marcus puts it best when he says the following:
“Let not future things disturb you, for you will come to them, if it shall be necessary, having with you the same reason which you now use for present things.”
- “What is no good for the hive is no good for the bee.”
- “To refrain from imitation is the best revenge.”
- “To pursue the unattainable is insanity, yet the thoughtless can never refrain from doing so.”
- “Observe carefully what guides the actions of the wise and what they shun or seek.”
- “Whatever you take in hand, pause at every step to ask yourself, ‘Is it the thought of forfeiting this that makes me dread death.’
- “Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one.”
- “Everything is banal in experience, fleeting in duration, sordid in content; in all respects the same today as generations now dead and buried have found it to be.”
This Meditations summary has looked at one of the most important texts ever written. It’s important not to underscore just how important a piece of work this is.
Marcus Aurelius was the most powerful man in the world when he sat down every night to write his thoughts in his journal.
These thoughts were never intended to see the light of day. Marcus never wrote them with the intention of them being published. they were reminders to himself of how to live his life.
Were he alive to see his writing widely published today, he’d likely be bemused!
The lessons that are shared in Meditations are priceless. Despite being over two thousand years old, they are still relevant to us today. We can learn a lot from this book.
Who should read Meditations?
Meditations is a book that should be read by everyone. The lessons that Marcus shares are relevant to anyone and everyone.
This is arguably one of the most important books ever written. It’s rare to get an insight into the intimate thoughts of powerful people, especially ones that were never meant to be published!
To neglect to read this book is to forgo the chance to grow as a person. If you’re trying to read more books, this is a great one to start with.