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Patton's Picks from the PMA Library: Meditations

September 2020

"Meditations" by Marcus Aurelius (Greg Hays Translation)


If you're looking for book recommendations in the productivity and professional development genre, Patton offers a weekly summary of some of the essential and emerging titles from the PMA Library.

Having seen this book on many lists of recommendations, and certainly highlighted by Ryan Holiday as the primary Stoic journal, I was impressed with the accessibility of the writings (which were not intended for public review!). Despite private intentions, Marcus Aurelius' truisms reflect the general concerns of humanity at large, offering solutions for philosophical questions rather than focusing on specific details of his life. Surprisingly readable and relevant, the lessons feel personal yet universal. I found that Meditations demystified the distant realm of classical literature for an inexperienced reader, and I was comforted by the fact that the words of an ancient emperor still ring true and are philosophically valuable to this day. 

 

Three Takeaways:

  1. Introduction to Stoic Thought. Marcus Aurelius' journal illustrates how stoicism is essentially contemplates similar topics over and over, perhaps taking comfort in the simplicity of diminishing complex instances of mental strain and emotional disquiet into finding peace in truth. Even when the truth appears bleak (acknowledging that fame and desires are not worth it; you're going to die anyway), the strains of self consciousness and desire are far more taxing than rewarding. 

  2. Perception and Perspective. Psychological barriers tend to cause experiences of emotional distress. Meditations conveys that because problems are created in the mind, how you PERCEIVE things is up to you. You should find strength in your mind's ability to shape itself and the world around it, meaning that one's capability to interpret scenarios productively and effectively is one's greatest asset.

  3. Coping with Truth. Meditations is in some ways a lesson in mindfulness, or at least coming to terms with the limited realm of your control. Accept that bad people exist, that the past is over, and that the future is out of your control. Only by focusing on "the now" can one have agency in one's life and be at peace with one's purpose.  Life is short; don't fear death but value your time on Earth to do good. 

I found comfort in the fact that while each of Marcus Aurelius' anecdotes offered solutions for peace and comfort, all of them acknowledged the strains of purpose and existence which plague the human experience. I couldn't help but feel Marcus did not find a lot of joy in life, and that perhaps his meditations were really daily opportunities to help him get through the day. Despite this bleakness, I am impressed by his persistent efforts to control a lack of joy through a habit of positive journaling and internal peace making.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus was the Roman emperor from 161 to 180 AD and a Stoic philosopher. He was the last of the rulers known as the Five Good Emperors, and the last emperor of the Pax Romana, an age of relative peace and stability for the Roman Empire.