The truth is, there are no new ideas. Everything I’m writing, and that any author is writing, has been written. With that in mind we don’t need to simply look to the new books being written. In fact, in many cases there is much more to be gained from reading things written long ago.
So I bring you some thoughts on Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. No I can’t read the original so I got the Gregory Hays translation — the translation always suggested when people talk about reading Meditations.
Marcus Aurelius didn’t actually write a book. He did journal regularly and much of it and his letters have survived. They’ve been brought together to make Meditations, long before Hays did this translation. Since this isn’t a conventional book there is no narrative flow. There is no taking you from Point A to Point B to Point Z where you see the author’s premise in full form. This is a collection of short writings by Aurelius which you should … meditate on.
Most pages contain many different thoughts on many different things which means you don’t need to read it cover to cover. You can open it to any point and read a page or two. You’d be sure to find some wisdom that’s going to help you live that day as a better person.
I’ll highlight some of the things I’ve highlighted (oh I’m so funny) during this reading of Meditations. I’ve roughly grouped them into categories of similar thoughts I had when reading.
On attention and practice
To read attentively — not to be satisfied with “just getting the gist of it.”
I’m not the first, the smartest, or the last one to say that our attention is far too often divided by the notifications we allow into our lives. This leaves us never fully focused on the task at hand as we watch for some update on Twitter, or get a notice about a new email, or whatever your notification poison is.
More than that though, we don’t really know how to read even if we are giving the book at hand all of our attention. The most popular book recommendation I’ve ever made has been How to Read a Book. If you read one book with the rest of 2016, make it How to Read a Book so that you can get 1000% more out of the rest of your reading for your whole life.
Practice even what seems impossible.
The left hand is useless at almost everything, for lack of practice. But it guides the reins better than the right. From practice.
You’ve heard of the 10,000 hours rule before? It was popularized by Malcom Gladwell and in theory it says that to be an expert you need 10,000 hours of practice. If it’s hard, practice it with a plan and intention and you’ll get better. Marcus Aurelius has the same admonition, if it’s hard, practice it — then the task at hand will become easy.
In the online age
Not to be constantly correcting people, and in particular not to jump on them whenever they make an error of usage or grammatical mistake or mispronounce something…
More than once I wondered what Aurelius would think of the rampant trolling, doxxing, bullying that happens today online. A bit later we’ll cover some quotes on your reputation as well.
So other people hurt me? That’s their problem. Their character and actions are not mine. What is done to me is ordained by nature, what I do by my own.
I’ve quoted Chuck Swindoll before, but I’ll put it here again so you can see how closely it mirrors what Aurelius says.
I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. – Chuck Swindoll
Nothing is new under the sun. I’m sure people in the future will be quoting pretty much the same sentiment from a popular thinker of the time. I feel this is reinforced in my life regularly as I see people I interact with have ‘bad days’ which regularly means a cascading set of circumstances to add to the bad day. They often treat it as if some cosmic god of destruction found them and life is terrible.
Recently my wife had one of those days. The kids were terrible. We had a bit of a disagreement before I left for work. She didn’t get much sleep and then … the car got a flat tire. Now my wife knows her actions matter, and as she got out of the car she realized that this was a problem she could handle easily. I came over to help, but she had it 90% done and she felt grounded and ready to tackle the rest of the day. It’s all about how you react.
People try to get away from it all — to the country, to the beach, to the mountains. You always wish that you could too. Which is idiotic: you can get away from it anytime you like.
By going within.
Nowhere you can go is more peaceful–more free of interruptions–than the soul.
I get this, I love the mountains. Something about them restores my soul and yet I also know that 10 minutes of meditation, of dwelling in my soul quietly, gives me very similar feelings. The same effect without a rush to the mountains and gas spent.
The literal act of ‘getting away’ is good, but don’t let yourself sit in a frazzled state until you can carve out time to get outside. I use Calm as part of my daily mindfulness practice.
Things have no hold on the soul. They have no access to it, cannot move or direct it.
Dave Ramsey has a saying that goes something like this:
You buy stuff you don’t want with money you don’t have to impress people you don’t like.
I’m prone to this type of ‘stress’ purchasing. I buy something new and cool because some internal trigger tells me that I’ll feel better with the purchase.
This quote made it on my wall to remind me that purchases have no access to my soul and my sense of self-worth.
Or is it your reputation that’s bothering you? But look at how soon we’re all forgotten. The abyss of endless time that swallows it all. The emptiness of all those applauding hands. The people who praise us–how capricious they are, how arbitrary. And the tiny region in which it all takes place. The whole each a point in space — and most of it uninhabited. How many people there will be to admire you, and how are they?
How many of us want to be famous, or even ‘internet famous’? How futile is the endeavour really? Focus on your tiny region — say your family — and be famous to them. Learn to be okay with that. Don’t hang your self-worth on gaining more popularity.
Don’t be ashamed to need help. Like a soldier storming a wall, you have a mission to accomplish. And if you’ve been wounded and you need a comrade to pull you up? So what?
My friend Cory Miller wrote a great post about mental health. The fact is that at some point we’re all going to suffer from depression and that we’ll shorten the time we have to deal with it if we seek help. We need to drop the stigma against needing help and take that hand up.
To stop talking about what the good man is like, and just be one.
We need to be like Clara and be the change we want to see. We need to stop making it hard. Step out and be the change.
It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own.
This says it all.
When faced with people’s bad behavior, turn around and ask yourself when you have acted like that.
None of us are angels. We all make mistakes, often. I’m not the dad you may think I am from my Instagram posts of smiling kids. If my kids picked the pictures, you’d see a man that fails and yells at his kids sometimes. He’s not patient. He thinks of what he needs before what his wife and kids need.
This quote also made it on my wall above my desk.
Yes you should read this. I’ll read it again, and again. There will always be some new idea that will stick out to you and call you to be a better version of yourself.