After reading Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle Is the Way and A Guide to the Good Life I decided to jump into an original text, Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. Meditations is typically one of the first books sited on stoic thought and it’s been good so far, in part because the the conversational tone of translator Gregory Hays.
I had originally downloaded the free Kindle edition of the book and while I was interested in the content something was missing. The edition by Hays however has an extraordinary introductory section describing stoic thinking, Marcus’s life and times, and philosophical undercurrents.
The difference of an introduction between Hays translation and the free one reminded me of how young people view “selling out.” When I heard that young people don’t know what selling out means I thought they were ignorant. How could anyone not know what that means? Then I heard more of the story and the explanation which proposed that selling out isn’t a deviation from the processes of success, it’s a step in it. The masses expect an artist to work or have free art and then if they get a large enough crowd following them to share a sponsored message about a new Doritos Chip. (Full story on Frontline)
That’s the difference between Hays and other versions, I’m less ignorant thanks to the introduction.
What’s been so good about Meditations? Here are a few of my favorite ideas so far.
Take care of yourself
When writing about his adopted father, Marcus praises:
His willingness to take adequate care of himself. Not a hypochondriac or obsessed with his appearance, but not ignoring things either. With the result that he hardly ever needed medical attention, or drugs or any sort of salve or ointment.
This was certainly true for me this past winter when I tried to focus more on my diet and ended up not getting sick. I was also reminded of this while carrying two children’s bikes to our car after my daughters were finished riding. The bikes were getting slightly heavy and I recognized that my shoulders weren’t ‘adequately’ strong enough.
Dealing with idiots
Upon waking up:
tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil.
Marcus was likely writing about working with the Roman senate or troops on one of his years long campaigns but this struck me as fitting for another group of ignoramuses – my daughters. I don’t blame them for this and don’t fault them either. I’m 32-years-old and am still ignorant about many things, they are 6 and 4. When I remember this though, “they can’t tell good from evil” it’s a reminder that asking them to do some things would be like asking me to wire a house or build a skyscraper. The will may be there, but the knowledge isn’t.
Be present and have focus in your life
In the first third of Meditations, Marcus is regularly reminding himself to have focus and choose the things he wants to do and do only those things. This reminded me of Be Excellent at Anything which features the pursuit of conscious choices. Marcus writes:
Concentrate every minute like a Roman – like a man – on doing what’s in front of you with precise and genuine seriousness, tenderly, willingly, with justice. And on freeing yourself from all other distractions. Yes, you can – if you do everything as if it were the last thing you were doing in your life, and stop being aimless, stop letting your emotions override what your mind tells you, stop being hypocritical, self-centered, irritable.
Putting thought to things like this has removed a lot of wasted energy from my own life and I was reminded of this on Tuesday. Summer vacation has started for my daughters and at home the first day we felt a bit rudderless. During the school year each day had a purposeful plan. Monday was school, some chores, playing outside. Tuesday was school and gymnastics with breakfast for dinner. This summer I need to make plans that lead to conscious goals rather than stagnate in the void.
I’m reading Meditations looking for ideas about how to live a better life as a parent, though I’m sure other applications will creep into my notes as I go through. Have you read it, do you want to? Let me know, @MikeDariano.