Marcus Aurelius - Meditations - Book 2

Book 2

ON THE RIVER GRAN, AMONG THE QUADI

1. When you wake up in the morning, 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. But I have seen the
beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized
that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own—not of
the same blood or birth, but the same mind, and possessing a
share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me. No one
can implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my
relative, or hate him. We were born to work together like
feet, hands, and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and
lower. To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at
someone, to turn your back on him: these are obstructions.

2. Whatever this is that I am, it is flesh and a little spirit and
an intelligence. Throw away your books; stop letting yourself
be distracted. That is not allowed. Instead, as if you were
dying right now, despise your flesh. A mess of blood, pieces
of bone, a woven tangle of nerves, veins, arteries. Consider
what the spirit is: air, and never the same air, but vomited out
and gulped in again every instant. Finally, the intelligence.
Think of it this way: You are an old man. Stop allowing your
mind to be a slave, to be jerked about by selfish impulses, to
kick against fate and the present, and to mistrust the future.

3. What is divine is full of Providence. Even chance is not
divorced from nature, from the inweaving and enfolding of
things governed by Providence. Everything proceeds from it.
And then there is necessity and the needs of the whole world,
of which you are a part. Whatever the nature of the whole
does, and whatever serves to maintain it, is good for every
part of nature. The world is maintained by change—in the
elements and in the things they compose. That should be
enough for you; treat it as an axiom. Discard your thirst for
books, so that you won’t die in bitterness, but in cheerfulness
and truth, grateful to the gods from the bottom of your heart.

4. Remember how long you’ve been putting this off, how
many extensions the gods gave you, and you didn’t use them.
At some point you have to recognize what world it is that you
belong to; what power rules it and from what source you
spring; that there is a limit to the time assigned you, and if
you don’t use it to free yourself it will be gone and will
never return.

5. 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. You see how few things you have to
do to live a satisfying and reverent life? If you can manage
this, that’s all even the gods can ask of you.

6. Yes, keep on degrading yourself, soul. But soon your
chance at dignity will be gone. Everyone gets one life. Yours
is almost used up, and instead of treating yourself with
respect, you have entrusted your own happiness to the souls
of others.

7. Do external things distract you? Then make time for
yourself to learn something worthwhile; stop letting yourself
be pulled in all directions. But make sure you guard against
the other kind of confusion. People who labor all their lives
but have no purpose to direct every thought and impulse
toward are wasting their time—even when hard at work.

8. Ignoring what goes on in other people’s souls—no one
ever came to grief that way. But if you won’t keep track of
what your own soul’s doing, how can you not be unhappy?

9. Don’t ever forget these things:

​ The nature of the world.

​ My nature.

​ How I relate to the world.

​ What proportion of it I make up.

​ That you are part of nature, and no one can prevent you
​ from speaking and acting in harmony with it, always.

10. In comparing sins (the way people do) Theophrastus says
that the ones committed out of desire are worse than the ones
committed out of anger: which is good philosophy. The angry
man seems to turn his back on reason out of a kind of pain
and inner convulsion. But the man motivated by desire, who
is mastered by pleasure, seems somehow more selfindulgent,
less manly in his sins. Theophrastus is right, and
philosophically sound, to say that the sin committed out of
pleasure deserves a harsher rebuke than the one committed
out of pain. The angry man is more like a victim of
wrongdoing, provoked by pain to anger. The other man
rushes into wrongdoing on his own, moved to action by
desire.

11. You could leave life right now. Let that determine what
you do and say and think. If the gods exist, then to abandon
human beings is not frightening; the gods would never subject
you to harm. And if they don’t exist, or don’t care what
happens to us, what would be the point of living in a world
without gods or Providence? But they do exist, they do care
what happens to us, and everything a person needs to avoid
real harm they have placed within him. If there were anything
harmful on the other side of death, they would have made
sure that the ability to avoid it was within you. If it doesn’t
harm your character, how can it harm your life? Nature
would not have overlooked such dangers through failing to
recognize them, or because it saw them but was powerless to
prevent or correct them. Nor would it ever, through inability
or incompetence, make such a mistake as to let good and bad
things happen indiscriminately to good and bad alike. But
death and life, success and failure, pain and pleasure, wealth
and poverty, all these happen to good and bad alike, and they
are neither noble nor shameful—and hence neither good nor
bad.

12. The speed with which all of them vanish—the objects in
the world, and the memory of them in time. And the real
nature of the things our senses experience, especially those
that entice us with pleasure or frighten us with pain or are
loudly trumpeted by pride. To understand those things—how
stupid, contemptible, grimy, decaying, and dead they are—
that’s what our intellectual powers are for. And to
understand what those people really amount to, whose
opinions and voices constitute fame. And what dying is—and
that if you look at it in the abstract and break down your
imaginary ideas of it by logical analysis, you realize that it’s
nothing but a process of nature, which only children can be
afraid of. (And not only a process of nature but a necessary
one.) And how man grasps God, with what part of himself he
does so, and how that part is conditioned when he does.

13. Nothing is more pathetic than people who run around in
circles, “delving into the things that lie beneath” and
conducting investigations into the souls of the people around
them, never realizing that all you have to do is to be attentive
to the power inside you and worship it sincerely. To worship
it is to keep it from being muddied with turmoil and
becoming aimless and dissatisfied with nature—divine and
human. What is divine deserves our respect because it is
good; what is human deserves our affection because it is like
us. And our pity too, sometimes, for its inability to tell good
from bad—as terrible a blindness as the kind that can’t tell
white from black.

14. Even if you’re going to live three thousand more years, or
ten times that, remember: you cannot lose another life than
the one you’re living now, or live another one than the one
you’re losing. The longest amounts to the same as the
shortest. The present is the same for everyone; its loss is the
same for everyone; and it should be clear that a brief instant
is all that is lost. For you can’t lose either the past or the
future; how could you lose what you don’t have?

​ Remember two things:

​ i. that everything has always been the same, and keeps
​ recurring, and it makes no difference whether you see
​ the same things recur in a hundred years or two hundred,
​ or in an infinite period;

​ ii. that the longest-lived and those who will die soonest
​ lose the same thing. The present is all that they can give
​ up, since that is all you have, and what you do not have,
​ you cannot lose.

15. “Everything is just an impression.” —Monimus the
Cynic. And the response is obvious enough. But the point is a
useful one, if you take it for what it’s worth.

16. The human soul degrades itself:

​ i. Above all, when it does its best to become an
​ abscess, a kind of detached growth on the world. To be
​ disgruntled at anything that happens is a kind of
​ secession from Nature, which comprises the nature of
​ all things.

​ ii. When it turns its back on another person or sets out to
​ do it harm, as the souls of the angry do.

​ iii. When it is overpowered by pleasure or pain.

​ iv. When it puts on a mask and does or says something
​ artificial or false.

​ v. When it allows its action and impulse to be without a
​ purpose, to be random and disconnected: even the
​ smallest things ought to be directed toward a goal. But
​ the goal of rational beings is to follow the rule and law
​ of the most ancient of communities and states.

17. Human life.

​ Duration: momentary. Nature: changeable. Perception:
dim. Condition of Body: decaying. Soul: spinning around.
Fortune: unpredictable. Lasting Fame: uncertain. Sum Up:
The body and its parts are a river, the soul a dream and
mist, life is warfare and a journey far from home, lasting
reputation is oblivion.

​ Then what can guide us?

​ Only philosophy.

​ Which means making sure that the power within stays safe
and free from assault, superior to pleasure and pain, doing
nothing randomly or dishonestly and with imposture, not
dependent on anyone else’s doing something or not doing it.
And making sure that it accepts what happens and what it is
dealt as coming from the same place it came from. And
above all, that it accepts death in a cheerful spirit, as nothing
but the dissolution of the elements from which each living
thing is composed. If it doesn’t hurt the individual elements
to change continually into one another, why are people afraid
of all of them changing and separating? It’s a natural thing.
And nothing natural is evil.


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