Looking for Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations quotes? What are some of the most noteworthy passages worth revisiting?
Many scholars consider Meditations, written by the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, to be one of the definitive texts on Stoicism. Stoicism is a philosophy that originated in ancient Greece and its central idea is that rational thinking can guide you through any hardship and allow you to endure any pain.
Below are some quotes and passages that highlight some of the key Stoicism concepts and ideas discussed in the book.
Meditations: Quotes and Passages
Meditations is a series of Marcus Aurelius’s personal writings about practical applications of Stoicism. The following Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations quotes highlight some of his key ideas on how you can put this ancient philosophy into practice.
“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”
According to Aurelius, your inner strength resides in your mind. A stoic mind is like a perfect sphere in perfect stillness. It doesn’t reach outward or retreat inward; instead, it simply exists and observes. By focusing only on your own thoughts, and only on the present moment, you can shape yourself into that sphere.
There are several characteristics of a stoic mind, and you should always strive to uphold them:
- Sanity—that is, seeing and understanding every individual thing for what it truly is, not getting lost in stories and superstitions.
- Cooperation—willingly accepting whatever nature gives you, moment to moment.
- Disinterest—a lack of self-interest, or in other words, selflessness. You should always be driven by reason and intelligence, not self-centered desires or fears.
“It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.”
You should live with the knowledge that you’ll eventually die and use that knowledge to stay focused on your work. However, that doesn’t mean that you should fear death. What you should fear is to never have lived.
Death is a natural and necessary process, and there’s no reason for a rational person to be afraid of it. You can be sure of this because the gods have given you the intelligence, skills, and tools that you need to avoid harm; therefore, if death were harmful, they would have given you a way to avoid it.
Furthermore, the gods and nature don’t act randomly, letting good and bad things happen to good and bad people respectively. However, everyone experiences life and death—along with pleasure and pain, and success and failure—so you must conclude that these things are neither good nor bad. They simply exist. If death isn’t bad, then there’s no reason to be afraid of it.
Nobody knows what happens after death, but there’s no reason to fear that, either. If you go on to another life, then that place must surely have gods as well. They won’t allow any harm to come to you. If, however, there’s nothing after death, then it means you’ll be free of pleasures and pains; free of the concerns of your failing body. Neither possibility should scare you.
“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 and 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.”
Ultimately, people who stand in your way can’t hurt you: The only thing that can hurt you is that which hurts your character. Therefore, others’ thoughts and actions can’t harm you; only your own reactions to them can. If you decide not to be harmed, you won’t be harmed. If you don’t feel hurt, then you haven’t been hurt. All that matters is what your mind is doing at the present moment.
Finally, if someone else has tried to hurt you, that’s his problem and not yours. Remember: What happens to you is prescribed by nature, and how you respond is prescribed by your personal nature. In the same vein, what the other person did was dictated by his own nature—those actions reflect upon him, not upon you.
Don’t think that any particular event, such as someone trying to hurt you, was unfortunate—rather, you should feel fortunate you weren’t harmed by it.
“How much more grievous are the consequences of anger than the causes of it.”
Getting angry at another person’s misbehavior is pointless. If someone misbehaves, it’s because he’s mistaken about what’s best. It then becomes your job to show him how and why he’s wrong if you can—simply losing your temper won’t solve anything but it will likely make the consequences worse. According to Aurelius, if you do ever get angry, it’s because you’ve forgotten two key points:
- Nature ordains everything that happens.
- You aren’t responsible for what others do.
“Do not act as if you were going to live ten thousand years. Death hangs over you. While you live, while it is in your power, be good.”
In discussing death, Aurelius emphasizes to always keep it in mind, reminding yourself that even the greatest human life is insignificant; it blows away like smoke on the wind. Knowing that, why should you worry about life and death? To live your short life righteously, in accordance with nature and logos, is enough.
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Here's what you'll find in our full Meditations summary :
- Marcus Aurelius' teachings on Stoicism
- How rational thinking can guide you through any hardship and allow you to endure any pain
- Why you should be motivated by death rather than afraid of it