The ancient Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius once stated: “Here is a rule to remember in the future when anything tempts you to feel bitter: Do not think ‘This is misfortune,’ but ‘To bear this worthily is good fortune.’” Marcus Aurelius was an advocate of temperance and developing the ability to take self-interest and sentiments lightly. He turned to contemplation, ever trying to sift out the frivolities of life and its many vicissitudes.
Marcus Aurelius lived by the principles of stoicism, which, above all else, states that you cannot control others, but you can control your reactions to them. Essentially, your focus should not be about looking externally to understand your life, but to look within to gain insight into yourself and ultimately use the many hardships that inescapably befall you to come to greater realizations on the nature of humanity, your limitations, and your potential.
We can get a glimpse into Marcus Aurelius’ private thoughts in his journals, which were intended only for his consumption. His journals were later compiled into the book Meditations after his death.
“The only thing that isn’t worthless: to live this life out truthfully and rightly. And be patient with those who don’t.” ~ Marcus Aurelius
Usually, late at night when most others were fast asleep, Marcus wrote down his thoughts. The massive weight of running an empire with all of its intrigues, power struggles, famines, and the other myriad duties of state to tend to, Marcus had few people to turn to to confide in. His heavy yet calm words in Meditations reveal a soul that needed an outlet and an avenue to find solutions. The pages of Meditations are filled with the man’s elucidations and all are an internal search for principle and reason through looking within.
“Today, I escaped anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions — not outside.” ~ Marcus Aurelius
Marcus Aurelius’ constant examination of his own thoughts, devotion to discipline, and thus righteous action served him well throughout his life.
In A.D. 173 deep in the wilds of Eastern Europe, Marcus Aurelius campaigned against the Germanic Quadi tribe that often raided weaker parts of the northern Roman Empire. Vast numbers of hysterical warriors of the tribe surrounded the palisade walls of the fort Marcus’ army constructed to protect themselves from ambush when marching. The Quadi had surrounded the fort and were seemingly about to claim victory.
Legend has it that the Roman soldiers were preparing for their final moments of life as the gate of the fort was about to be breached. Marcus Aurelius kept his composure and calmly knelt down to pray. A lightning bolt instantly shattered the ground in front of the Quadi warriors.
The Quadi, terrified, immediately fled the battle.
The Roman soldiers were stunned and grateful for the seemingly divine intervention. Marcus became a legend thereafter, with many believing it was Marcus Aurelius’ devoted life that won the respect and admiration of the gods, who in turn saved him and his army.
With the near-daily infractions you face as you journey in your life, Marcus Aurelius and his Meditations can provide wisdom to assist you in better understanding yourself to meet with adversity and use it for your development. There are anxieties, anger, and depression that can come to you through traumatic events, and they can come in great severity, but looking within and examining your responses to them, though it can be unnerving, as many spiritual practices have stated, is the key to elevating your consciousness, and to possibly win the admiration of Creation.
“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.” ~ Marcus Aurelius