By Troy Headrick of Thinker Boy: Blog & Art
I’ve started reading Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. I’m only into chapter four—I bookmarked page twenty-three to be a bit more specific—but I’m already so glad I decided to look at it again. As I claimed in my last blog, the book is full of wisdom and provides a great study in how to live artfully. It would certainly make my list of top ten most influential tomes I’ve come across in recent years.
In my previous piece, I mentioned that Aurelius teaches his readers how to age with grace and dignity, which makes it universally relevant since we’re all inexorably moving down a path called “life.” As a matter of fact, the book is full of wonderful passages on mortality and aging. For example, toward the end of chapter two, he writes the following:
In human life, our time is a point, our substance a flux, our senses dull, the fabric of our entire bodies subject to corruption, our soul ever restless, our destiny beyond divining, and our fame precarious. In a word, all that belongs to the body is a stream in flow, and all that belongs to the soul, mere dream and delusion, and our life is a time of war and an interlude in a foreign land, and our fame thereafter, oblivion.
That’s not only a teaching passage; it’s beautifully written as well. Given that this is our fate, Aurelius, shortly after writing this, says that “philosophy” is our most dependable “escort” and “guide.” I think he’s saying that we should live an examined life if we want to be able to put things in perspective. We should live self-reflectively and thoughtfully.
Some might find the above passage depressing, but the implied argument is one that liberates. He doesn’t rail against ambition—he, in fact, held considerable political power during his lifetime—but he warns against taking ourselves (and life and others) too seriously and placing value on things which aren’t going to last and have little genuine importance. His argument, if you really think about, is very freeing. It’s about enjoying the experience, the here and now, without trying to make things larger than what they are. Exaggeration seems to be a terrible human trait. We make mountains out of molehills much more often than we should. We blow things way out of proportion. We take things way too personally.
In my previous blog I said that I was going to include some case studies in this one—of those who age well and those who don’t—but one never knows where a piece of writing is going to go once a person starts writing it.
Just a reminder: Getting a little off track, while writing and thinking, doesn’t make one a bad person. The shortest distance between two points may be a straight line but who says the most beautiful type of line is a straight one?
I’ll finish by asking an open-ended question. What came to mind as you were reading my blog?