Marcus Aurelius has taught us that there is real power in self-reflection. Why? It is completely within our control and has no cost to practice. Self-reflection breeds awareness, analyzation and self-regulation. It allows us to detach from ourselves and view our surrounding environment from a birds-eye view.
This allows us to make better decisions and avoid behavior that is outside of our Nature. Marcus Aurelius has showed us the power of reflecting everyday. His writings, fittingly titled “To Himself” have survived the test of the time and are now recognized as “Meditations”. Known as the last great roman emperor, he presents a dynamic that many people can understand.
At the time of “Meditations”, Marcus Aurelius was the most influential man in the World, he privately recorded his inner thoughts and questioned his challenges with living righteously and doing good. The power behind “Meditations” is that Marcus Aurelius did not produce these thoughts for public consumption, unlike Seneca, who was a teacher of stoic philosophy.
The beauty of his art is that it’s transparent, accessible, to the point and practical.
He is famously known for producing the expression,
“Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely”.
— Marcus Aurelius
Here, you have one of the World’s most powerful men of his time. He could do or have anything he wants, but chooses to live his life above the calling of Human Nature.The stoic philosopher teaches us that rather than repress our emotions, we should take a deeper look at them when they become a distraction to our directing mind. Marcus Aurelius understood that it is in our Nature to find power enticing, specifically when that power will not be put to honorable use. Power tends to put our character on display.
The life and times of Marcus Aurelius provides validation of what power without virtues can do to a person. This reinforces the notion that having virtues is the one and only predictor of what choices a person chooses to make. We are all capable individuals, the question is who are we when you add good health, power and money. Power in most cases, tends to reveal who we really are as an individual. Who are you truly when the consequences don’t matter?
Stoicism teaches us to control what is within our power. Even though dishonesty is a choice, power gives an opportunity to engage in certain behaviors. In regard to virtues, Marcus Aurelius viewed justice as the most meaningful of the four. We control our actions and justice is moral wisdom applied to our actions, specifically it is related to our environment and civilization as a whole.
Epictetus offers support for Marcus Aurelius’ teachings on the importance of virtues and control.
"Some things are in our control and others not.
Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions.
Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our actions.
The things in our control are by nature free, unrestrained, unhindered; but those not in our control are weak, slavish, restrained, belonging to others.
Remember, then, that if you suppose that things which are slavish by nature are also free, and that what belongs to others is your own, then you will be hindered.
You will lament, you will be disturbed, and you will find fault both with gods and men.
But if you suppose that only to be your own which is your own, and what belongs to others such as it really is, then no one will ever compel you or restrain you.
Further, you will find fault with no one or accuse no one.
You will do nothing against your will.
No one will hurt you, you will have no enemies, and you will not be harmed"
It is scientific fact, that when power increases, moral goes down. Even though Marcus Aurelius is viewed as the exception, his passion for showing us why we should live our lives in accordance to a high moral standard doesn’t change what we already know about Human Nature. His words continue to speak volumes, as they come from one of the World’s most powerful men, striving to become a better person through kindness, rationality, work-ethic and humility.
As humans, we tend to gravitate more towards organization and rely less on abstraction. Organization provides a balance and throughout history that has always been the chief aim. Our mental makeup has always pushed us to engage in high-mindedness, for that reason, operating on a higher level will always be a very attainable end goal. As humans, it is in our Nature to strive for better. Although, these concepts are useless, unless they are followed up with action. It is within reason and in our Nature to do what is right.
Epictetus offers reinforcement for Marcus Aurelius, teachings on reasoning and logic.
"The first and most important field of philosophy is the application of principles such as "Do not lie."
Next come the proofs, such as why we should not lie.
The third field supports and articulates the proofs, by asking, for example, "How does this prove it?
What exactly is a proof, what is logical inference, what is contradiction, what is truth, what is falsehood?"
Thus, the third field is necessary because of the second, and the second because of the first.
The most important, though, the one that should occupy most of our time, is the first.
But we do just the opposite.
We are preoccupied with the third field and give that all our attention, passing the first by altogether.
The result is that we lie - but have no difficulty proving why we shouldn’t"
No matter who you are or what walk of life you come from, I believe that everyone can learn from the teachings of Marcus Aurelius. While faced with the adversities of war, disease and the task of ruling one of history’s greatest empires. The emperor searches for a sense of self-actualization, in doing so, he provides a foundation for many to stand firm. The theory is this, if you build a solid moral foundation, corruption doesn’t have a chance to rise because it ends where it begins.
Outside forces can and will have an influence over you, if you allow them to affect you. Overall, it is our decision to follow the right path when in the presence of money, power & the many vices that life presents to us. We have influence over the path we choose to walk and the actions we choose to take. The biggest question is what is to be chosen, avoided and neither. In the realm of impulses, it is ultimately our moral makeup that directs our mind on how we act on fixed desires.
The Stoics have organized virtue into four detailed categories: justice, wisdom, courage and moderation.
Justice: dealing with others adequately even when they have mishandled a situation.
Justice is split into loyalty, honesty, integrity, and trustworthy dealing.
Wisdom: perceive society without bias, reasonably and peacefully.
Wisdom is split up into good judgement, common sense, mentally keen, imaginative and foresight.
Courage: taking on daily confrontations and conflicts with no objection.
Courage is split into persistence, certainty, righteousness, liveliness, and alertness.
Temperance: which is free-willed self-mastery or moderation — where an individual abstains from doing something by utter will power.
Moderation is split into good regulation, civility, humility, and self-constraint.
Any individual who can develop these virtues can produce positive change in themselves and their environment.
Lesson 1: Showcase Your Virtues Through Actions
Focus is key in this situation. In life, sometimes we lose sight of what’s truly important and what’s worthy of recognition. Every human being has the capacity within themselves to display patience, sincerity and practice moderation. Marcus Aurelius makes a very good point. Why would you settle for less? When you are clearly aware of what you have to offer. Every person has a potential to control all their virtuous energy.
As Marcus Aurelius addresses himself below,
“No one could ever accuse you of being quick-witted.
All right, but there are plenty of other things you can’t claim you “haven’t got in you.”
Practice the virtues you can show: honesty, gravity, endurance, austerity, resignation, abstinence, patience, sincerity, moderation, seriousness, high-mindedness.
Don’t you see how much you have to offer—beyond excuses like “can’t”?
And yet you still settle for less.”
— Marcus Aurelius
Lesson 2: Study The Successful People Around You
As Marcus Aurelius wrote in “Meditations”, he reminds himself to embrace the qualities of those in his inner circle. Success begets further success. As individuals, we can all find people in our lives who we consider to be role models. It is important to pick up on certain qualities that a person has in their repertoire. Tune in to how they make decisions, what do they do in their free time? Are they disciplined? Let their energy be contagious. You can never go wrong by mirroring success.
Marcus Aurelius paints a picture for us below,
“When you need encouragement, think of the qualities the people around you have: this one’s energy, that one’s modesty, another’s generosity, and so on.
Nothing is as encouraging as when virtues are visibly embodied in the people around us, when we’re practically showered with them.
It’s good to keep this in mind.”
— Marcus Aurelius
Lesson 3: Live In The Now
This is the most essential lesson we can take from Marcus Aurelius. While practicing the virtues listed above, we should keep in mind to focus on consistency. This allows us to develop mindfulness and take a view from above. If we can accurately assess what adds to our happiness and what depreciates it. We can put in an effort to find that balance that works for our lives. Always remember, life is about perspective.
Marcus Aurelius makes his case below,
“Then remind yourself that past and future have no power over you.
Only the present—and even that can be minimized.
Just mark off its limits.
And if your mind tries to claim that it can’t hold out against that…well, then, heap shame upon it.”
“The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting.
The impediment to action advances action.
What stands in the way becomes the way.”
— Marcus Aurelius
Bonus: Always Remember These 3 Guiding Principles of Stoicism.
High self-perception is priceless. Your perception of yourself should be cherished and treasured, as it is the most valued mental asset under your control. Perception affects every facet of your life. A number of factors play a major role in your self-perception, including your environment but nothing is more important than your subjective emotions and thoughts.
Your ability to control your thoughts, treat it with respect.
It’s all that protects your mind from false perceptions, false to your Nature and that of all rational beings.
— Marcus Aurelius
When executed appropriately, action can be a compelling metaphysical practice. The art of Stoicism is 90% action and 10% theory.
So do not be concerned with the fruit of your action — just give attention to the action itself.
The fruit will come of its own accord.
— Bhagavad Gita
3. Will Power
We all pay a price in life for the things we truly want. Our well-being and mental ability allow us to control our impulses and actions. The stronger your will power, the more equipped you are to overcome difficult challenges and alleviate detrimental behavior.
Starting with things of little value — a bit of spilled oil, a little stolen wine — repeat to yourself: for such a small price, I buy tranquility and peace of mind.
If you’re interested in learning more about the power of belief and how you can acquire techniques to strengthen you mindset. Checkout my article on “8 Surprising Autosuggestion Techniques That Can Change Your Life”.