Friday, September 5, 2014

Meditations: Book Review

Author: Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus

Length: 256 pages

What is ItMeditations is a journal of reflections written by the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius as an exercise in self expression and self development. Despite his personal intentions (arguably), Meditations has become an important public philosophical text. The emperor divided his writings into twelve books based on different periods of his life. Each book contains reflections ranging from just one sentence to a few short paragraphs.

What's Said: Everything and everyone is connected. Nature is the blueprint for all mankind and should be observed, learned, and followed. Everything that exists is natural and only does what it must. Do not give away your power of self control. Whatever you think of constantly you will become. Happiness depends only on you. Nothing that is said or done can hurt unless you let it. Let that which suffers look unto itself. Our time here on earth is impossibly short. Life decays, reason decays. There is nothing and no one that shall always be remembered. Do not waste time doing unnecessary things. Do not concern yourself with what others do. Life at its essence is constant change. Take the time to penetrate beyond the surface. Death is not to be feared. Nothing can happen to you that is not natural. The universe is not concerned with good and evil. Accept that fate is beyond your control. Practice restraint in the face of difficulty. The two most important virtues are ethics and reason.

What's True: Marcus Aurelius seems to have been a practical man, a rational man, and an honest man. With these journal entries the emperor examines (and reexamines) his own mechanisms for coping with the world and himself. He does so poignantly from many (many) angles on such topics as: the brevity of life, the impermanence of fame, nature as the blue print, fait accompli*, and emotional control. While the emperor is very direct, the grammar and vocabulary of the period (as the case with many classical works) requires sustained focus. Marcus structured his writings around these thoughts - accept the world as it comes; protect your mind as your source of power; be dispassionate in your analysis; distinguish fairness from preference; look for opportunities to practice patience; acknowledge death but respect and revere lifeImpressively, he demonstrated these by example, which is why he was one of the most revered emperors in Roman history and why his Meditations is considered a foundation for stoic philosophy**.  

So WhatThis book is aptly named. Meditations is basically a collection of meditations for careful and methodical self reflection. Marcus Aurelius gives you an extensive list of thought exercises that act as a guide towards your more stoic self. In this sense the repetitive nature of the work actually serves to reinforce its themes. Simply put in the emperor's own words, “…our life is short; we must endeavor to gain the present time with best discretion and justice.” Here the legendary leader shows you how he grappled with the task.

Final Word: Worthwhile but Involved Read

*Life having already been decided (i.e fate), there is no option left but to accept this fact.
**The philosophical view that rationalism and emotional control, in line with nature, are the highest virtues for mankind in a deterministic world.

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