I am a graduating senior majoring in International Relations and minoring in Peace Studies and Violence Prevention, Leadership and Social Change, and Spanish. After graduation I am going to Lugano, Switzerland to be an advisor for the Creating Sustainable Social Change study abroad program here at VT. After that, I will be going to Nyamyumba, Rwanda to work with a non-profit organization to conduct research on gender-equity.
Hey all, I am a sophomore majoring in political science and minoring in history. After I graduate, I will be commissioning in the Marine Corps and hopefully earn the job as an Infantry Officer. I want to travel the world, help people, and experience different cultures. I am not sure what I want to do after the Marine Corps- maybe a history teacher, firefighter, or entrepreneur. When I retire, I would like to live in Montana with lots of land.
I am a junior majoring in Political Science with a concentration in national security and minoring in Leadership Studies offered by the Corps of Cadets. After I graduate, I am hoping to enlist in the Navy as a Surface Warfare Officer. If I choose not to make the military my life career I’ll be seeking a job in a federal agency or law enforcement. One day, I hope to retire and live somewhere in New Zealand.
Marcus Aurelius wrote Meditations during his time as Roman Emperor from AD 161 to 180. His writings served as an outlet to express his ideas on Stoic philosophy and guide his own journey towards self-improvement. Perhaps the most striking quality of Aurelius comes from his commitment to virtue and tranquility above all else.
In Book VII, some of the most important themes touched upon include badness or evil, happiness, change, pain, human existence, and how we can control our destinies through self-control and organized thought. Through the application of ruling principles that are discussed by Aurelius, both peace and tranquility become attainable. He stresses that it is in our best interest to keep our principles at the forefront of our minds so we do not forget them, which is demonstrated by the quote below.
“How can our principles become dead, unless the impressions (thoughts) which correspond to them are extinguished? But it is in thy power continuously to fan these thoughts into a flame.”
This scene from Spongebob demonstrates what would happen if we neglected our principles.
He also emphasizes the importance of remaining consistent when it comes to practicing our principles, and not to stray away from them even when surrounded by others. In this situation, it could be easy to become influenced by sophistry. However, by remaining resolute and unwavering when it comes to your values, you will succeed in trying to achieve the greater good, as developed in the quote below.
“For whatsoever either by myself or with another I can do, ought to be directed to this
only, to that which is useful and well suited to society.”
Aurelius also notes that everything in the universe is connected and a natural order exists that should coincide with one’s principles. He points out that we are all a part of one universe, and we all have a place and purpose within it. He describes sentient beings as “rational animals” and says they should behave according to reason and according to nature, as shown in the following quote and song.
“For there is one universe made up of all things, and one God who pervades all things, and one substance, and one law, one common reason in all intelligent animals, and one truth; if indeed there is also one perfection for all animals which are of the same stock and participate in the same reason.”
“Imagine” by John Lennon pictures a world in which everyone lives as one.
He describes change as a part of the natural process of things, encouraging people to embrace it instead of shy away from it. According to Aurelius, without change, happiness cannot exist. Change is an essential part of the human existence, and can be witnessed everywhere in nature. This is exemplified by the quote and the song below.
“Is any man afraid of change? Why what can take place without change? What then is
more pleasing or more suitable to the universal nature? And canst thou take a bath unless
the wood undergoes a change? And canst thou be nourished, unless the food undergoes a
change? And can anything else that is useful be accomplished without change? Dost thou
not see then that for thyself also to change is just the same, and equally necessary for the
“Changing” by John Mayer celebrates a life full of change.
He goes further into detail about life, death, and pain; all which fall in the natural order of things. Similarly to change, it is better to embrace the fact that they are inevitable rather than running from them. Pain will only bother you if you let it consume you, and you should not focus on death but rather on life. An individual can do nothing more than to trust the gods, and embrace their place in the universe and their destiny. This is exemplified by the quote below.
“But, my good friend, reflect whether that which is noble and good is not something
different from saving and being saved; for as to a man living such or such a time, at least one who is really a man, consider if this is not a thing to be dismissed from the thoughts: and there must be no love of life: but as to these matters a man must intrust them to the deity and believe what the women say, that no man can escape his destiny, the next inquiry being how he may best live the time that he has to live.”
He further advises against letting outside factors influence your character and affect your destiny. Even if you find yourself overwhelmed by your environment or the dangers of your living conditions, the power to remain virtuous and tranquil lies within your mind. You should not act for anything or anyone other than yourself and your destiny. This is exemplified in the quote below.
“It is in thy power to live free from all compulsion in the greatest tranquility of mind,
even if all the world cry out against thee as much as they choose, and even if wild beasts
tear in pieces the members of this kneaded matter which has grown around thee.”
He moves onto more applications of principles to daily life in the following book.
Perhaps the most important theme of this book is that one should not waste their time trying to figure out why things are the way they are and instead live in the present and accept things as they are. He calls for a life free from distractions and strict adherence to your principles. He emphasizes the importance of living in the present and embracing our connection with nature. The connection between nature and accepting life the way it is is highlighted in the following quote.
“Remember that as it is a shame to be surprised if the fig-tree produces figs, so it is to be
surprised if the world produces such and such things of which it is productive; and for the physician and the helmsman it is a shame to be surprised, if a man has a fever, or if the wind is unfavourable.”
Just as Bob Dylan once said, don’t think twice it’s alright.
He goes on to talk more about how you should stick to your guns, and remain unwavering even if somebody tries to correct you. He also brings up freedom, and you can achieve it through your own actions. Everything should be done with a purpose and things such as worrying or finding fault in something do not have a purpose. He ties nature back into his principles by reminding us that nothing ever leaves the universe, everything will transform and return to us somehow. He questions our existence in the universe, but knows it is not for trivial reasons such as pleasure as demonstrated in the quote below.
“Everything exists for some end, a horse, a vine. Why dost thou wonder? Even the sun
will say, I am for some purpose, and the rest of the gods will say the same. For what
purpose then art thou? to enjoy pleasure? See if common sense allows this.”
Due to the transience of life, it is important to become good today rather than to become good tomorrow, Aurelius warns. All actions should be conducted with the good of humanity in mind, and anything done unto you is what the gods and universe intended. If you are benevolent, you will reap the benefits and gain satisfaction and happiness. He teaches us that there are three main relations between an individual and other things, as described in the quote below.
“There are three relations between thee and other things: the one to the body which
surrounds thee; the second to the divine cause from which all things come to all; and the
third to those who live with thee.”
Aurelius reminds us that all of our power lies within, and we can expel any evil or negativity from tarnishing our minds with our will. He compares the separation of man from nature to that of losing a limb, and says it’s a great blessing that humans are capable of returning to nature as intended after getting separated from it. The universe and nature will make all things right again, it is our duty to trust in its power as well as our own. Nature will also not bring us anything that we cannot bear, so if you find yourself wondering if a burden is too heavy, it isn’t. He reintroduces the ideal that only the present is worth focusing on, as shown in the quote below.
“In the next place remember that neither the future nor the past pains thee, but only the
The importance of embracing any obstacles you may face is something that Aurelius touches on multiple times. He claims that any man who lives content with the obstacles presented to him will die happily. Anyone who becomes consumed by said obstacles or finds themselves tempted by fame, passion, or evil will not die happy. It is also implied those who find themselves swallowed by the past or worrying about their future cannot die happy. Those that worry not and do not ask “why” can die happily, as encouraged by the following quote.
“A cucumber is bitter.- Throw it away.- There are briars in the road.- Turn aside from
them.- This is enough. Do not add, And why were such things made in the world?”
In Book IX, places emphasis on neutralies that exist between both extremes. Being able to understand both approaches (or sides on a spectrum) would make one’s judgment more sound. The main end goal is one that is focused on tranquility. We can only be at peace with ourselves and others if we train our logic to guide our perceptions . It is in our nature to help one another so that we may thrive. This sentiment is repeated throughout the text and specifically in the quote below.
“Now with respect to the things towards which the universal nature is equally affected- for it would not have made both, unless it was equally affected towards both- towards those who wish to follow nature should be of the same mind with it, and equally affected. With respect to pain, then, and pleasure, or death and life, or honour and dishonour, which the universal nature employs equally, whoever is not equally affected is manifestly acting impiously.”
Marcus Aurelius also touches on the ever changing nature of the universe. He ties the concept of change into what one might experience in life. For example, there is nothing to fear in death because it is a state of being. In reality, we experience many forms of death. The way it is worded is a bit extreme, but it is no different than finishing a task. It is almost like thinking about an end of some sort. An example of this would be like how, at some point, we all went outside to play together with our friends for the last time. What may be perceived as loss is simply change or moving on to a “chapter” in life. We grow, build new relationships, and make lives of our own. Of course it’s sad, but that is all a part of growing up. That’s life.
“Soon will the earth cover us all: then the earth, too, will change, and the things also which result from change will continue to change forever, and these again forever.”
Everyone is not destined to live a perfect life either. The world is so vast and transformative that every single little mistake that someone might commit doesn’t necessarily mean that they are terrible. The gods gifted everyone with negative traits, but they also have positive traits that balance our personalities. This concept applies to all individuals. Aurelius asserts that we should be patient and understanding when being approached by someone who may be abrasive. It is simply treating others how you want to be treated.
“When thou art offended with any man’s shameless conduct, immediately ask thyself, Is it possible, then, that shameless men should not be in the world? It is not possible. Do not, then, require what is impossible. For this man also is one of those shameless men who must of necessity be in the world. Let the same considerations be present to thy mind in the case of the knave, and the faithless man, and of every man who does wrong in any way. “
In Book X, Aurelius questions whether or not his soul would stop yearning for what it doesn’t have or if it would ever be content with what it has. This conundrum is one that is prevalent in everyone. He implies that, no matter what it is, if it is bestowed from the gods it is something good and deserving.
“Wilt thou, then, my soul, never be good and simple and one and naked, more manifest than the body which surrounds thee? Wilt thou never enjoy an affectionate and contented disposition? Wilt thou never be full and without a want of any kind, longing for nothing more, nor desiring anything, either animate or inanimate, for the enjoyment of pleasures?”
Endurance is a huge theme and Aurelius focuses on this concept throughout the book. Like many things, it will either make or break someone. If someone cannot persevere they will not last for too long, but if someone’s mind is able to adapt they are prepared to fight another day. Suffering can then be put into perspective and made endurable. Everyone encounters their own trials and tribulations, but it is up to us whether or not we choose to adapt to our environment. I always remember that I have survived 100 percent of my worst days. Into each life some rain must fall.
“If, then, it happens to thee in such way as thou art formed by nature to bear it, do not complain, but bear it as thou art formed by nature to bear it. But if it happens in such wise as thou art not formed by nature to bear it, do not complain, for it will perish after it has consumed thee.”
Life is a continuous journey that everyone builds and improves on; no matter how old they are.
If someone is healthy and in their right state of mind they will not be filled with worry or anxious about seeking approval. If there is someone that is not of sound mind, how are they expected to be fully aware of what they are doing? How would they know what they truly need to do to live a happy life? It shouldn’t be about materialistic things, but one about fulfillment.
“And accordingly the healthy understanding ought to be prepared for everything which happens; but that which says, Let my dear children live, and let all men praise whatever I may do, is an eye which seeks for green things, or teeth which seek for soft things.”
In Book XI, Marcus Aurelius explores the validity and rationality of the body and soul. He also provides some of his morales and how to deal with negative situations. Aurelius says that a soul owns itself and can perceive the universe as orderly and not unique- something that has happened to a person has happened before.
Auerlius is skeptical of Christains in this book, saying that a soul should be able to leave its body when it is ready, not “from mere obstinacy, as with the Christians, but considerately and with dignity and in a way to persuade another, without tragic show.”
Aurelius also explains how he is skeptical of newer comedies, but he thinks “useful sayings” and guidance can be found in old comedies, because he believes that helping the community and being an active member of society should be its own reward, which is another reason why he criticizes Christains, who practice morals for salvation. One aspect of this book that stood out to me was his emphasis on being involved in your community. He makes an analogy that someone isolating themselves from society is like cutting a branch off a tree, saying “So too a man when he is separated from another man has fallen off from the whole social community. Now as to a branch, another cuts it off, but a man by his own act separates himself from his neighbour when he hates him and turns away from him…”
Aurelius also identifies nine aspects to remember when someone offends another person. Similar to his previous books, Marcus says to remember that all people have a bond, specifically sharing the “community of mind.” This reminds me of the recent fictional terror group who appear in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, a Disney+ Marvel series, which can be seen here:
His fifth rule also stood out to me: he essentially says to try to consider the circumstances that led the person to offend you. Sometimes I struggle with taking a step back and trying to see the situation from the other person’s perspective, saying “a man must learn a great deal to enable him to pass a correct judgement on another man’s acts.”
Finally, his sixth rule stood out to me, where he essentially says that life is short and not to waste it, which reminds me of this video of Kobe Bryant explaining how short life is:
This point leads to the ideas Auerlius’s next book, Book XII.
The main idea of Auerlius’s Book XII of The Meditations is that life is short. He explains to not hold on to the past and to not look forward to the future but to live in the moment. Marcus says that at his death he wants to be someone who “shalt strive to live only what is really thy life, that is, the present- then thou wilt be able to pass that portion of life which remains for thee up to the time of thy death, free from perturbations, nobly, and obedient to thy own daemon (to the god that is within thee),” meaning to be adherent to the actions of one’s own body and desire of the sould.
This point is extremely important to so many people today. Students, along with much of the working class, look to the future for things to get better or “live for the weekend.” This is prevalent among college students with “Almost Friday” posts which can be seen here: https://www.instagram.com/friday.beers/ and in common songs such as Working for the Weekend by Loverboy:
According to Marcus, this is not the proper way to live life.
He also says that there is a plan that is beyond the understanding of humans, so it is pointless for humans to try to understand it, because our perspective is so small. Marcus gives the reader a paradox: “I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinion of himself than on the opinion of others.”
Aurelius thinks it is a paradox that even in the time of the Romans, people were self obsessed and cared more about themselves more than anyone else, yet people also value others’ opinion more than their opinion of themselves. I agree with Aurelius in this aspect, and this trend can clearly be seen especially in today’s youth. I have always listened to ex Navy SEAL Davis Goggins, and I have always valued this video on why not to care about other people’s opinion.
The final point that stood out to me in this book are the few foundational rules Marcus says to follow, for these are the rules he follows when he is upsetted by something: everything happens for a reason, humankind is a community of intelligence, whatever is troubling you is external, not internal, and everything that is happening has once happened before.
The guidelines provided by Aurelius provide guidance to someone who is easily corrupted by external forces in life and is a follower of sophistry.