Meditations: The Emperor’s Handbook

marcus aurelius meditations book cover

Marcus Aurelius Meditations is composed of the diaries and notes of the enlightened Roman emperor.
It’s fascinating that a 2.000 years old book has almost all the mindsets you need to live an empowered life and take control of your mind (and life).

Bullet Summary

  • We all have certain talents. It’s your task to find them and put them to use for yourself and for the world
  • Whatever happens in your life, you decide what that means to you and how you feel about it
  • Don’t waste time on mean criticism, complaints and what you can’t control: stay focused and do your best on everything you can control

Meditations Summary

Marcus Aurelius was the last of the Five Good Emperors, five rulers who oversaw the Roman Empire during one of its most prosperous and peaceful times.

Aurelius was also a philosopher, and he ascribed to the Greek Stoicism, a Hellenistic philosophy founded in the third century BCE.

Logos

Logs can be roughly (very roughly) translated with “reason”, and it’s all around us. It’s in trees, objects and in people as well.

Logos gives things its shape, but also order. And it’s the reason why people are where they are. It’s because of the logos behind people that one can be a slave or an emperor.

Now the interesting thing about logos is that it’s a force of the universe, and it constantly move the world towards its best possible form.

My Note:
The fact that logos move the world towards its best possible form is similar to the Leibnitz hypothesis that “we live in the beset possible world“.
That’s certainly an interesting idea. However, the second law of thermodynamics actually says that matter move towards chaos .

What’s Empowering About Logos?

There is something very empowering about logos. If you believe that “everything happens for a reason” and in the greater scheme of things it’s moving you and the world towards the best possible outcome, then three things happen:

  1. You lose the desire to change tings and “wishing they were better”
  2. You can acquire a strong sense of calmness
  3. It gives you a strong positive bias with which you look at things

There is little to regret when it’s all meant to be

Death is Inevitable

Dying is a normal part of life.
It’s the logos that decides when and where you will die, and there is nothing you can do about it.

And there is also nothing to be sad about it, because it’s a transformation more than an end.

When we die the logos that is part of us re-joins with the greater logos. From the greater logos, it might rejoin a new form of life in an endless cycle that moves the world forward.

Squeezing the Most Out of Life

Marcus Aurelius Meditations has this great idea to get the most out of life: imagine you’ve already died. But somehow you came back and all the time you get is a miracle.
Wouldn’t you be happier and do the most out of your time?

Also read:

Always Be the Best You Can

Meditations says that since we all die and we don’t know when it will happen, we must each moment we have very wisely.

It’s no use wasting time complaining, for example. Marcus Aurelius, for example, didn’t particularly enjoy spending time in court.
But it was part of what the logos had for him. He knew that it was a duty that comes with being the emperor, and he obliged to the best of his ability because complaining would have only meant wasting time, doing a poor job and contributing to a poorly functioning court.

What’s Your Purpose? Leverage Your Strengths!

Marcus Aurelius Meditations says that we all have certain strengths. Leveraging what we are naturally good at will make us more effective, happier and fulfilled.
And if you want to really be happy, use your strengths in service of others.

Start With WHY has a similar message, and it’s crazy for me to think that such great ideas are no new inventions but great men millennia back said and knew the exact same things

Logic Trumps Emotions

Marcus Aurelius and the stoics held logic in high esteem and viewed emotions as dangerous when they clouded reason.

After all, the logos is reasonable as it moves towards an improved world.

Marcus Aurelius worked hard to stand guard at the gates of his mind. He never allowed strong emotions such as hatred, revenge or lust to take too much real estate in his mind.
He strived to keep his mind cool and collected.

And what would he do when feeling overwhelmed? He would meditate on logos to regain his balance.

To read more on meditation, also read:

Perception Trumps Pain

And now we get to one of the most important tenets and lessons from Marcus Aurelius’ meditation. One that is today being repeated by pretty much all motivational speakers from Tony Robbins to Burchard to James Allen.
And this is it:

Whatever happens to you, you choose what it means to you

This concept is very powerful to gain control of your mind and your life. If you are interested in how to take control of your mind and change your perception of the world, check Ultimate Power.

Personal Pain Means Little in Grand Scheme of Things

Marcus Aurelius Meditations says that personal pain all should be accepted if the serves to move the logos towards its desired, improved state.

This concept is very similar to Ray Dalio‘s “what’s good for the whole is good to do”.

marcus aurelius meditations book cover

Real Life Applications

There is really a lot here to take from:

Rebalance Yourself Game
Everything you get sad, you catch yourself complaining or do anything that doesn’t help you or the people around, make it a game to see how quickly you can rebalance yourself.
Do it often enough and you will see how that with time you will gain more control and mastery over yourself.

Everything Changes – & Bad Things Happen 
Everything changes and bad things will happen. Be prepared. Not in the sense of “being prepared for the worse”. Quite the opposite. Be prepared by enjoying the good time you’re having without being too hurt when eventually something bad will happen.

Control Your Mind, Control How You Feel
You have the ultimate trump card on all events around your life. You ultimately control what they mean to you. And with that, you can always choose how you feel.
Also read The Obstacle is The Way, which is a modern take on approaching problems based on Marcus Aurelius Meditations and stoicism.

Stay Focused on What You Can Control
Some things you can’t control. You shouldn’t be flustered by them and you shouldn’t waste your time about them.
Do you best to control and improve everything you can control instead (a major tenet in Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People)

Do Your Best
We can always go at any time. Always do and be your best with the time you have.

Most Criticism Comes From People Who Don’t Like Themselves
Mean criticism can hurt us a lot.
Well, Marcus Aurelius says that most criticism, and most mean criticism, comes from people who are neither very happy nor very successful themselves.
Why bothering about them, then?

Find Your One Thing
Find something you can love doing and where you can use your strengths and dedicate yourself to it.

CONS

Everything Happens for a Reason
I don’t personally much with the idea that everything happens for a reason.
I believe things happen randomly.

Watch Out for Good Translation
Similar as for other timeless classics like The Art of War and The Prince, there are different translation of this book available. They’re not all of the same quality, so you must do a bit of research to find a good one.
By the way, you can get it for free online.

PROS

I can’t list all the pros for a 2.000 years old book which almost by itself could make the whole modern self-help industry redundant.
This is not to say we didn’t advance, we did. And yet a 2.000 years old book has more and deeper wisdom than 90% of modern self-help books.

Review

Marcus Aurelius Meditations is the diary of a man who tirelessly worked on himself to become better and better and to gain deeper and deeper mental mastery.
These are the types of men who drive our world forward.

I find absolutely fascinating that a man who lived more than 2.000 years ago already had all the ideas that most of today’s self-help industry is based on.
And I find it incredible that more than 2.000 years ago there was a man, at the head of what was back then the most powerful empire in the world, that tirelessly worked on himself to be the best man and leader he could be.

Why am I surprised?
Well, I was born with a “modernist” bias. I believed that everything new and modern was great. And imagined that anything from the past couldn’t possibly stack up with what’s new.
Today I know that’s silly. Great men are very similar, the whole world (and time) over.

And boy, we could we these days some enlightened rulers of the stature of Marcus Aurelius, couldn’t we?

Read more summaries or get Meditations on Amazon.

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