“Alexander the Great and his mule driver both died and the same thing happened to both.” – Marcus Aurelius
Marcus Aurelius wrote to himself a simple and effective reminder to help him regain perspective and stay balanced:
“Run down the list of those who felt intense anger at something: the most famous, the most unfortunate, the most hated, the most whatever: Where is all that now? Smoke, dust, legend…or not even a legend. Think of all the examples. And how trivial the things we want so passionately are.”
It is important to note that ‘passion’ here isn’t the modern usage we’re familiar with as in enthusiasm or caring about something. As Don Robertson explains in his book, when the Stoics discuss overcoming ‘passions’, which they called patheiai, they refer to the irrational, unhealthy and excessive desires and emotions. Anger would be a good example. What is important to remember, and this is the crucial bit, they seek to replace them with eupatheiai, such as joy instead of excessive pleasure.
Returning to the point of the exercise, it’s simple: remember how small you are. For that matter, remember how small most everything is.
Remember that achievements can be ephemeral, and that your possession of them is for just an instant.
P.S. This was originally sent on April 27, 2017. Sign up today for the Daily Stoic’s email and get our popular free 7-day course on Stoicism.