There’s an inconsistency that sneaks into our relationship with time. There never seems to be enough of it in the day. We’ll get to it later, we say. Maybe we say yes to too many things, maybe there’s comfort in pushing things to later, or maybe we’re just unaware that our priorities are misplaced. The Stoics talk about deciding what’s essential. They all do. Marcus Aurelius is relentless about it though.
Not born into the royal lineage, Marcus Aurelius was chosen for the throne. At a time when Rome was dealing with horrible plagues and foreign attacks, Marcus likely would have rathered the time to pursue his intellectual interests in subjects like Greek and Latin, but mostly, Stoicism. Still, he became Rome’s greatest leader.
Every night, Marcus Aurelius sat down to write. He decompressed, reviewed the day and decided how he could improve. Those writings survive to us today published as Meditations. He wrote incessantly about brevity, living presently, and identifying then removing nonessentials—reminders to live a good and full life.
We waste time, we busy ourselves, we prioritize trivialities. Marcus Aurelius weighed every sentence he spoke and every action he took with a question: “is this necessary?” When the answer to that question is exclusively, “yes,” you will have enough time in the day.
Below are 50 quotes from Meditations. They’re all reminders, originally to self, but now to us to make the most of this life, to expend time on only what is essential, to stop wasting time.
[*] “Human life. Duration: momentary. Nature: changeable. Perception: dim. Condition of Body: decaying. Soul: spinning around. Fortune: unpredictable. Fortune: unpredictable. Lasting Fame: uncertain. Sum up: The body and its parts are a river, the soul a dream and mist, life is warfare and a journey far from home, lasting reputation is oblivion.” Marcus Aurelius
[*] “If you do everything as if it were the last thing you were doing in life, and stop being aimless, stop letting your emotions override what your mind tells you, stop being hypocritical, self-centered, irritable. You see how few things you have to do to live a satisfying and reverent life?” Marcus Aurelius
[*] “Some things are rushing into existence, others out of it. Some of what now exists is already gone. Change and flux constantly remake the world, just as the incessant progression of time remakes eternity. We find ourselves in a river. Which of the things around us should we value when none of them can offer a firm foothold?” Marcus Aurelius
[*] “Like an attachment to a sparrow: we glimpse it and it’s gone. And life itself: like the decoction of blood, the drawing in of air. We expel the power of breathing we drew in at birth (just yesterday or the day before), breathing it out