Now, unlike any other moment in recent memory, we are being forced to reevaluate things. We’re looking at our jobs, at our finances, at the places we live. We’re looking at so many of the systems that have been set up, whether they’re governmental or cultural or familial. We’re having to ask questions about why they are what they are, how they’ve held up under the immense pressure and stress of this global pandemic.
You can imagine Marcus Aurelius doing a bit of this himself. He too experienced a plague, and was forced to spend years far from Rome with the army. There, in his tent, he sat with his journal—the pages that would become Meditations—and he had a conversation with himself.
One of the best passages survives to us and is worth applying to our own lives right now under similar stress and uncertainty:
“Most of what we say and do is not essential,” he writes. “If you can eliminate it, you’ll have more time, and more tranquility. Ask yourself at every moment, ‘Is this necessary?’”
There has never been a better time to go through your life and ask yourself about all the things you do and say and think, “Is this necessary?” “Is this essential?” “Why am I doing this?” “What would happen if I changed?”
How much or how little you work. Where you live. What your marriage or your relationships look like. The political policies you support. What you spend money on. What your goals are. The way your schedule is arranged. The things taking up room in your junk drawer…or the thoughts running through your head.
Most of what we do is not essential. Most of it is instinctual or it was foisted on us by someone else. Most of it isn’t actually working for us. We might be better and happier if we changed. We might have more tranquility if we did less, as Marcus said.
But first, we’ll have to ask ourselves some tough questions and there is no time like the present to do that.