We should never forget the truly tremendous fact that Meditations carries the private thoughts of a man, Marcus Aurelius, during his reign as a virtual god, as the emperor of Rome. If ever there were a man qualified to think himself the center of the universe, Marcus Aurelius was it. And yet, the most powerful man of his time reminded himself on a stunningly consistent basis—almost like an incantation—that he was no more or no less than the people over whom he ruled. In Meditations, he refers to the common good more than 80 times, self-identifying not just as a citizen of Rome, but of the World.
The Stoics have a word for this: sympatheia—“a connectedness with the cosmos.” It is one of the lesser known Stoic concepts, in part because it’s so incredibly easy to focus on the self and lose sight of the whole in the process. It’s easy to get caught up in our own little worlds—to think our trials deserve the sympathy of the gods and our triumphs, their recognition. It’s easy to forget the bigger picture.
Here are 32 reminders from Marcus to remember to step back and look at that bigger picture, to remember all that we have in common as humans occupying this earth, to remember that we were made for each other:
***All you need are these: certainty of judgment in the present moment; action for the common good in the present moment; and an attitude of gratitude in the present moment for anything that comes your way. — Marcus Aurelius Click To Tweet
“Make sure you’re not made ‘Emperor,’ avoid that imperial stain. It can happen to you, so keep yourself simple, good, pure, saintly, plain, a friend of justice, god-fearing, gracious, affectionate, and strong for your proper work. Fight to remain the person that philosophy wished to make you. Revere the gods, and look after each other. Life is short— the fruit of this life is a good character and acts for the common good.” — Marcus Aurelius
“Epictetus says we must discover the missing art of assent and pay special attention to the sphere of our impulses—that they are subject to reservation, to the common good, and that they are in proportion to actual worth.” — Marcus Aurelius
What injures the hive injures the bee. — Marcus Aurelius Click To Tweet
The world as a living being—one nature, one soul. Keep that in mind...And how everything helps produce everything else. Spun and woven together. — Marcus Aurelius Click To Tweet
Whenever you suffer pain, keep in mind that it’s nothing to be ashamed of and that it can’t degrade your guiding intelligence, nor keep it from acting rationally and for the common good. — Marcus Aurelius Click To Tweet
My relationship to them. That we came into the world for the sake of one another. — Marcus Aurelius Click To Tweet
“Our rational nature moves freely forward in its impressions when it:
1) accepts nothing false or uncertain;
2) directs its impulses only to acts for the common good;
3) limits its desires and aversions only to what’s in its own power;
4) embraces everything nature assigns it.
— Marcus Aurelius
Meditate often on the interconnectedness and mutual interdependence of all things in the universe. For in a sense, all things are mutually woven together and therefore have an affinity for each other. — Marcus Aurelius Click To Tweet
“There is no common benchmark for all the things that people think are good—except for a few, the ones that affect us all. So the goal should be a common one—a civic one. If you direct all your energies toward that, your actions will be consistent. And so will you. — Marcus Aurelius
“Remind yourself: I am a single limb (melos) of a larger body—a rational one. Or you could say “a part” (meros)—only a letter’s difference. But then you’re not really embracing other people. Helping them isn’t yet its own reward. You’re still seeing it only as The Right Thing To Do. You don’t yet realize who you’re really helping.” — Marcus Aurelius
“Don’t ever forget these things:
The nature of the world.
How I relate to the world.
What proportion of it I make up.
That you are part of nature, and no one can prevent you from speaking and acting in harmony with it, always.
— Marcus Aurelius
“Animals without the logos are assigned the same soul, and those who have the logos share one too—a rational one. Just as all earthly creatures share one earth. Just as we all see by the same light, and breathe the same air—all of us who see and breathe.” — Marcus Aurelius
Have I done something for the common good? Then I share in the benefits. — Marcus Aurelius Click To Tweet
“Everything is interwoven, and the web is holy; none of its parts are unconnected. They are composed harmoniously, and together they compose the world. One world, made up of all things. One divinity, present in them all. One substance and one law—the logos that all rational beings share.
And one truth … If this is indeed the culmination of one process, beings who share the same birth, the same logos.”
— Marcus Aurelius
As long as you work for others’ good, by any and all means—what is there that can harm you? — Marcus Aurelius Click To Tweet
“What links one human being to all humans: not blood, or birth, but mind. And … That an individual’s mind is God and of God. That nothing belongs to anyone. Children, body, life itself—all of them come from that same source.” — Marcus Aurelius
What is rational in different beings is related, like the individual limbs of a single being, and meant to function as a unit. — Marcus Aurelius Click To Tweet
“If thought is something we share, then so is reason—what makes us reasoning beings. If so, then the reason that tells us what to do and what not to do is also shared. And if so, we share a common law. And thus, are fellow citizens. And fellow citizens of something. And in that case, our state must be the world.” — Marcus Aurelius
So by keeping in mind the whole I form a part of, I’ll accept whatever happens. And because of my relationship to other parts, I will do nothing selfish, but aim instead to join them. — Marcus Aurelius Click To Tweet
“To direct my every action toward what benefits us all and to avoid what doesn’t. If I do all that, then my life should go smoothly. As you might expect a citizen’s life to go—one whose actions serve his fellow citizens, and who embraces the community’s decree.” — Marcus Aurelius
And your profession? 'Goodness.' — Marcus Aurelius Click To Tweet
To see them from above: the thousands of animal herds, the rituals, the voyages on calm or stormy seas, the different ways we come into the world, share it with one another, and leave it. — Marcus Aurelius Click To Tweet
To undertake nothing: i. at random or without a purpose; ii. for any reason but the common good. — Marcus Aurelius Click To Tweet
Keep reminding yourself of the way things are connected, of their relatedness. — Marcus Aurelius Click To Tweet
All things are implicated in one another and in sympathy with each other. This event is the consequence of some other one. Things push and pull on each other, and breathe together, and are one. — Marcus Aurelius Click To Tweet
And keep in mind that nothing can harm one of nature’s citizens except what harms the city he belongs to. — Marcus Aurelius Click To Tweet
I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own—not of the same blood or birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. — Marcus Aurelius Click To Tweet
“Nor can I feel angry at my relative, or hate him. We were born to work together like feet, hands, and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and lower. To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on him: these are obstructions.” — Marcus Aurelius
At some point you have to recognize what world it is that you belong to; what power rules it and from what source you spring. — Marcus Aurelius Click To Tweet
“So in each case you need to say…’This is due to the interweavings and intertwinings of fate, to coincidence or chance.’ Or: ‘This is due to a human being. Someone of the same race, the same birth, the same society, but who doesn’t know what nature requires of him. But I do. And so I’ll treat them as the law that binds us—the law of nature—requires. With kindness and with justice.” — Marcus Aurelius
“That if you were suddenly lifted up and could see life and its variety from a vast height, and at the same time all the things around you, in the sky and beyond it, you’d see how pointless it is. And no matter how often you saw it, it would be the same: the same life forms, the same life span.” — Marcus Aurelius]
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