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Words of Wisdom

From Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations: Selection from Book 5, Part 1 of 2

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Marcus Aurelius was a Roman emperor of the 2nd century, also known as the last of the Five Good Emperors, after Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, and Antoninus Pius. During his 19 years of leadership, Aurelius gained a reputation as a philosopher king. Founding his beliefs on the teachings of Stoicism, the Roman emperor was also diligent in finding his own way of self-improvement. Marcus Aurelius wrote personal notes and ideas on Stoic philosophy and spirituality as a source of guidance for himself. These notes, originally written in ancient Greek, formed a collection called “Meditations.” Today, we will read a selection from Marcus Aurelius’ “Meditations,” Book 5.

“You don’t love yourself enough. Or you’d love your nature too, and what it demands of you. People who love what they do, wear themselves down doing it, they even forget to wash or eat. Do you have less respect for your own nature than the engraver does for engraving, the dancer for the dance, the miser for money or the social climber for status? When they’re really possessed by what they do, they’d rather stop eating and sleeping than give up practicing their arts. Is helping others less valuable to you? Not worth your effort?” “I walk through what is natural, until the time comes to sink down and rest. To entrust my last breath to the source of my daily breathing, fall on the source of my father’s seed, of my mother’s blood, of my nurse’s milk. Of my daily food and drink through all these years. What sustains my footsteps, and the use I make of it – the many uses.”

“So, there are two reasons to embrace what happens. One is that it’s happening to you. It was prescribed for you, and it pertains to you. The thread was spun long ago, by the oldest cause of all. The other reason is that what happens to an individual is a cause of well-being in what directs the world – of its wellbeing, its fulfillment, of its very existence, even. Because the whole is damaged if you cut away anything – anything at all – from its continuity and its coherence. Not only its parts, but its purposes. And that’s what you’re doing when you complain: hacking and destroying.”

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