In his famous book of meditations, Marcus Aurelius wrote that “You have power over your mind- not outside events. Realize this, and you will find your strength.”
Marcus Aurelius, a central figure in the stoic philosophical movement dating back to the early third century B.C. in Athens, compiled a book of stoic meditations that, in my opinion, is important to read when trying to better oneself while living in an increasingly chaotic world.
Aurelius, in his meditations, teaches that above all, it is important to hold control over one’s emotions. It is vital for success and happiness to hold a certain tranquility and to not counter difficult situations with a matched difficult reaction. These are the intrinsic qualities of stoicism.
Stoic philosophers held that above all one must not let outside factors have too much affect on the way you’re feeling- you have to decide those emotions for yourself. This idea is rooted in stoic meditation and is a central part of Aurelius’ mantras.
To begin to understand the importance of this movement as a whole, one must first examine where the movement originated and why those origins were so important in the movement’s creation.
For many, this movement served as a beacon of hope during especially difficult times. The people of Rome were being put on trial daily in facing difficult circumstances; many at the time found respite in stoic meditations. Stoicism arose in a time that for many Romans, was difficult and chaotic. The empire leading up to Aurelius’ rule was almost in complete ruin as the economy was in shambles and people began to panic.
Reading Marcus Aurelius’ meditations and applying them in daily life can help alleviate stresses that come with an interconnected world.Maddy Hammett
In the midst of this chaotic environment, people ultimately were able to find happiness and tranquility; a pair that seemingly had no place in an empire that was crumbling to pieces. This movement single-handedly changed empires with its ability to give people the right mindset to persevere through exceptionally trying times.
It’s the stoic movement that helped get these people out of an incredibly difficult rut in their lives. It was this movement that helped people focus on the values that mattered like positivity and tranquility thus allowing them to improve the community as a whole.
You may ask yourself what any of this has to do with you. Although at first glance the movement of stoicism and the meditations of Aurelius appear to be one far removed from your daily life, it is vital to understand that this movement has only increased in its importance in everyday life.
“Stoicism is popular now because people feel out of control,” Philosopher Jules Evans said in an interview in 2019. “Stoicism says, accept that you cannot control the external world, but that you can find a measure of serenity and happiness and moral meaning by focusing on what is in your control, your own beliefs and your own actions.”
The mental health crisis is growing and becoming more prevalent every day. An increase in avid social media usage comes with increased anxiety levels and a worsened mental state. Cutting social media cold-turkey in today’s world doesn’t feel like a pragmatic solution to this increasingly pressing issue. Instead, reading Marcus Aurelius’ meditations and applying them in daily life can help alleviate stresses that come with an interconnected world.
“Given the accelerated pace of technological advances and the increasing uncertainty associated with everything from the job market to the environment it isn’t unreasonable to say that all humans could benefit from learning to think a bit clearer,” Ryan Holiday said during the Podcast “The Daily Stoic.” “Change is the only thing that is certain in this world and it is only by constantly exercising our objective judgment, our gratitude and our resiliency that we may be best equipped to deal with it.”
Change is something that is scary for many people. I know for myself, I became terrified in 2020 when talk of a life-threatening pandemic arose. Reading these meditations, especially during quarantine and times that felt incredibly uncertain, made me feel stabilized and less anxious. Social media is also prime example of a new source of outside induced anxiety. If we can all read Aurelius’ teachings, then we will all have a better hold on how these outside forces affect us.
Life is constantly changing and evolving. This is a fact that, for many, is difficult to come to terms with. The past two years have changed the course of history with the immediate impacts of an unpredictable pandemic. One thing that can stay constant in our lives, however, is the ability to read and meditate on stoic philosophy, equipping ourselves with the tools that allow us to become the best version of ourselves.
“The universe is flux, life is opinion,” Aurelius wrote.