A Timely Book Review: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius

I went to the bookstore this morning to look at Let Me Finish, a book written by Chris Christie with Ellis Henican, and soon found myself wandering from the new releases to a blink-and-you-miss-it philosophy section.

It used to be much bigger, as I recall, not too long ago. Now it barely exists.

I settled in with a copy of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius.

The gist of it: practice dominion over self.

“Every moment think steadily as a Roman and a man to do what thou hast in hand with perfect and simple dignity, and feeling of affection, and freedom, and justice; and to give thyself relief from all other thoughts,” writes the late Roman emperor (played by Richard Harris in Gladiator, pictured above).

Just as in Aristotle’s Ethics before him, the champion of stoicism emphasizes practiced avoidance of life’s enduring pleasure-pain equation.

From Meditations: “If thou art pained by any external thing, it is not this that disturbs thee, but thy own judgment about. … The mind which is free from passions is a citadel, for man has nothing more secure to which he can fly for refuge and for the future be inexpugnable.”

It made me think about another book, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, by Shunryu Suzuki , where that other leader-teacher describes the eastern spiritual discipline of expanding one’s mental faculties from those easy-to-anger and quick-to-hate encounters and moments – which he identifies as “small mind” – the world where most of us untrained children reside – to “Zen mind” or “big mind.” Suzuki identifies the latter as that realm of serene alignment between mind and the cosmos.

The book appears to reinforce the wisest counsel from all worlds – east and west and in-between. Its words carry from some distant northern barricade to our culture filled with anger, self-obsession, “small mind” insistence, backed-up bile expelled, and childlike fascination with idols and accompanying sycophancy. The ancient Hebrews, too, itemized the stuff of this life to be careful of, or to oppose, in some faraway tablets they called The Ten Commandments.

And yet, if secularism is indeed your preference and those institutions manned by religious practitioners  too ravaged by human misapplication, then I do recommend stoicism in these raging, and unhinged twittering times.

There remains much good material in Aurelius.

We might try to consider it, and even apply it, standing here in a perilous moment in a river of ego and indulgent over-emotion.

Things like:

“A cucumber is bitter. Throw it away. There are briars in the road. Turn aside from them. This is enough. Do not add, ‘And why were such things made in the world?'”

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius is translated by George Long with an introduction by Andrew Fiala. It is 158 pages long, and available at Barnes and Noble.

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