Aside from being known as a bossy Roman emperor back in the year 161, Marcus Aurelius is widely regarded as one of the fathers of Stoic thought & philosophy. His writings were mostly reflective journal entries to himself that focused on using logic to control your mind, living a good natural life, and the beauty of life & death.
Today we’ll look at some words from Marcus that recently stuck in my mind…
"You have power over your mind - not external events.
Realize this and you will have strength."
These words, although simple when read quickly, hold tremendous meaning even thousands of years later.
The common man will go through life growing endlessly tired as he reacts and attempts to control the external world around him, not realizing that the external world is really controlling him in this exchange.
Muse over these daily interactions for example…
- A news headline pops up in your alerts, twitter feed, or TV … feelings of disgust, outrage, or despair arise somewhat automatically (especially in 2017).
- Your family or significant other make you upset with an irrational side comment or action … once again feelings of frustration or guilt arise without warning.
Most importantly, whether you come out and react to these things or not, is that they arise an emotional trigger inside that instantly changes attitude and mood. However with some mental fortitude, these events wouldn’t even cause you to bat an eyelash as they are external to yourself. This is the exact essence of the stoic idea of having power over your mind. Once you have this power, it would be your choice to react or reply instead of your instinct.
The supremely powerful mind is a wonderful slave but a terrible master. Therefore if you are able to gain control of the mind, your potential is limitless, however if you are simply subject to its erratic patterns and conditioned responses you will be constantly manipulated by external things and left in place chasing your tail.
Marcus Aurelius understood this far before all of these distractions were in place to divert our conscious attention. So now while our challenge is even greater than his, it is still the same challenge! Control the mind and control your happiness.
Marcus’ approach was through daily “Meditations” where he would write down his thoughts and feelings with the aim of tracking and understanding his own psyche. Here he was able to deconstruct his own internal wiring and understand the how’s and why’s of his happiness, finally concluding that it was all under his own control; for life is completely merciless and unpredictable, and death is absolutely certain for all of us.
This may not be an easy or warm pill for many to swallow, but in the end it leaves everything up to the individual rather than a set of life situations or a higher power that we are powerless over. So ultimately it is with great power comes great responsibility… the responsibility of our own mind.
To think or not to think? That is the question.
To question or not to question. That is to think.
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