23
Feb

How Marcus Aurelius Keeps Calm


As emperor of Rome, he was the most powerful
man on the planet. Yet, as opposed to many of his successors and predecessors, Marcus Aurelius aimed to live virtuously on a consistent basis. He followed a philosophical school called
Stoicism. Part of Stoic philosophy is the ability to
keep a calm mind. As a matter of fact, the Stoics believe that
humans in a state of flourishing have attained true happiness, which always goes together
with inner peace. Needless to say, Marcus Aurelius was a busy
man, carrying the burden of leadership over an empire, and all the stress that comes from
this. His work, Meditations, gives us an idea of
how he coped. Marcus Aurelius is famous for his negative
visualization, which modern Stoics use as a meditative practice to start the day. Since I’ve got a separate video about this,
I’d like to focus on his lesser-known teachings that we can use as practical advice for more
tranquil lives. This first one is very simple: (1) Do less It’s a no brainer, right? In order to become calmer, we should simply
do less. Now, it’s important to mention that the
Stoics hold productivity in high regard, as they see it as a virtue to be industrious. On the other hand, moderation is a virtue
as well. So, how, exactly should we do less, when we’re
supposed to be industrious? Marcus Aurelius observed that people do many
things that aren’t necessary. In the current age, we have access to almost
unlimited entertainment, so it’s very easy to get caught up in all kinds of non-productive
activities. With ‘doing less’, Marcus Aurelius also
meant: talking less. Many conversations are nonsensical, lead to
nowhere, and only waste our time and energy. So, ‘doing less’ means doing the essential. And doing the essential not only means that
we cut out the nonsense, but also that we work more intelligently and efficiently. A big advantage that we gain from this, besides
tranquility, is that we can do less, better. Doing the essential consistently takes a mindful
approach. I quote: If you can eliminate it, you’ll have more
time, and more tranquillity. Ask yourself at every moment, “Is this necessary?” But we need to eliminate unnecessary assumptions
as well, to eliminate the unnecessary actions that follow. End quote. A good habit that helps to stay focused on
our daily endeavors, is making a list of tasks the night before. This way, we premeditate on what we have to
do when we get up in the morning, which has a calming effect on the mind. Because when we design our days beforehand,
there’s one less thing for the mind to worry about. (2) Short escapes In another video, I’ve explained that the
Stoics aren’t too fond of traveling for recreational purposes, and don’t see it
as a good way to seek tranquility. The reason for that is that wherever we go,
we take ourselves with us. So, the effects of traveling are only temporary. Thus, as soon as the novelty subsides we’ll
be confronted with our own minds again. Marcus Aurelius was critical of people seeking
refuge from daily worries by traveling or residing in quiet places like the mountains
or beaches. In his mind, this was an idiotic thing to
do, because why should we travel when we can get away by going within? “Nowhere you can go is more peaceful—more
free of interruptions—than your own soul,” he said. There’s nothing wrong with changing scenery
once in while to facilitate our mental retreats, as long as we keep these escapes basic and
brief. What Marcus Aurelius proposed reminds me a
lot of meditation. Or perhaps, moments of reflection and contemplation,
in order to renew ourselves so we can calmy proceed our daily lives. He gave us two things to ponder over if we
choose to briefly retreat in our minds. I quote: (1) That things have no hold on the soul. They stand there unmoving, outside it. Disturbance comes only from within—from
our own perceptions. And two: (2) That everything you see will soon alter
and cease to exist. Think of how many changes you’ve already
seen. “The world is nothing but change. Our life is only perception.” End quote. Which brings us to the next piece of advice,
which is… (3) Remembering that all shall pass The Stoics are infamous for remembering the
frightening reality of life: that it’s going to end. Memento Mori means the remembrance of death,
which is the ultimate acceptance that the changing nature of the universe also means
the decay and vanishing of ourselves. Marcus Aurelius tells us to keep in mind how
fast things pass us by; we can be immersed in something in one moment, and in the next
moment it could something totally different. Trends come and go in the blink of an eye,
and when we look at the history of this planet, human life is just a tiny, little hiccup,
in this cosmic evolution. The fact that everything is in flux could
be a source of anxiety, because nothing is stable, and eventually we will be separated
from our possessions and loved ones. But it can be a source of calm as well. The realization that everything is temporary,
means that there’s no point in clinging to good times and being strongly aversed to
bad times. Happiness is a relative thing. Even in prison, there are good and bad days. And even millionaires experience joy and suffering. This means that our inner world, thus, the
way we perceive our life situation and how we react to that, is also in flux. Moreover, we can influence how we react to
change. So: why should destiny concern us so much? As Marcus Aurelius wrote: The infinity of past and future gapes before
us—a chasm whose depths we cannot see. So it would take an idiot to feel self-importance
or distress. Or any indignation, either. As if the things that irritate us lasted. Thank you for watching.