I recently read a book entitled “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius. It came highly recommended to me from two contrasting sources
1. August Sen, from the book English, August – In here, Agastya Sen is an IAS in training who is currently placed in a non-descript town called Madna with a disinterest to his job in particular and his life in general. He was gifted with this book on his 24th birthday and reads it to find some pleasure in the ‘misery’ of Marcus, which is greater than his own.
2. Dr. Hannibal Lecter from the movie The Silence of the Lambs – In the movie, during one of his interactions with Clarice Sterling, Dr. Lecter refers to Buffalo Bill’s nature, and tells her to Read Marcus Aurelius .. see a thing in its true nature, in its simplest form .. what it is for itself .. not what it leads to .. but what it is!
Now, I had heard about Marcus Aurelius’ work in some of my earlier philosophical readings, most extensively in ‘The guide to a good life: The ancient art of stoic joy’ by William Braxton Irvice, but had not quite come around to “Meditation” or “Thoughts” written by him.
Marcus Aurelius was the qunitessential king-philospher, who followed the stoic school of philosophy during his reign as the Roman Emperor. His Meditations or Thoughts are self-reflections of a practicing stoic in the day and age of ancient Rome. The stoic school has had quite a few proponents of fame, including Seneca (Book: Letters from a Stoic). But for me, Marcus stands out, not only with his royal lineage, but also for his cynical and mildly pessimistic outlook towards life. Now, this is something I can clearly relate to, with the modern world as well. 🙂
As far as the book is concerned, it makes for a pleasurable reading, in parts. It is a non-commital discontinous discourse and I read it in a broken way, some today, some weeks later travelling in a rickety bus, some as the credits rolled on a TV show. But, it is a thought provoking series of works. I identified with quite a few of his reflections, most notable was one which went something like this .. Every morning when you wake up, say to yourself that today I will meet with arrogance, stupidity, incomptence, betrayal and hatred for the world is full of them .. This is a very pessimistic statement and were a shrink to look at this, he/she would be rubbing his/her hands in glee with the prospects of a long-time patient! But, when you try to start your day with such a note, it just keeps getting better from there. The idea here is negative visualization of the happenings of your day and then finding pleasure in the smallest favorable event since it comes unexpected.
Another of this quotes which struck me was .. I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinions of himself than on the opinions of others .. this makes a lot of sense for us, the approval-craving, praise-hungry, unopinionated folks of the day. We, who in keeping with our desire to conform to the mould of this society, work jobs that we hate and gather stuff we don’t need to please people we don’t really care about. Quite a stoic perspective.
From this book, I moved on to Letters from a Stoic by Seneca. More on that, when I can.