reading notes

For we carry our fate with us: Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius

Yielding to the hype about Stoicism (probably not a very Stoic thing to do), I finally read the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, last emperor of the Pax Romana–specifically the Gregory Hays translation, as the New Stoics insist.

This is remarkable for me because I’m really not big on the classics. I think the only thing I’ve read and liked that was remotely related to the classics is Autobiography of Red, which has a reference to something Greek.

Anyway, it says in the introduction (and you can tell from reading) that the Meditations are, more than anything, Marcus’ notes to himself. And y’know what’s funny about that? It probably means that the stuff he reminds himself the most often to do and to think, is probably the stuff he was actually the worst at, and which aggravated him the most to be bad at. I know that’s how my journals work.

Contrary to the exhortations he wrote, I bet he obsessively thought about how unfair it is that he would have to die and be completely forgotten, how unfair it is that some die younger than others, how annoying other people are who are unlike him, and so on and so forth.

To think–the great Roman emperor, reminding himself over and over not to whine about life being unfair!

Without further ado, here are my reading notes.

For we carry our fate with us–and it carries us.

Because it immediately reminded me of Rilke saying we carry our death around within us, “as the fruit its core.” (Malte Laurids Brigge)

If you … keep the spirit inside you undamaged, as if you might have to give it back at any moment–

Here I wrote “!!!”

Because of my strong preference for borrowing things rather than owning them, including places to live–which I’ll have to elaborate on in another post. To think of the spirit in the same way makes complete and total sense. Maybe it’s what I’ve been trying to do all along.

Our inward power, when it obeys nature, reacts to events by accommodating itself to what it faces–to what is possible. It needs no specific material. It pursues its own aims as circumstances allow; it turns obstacles into fuel. As a fire overwhelms what would have quenched a lamp.

It’s all material.

Nowhere you can go is more peaceful–more free of interruptions–than your own soul.

How every one of my best vacations has been about going deep enough inward that I get to spend time in the quiet place, before I get snapped out of it again and have to go back to work.

“If you seek tranquillity, do less.” … Because most of what we say and do is not essential. 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.

Do less. But not only that: change the way you think, to give yourself less to do. Something I’m finally learning, through trial and error.

Love the discipline you know, and let it support you. Entrust everything willingly to the gods, and then make your way through life–no one’s master and no one’s slave.


At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: “I have to go to work–as a human being.”

I’m going to use this, except maybe for the “at dawn” part.

When jarred, unavoidably, by circumstances, revert at once to yourself, and don’t lose the rhythm more than you can help. You’ll have a better grasp of the harmony if you keep on going back to it.

Habit and routine (what I call the core) as a piece of music you’re playing through your life.

if it isn’t ceasing to live that you’re afraid of but never beginning to live properly… then you’ll be worthy of the world that made you.

Thoreau: “and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” (Walden)

The student as boxer, not fencer.
The fencer’s weapon is picked up and put down again.
The boxer’s is part of him. All he has to do is clench his fist.

Speaking of students and fistfighting: “One, don’t do that. And two, you dropped a hundred and fifty grand on a fuckin’ education you coulda got for a dollar fifty in late charges at the public library.” –Matt Damon, Good Will Hunting

No, but seriously. Maybe not back in ancient Rome, but today, I’d think of boxing as stereotypically lower class, fencing as stereotypically higher class. How much more deeply does the student learn who directs their own education using whatever materials they can find around them, vs. the one who buys it as an object?