Among the very wise, ancient people who continue to inspire wisdom seekers and folks who desire to increase their personal happiness and growth is Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.
Aurelius was born into a politically prominent family of wealth. He was an extremely intelligent and intellectual man who took great interest in the branch of philosophy called Stoicism. The discipline emphasizes self-restraint, fate, and reason. He once said, “Where a man can live, he can also live well.” Stoicism remains popular among Twenty First Century thinkers as well as leaders of the self-improvement crowd.
Aurelius realized early that we can be easily hoodwinked by others and especially by ourselves. His prescription for this weakness is simple. “Nothing has such power to broaden the mind as the ability to investigate systematically and truly all that comes under thy observation in life.” He also had this advice to pass along, “Let it be your constant method to look into the design of people’s actions, and see what they would be at, as often as it is practicable; and to make this custom the more significant, practice it first upon yourself.”
Many of us have an uneasy attitude about fate. Perhaps that’s because it is widely misinterpreted and misunderstood. Aurelius’ sayings simplify and clarify the stoics definition of fate. “Everything that happens happens as it should, and if you observe carefully, you will find this to be so.” And… “Look back over the past, with its changing empires that rose and fell, and you can foresee the future, too.” Plus, one of my favorites, “Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart.”
The good Emperor Hadrian, saw a special quality in Marcus Aurelius. The emperor aranged for Titus Aurelius Antonious to adopt the 17 year old Marcus as his son. The youth worked in partnership with his adopted parent becoming an apprentice in the ways of public affairs and government. The boy learned his lessons well. “A noble man compares and estimates himself by an idea which is higher than himself; and a mean man, by one lower than himself. The one produces aspiration; the other ambition, which is the way in which a vulgar man aspires.”
The Roman Empire was in a terrible state of warfare and disease when Marcus Aurelius became Emperor in the year 161. Officially known after his rise to power as Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus. He relied upon his adopted brother Lucius Aurelius Verus act as his co-ruler.
Emperor Aurelius went on to lead Rome through disease and warfare. It is most likely that his great wisdom enabled him to become one of the greatest and most beloved rulers of Rome. He fully lived his philosophy. “We ought to do good to others as simply as a horse runs, or a bee makes honey, or a vine bears grapes season after season without thinking of the grapes it has borne.” If only we could have more leaders of such stature as Aurelius today.
Marcus Aurelius shared much pithy wisdom with us through his speeches and writings. I have a few more to mention that have been helpful to me.
“Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.” “Be content to seem what you really are.” I enjoy this little gem: “The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.” One of his most brilliant reminders is, “Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”
Marcus Aurelius understood deeply that to be aware of one’s own life was to fully live. “When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.” And… “The sexual embrace can only be compared with music and with prayer.”
I could post many more of his sayings, but I’ll refrain from doing so. Here are a couple more in closing. “The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing.” I hope you’ll give this last one special consideration. “He who lives in harmony with himself lives in harmony with the universe.”
The Blue Jay of Happiness refers you to last year’s entry about today’s Roman holiday: https://bluejayblog.wordpress.com/2011/12/05/happy-faunalia/