“When you first rise in the morning tell yourself: I will encounter busybodies, ingrates, egomaniacs, liars, the jealous and cranks. They are all stricken with these afflictions because they don’t know the difference between good and evil. Because I have understood the beauty of good and the ugliness of evil, I know that these wrong-doers are still akin to me . . . and that none can do me harm, or implicate me in ugliness—nor can I be angry at my relatives or hate them. For we are made for cooperation.” - Marcus Aurelius
As I read the inner workings and thoughts of Marcus Aurselius, I am struck by the unchanging way of human nature. How somehow a Roman Emperor from 160AD-181AD could share his wisdom with us today and it is still relevant. It makes me wonder about the history of human evolution and civilization. How society continually evolves but human nature remains the same - a constant pendulum of emotions, feelings and desires. What other lessons have we missed?
His quote may sound simple in theory, but how can we practice it in our lives? It comes with the acceptance of what is. Knowing that we are all on our own individual journey. Some will be ever loving and happy, and others may be angry and intolerant. Once we understand that these afflictions are nothing more than an expression of where each human is on their journey, we become invincible and impenetrable. And it is not because we are better than them, it is because we are all one.
Think of all the daily mundane experiences we encounter. I can think of plenty of situations where I am stuck in traffic or waiting in a long line-up and I look around to take in my surroundings. I usually witness a wide range of reactions, some people are impatiently tapping their foot and muttering under their breath as their irritation builds. Others are taking the moment to check their phones. And some are blissfully taking the moment to spark a conversation with the stranger next to them. What makes a group of people all experiencing the same situation, all react differently?
Marcus Aurelius also said, “If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.” Is this the answer to why people react differently? Because they are projecting their inner distress on their external reality? I know if someone would have told me this 4 years ago, I would have said they were wrong. I would have said my painful and challenging reality was in fact very real and I was the victim, I was not in control of that pain. But eventually something switched, and I began entering those same mundane human experiences with a new view of reality. What a gift. To sit back and take in those previously impatient and unnerving situations as an opportunity to just be, in the moment. As if it was a gift from the universe saying, “Slow down, be here now. Take it in. Isn’t it beautiful?”
“Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them. Think constantly on the changes of the elements into each other, for such thoughts wash away the dust of earthly life.”