How Marcus Aurelius prepared for crises

The Roman emperor's morning routine

Welcome to The Stoa Letter, the newsletter on Stoic theory and practice.

Every week we share two emails to help you build resilience and virtue with ancient philosophy. Each email includes one meditation on Stoic theory, one action to do in order to become more Stoic, and links to the best resources we’ve found.

🏛️ Theory

We should expect crises to occur. Whether the cause is personal or impersonal, we will be met with trials. Perhaps, at this very moment, you’re already at the crossroads.

At these times, like Hercules, we are forced to choose what path to take.

Every morning Marcus Aurelius reminded himself that would face:

I shall meet with people who are meddling, ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, and unsociable. They are subject to these faults because of their ignorance of what is good and bad.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 2.1

Each time we face an unruly person we’re at the crossroads. Life is one choice after another. Always between virtue and vice.

Marcus Aurelius reminded himself to choose well. To do this, he reminded himself of his principles. People are unruly because they can’t tell good from evil. But Marcus knows “the nature of the good and seen that it is the right.” He understands the beauty of the noble and just. Moreover, he knows that the wrongdoer and him are in ultimate kinship. Everyone is human. We all share “in the same mind and portion of divinity.” Hence, Marcus Aurelius notes “I cannot be harmed by any of them.”

These principles enabled him to make the right choices, again and again.

What are your principles?

🎯 Action

Bring to mind how you will meet the “meddling, ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, and unsociable” and keep your principles at hand, for any crises you may face today.

🔗 Resources

📖 Meditations 2.1 ends with these lines:

We were born for cooperation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of upper and lower teeth. So to work against each other is contrary to nature; and resentment and rejection count as working against someone.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 2.1

💥 An amusing note from a reader. Advice he received from his mother on anger:

If someone gets angry because they are asked to perform a task (say chores or anything) or is annoyed in any way, those people originally had only one job to do but now have two:

1) Stop being angry.

2) The task they originally had to do.

🚀 We just launched a series of Crisis meditations in Stoa. Each meditation is meant for a specific situation you may face – whether it’s anxiety, anger, or an important event. Use them to take 2 - 5 minutes to reflect and center yourself on what’s important. Remember, a crisis is just another decision point.

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