Meditate With A Roman Emperor

Meditations 2.6

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

🏛️ Theory

In Meditations 2.6 the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote:

Do wrong to yourself, do wrong to yourself my soul; but you will no longer have the opportunity of honoring yourself. Every man’s life is sufficient.

But yours is nearly finished, though your soul reveres not itself, but places your happiness in the souls of others.

He wrote this, as a reminder to himself, while stationed with his troops. The warring Germanic tribes were not far off.

Marcus Aurelius was faced with stark reminders of death every day.

He was behind the front, but the fortress he was staying at was overrun years earlier. Not only that, the plague was devastating. 

In this situation, he must have known that he did not have an infinite amount of time. In many ways, he may have considered himself lucky to be alive.

When he wrote:

Do wrong to yourself, do wrong to yourself my soul.

Meditations, 2.6

He’s frustrated that he’s not living up to Stoic standards. There’s something humanizing in that attitude. Even the Roman emperor and Stoic Sage recognizes when he errs and seeks to improve himself.

He is reminding himself to be good while he can, not to place happiness in the hands of others, but to find it in performing his role well.

We can take this lesson to heart. We don’t know how much time we have. While we live, we must set our souls on higher things.

Appreciate the small things in life and then let them go. Obstacles we will overcome. The good things in life – our character and relationships – that’s where we can find happiness.

And we can find it now. We do not need to wait.

As Marcus Aurelius says:

Every man’s life is sufficient.

He means that it doesn’t matter how short or long life is. It doesn’t matter what the circumstances are. What matters is whether the living finds success in cultivating their character with the time they have.

As the Stoic philosopher Seneca wrote: a short book can still be an excellent one. A long book can be a terrible one. It’s not the length of life, but its quality that matters.

So, make it excellent while you can. A beautiful life is possible.

🎯 Action

Bring to mind one action to commit to improve your character. Do it.

🏛️ We just added a new week of routines to our Meditate With A Roman Emperor course in Stoa. Take a deep dive into Marcus Aurelius’s life and meditations with daily practices for self-improvement. Check them out in the app.

🎧️ Michael and I read through Meditations 2.6-10 in our most recent episode of Stoa Conversations. Recommended if you’re interested in thinking about these passages more:

✉️ The last letter was on the essential concept of indifferents (not to be confused with indifference). Read it here.

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