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You wanna run this Universe? Well, ya can’t!

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Tip of the hat to Capt. Malcolm Reynolds in the movie Serenity for today’s subject line.

I just finished reading Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. It is one of those books you should read but you never seem to quite get around to doing it. Now that I’ve read it, I regret not reading it much earlier in life.

Marcus Aurelius was one of the last good emperors of Rome way back in the day (163 – 181 A.D.) He wrote down notes to himself to help clarify his thinking. They weren’t meant to be a complete book, they were just things he wanted to make keep track of for future reference. Sort of like when you write a note to yourself to pick up more milk at the store, but more profound. He certainly never intended to have them published.

It turn out that there is plenty of meat on the bones of his notes. Some of them are fragmentary as you might expect when you’re jotting down a note for yourself. The rest are complete thoughts, little golden nuggets of wisdom. They are part of the Stoic school of philosophy. The Stoics believed that living a virtuous life lead to living a fulfilling life.

There are plenty of ideas to unpack from Meditations but one overarching theme is that you can’t control much of what happens to you. Good or bad, sun or rain, fortune or famine, all of those things are out of your control. The only thing you do get to control is how you respond to what happens to you.You can rail against the bad things that happen to you, or revel in the good things, but the only thing you get any control over in life is yourself. No matter what happens to you, the Stoics believe you should accept it, and react virtuously. Car gets a flat tire on the way to an important meeting with your top client? Accept it happened, change the tire and move on. Spouse hands you divorce papers that night when you get home? Accept it, talk it over, try to come to an understanding, and if not, sign the papers and be done with it. Win hundreds of millions in the lottery? Accept it, don’t blow it all in once place, but instead try to live virtuously and help as many people as you can.

I can see reading a little chunk of the Meditations each day and pondering it, sort of the way people read devotionals each day. There are many other lessons to be learned. I should get around to reading some other books on the Stoic philosophy. I’ll probably tackle Epictetus’s Enchidrion and his Discourses next as I delve further in the topic.

I shudder to think that someone would collect up all the little pieces of note paper I have scattered around my office and somehow publish them as my meditations. The future readers would probably be sorely disappointed and / or very confused, especially if they took it as a manual for how to live your life. I mean, what would you make of ‘write cozy meets acid fantasy novel’?

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