Fill The Commonplace: Meditations


A commonplace book has traditionally been a place where one copies quotes, poetry, recipes, factoids … well, just about anything. People have been making commonplace books since at least the Elizabethan times. In fact, I learned about commonplace books from a podcast about Shakespeare.

I have read a lot of books over the years. Often, I’ll underline passages that I find particularly noteworthy. I have the idea of starting my own commonplace book (a digital one, of course), and thus, this series of posts is born.

I’ll be rummaging through all my old books and pulling passages from them to put in my commonplace book (maybe you should start a commonplace book, too). And, for your enjoyment, I’ll post them here, as well. So, without further ado, let’s get to it!

Meditations are the personal reflections, never meant to be published, written by the Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius (121 to 180 AD). They are quite remarkable for a man that was then the supreme ruler of much of the known world. Remarkable because, despite his enormous power, the writings reveal his rich, inner life, and how he framed his thoughts and actions within the Stoic philosophy. He was quite aware of his own mortality, sought to be a just and equitable man and to serve fairly, not only his close associates and friends, but his empire as a whole.

Remember how long you’ve been putting this off, how many extensions the gods gave you, and you didn’t use them. At some point you have to recognize what world it is that you belong to; what power rules it and from what source you spring; that there is a limit to the time assigned you, and if you don’t use it to free yourself it will be gone and will never return.

Forget everything else. Keep hold of this alone and remember it: Each of us lives only now, this brief instant. The rest has been lived already, or is impossible to see. The span we live is small—small as the corner of the earth in which we live it. Small as even the greatest renown, passed from mouth to mouth by short-lived stick figures, ignorant alike of themselves and those long dead.

Choose not to be harmed—and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed—and you haven’t been.

The things you think about determine the quality of your mind. Your soul takes on the color of your thoughts.

When jarred, unavoidably, by circumstances, revert at once to yourself, and don’t lose the rhythm more than you can help. You’ll have a better grasp of the harmony if you keep on going back to it.

Frightened of change? But can you exist without it? What’s closer to nature’s heart? Can you take a hot bath and leave the firewood as it was? Eat food without transforming it? Can any vital process take place without something being changed?
Can’t you see? It’s just the same with you—and just as vital to nature.

To erase false perceptions, tell yourself: I have it in me to keep my soul from evil, lust and all confusion. To see things as they are and treat them as they deserve. Don’t overlook this innate ability.

Today I escaped from anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions—not outside.

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