Meditations by Marcus Aurelius is a brilliant read, but not an easy one. Marcus called it To Himself.
It’s a journal, not a polished book. He jumps from topic to topic, then back to the same topic, with many repetitions.
What are the major themes? In future posts I’ll go into detail. For now I’ll say that I think of the topics in Meditations as being like a bicycle wheel.
The wheel is the universe – the whole, as it were. Nature is the hub of the wheel – nature as in the essential qualities or innate disposition of things. The relation of parts to the whole is a key theme.
Extending from the hub are various spokes, and reason is the second most important. Reason is the nature, or essential quality, of human beings. No other animal is capable of reason, and with reason we need not be slaves to our passions and can focus on the greater good.
Virtue, then, is the most important spoke because reason is a means to virtue.
Impermanence is also an important spoke. Understanding that our time on earth is but a second compared to all of existence can help us realize how trivial most of our concerns are.
Getting bogged down with petty concerns and failing to put things into perspective is a sure way to act destructively under the pretense of doing good. People who act destructively usually do so from ignorance – from their lack of perspective – rather than from malice.
Finally, death is related to impermanence. And Marcus reflects often on death. Maybe because he knew his time was growing short. But also because it helped him remember that none of his petty concerns would matter for long.