Difficult times are invitations to inventions. No matter how much we long to go to a concert or sporting event, visit our favorite restaurant, or just be around others without wearing a mask and keeping six feet away, we can’t go back in time to before the virus. Yet humans are an amazingly adaptive social animal because we learn wisdom from each other. Such as from the powerful teachings of the framers of stoicism in Rome, over two thousand years ago. One such stoic stands out, Marcus Aurelius, an emperor who ruled successful by using the tools of self-discipline, personal ethics, humility, self-actualization, and strength. From his letters, known as the Meditations, scholars learned what his beliefs and guiding principles were that aided him in navigating wars, famine, political unrest, and plagues. Here are four of his personal beliefs.
Put your energies toward helping others. This seems like a big ask, especially when we feel exhausted and our resources are stretched to the breaking point. Marcos writes, “Meditate on the interconnectedness and mutual interdependence of all things in the universe.” By seeing that all things are connected, we can grow an affinity and empathy for others. When we’re kind to others, the positive energy rubs off on us as well. He viewed extending kindness as a duty to the tribe, which makes the group stronger as a whole.
Be grateful for what you have left. What has been taken from us looms large, and when we focus on the losses, we can feel drained. Marcus wrote, “How does it help… to make troubles heavier by bemoaning them?” It’s human to mourn the big and small things that we have lost. But how might we also notice what we’ve gained? Maybe now we have more time to stop and review our lives, enjoy being around those closest to us, or do new things that before we were too busy to even try.
Notice beauty around you. While we’re awake during the day, our thoughts may be subsumed with worry, so we’re not really present. It’s as though we’re navigating in a persistent fog. Mindfulness pulls our attention to the present and allows us to be fully aware so we might enjoy the small gifts and graces surrounding us. Rather than dulling our senses from worry, literally stop and smell the roses. And savor the warmth of a cup of tea. And listen to the wind through the trees.
Make your ancestors proud. If you’re here, then your family lineage has survived thousands and thousands of years of suffering and tribulations. According to the stoics it’s important for us to learn from our family members how they persevered their hard times. We honor them by absorbing their stories. In other words, we’re squandering their gifts of resiliency by failing to learn better, and therefore, do better. The goal? Make our family tribe stronger.
Originally published in the October 2020 edition of Dripping Springs Outlook Magazine