Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, born April 26, A.D. 121. Died on the battlefield, 180 A.D.
Great yogis come in unexpected guises.
Like Roman emperors, for instance.
This may strike you as preposterous given that most Roman emperors were pretentious fops with a limitless capacity to inspire terror and dread in the masses.
Marcus Aurelius, however, was a rare exception – a sublime combination of brave soldier, good administrator, devoted family man, wise elder, noble philosopher and all round great guy.
Even as a child he shone.
Everyone loved him. Emperor Hadrian was so impressed he gave the six-year-old Marcus the horsemaster’s job. Two years later, he made him a member of the ancient Salian priesthood.
Not many people get to be a horsemaster and priest by the age of eight.
And it’s not that Marcus had it easy, despite his wealth and privilege. For example:
- His parents died young;
- His younger brother, Luicus Aurelius Verus, who was supposed to succeed him, was sent to the east to quell an uprising. Instead of doing his job, he left the rebellion to his officers while he got drunk and partied. Needless to say, things ended badly and Marcus had to fix the mess himself;
- Barbarian invaders to the north;
- Upstart Parthian captains to the east who wanted him dead;
- One upstart captain even managed to destroy an entire Roman Legion:
- All but one of his children died young;
- The only survivor was his son — the creepy, bloodthirsty Commodus;
- A duplicitous wife; and
- Pestilence and starvation at home which eventually led him to sell the family jewels so he could feed his people.
Despite the creepy son, sneaky wife, barbarian invaders, upstart underlings and lack of family jewels, Marcus Aurelius forgave everyone and remained serene and noble and stoic to the end.
He wrote a book called Meditations, and what a gem it is. Oprah needs to stick it in her book club. So what if it’s two thousand years old.
For instance, here’s what he said about equality:
“Alexander of Macedon, and he that dressed his mules, when once dead both come to one. For either they were both resumed into those original rational essences from whence all things in the world are propagated; or both after one fashion were scattered into atoms.”
Elton John, Meryl Streep, George Clooney, you or me. Doesn’t matter. In the end, we all end up dead.
On the importance of listening:
“Use thyself, when any man speaks unto thee, so to hearken unto him, as that in the interim thou give not way to any other thoughts, that so thou mayst (as far as is possible) seem fixed and fastened to his very soul, whosever it be that speaks unto thee.”
When you talk with another human, turn off your mobile phone, look them directly in the eye, stop thinking about what you’re going to say next and listen to them as if they were your favourite celebrity. I like to imagine I’m talking to George R. R. Martin. Or Meryl Streep.
But this one about how to deal with someone’s personal hygiene transgressions is my favourite:
“Be not angry neither with him whose breath, neither with him whose arm holes are offensive. What can he do? such is his breath naturally, and such are his arm holes; and from such, such an effect, and such a smell must of necessity proceed. ‘O, but the man (sayest thou) hath understanding in him, and might himself know, that he by standing near, cannot choose but offend.’ And thou also (God bless thee!) hast understanding. Let thy reasonable faculty work upon his reasonable faculty; show him his fault, admonish him. If he hearken unto thee, thou hast cured him, and there will be no more occasion of anger.”
People are as they are, malodorous or fragrant, and it’s no use getting upset about it. Instead of fretting about their apparent lack of consideration, appeal to their sense of reason and then see what happens. I’m too cowardly to try this one, but I bet Marcus wasn’t.
If you have a Kindle, you can download Meditations from Amazon for free.
If you have no Kindle, you can read it for free on Project Gutenberg.
You can read more from Claire Bell