Marcus Aurelius on Being Present

The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius kept a common place book during his time as ruler between 160 and 180 AD. In his common place book he recorded his thoughts and ideas about life, compiling a wealth of stoic knowledge.  Aurelius commonly focused on the way we reacted to external events, and how our perceptions shape our lives as we moved through our days.  For him, being in the moment and present was a key part of his philosophy, and his thoughts of presence combined with his ideas about maintaining a level emotional state.


“Do the things external which fall upon thee distract thee?” Aurelius wrote, “Give thyself time to learn something new and good, and cease to be whirled around.  But then thou must also avoid being carried about the other way.  For those too are triflers who have wearied themselves in life by their activity, and yet have no object to which to direct every movement, and, in a word, all their thoughts.”


In this passage Aurelius is writing about the importance of staying present and grounded when external events seem to be shaping our world or pushing us in wild directions.  When things in life seem to be outside of your control, Aurelius is urging us to hold strong and to be focused on our goals.  He also speaks about the importance of focusing on growth and learning, and how a positive focus for the future can help up survive the turbulent nature of our daily lives.  The external things which distract us can be taken away if we build a practice of mindfulness and presence. Giving ourselves time to learn something new and good can be accomplished if we are determined to grow and have a goal of better understanding ourselves,  an aspect of our society, or if we are focused on becoming something better.


He does caution us as we move toward our goals not to become isolated in our focus. He writes that focus is a bad thing when we are purely driving toward one goal at the expense of our presence and our interactions with the world around us.  Our mental fortitude should not be shaken every time the world around us becomes turbulent, but we must be aware enough to recognize those moments which are truly deserving of our focus and attention.

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