In his writing Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius reflected the ideas of stoicism and the lessons the philosophy taught him throughout his life. He valued the power of the rational mind, and was constantly looking for ways to better understand his own faculties so that he could better control his mental state and his perception of the world. Through self-awareness and an ability to focus on the present, Aurelius was able to gain power over his mind by taking the control of his thoughts away from other people, objects, and events around him. In regards to the strength of ones mind and becoming a complete individual, Aurelius wrote, “The third thing in the rational constitution is freedom from error and from deception. Let then the ruling principle holding fast to these things, go straight on, and it has what is its own.”
When I first read this quote I left myself a note that I think sums up the idea presented by Aurelius in this quote and throughout his book, Meditations, in a powerful way. “He is not saying that the mind is free from making errors, but that it is free from living with those errors. The rational mind can understand an error and then chose the reaction to that error with which it lives.” What I was trying to capture in my synopsis of the Emperor’s quote is the idea that the mind and the power of our rational thoughts decide how we will be affected by the mistakes that occur in our life. The mind can chose what will be learned from, what will shape our decisions, and what will be carried with us for the future. The mind is in control of interpreting events and errors and choosing how they will be folded into the mess of experiences and decisions that make us who we are.
What separates Aurelius from other thinkers is his beliefs of what the mind is capable of doing when sorting out the events and histories of our lives. Unlike today when it is common for us to regard our past mistakes and histories as baggage, Aurelius saw our past as nothing more than experience one could view through evolving lenses of the past. Our mistakes and previous decisions do not have to hang around us and be carried with us constantly weighing us down and impeding our progress. The mind is capable of recognizing its own decisions and thoughts, and the mind is capable of freeing itself from the past by controlling what it does with the experiences (both good and bad) from our lives.