Building Steady Thought

Marcus Aurelius focused on mindfulness in every action and every decision that he made as Emperor of Rome, and his writings in Meditations reflect his approach toward mindfulness.  He stresses the importance of doing every action with meaningful intent so that no time is wasted, and so that no effort is half-hearted.  By becoming more focused and making sure that every action is undertaken with focus and intent we are able to build more awareness into our lives, and we can focus on not just what we do, but how we think about what we do throughout the day. Aurelius writes (emphasis mine),


“Every moment think steadily as a Roman and a man to do what though hast in hand with perfect and simple dignity, and feeling of affection, and freedom, and justice; and to give thyself relief from all other thoughts.  And thou wilt give thyself relief, if thou doest every act of thy life as if it were the last, laying aside all carelessness and passionate aversion from the commands of reason, and all hypocrisy, and self-love, and discontent with the portion which has been given to thee.”


What he is explaining is that a greater state of mindfulness can guide a person to be more diligent and effective in the work they do, in the efforts they make outside of work, and in the activities in which they participate throughout their life.  In his passage he is advocating for an abandonment of desires and passions which distract people from living peacefully with the things they have.  He is not telling us to abandon our comforts or live with injustice, but he is urging us to channel our feelings into meaningful actions to move forward.  By failing to control our passions we spin about and are pulled in multiple directions with our time and effort.


Aurelius at the end of his quote says that we cannot be discontented with our difficult lives, nor compare our lives to those who seem to have more than us.  When we do, we fail to channel our energies in the right direction, and instead sit without direction as we complain about the poor hand that life has dealt us.  His advice is that we take an honest look at our life and find ways to move forward by accepting the challenges ahead of us, and using reason to open a new path.  Mindfulness will guide us on this journey by helping us recognize the advantages and disadvantages that we have, and by giving us the ability to persevere without complaint.