Study Guide

Meditations Book 12

By Marcus Aurelius

Book 12

  • Marcus is being uncharacteristically positive in this last and latest book: you can have what you've always wanted, he says. Just grasp the principles you've been talking about first...
  • Marcus must continue to accept his lot in life, let go of the past, and act with justice. Nothing should hinder him from doing these things.
  • Marcus contemplates the type of person that he wants to be at death: focused on the present, revering the divine within him, concerned to have lived life in accordance with Nature.
  • Marcus encourages himself to see things the way the gods do: stripped bare and in stark reality. In this way, he will always value the right things.
  • Marcus tells himself that he's only in possession of one thing: his mind. If he's wise, he'll work hard to dissociate it from the body so that it can be self-sufficient. If he can do this, he can live out the rest of his short life in peace.
  • Marcus contemplates a paradox: how do people love themselves and yet still value others' opinions of them higher than their own?
  • Marcus thinks about what would happen if a god told people that they had to say absolutely everything they are thinking at all times. It would be impossible, because we are so concerned with our neighbor's opinion of us.
  • Marcus poses a common conundrum: how come the gods allow the best men to die completely, not allowing them to return to life?
  • Marcus isn't sure that this is even a thing, but if it is, he's sure it's the right thing. It's in accordance with nature that all men should face extinction, so it must be okay.
  • Marcus says that we wouldn't even think to ask such a question if the gods weren't just. And since they are just, they wouldn't allow good men to die if it wasn't acceptable.
  • Marcus urges himself to keep practicing (we assume he's speaking of his philosophy here), even though he isn't very good at it. He's sure he will gain some benefit from it.
  • Marcus makes a short list of things to contemplate.
  • Marcus encourages himself to look for the true causes of things and to remember that he can control his judgment of anything that happens, thereby controlling his emotions.
  • Marcus takes the boxer as the metaphor for his philosophical self—and not the gladiator—because the boxer is always at the ready with his fists. He needs no external weapons.
  • Break it all down; see what it really is.
  • People should cheerfully accept what they are destined to do by nature.
  • No blame should be given to the gods, since they can't do wrong.
  • No blame should be given to people, because no one does wrong willingly. No one should blame anyone, ever.
  • People should never be surprised at anything that happens in life. If it's happened, it must be possible.
  • Marcus uses the image of a lamp to illustrate the enduring quality of truth, justice, and restraint.
  • Marcus dissects a wrong. How does he know it's a wrong? Can he get into the mind of the wrongdoer?
  • Marcus also reminds himself that it is madness not to expect a bad person to do bad things. If he wants things to change, he'll have to work with that person to change him or her.
  • Marcus reminds himself not to do or say bad things. Always a good policy.
  • We should always question impressions on the mind and break them down into their component bits.
  • Marcus tells himself to wake up and realize that his mind is stronger than his emotions. In order to control them, he has to know what's in his mind at any moment.
  • Marcus encourages himself to focus and to do everything for the common good.
  • Marcus reminds himself that he and everyone else will soon be dead. Change is what life is all about, and without it, nothing new would come to be.
  • Keep control of your thoughts, says Marcus, by removing your judgments of external things. That is the key to a calm life.
  • Nothing bad happens when something that we're doing comes to an end. The same is true about the end of life. Everyone ends when they're supposed to, according to Nature.
  • The Whole regulates everything for the greater good of the universe.
  • Death always comes at the right time because it the time decreed by the Whole. Further, man is supported by god on his way—if he chooses to walk the path he's been given.
  • Marcus gives himself three ideas to keep in mind: 1) stay focused and just; 2) remember what elements he's made of; 3) remember how puny humanity looks from above and how lovely the spirits of the sky.
  • When you look down on the earth from a high vantage point, says Marcus, you will always see change and yet sameness.
  • Drop judgment and live a tranquil life.
  • Marcus gives us a summary of his philosophy by reminding himself of what's gone wrong if he's upset by something. He's forgotten that 1) everything is meant to happen and is part of the grand design; 2) whatever's wrong is external; 3) everything has happened before; 4) humans are a community of the mind.
  • Further, we own nothing: not body, child, or soul. It all comes from the Whole.
  • We can also control how we feel by controlling our thoughts.
  • Marcus tells himself to remember those people in the past who lost their minds to anger. Where'd it get them? They're all dead now, anyway.
  • Marcus lists people who were famous for their outrageous living. Why not use the resources to live a better, simpler life?
  • Marcus defends his belief in the gods by stating that he sees them at work in the world.
  • Marcus says that his philosophical principles are the only thing that can save him. He's speaking specifically of his ability to see things for what they are, and of his ability to be good and do what is best for the community.
  • Marcus speaks of unity here: of the sun, of "substance," of soul, and of intelligence. These may be broken into many parts, but there is still unity in them.
  • The mind has the ability to reach out to other minds and develop a kinship.
  • Marcus questions his desires: why does he want to live on? He should be focused on the goal, which is to live a life of reason and in reverence of the gods. To fight against fate goes against both these goals.
  • More focus on "tininess": we have tiny, short lifespans; we're a tiny part of the universe; we live on a tiny piece of earth. In which case, none of it matters.
  • What does matter? Following nature and accepting fate.
  • Marcus is laying down what is important in his life as he nears the end of it. For him, it's all about the directing mind and how he's using it.
  • Marcus tells himself to "think nothing of death," because those who seek pleasure don't, either.
  • Death is no big deal, Marcus says, if you value the right things.
  • Marcus addresses himself sternly as a citizen of the global "city." He shouldn't fret about checking out of the city, since it is Nature that calls him out.
  • Marcus says it doesn't matter if he leaves early, either. Life can be full even if leaves halfway through—and this is determined by god, not by Marcus.
  • Marcus assures himself that he can chill, because god is at peace with him.