Inside the Mind of Marcus Aurelius: 10 Days of Intensive Journaling

  Saturday, March 26, 2022

The Roman Empire, one of the most critically studied and historically recognized civilizations to walk the earth, and its emperor, a daily morning journaler - both a subject of great fascination to the modern world. Marcus Aurelius ruled Rome from 161 to 180 CE (common era). He was marked to become emperor first at the young and inexperienced age of 17, but he still had 23 years left till he assumed the throne. Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Empire's ruler, sat down with ink and papyrus, jotting down reminders and aphorisms of Stoic thinking for himself. Where did he pick up this habit of keeping a journal? Whose model was he trying to imitate? We have no idea.

Perhaps it was Epictetus, a formerly enslaved person turned Stoic philosopher, who taught that we should keep our philosophical beliefs close at hand at all times. We should "write them, read them loudly, talk to yourself and others about them," as Epictetus put it. Perhaps another Stoic, Seneca, talked about reviewing our lives and keeping a log of where we can improve. In any case, the few minutes he spent alone in the morning with a notebook were not only pleasant; they also contributed to his becoming one of the finest men the world had ever seen.

Reading the Meditations gives you a closer look at Marcus's ideas during his turbulent reign, though not his day-to-day political thinking, which would have been more historically relevant. It's unclear to what extent he intended them for eyes other than his own; they're incomplete notes, discursive and epigrammatic in turn, of his reflections while campaigning and running for office. In some ways, he seemed to have written them to prepare himself for his looming responsibilities. 

The Role of Journaling in Stoicism (or vice versa)

In the general realm of self-help, journaling has grown relatively popular. However, don't be shocked if you discover that journaling is equally beneficial to aspiring Stoics. Keeping a Stoic online daily journal is an excellent concept for anyone trying to improve their life, from becoming more disciplined to enhancing general pleasure. Meditations were never published. Despite this, this diary, consisting of a series of 'notes to selves,' has become one of Stoicism's most prominent writings. Marcus Aurelius kept a journal to help him remember living a good life.

It is unavoidable that something will go wrong at some point during the day. It could range from a slight annoyance to a significant setback. If you're familiar with the Stoic notion of the Dichotomy of Control, you'll know that when things go wrong, the only thing we can do is react appropriately without becoming frustrated or angry. 

When adversity strikes, though, acting like a Stoic might be challenging. This is where keeping a journal might help. In these challenging times, with talks of war and misery going on, plus a long-lasting pandemic, journaling can aid you in living like a Stoic. After all, the stoics lived through some times of great turmoil. War and bloodshed, yet their thriving words are embedded into culture and direction. Some of the great stoics were journalers. 

10 Steps For Journaling Through the Mind of Stoics

Spend a few minutes each morning writing down all the things that could go wrong in your day to practice morning journaling like a Stoic. Marcus Aurelius did this by journaling down all the terrible attributes someone could have and reminded himself that none of them could damage him or make him furious, similar to the phrase above from Meditations. It shouldn't be challenging to think of all the aspects of your day that could go wrong if you have a rough notion of what your day looks like. With our previous challenges, you all have been doing fantastic. This should be a treat. Let's go through ten days together, a new journaling challenge. You will go through Marcus Aurelius' philosophies and his further propagations of Stoic philosophy. 

Step 1: "You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength."

If you keep worrying about every single thing that occurs outside your control or happens to you, you won't ever stop. The Stoics believe that it's irrational to think about things that might have been. You only need to deal with what the world sells you. "Don't seek for everything to happen as you wish it would, but rather wish that everything happens as it actually will—then your life will flow well?" said Epictetus. Epictetus was right. We do not control our lives; so much time and energy is wasted and instead can go towards something positive and progressive. You own your reaction and your thoughts. You can go through the hardships by being of stronger will and power to command your emotions.

Answer this: What can I control and what can't I control?

You can more effectively plan what to do about it now that you have an articulated worry or problem. Make a list of the parts that you can control and the parts that you can't. You currently have well-defined tasks to focus on to get through the list of items under your control problem. This will assist you in diverting your attention away from the aspects of the situation that are beyond your control.

Step 2: "When you arise in the morning, think of what a privilege it is to be alive, to think, to enjoy, to love.."

Although evidence today supports the advantages of thankfulness, Marcus Aurelius and other Stoics spoke of its power centuries ago. Be thankful for everything you have. Not because it's all you have or that you won't be able to get more, but because thankfulness causes a mental shift. Gratitude shifts the mindset from "I need," "I don't have enough of," and "I wish I had" to "I'm so glad I have," "I'm grateful I'm," and "I'm glad I was able to."

Gratitude can be derived from a variety of sources. It could be for something minor and insignificant or something incredible and unexpected that has lately occurred in your life. It might even be for a problem you're having – feeling grateful for the chance to put yourself to the test and improve is a Stoic approach to problems. "It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor," said Seneca. 

Answer this: What am I grateful for today?

It takes very little work to adjust this, but the difference in how you feel over time is enormous. Take the day to soak in all that you have. The people in your life, the experiences you’ve had, the things that you have learned along the way. 

Step 3: “The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.

In today's stressful environment, it's essential to keep a positive outlook on life. You are only as good as your thoughts. If you dive into the negatives, it'll stunt your growth as a person and as a functioning member of society. "No person has the power to have everything they want, but it is in their power not to want what they don't have and to cheerfully put to good use what they do have," said Seneca. Very rightly so. If anyone can ruin your day, it's you and how you look at your surroundings. 

With rumors spreading of war, it's not the easiest thing to look away from. However, Stoic philosophy teaches us the opposite. We can always be virtuous and choose how we see things. If we practice, we can instantly delete any unfavorable impressions from our minds. We have complete power over our thoughts and, by proxy, our actions.

Answer this: In what situations do negative emotions such as anger guide your actions?

When you sit down to journal your answer, be honest with yourself about the things that bring you down. Make sure you take a complete inventory of your mind. 

Step 4: "If it is not right, do not do it; if it is not true, do not say it." 

The internal change was more important to the Stoics than outward change. Being a good person and doing the right thing at the right time is a core principle in Stoicism. It might cost you something to do the right thing. Doing the right thing could cost you your life. Nonetheless, the Stoics would remind us that this should not influence whether or not we should do it. 

Epictetus wrote: "First say to yourself what you would be, and then do what you have to do." We have to act justly and with equality in the things we say and do. We need to treat others the way we want to be treated ourselves. 

Answer this: Did you invoke the virtues of moderation, courage, wisdom, and justice today?

It's challenging to find kindness in people these days; with the rush of modern life lapping up everything in its wake, sometimes we forget how our actions impact the world around us, which is why we should be mindful of our efforts. 

Step 5: “Whenever you are about to find fault with someone, ask yourself the following question: What fault of mine most nearly resembles the one I am about to criticize?”

Once again, Stoicism advises us to focus on our actions and internal experiences rather than dwelling on the steps of others over which we have no control. If others act unjustly, it is either inadvertent, or they must control their rage toward humanity. We mustn't harbor the same resentment toward them that they do toward others. The best revenge against others, according to Epictetus, is not to be like them.

Examine the events of the day again, and write down the occasions when you fell short of your Stoic ideals. To avoid exaggerating the descriptions, use objective and unemotional language, similar to the decatastrophizing prompt. Consider these experiences not as failures but as lessons – valuable input that will help you grow into the best version of yourself.

Answer this: What actions of yours match the ones of people that you criticize? 

Step 6: "People are not disturbed by things, but by the views, they take of them." 

We make a significant insight while practicing meditation: we are not our thoughts! Yes, we have them, but they don't make us who we are. This realization then pervades our encounters with all of these people and locations. "We are more often frightened than hurt, and we suffer more in imagination than in reality," said Seneca. 

We become conscious of the onslaught of criticism directed at ourselves and others. While we recognize that the person or situation is what it is at the moment, we refuse to dwell on the judgment and give it strength. Instead, we detach and watch what is happening rather than what we want to happen. Then we can concentrate on what we have control over, which is our decisions. 

Answer this: What value has [person] added to my life? What wisdom, achievements, or fortunate events of mine can I give them some credit for?

Step 7: “Do not indulge in dreams of having what you have not, but reckon up the chief of the blessings you do possess, and then thankfully remember how you would crave for them if they were not yours.” 

If you're reading this, you have access to a computer and the internet, and you're probably better off than 75% of the world's population. Yes, things are most likely not perfect. There's a good chance you won't get something you desire for the holidays. I could write entire entries about what I had wanted to do this year and why I am disappointed because I have not accomplished these goals. But what would be the point of that?

We may maintain our happiness by focusing on what is essential in our life. That is something I want you to think about for a moment. We already have all we require to be happy. This may be witnessed in some of the world's most desolate places, where people live in abject poverty and are afflicted by the disease. Nonetheless, happiness can be found there. Some people understand how to find happiness and are successful in doing so.

Answer this: What are the things in your life that make you happy and that you would miss if you didn't have them?

Step 8: “The soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts.” 

The reasoning half of your intellect, according to Stoics, is your soul. The brain area has an internal dialogue about what it sees, hears, thinks, and feels. The component gives things a value judgment, such as friendly and beneficial or terrible and harmful. As a result, when Marcus argues that your soul is colored with the colors of your ideas, he means that when you supply reasonable inner discourse, your soul becomes 'better,' and vice versa. They think that your soul (rational mind) can shape your innermost self.

Answer this: How do you differentiate between right and wrong? 

You need to know the difference between right and wrong. Have your value-judgment systems. Whatever right or wrong decision you feed yourself with, your soul will carry it with you, so be aware. 

Step 9: “Don’t go on discussing what a good person should be. Just be one.”

The Stoics developed a dislike for merely academic pondering as their philosophy progressed. They were more concerned with real-world realism than with contemplating for the sake of it. "Don't explain your philosophy. Embody it," said Epictetus.

In the actual world, you must develop a solution and take action. A true Stoic is not an "armchair philosopher," but rather someone who gets out and puts their theory into practice. This phrase also demonstrates the Stoic concern about living a righteous life. According to the Stoics, A virtuous life is one of moral action. If you want to have a happy life, you must be morally upright.

Answer this: What did I do today that was out of character? What triggered it? Was that a reasonable response?

Step 10: “Remember that very little is needed to make a happy life.”

There are many different ways to search and achieve happiness in one's life, but one of the most effective is to look within oneself. Everyone wishes to be happy in life, yet strain consumes it. Happiness or melancholy is always your decision in life, and we should have a mindset to regulate our emotions.

That is one of the most crucial parts of life to comprehend. No external thing, such as owning a car, seeing the world, or having a spouse, can ever bring you as much joy and happiness as you can get yourself. That may appear unbelievable, but you will see what I mean if you look closely enough. "If a man knows not which port he sails, no wind is favorable," wrote Seneca. 

Answer this: What do I need in my life to make myself happy? 

Health Disclaimer

JournalOwl is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, medication, or therapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding any mental health symptoms or conditions. JournalOwl is not authorized to make recommendations about medication or serve as a substitute for professional advice. You should never disregard professional psychological or medical advice, or delay in seeking treatment, based on anything you read on JournalOwl’s website or platform.

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