The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius
This book is difficult for me to describe succinctly. It’s had a tremendous impact on my life and I honestly no longer remember the number of times I’ve read it. Especially the first book (it is subdivided into twelve parts, or books).
These are quite literally, the meditations of Marcus Aurelius. He writes his own private thoughts about duty and the meaning of life, reminds himself to stay true to his values, to be a good man, to be humble, to give thanks to everyone and everything that formed him. He writes as a man, as a Roman and as an emperor who has doubts, questions and who struggles with his existence and attempts to remain stoic in the face of that internal dissonance – both on a philosophical level, and on a simpler human level.
While there is some discussion of his life, this is far from a biography and I have found his writing and perspective to be extremely enlightening and comforting during difficult times.
If I could read only one book for the rest of my life, it might very well be this one.
You can find an online copy here, courtesy of MIT (there is also a link to a text only version).
Amazon also has several different editions available, some of them for very little (I bought this one recently for a couple bucks).
Take a moment and guess what word this dictionary entry corresponds to:
“showing a controlled form of behavior or way of working.”
If you guessed “disciplined”, you nailed it. Taken at face value that definition isn’t very motivating. The word “controlled” doesn’t inspire images of Thermopylae or John Wayne type manliness. It conjures images of calmness, of measured reactions to crisis and well thought out actions, and that is all in direct opposition to the imagery that men are bombarded with in the US today. Today the emphasis is on being connected rather than aloof, on listening to your feelings instead of ignoring them, on emotion instead of control.
There are really two sides to this coin of emotion. On the one hand you’ve got bitchmode. Case in point, men are told that it’s okay to cry. “It’s natural. It’s healing. Let it out sweetheart, it’s good to vent.” All of that crap, I know you’ve heard it. On the flipside you’ve got beastmode. “I’m going to be a fucking animal in the gym today. You only live once. Go ham motherfucker. I wrecked that shit.” Most men live on one side of the coin, albeit not all the time. And both sides suck equally.
No man is a fucking rock. Everybody’s gonna get sad. That’s not a license to cry like a little girl mind you, but being sad isn’t unmanly. That shit is distinctly human. And every man occasionally gets his T up and wants to go “ham” on the world (what is “ham”? does anyone know why that shit is a thing now? this is the only ham I care about). But emotions are a fickle thing. They can come and go, and by and large we can’t easily control which one we’re feeling at any particular point in time. That’s why disciplined = manly, because it keeps you in a controlled steady state. Disciplined = manly because it keeps the fire at a controlled roar – hot enough to drive you forward but not so hot that you’ll burn out in a flash of fury. Use your emotions as fuel, but stay in control of the fire.
This is the central flaw with the current emphasis on “feeling things”, and
“embracing the way you feel”. You can control your actions much easier than you can control your emotions, and if you allow the former to be dictated by the latter you’re ceding control of your own life. Don’t. Stuff that shit back down inside of you and ignore it. Want to cry? Suck it up. Want to scream like an animal and punch a hole in a wall? Be a grown ass man and calm yourself down. It’s time to take control of your behavior, to reestablish your self-discipline. Men aren’t little weak bitches but we aren’t animals or beast either. We’re men, and that shit is different. It’s about being as committed as you humanly can be to “showing a controlled form of behavior or way of working.”
In short, being disciplined = manly. It’s manly as all hell. Over the next few weeks we’re going to take aim at your nasty feelings in an attempt to control them, use them, and let you take control over your life.