God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
It is man’s duty to live in conformity with the divine will, and this means, firstly, bringing his life into line with ‘nature’s laws’, and secondly, resigning himself completely and uncomplainingly to whatever fate may send him. Only by living thus, and not setting too high a value on things which can at any moment be taken away from him, can he discover that true, unshakeable peace and contentment to which ambition, luxury and above all avarice are among the greatest obstacles.
It is essential to make oneself used to putting up with a little. Even the wealthy and the well provided are continually met and frustrated by difficult times and situations. It is in no man’s power to have whatever he wants; but he has it in his power not to wish for what he hasn’t got, and cheerfully make the most of the things that do come his way. And a stomach firmly under control, one that will put up with hard usage, marks a considerable step towards independence.
…travel won’t make a better or saner man of you. For this we must spend time in study and in the writings of wise men, to learn the truths that have emerged from their researches, and carry on the search ourselves for the answers that have not yet been discovered.
Fear keeps pace with hope. Nor does their so moving together surprise me; both belong to a mind in suspense, to a mind in a state of anxiety through looking into the future. Both are mainly due to projecting our thoughts far ahead of us instead of adapting ourselves to the present. Thus it is that foresight, the great blessing humanity has been given, is transformed into a curse.
Sickness assails those leading the most sensible lives, tuberculosis those with the strongest constitutions, retribution the utterly guiltless, violence the most secluded. Misfortune has a way of choosing some unprecedented means or other of impressing its power on those who might be said to have forgotten it. A single day strews in ruins all that was raised by a train of construction extending over a long span of time and involving a great number of separate works and a great deal of favour on the part of heaven. To say a ‘day’, indeed, is to put too much of a brake on the calamities that hasten down upon us: an hour, an instant of time, suffices for the overthrow of empires.
‘Rehearse death.’ To say this is to tell a person to rehearse his freedom. A person who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be a slave. He is above, or at any rate beyond the reach of, all political powers. What are prisons, warders, bars to him? He has an open door. There is but one chain holding us in fetters, and that is our love of life. There is no need to cast this love out altogether, but it does need to be lessened somewhat so that, in the event of circumstances ever demanding this, nothing may stand in the way of our being prepared to do at once what we must do at some time or other.
An ordinary journey will be incomplete if you come to a stop in the middle of it, or anywhere short of your destination, but life is never incomplete if it is an honourable one. At whatever point your leave life, if you leave it in the right way, it is a whole.
We therefore should keep to the path which nature has mapped out for us and never diverge from it. For those who follow nature everything is easy and straightforward, whereas for those who fight against her life is just like rowing against the stream.
From Maximum [I learned] self-mastery, immune to any passing whim; good cheer in all circumstances, including illness; a nice balance of character, both gentle and dignified; and uncomplaining energy for what needs to be done.
Look back over the past—all those many changes of dynasties. And you can foresee the future too: it will be completely alike, incapable of deviating from the rhythm of the present. So for the study of human life forty years are as good as ten thousand: what more will you see?
We must take into our reckoning not only that life is expended day by day and the remaining balance diminishes, but also this further consideration: if we live longer, there is no guarantee that our mind will likewise retain that power to comprehend and study the world which contributes to our experience of things divine and human.
What of [death], then? You embarked, you set sail, you made port. Go ashore now. If it is to another life, nothing is empty of the gods, even on that shore: and if to insensibility, you will cease to suffer pains and pleasures, no longer in thrall to a bodily vessel which is a master as far inferior as its servant is superior. One is mind and divinity: the other a clay of dust and blood.
Never regard as a benefit to yourself anything which will force you at some point to break your faith, to leave integrity behind, to hate, suspect, or curse another, to dissemble, to covet anything needing the secrecy of walls and drapes.
At break of day, when you are reluctant to get up, have this thought ready to mind: ‘I am getting up for a man’s work. Do I still then resent it, if I am going out to do what I was born for, the purpose for which I was brought into the world? Or was I created to wrap myself in blankets and keep warm?’ ‘But this is more pleasant.’ Were you then born for pleasure—all for feeling, not for action? Can you not see plants, birds, ants, spiders, bees all doing their own work, each helping in their one way to order the world? And then you do not want to do the work of a human being—you do not hurry to the demands of your own nature.
Reflect often on the speed with which all things in being, or coming into being, are carried past and swept away. Existence is like a river in ceaseless flow, its actions a constant succession of change, its causes innumerable in their variety: scarcely anything stands still, even what is most immediate. Reflect too on the yawning gulf of past and future time, in which all things vanish. So in all this it must be folly for anyone to be puffed with ambition, racked in struggle, or indignant at his lot—as if this was anything lasting or likely to trouble him for long.
All things are short-lived—this is their common lot—but you pursue likes and dislikes as if all was fixed for eternity. In a little while you too will close your eyes, and soon there will be others mourning the man who buries you.
‘It is my bad luck that this has happened to me.’ No, you should rather say: ‘It is my good luck that, although this has happened to me, I can bear it without pain, neither crushed by the present nor fearful of the future.’ Because such a thing could have happened to any man, but not every man could have borne it without pain. So why see more misfortune in the event than good fortune in your ability to bear it?
…display those virtues which are wholly in your own power—integrity, dignity, hard work, self-denial, contentment, frugality, kindness, independence, simplicity, discretion, magnanimity. Do you not see how many virtues you can already display without any excuse of lack of talent or aptitude? And yet you are still content to lag behind
The mind adapts and turns round any obstacle to action to serve its objective: a hindrance to a given work is turned to its furtherance, an obstacle in a given path becomes an advance.
Love only what falls your way and is fated for you. What could suit you more than that?
No, you do not have thousands of years to live. Urgency is on you. While you live, while you can, become good.
You must compose your life action by action, and be satisfied if each action achieves its own end as best can be: and no one can prevent you from that achievement. ‘But there will be some external obstacle.’ No obstacle, though, to justice, self-control, and reason. ‘But perhaps some other source of action will be obstructed.’ Well, gladly accept the obstruction as it is, make a judicious change to meet the given circumstance, and another action will immediately substitute and fit into the composition of your life as discussed.
Whenever you meet someone, ask yourself first this immediate question: ‘What beliefs does this person hold about the good and bad in life?’ Because if he believes this or that about pleasure and pain and their constituents, about fame and obscurity, death and life, then I shall not find it surprising or strange if he acts in this or that way, and I shall remember that he has no choice but to act as he does.
Men are born for the sake of each other. So either teach or tolerate.
Say to yourself first thing in the morning: today I shall meet people who are meddling, ungrateful, aggressive, treacherous, malicious, unsocial. All this has afflicted them through their ignorance of true good and evil. But I have seen that the nature of good is what is right, and the nature of evil what is wrong; and I have reflected that the nature of the offender himself is akin to my own—not a kinship of blood or seed, but a sharing in the same mind, the same fragment of divinity. Therefore I cannot be harmed by any of them, as none will infect me with their wrong.
The conscious liar sins to the extent that his deceit causes injustice: the unconscious liar to the extent that he is out of tune with the nature of the Whole and out of order with the nature of the ordered universe against which he fights. And it is fighting when he allows himself to be carried in opposition to the truth. He has received the prompts from nature: by ignoring them he is now incapable of distinguishing false from true.
‘If you want to be happy’, says Democritus, ‘do little.’ May it not be better to do what is necessary, what the reason of a naturally social being demands, and the way reason demands it done? This brings the happiness both of right action and of little action. Most of what we say and do is unnecessary: remove the superfluity, and you will have more time and less bother. So in every case one should prompt oneself: ‘Is this, or is it not, something necessary?’ And the removal of the unnecessary should apply not only to actions but to thoughts also: then no redundant actions either will follow.
One man prays: ‘How can I sleep with that woman?’ Your prayer is: ‘How can I lose the desire to sleep with her?’ Another prays: ‘How can I be rid of that man?’ You pray: ‘How can I stop wanting to be rid of him?’ Another: ‘How can I save my little child?’ You: ‘How can I learn not to fear his loss?’ And so on. Give all your prayers this turn, and observe what happens.
If you set yourself to your present ask along the path of true reason, with all determination, vigour, and good will: if you admit no distraction, but keep your own divinity pure and standing strong, as if you had to surrender it right now; if you grapple this to you, expecting nothing, shirking nothing, but self-content with each present action taken in accordance with nature and a heroic truthfulness in all that you say and mean—then you will lead a good life. And nobody is able to stop you.
…a person’s worth is measured by the worth of what he values.
Do not dream of possession of what you do not have: rather reflect on the greatest blessings in what you do have, and on their account remind yourself how much they would have been missed if they were not there. But at the same time you must be careful not to let your pleasure in their habituate you to dependency, to avoid distress if they are sometimes absent.
You know from experience that in all your wanderings you have nowhere found the good life—not in logic, not in wealth, not in glory, not in indulgence: nowhere. Where then is it to be found? In doing what man’s nature requires. And how is he to do this? By having principles to govern his impulses and actions. What are these principles? Those of good and evil—the belief that nothing is good for a human being which does not make him just, self-controlled, brave, and free: and nothing evil which does not make him the opposite of these.
The time you have left is short. Live it as if you were on a mountain. Here or there makes no difference, if wherever you live you take the world as your city. Let men see, let them observe a true man living in accordance with nature. If they cannot bear him, let them kill him—a better fate than a life like theirs.
The condition and characteristic of an instructed person: he expects all advantage and all harm from his mind, not from his environment
He removes all desire from himself, and he transfers aversion to those things only of the things within our power which are contrary to nature.
He employs a moderate movement toward everything.
Whether he is considered foolish or ignorant, he cares not.
Remember that it is not he who reviles you or strikes you, who insults you, but it is your opinion about these things as being insulting. When then a man irritates you, you must know that it is your own opinion which has irritated you.
As the sun does not wait for prayers and incantations to be induced to rise, but immediately shines and is saluted by all: so do you also not wait for clapings of hands, and shouts and praise to be induced to do good, but be a doer of good voluntarily, and you will be beloved as much as the sun.
You ought to choose both physician and friend not the most agreeable, but the most useful.
As a goose is not frightened by cackling nor a sheep by bleating, so let not the clamor of a senseless multitude alarm you.
Of pleasures those which occur most rarely give the greatest delight.
If a man should transgress moderation, the thing which give the greatest delight would become the things which give the least.
Choose rather to punish your appetites than to be punished through them.
When you have decided that a thing ought to be done and are doing it, never avoid being seen doing it, though the many shall form an unfavorable opinion about it. For if it is not right to do it, avoid doing the thing; but if it is right, why are you afraid of those who shall find fault wrongly?
It is not poverty which produces sorrow, but desire; nor does wealth release from fear, but reason. If then you acquire this power of reasoning, you will neither desire wealth nor complain of poverty.
He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.