4 Lessons from Meditations | Marcus Aurelius

How to Think and Act Like a Stoic

Jack Yang
5 min readMay 16, 2021


Meditations is one of the most renowned pieces of ancient texts, and for good reasons: it’s important Stoicism literature that contains thoughts and beliefs of a Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius.

I read this book to understand Stoicism, a school of philosophy that influences many generations and can still be found in the modern world. Before reading, I had the impression that Stoicism is the “Philosophy of Stones”, in which people are expected to behave perfectly rational and strictly emotionless. While part of it is true, there is much more to Stoicism than I previously imagined, and it has taught me to see the world through a new lens. In the next section, I will detail the most important lessons I learned. Different from other book reviews, I will quote the passages related to the ideas from the book and write down my understandings because I do not think I can phrase them any better than the author.

Score: 4.75/5

Who Should Read It: People wanting to understand Stoicism or experience new ways of thinking


1. See the World As It Really Is.

“Always to define whatever it is we perceive — to trace its outline — so we can see what it really is: its substance. Stripped bare. As a whole. Unmodified. And to call it by its name — the thing itself and its components, to which it will eventually return.” (Book 3)

“Perceptions like that — latching onto things and piercing through them, so we see hat they really are. That’s what we need to do all the time — all through our lives when things lay claim to our trust — to lay them bare and see how pointless they are, to strip away the legend that encrusts them.” (Book 6)

“External things are not the problem. It’s your assessment of them. Which you can erase right now.” (Book 8)

My Take: Seeing the world dispassionately and truthfully is the heart of Stoicism. Stoics believe we see the world through the lens of perception, and we make judgments based on it. To see the thing in its true form, we should strip out its decorations, whether they are beautiful stories or physical ornament. In other words, we should detach ourselves from the events or items and view everything as if we are spectators.

I believe this skill is especially critical in the modern world, where almost everything is showered with tempting attractions. For example, a pair of sneakers might just cost fifty dollars, but when companies throw designer names on it and put it on a display shelf, suddenly the same pair of shoes costs thousands and people rush to buy it. Marketing is all about presenting goods so that consumers want to purchase them, no matter it is necessary. As advertisers and algorithms understand more about human nature, it is easier than ever to perceive items not as they are, but as what marketers want us to perceive. In brief, we should strip out the unnecessary fascinations and deocrations of an item and see it in its purest form as well as understand its ultimate purpose.

2. Life is Short. Cherish the Present.

“Human lives are brief and trivial. Yesterday a blob of semen; tomorrow embalming fluid, ash.” (Book 4)

“You cannot lose another life than the one you’re living now, or live another one than the one you are losing … For you can’t lose either the past or the future; how could you lose what you don’t have?” (Book 2)

“Remind yourself that past and future have no power over you. Only the present — and even that can be minimized.” (Book 8)

My Take: The author wrote down a lot of verses on life and death, something I did not expect. Stoicism sees death as a natural process that people should not be afraid of. If anything, it further signifies the importance of the present moment. The past is already behind us and the future is still ahead of us. We cannot grasp either one of them, and presence is all we have.

3. Embrace Life with Acceptance.

“To accept it without arrogance, to let it go with indifference.” (Book 8)

“Surrounded as we are by all of this, we need to practice acceptance. Without disdain. But remember that our own worth is measured by what we devote our energy to.” (Book 7)

“Let it happen, if it wants, to whatever, it can happen to. And what’s affected can complain about it if it wants. It doesn’t hurt me unless I interpret its happening as harmful to me. I can choose not to.” (Book 7)

My Take: Combined with the previous two lessons on objectivity and death, it is not hard to conclude that Stoicism endorses acceptance. As humans, we feel regret or quick to blame others because undesirable things happen to us. The author argues that if the unfortunate happens to us, we should view the event as it is and see our role in it. If the event is within our control, then we ought to do something about it. If we did what we can but it still happened, then it is natural and we shall accept it. If we did not do anything, then it is we who should be blamed. If the event is out of control, then who are we to blame?

4. Remove Distractions and Focus on Less.

“Do external things distract you? Then make time for yourself to learn something worthwhile; stop letting yourself be pulled in all directions. But make sure you guard against the other kind of confusion. ”(Book 2)

“Do what’s essential — what the logos of a social being requires, and in the requisite way. Which brings a double satisfaction: to do less, better.” (Book 4)

“If you can’t stop prizing a lot of other things? Then you’ll never be free — free, independent, imperturbable. Because you’ll always be envious and jealous, afraid that people might come and take it all away from you.” (Book 6)

My Take: Stoicism promotes the idea of less is more, that we should focus on the essentials in life just as we do with things around us. I believe the beauty of this idea is self-evident and needs no further explanation. When we are attached to too many things, we become worrisome about losing what we have or anxious in pursuit of other things. When we focus on our purpose and our essentials, we have a clear direction in our life and thus achieve more satisfaction in doing things that matter.

Thank you for reading my summary. If you enjoy it, feel free to check out my other book reviews at https://jackyangzzh.medium.com/