The 30 Days Meditations of Marcus Aurelius Challenge

Discussion in 'Events & Challenges' started by Verissimus, Jul 25, 2020.

  1. Verissimus

    Verissimus Fapstronaut

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    Welcome to the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius challenge!

    This is a knowledge and discipline driven challenge. The aim is to combine reading, knowledge, discipline and reflection to create a challenge that leaves you with a wholesome feeling of self-improvement.

    First, a bit about the man, Marcus Aurelius.
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    Marcus was the Emperor of Rome from the year 161 until the year 180 AD, giving him a lengthy reign of nearly 2 decades as the head of the most powerful, well organised and dominant state of its' time. The glory and power of Rome continues to impress historians even today. Born in a prominent family, he received a strong foundational education. Even further emphasis on his education was given after it became apparent he is next in line for the most important position in the Empire. It is important to emphasise the extent of the power that Marcus had at his disposal. If he so wished, nothing would be off limits for him. What truly sets Marcus apart is that in the face of unlimited power and temptation his head remained firmly on his shoulders. In true defiance of Machiavellian norms he did not allow absolute power to corrupt him. The historical records of the strength of his character remain a bright beacon of light symbolising what a true masculine, stoic leader can be and achieve.

    But this challenge is not meant to be a cult of personality. We are here to study and discuss the ideas that the man has grown to represent. In the last 10 years of his life and reign Marcus Aurelius began writing a journal, of sort. This was a personal record of his thoughts and affirmations. It was never meant to be read by anyone but himself, let alone be published. In fact, some records say there were explicit instructions for the books to be destroyed upon his death. Luckily for us, those instructions were never followed. The books were preserved and are now widely known and available as the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. It is a collection of thoughts that embody the stoic philosophy written by one of the most powerful and yet consistently virtuous people our world has ever produced.

    Next, a bit about the idea - Stoicism.
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    Stoicism is a school of Hellenistic philosophy founded by Zeno of Citium in Athens in the early 3rd century BC. It is a philosophy of personal ethics informed by its system of logic and its views on the natural world. The core tenets of Stoicism are the following:
    • Courage. It is the choice and willingness to confront agony, pain, danger, uncertainty, or intimidation.
    • Temperance. In its modern use is defined as moderation or voluntary self-restraint. It is typically described in terms of what an individual voluntarily refrains from doing.
    • Justice. It is the quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness, or moral rightness; to uphold the justice of a cause.
    • Wisdom. Wisdom, sapience, or sagacity is the ability to think and act using knowledge, experience, understanding, common sense and insight. Wisdom is associated with attributes such as unbiased judgement, compassion, experiential self-knowledge, self-transcendence and non-attachment, and virtues such as ethics and benevolence.
    Stoicism is characterised by a rejection of pleasure as the standard for human happiness and human felicity. Stoicism takes the position that the wise man, the good man, the philosopher, is a man who lives in accordance with Nature (you need to study the texts on Stoicism to understand what a Stoic means by Nature). He fears only abdicating his moral responsibility. He is not afraid of pain, he is not afraid of death, he is not afraid of poverty, he is not afraid of any of the vicissitudes of the human condition. He fears only that he should let himself down and he should be less than a complete human being.

    According to the Stoics, the only matter of concern to a wise and philosophical individual is the things completely under your control. You can’t control the movements of the sun and the planets, you can’t control whether a leaky ship sinks or makes it to port, you can’t control the weather, you can’t control other people, you can’t control the society around you. There is only one thing, and one thing only that you are in control of, and that is YOU. Your will, your intentions, yourself. In other words, the wise man, the truly philosophical man is a man who is entirely in control of his own soul. Who takes utter and complete moral responsibility for his actions and is indifferent to anything else. Not because he doesn’t care about other people but because it is not under his control.

    In order to learn more about Marcus Aurelius and Stoicism before you begin, have a look at this lecture. It is a very succinct introduction and some of the text in this post has come from transcribing the content.


    Last, a bit about the challenge.
    The premise is simple. In order to complete this challenge you must make progress both on your NoFap streak and the book.

    The meditations of Marcus Aurelius is divided into 12 books. This means you'll 2-3 days per book, with some of the longer chapters getting a bit of extra time. At the end of the allocated time, you must post a progress report that contains a short (or long if you wish to) text that contains your own meditations and thoughts on what you've read during this stretch.

    Book 1 : Days 1 and 2 | ~3000 words

    Book 2 : Days 3 and 4

    Book 3 : Days 5 and 6

    Book 4 : Days 7 and 8

    Book 5 : Days 9, 10 and 11

    Book 6 : Days 12, 13 and 14

    Book 7 : Days 15, 16 and 17

    Book 8 : Days 18, 19 and 20

    Book 9 : Days 21 and 22

    Book 10 : Days 23, 24 and 25

    Book 11 : Days 26, 27 and 28

    Book 12 : Days 29 and 30

    The meditations are not the kind of book where it would benefit you to look ahead or read through quickly. There is no plot, no part of it is particularly more important than another. What would benefit you most is if you read through it slowly, deliberately and with great attention and reflection. This is what I invite you to do. Read, pause, ponder and write down your thoughts, so that you can share them here. How does Marcus's ideals of morality resonate with your own? Is Marcus describing the man you would like to strive to be? Have you ever encountered situations similar to what he is describing? How did you react in them and has what you've read changed your worldview? How you would approach the situation in the future?

    We think best when we write. Without writing, many would say, you can barely say you've even thought. I invite you to start writing and sharing your thoughts. Not only read the books, but also leave a mark. On this forum and in the memory of the people who read it.

    You can start this challenge at any point in your journey. Just keep track of which day of this challenge you are using a daily check in.

    You can find free PDF files of the book at project Gutenberg and potentially in many other places online if you search for it. You can also find free audio versions on YouTube or at LibriVox. You can also buy the paper version at any bookstore or online retailer.

    Best of luck, young Stoics. May Nature favour you in your pursuits of Courage, Temperance, Justice and Wisdom.

     
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2020
  2. Verissimus

    Verissimus Fapstronaut

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    Day 1; Book 1;
    I've read the book in its' entirety. As the first book in his journal it is a record of his gratitude to various people that have helped Marcus on the way to becoming who he is. It starts all the way from his childhood and mentions all people that he deems worthy of credit for his proper upbringing. Family members, friends, close people, loved ones, educators, and role models. The latter half of the book is reserved for just two entities. Both of which, I believe, represent the same idea and deserve some special reasoning. One is his second, chosen father. The other, are his gods. Marcus has had the experience of being brought up by two father figures. His birth father, Marcus Annius Verus, who unfortunately passed just a few years after the birth of Marcus. His second father was Antoninus Pius, Emperor of Rome. Marcus only briefly mentions his birth father in the beginning, but dedicates a significant portion of the book to Pius. This is likely due to the limited time that Marcus got to spend with his birth father. It is obvious the he held Pius to an exceptionally high regard. That is easily understandable, how many of us can really say "My father, the Emperor of Rome"? Not only was Pius of high social standing, he also upheld many of the ideals that later became central to Marcus as he grew older. Modesty, piety, lack of ostentatious behaviour, wisdom all barely scratch the surface. But I'll get in on that tomorrow. Secondly, Marcus takes his time thanking the gods. It is important to think about what he may have referred to at the time. Prior to Christianity, the Romans were polytheistic. At a highest level, we can find common ground in thinking about a higher power, source of both chaos and order, an eternal judge. An incarnation of masculine principles. To the gods, Marcus attributed everything that he considered to be beyond his power. A sort of meta level gratitude. An acknowledgement of the fact that he could have been born anywhere at any time. And yet, he was born then, around good, honourable, wise, patient people who put him on the path and made him worthy of being Emperor.

    On a pedestal, above all else, Marcus put the masculine, authoritative role models that he had growing up. The people and entities that showed him by example and guidance the sort of man he wanted to be. The sort of man he could be if he committed to being a harsh enough judge to himself on a day to day basis.
     
  3. Verissimus

    Verissimus Fapstronaut

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    Day 3; Book 1;
    In this book Marcus displays his gratitude and allocates credit where credit is due. It makes you notice how many people were involved in his upbringing. In my edition, there are 16 dedications, plus one for the gods. It takes a village to raise a child. So many people, accomplished on their own, took part in the raising of one good man. Each hammering into him a specific set of virtues, both by verbal guidance and attention and with personal example. Marcus plays specific attention to personal example. In many of the dedications he specifically words the phrases so it is apparent that the people he speaks of lived out their virtues.
    It makes me wonder what I would write if I had to write such a book. Would I have this many people to thank? Were there enough people around me that made a positive impact on me? Marcus attributes where he is to his nurturing upbringing. Why am I where I am? I can't help but get a feeling of loss when I compare my own experience with his. I wonder what I could have been. But also what can I become if I pursue everything that I could be.
    Marcus comes from the highest echelons of Roman society. I did not have the privilege of being born in such an environment. I was not born in the highest echelons of any society or organisational structure. The indoctrination into his surroundings makes sense for Marcus. He was born in the best place he could have been. Were I to be indoctrinated into the society that I was born into, I would not have been able to reach as far as I have. I judge peoples lack of early interest in me a good thing, overall. I am where I am because of my incessant need for acceptance and belonging. Still, the melancholic side of longs for a world where my village huddled together to help me become a man. It sounds like a wonderful experience. Someday I will become the Emperor I was meant to be. And maybe then, I will be enough.
     
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  4. Verissimus

    Verissimus Fapstronaut

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    Day 4; Book 2;
    Today, I would like to pay specific attention to one passage from this book.
    This passage resonated specifically strongly with me. It made me think of the amount of time I've wasted in my own life and how much I could have done to further myself towards my goals and dreams. It is a shame for a man to waste even a minute of his time. Every minute counts and every minute you're not getting better, someone else is. You can't reach the top until you've reached near complete self-mastery. Time is precious. You are precious. Your capabilities are limitless. If you fully pursue who you could be, there is no limit to what you can accomplish. Marcus urges himself not to waste what cannot be redeemed.
     
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  5. Verissimus

    Verissimus Fapstronaut

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    Day 5; Book 2;
    Today I have picked another passage to meditate on.
    Marcus reminds himself that attachments to irrelevant things distract him from his true purpose and meaning in life. Modernity is only now re-discovering this space of quiet that he talks about. In my own life I've found that a place of quiet can do wonders to cure restlessness. Contrary to intuitiveness, allowing yourself to experience the itch and meditating on it, works better to remove it than scratching it. For a scratched itch comes back tenfold. To eliminate restlessness one needs a place of quiet and stillness.
     
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  6. Marcus Aurelius

    Marcus Aurelius Fapstronaut

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    I'm in! I can't not do this challenge. :p

    I'll start reading and posting tomorrow.
     
  7. Verissimus

    Verissimus Fapstronaut

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    Day 6; Book 3;
    The thoughts of Marcus are a goldmine for such brilliant insights into what a man ought to be. Those seeking to find a righteous judge for themselves, someone whose image and words can hang above them as a goal to aspire, need to look no further. The words in his meditations hang heavy above anyone who has had the pleasure of reading them. Many would prefer to never take on the challenge of being judged in that way. Many others would try to erase the memory of the judge. Many would buckle under the weight. But some manage to live up to the expectations that Marcus has of himself and of his fellow men. We can be part of the select few.
    Purity of thought, authenticity of being, resistance of temptation. Those are the morals that Marcus is trying to teach us in that excerpt from Book 3. To live free of shameful thoughts, afflictions, or habits. To be able to live purely and authentically. He never says anything concrete. He invites the reader to relate his words to their own situation. Yet reading this it leaves me to believe he was in my head two thousand years ago and knew what shameful secrets lurk in my subconscious and bubble up to the surface in the darkest moments. He is no stranger to those temptations. It is obvious that he knows me, because he knows himself, and we are in this - brothers. He is in the same fight we all are.
     
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  8. Marcus Aurelius

    Marcus Aurelius Fapstronaut

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    Day 1, Book 1a: I read 1:1-15 (my book is separated by verses and sub-verses) today and I will finish Book 1 tomorrow. While reading, I tried to boil down the main lessons Marcus Aurelius learned from the role models in his life:
    • To live simply, without ostentation: Part of this is to speak plainly, without resorting to rhetorical speech (i.e. speech designed to persuade). This has always struck me as a breath of fresh air for a political leader. I support democracy and I believe it's the best form of human government, but an unfortunate byproduct is the competition for election. Politicians speak with deception, appeals to emotion, and division in order to gain votes. Marcus Aurelius preferred to speak like a philosopher.
    • To live by one's convictions rather than the opinions of others: This has been an idea that I've been clinging to lately. With all the divisiveness and hysteria rampant in our culture, it feels like the world is going mad. It is good to ground yourself in what you know to be true and good and act on that rather than bending because of fear or social pressure.
    • To not be occupied by mindless diversions: For him that was gladiator games or chariot racing. For us that might be video games haha.
    • To value virtue, learning, and wisdom
    • Kindness towards others
    • Mastery over the passions
    One potential negative that stuck out to me was this line: "to be always the same man, unchanged in sudden pain, in the loss of a child, in lingering sickness". This is one of those times when I think Stoicism takes things a step too far. Are we really supposed to remain unchanged when our child dies? That seems rather unhuman. When faced with tragedy, you need time to grieve. I don't think just letting the death of a child bounce off of us like its nothing is a sign of strength.

    There are many ways to interpret this, of course. Remaining "unchanged" might simply mean to remember your virtue and not to slide into your vices during hard times. If so, I would agree.
     
  9. PegasusKid

    PegasusKid Fapstronaut

    Had this book on my digital shelf for a while and never got around to it. Reset today, so it's the perfect time to start this challenge and this book. Will update tomorrow with my thoughts and reflections on book 1.
     
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  10. Marcus Aurelius

    Marcus Aurelius Fapstronaut

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    Oops. I've been forgetting about this! I still plan on reading the Meditations in 30 days, so I'll have to double up the readings on certain days to catch up, but I don't think today will be one of them.

    Day 5, Book 1b: Today I read 1:16-17. In the first part Marcus Aurelius gives a tribute to his adopted father, the Emperor Antoninus Pius. Roman Emperors have a reputation for wild living, cruelty, and megalomania, but Marcus Aurelius gives a glowing overview of Antoninus Pius, one of the Five Good Emperors. I would be interested in reading some other accounts of him just to see if Antoninus Pius was as good as his portrayal here. Obviously, Marcus Aurelius greatly respected his adopted father and the purpose of Book 1 of The Meditations is to list the good qualities of his role models that he tried to emulate. Bad qualities are irrelevant here.

    One of the qualities that stood out to me was that he had an "immovable adherence to decisions made after full consideration". I mentioned in my last post that this is an idea that I've been trying to work on. Obviously, you should always be willing to reconsider your opinions and change your mind, but if you think that you've thought something over sufficiently and feel confident about your opinion on something, you should stick to it.

    The mention of homosexuality and Marcus Aurelius citing Antoninus Pius's suppression of it as a virtue is interesting, considering that Marcus Aurelius is approaching this from a non-religious standpoint.

    In the second part, he thanks the gods for the circumstances that he has found himself in over the course of his life. Like him, I can say that I have been very fortunate in my circumstances. Of course I have struggles and difficulties, but considering the hard lives of the majority of people throughout history and throughout the world, I have had it remarkably easy.

    It's interesting that he thanks "the gods", presumably of popular Roman religion rather than Nature or the Universe, which would be more in line with his pantheistic Stoicism. I've always wondered how he reconciled the two. He seems to have a disdain for religious "superstition", but still pays his respects to the gods. For me, as a Christian, my religious beliefs always come before Stoicism and if there is a part of Stoicism that I can't reconcile, I reject it. Because of this I don't consider myself a Stoic, even though I have an affinity for much of the teachings of Stoicism.

    Finally, this is a section that is especially relevant to NoFap. He writes about his gratitude that he had self-control, given the amount of power his station in life had given him, and that he never laid his hands sexually on his slaves. This is really incredible if you think about it. I think a lot of us would like to think we would be like him in his position, but if we are being truly honest, I don't think most of us could. My lack of self-control when it comes to porn makes me shudder to think what I might do in his position. He could have done anything to his slaves and no one would have batted an eye. My hat is off to you, sir.

    I also like the line about "leaving sexual experience to the proper time and indeed somewhat beyond it". At 26, I have never had sex and my success with girls has been pretty pathetic so far. It is very easy to feel shame about this, but I like this way of looking at it. If I went out and had sex with a random girl, it wouldn't prove anything. Everything has its time.
     
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  11. PegasusKid

    PegasusKid Fapstronaut

    Day 1, Book 1: I found this book pretty interesting. Some of the advice and teachings these people offered Aurelius are timeless, and yet common sense. But when I think about it, I look around the world and see many examples of people doing the exact opposite of these timeless teachings. The things Aurelius learned from Severus especially speaks out to me. From the Gregory Hays translation "And to help others and be eager to share, not to be a pessimist,and never to doubt your friends’ affection for you. And that when people incurred his disapproval, they always knew it. And that his friends never had to speculate about his attitude to anything: it was always clear." These are all things I've personally had issues with. I tend to be paranoid about how my friends feel about me, which in itself is kinda pessimistic. I do help others as much as I can though, and usually tell people how I feel about them when I feel it. I value being clear in my communication.
    Of course, some of these advices don't necessarily translate well to the modern world or ignore circumstances, like "To avoid the public schools, to hire good private teachers, and to accept the resulting costs as money well-spent." I think this ignores the fact that many people do perfectly fine in public schools. And then there's the part where he calls his wife obedient as a positive trait which seems a little...old school for lack of a better term. Overall though, this is a great book to start off meditations with and gave me a lot of insight into Aurelius's mind, and the kind of stuff he values.
     
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  12. Marcus Aurelius

    Marcus Aurelius Fapstronaut

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    Today I read 2:1-8. I'm pretty busy today, so I didn't give today's reading as much time or thought as I would have liked to, but there are two things that stuck out to me.

    The first thing is his brilliant passage on dealing with others. If someone is acting badly, it is a misfortune for them rather than for you. I also really like his recognition that all humans are essentially made of the same "stuff" i.e. "the same mind, the same fragment of divinity". It's a concept that keeps the previous one from sliding into self-righteousness. Given a different upbringing, different genes, different mood, different life experiences etc., I might be the person who is harming me. So there is no reason to feel pride. He then says not to be angry or hateful towards everyone because we, as humans, were made to work and live together.

    I also appreciated how he talked about not putting things off because we only have so much time on earth. It's true. Even though I believe in an afterlife, I want to get as much of a head-start here as I can. I don't want to spend all of my time on earth being addicted to porn and ruled by my vices and fears.
     
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  13. Marcus Aurelius

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    Day 7: Today I read 2:9-17. I could get really carried away with this... there is enough meat here that I could probably talk about each section, verse, whatever you want to call them, but seeing as I'm pretty busy right now, I'm going to stick with picking out one or two ideas that spoke the most to me.

    I thought it was really interesting how he compares lust with anger. He cites a philosopher named Theophrastus who thought that lust was worse than anger because anger is usually caused by an external pain, but lust arises out of a desire for pleasure. I can see where they're coming from. It seems like it should be easier to deny a pleasure than to avoid reacting to a pain.

    Interestingly, Dante Alighieri thought the opposite. In his Inferno, he places the Lustful only in the Second Circle of Hell, but the Wrathful are placed in the Fifth Circle of Hell. It's been a while since I read the Divine Comedy, but if I remember correctly, the Lustful are given a relatively lesser sentence because lust comes so naturally to man. It's almost the opposite reasoning of Marcus Aurelius and Theophrastus, who seem to think that lust is worse because it springs up out of our own natures rather than as a reaction to an external stimulus. Who is right? I don't know, but it's something to think about.
     
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  14. I stumbled upon this thread the other day and I have to say, this interests me. I plan on ordering my own copy of Meditations before the end of the year is up, along with some other philosophical texts, and start reading it to better improve myself and the life I want to live. I have actually talked with a fellow friend here and we may try to do this challenge either in the fall or during winter. It would be nice to wake up each morning, drink some coffee, and wear a nice sweater as we crack open Marcus Aurelius's words and dive deep into them. I do wonder if you would ever make another challenge like this based on either Seneca's letters or Augustine's Confessions or any other important philosophical work that is easy to find at our disposal.

    That being said, I aim to join this challenge too. I think it is a wonderful way of introducing a person to stoicism and also reading one of the most important journals of all time. It is a rare personal document to survive from antiquity and it showcases the brilliance of the Greco-Roman world at its peak. I was going to reply to the first post above but my own words are mere straw compared to the brilliant introduction above. Regardless, I hope this challenge is going well and I hope to see some more reflections soon. :D
     
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  15. Marcus Aurelius

    Marcus Aurelius Fapstronaut

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    @Verissimus How strict are you on us finishing the book in 30 days? The past couple of weeks have been busy for me and I've fallen behind. I'd still like to finish, but I don't really want to speed through it.

    Today I read 3:1-8. My favourite part of today's reading was how he said that you should train your mind, so that at any moment someone could peek into your thinking and you wouldn't be ashamed. I think that's great. So much of what we do and say begins in our minds, so what better way to condition our actions than by learning to control our thoughts. This is very relevant to porn and how it has warped our minds sexually. I know there has been a lot of sexual thoughts I have had that I would be ashamed to speak out loud. I think you could also extend this to training ourselves that what we do behind closed doors is never a thing we would be ashamed of. And once again, porn fits well into this. There is a reason we close our doors before we fap to porn.
     

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