I know I said I was going to do a series of posts about Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, but I hadn’t planned on writing the next one so soon (not that I really know how long I was going to wait before the next post…)
This one will be short, though (yeah, no, that didn’t happen)
I usually try to get to work a bit earlier than when I’m rostered to start. By this I mean maybe 15-20 minutes early, but I’ve been about 30 minutes early a couple of times. I do this so I can do a bit of reading, or have a chat to colleagues before I start. It kind of just gets me ready for the day ahead (but maybe that’s just because it’s become routine now).
On most days I start work at 8am, so I’ll usually be seen walking through or hanging around the dispensary by about 7:45am. On a recent morning, one of the assistants noticed that I was carrying around a copy of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, and asked if she could borrow it after I was done. At the time, I was actually surprised that she recognised his name – not at her specifically – I’m surprised when anyone recognises his name because I’d never heard of him before, so I just figured he was an obscure or lesser-known philosopher (not that I’m familiar with a lot of philosophers).
Anyway, I’m generally happy to share good books (mostly I’m just happy to find other people who have any interest in reading books), so I readily agreed. (I also like talking to people about books, so lending books to people is essentially a way of getting others to read the same books I’ve read, and thus giving me more people to talk to about those particular books.)
It was later that day (or maybe later that week?) that I was thinking about how I lend books to people but never write my name on any of them. I was thinking about this because (1) I’d never lent a book to this person before, and I don’t know what her reading/borrowing habits are like (not that I had any reason to be worried – it’s just a natural consideration); (2) I might like to lend it to several other people as well (and I might not know their borrowing habits either!); and (3) I’m already quite attached to my copy of Meditations, and don’t particularly want to be separated from it for too long (there’s a lot of wisdom in those pages that I’d like to be able to refer to whenever I like, but I suppose that’s part of the reason I’m writing these posts…)
And so it was thus that I thought – possibly for the first time in my life – that maybe I should write my name on my book. (Well, I mean, I always wrote my name on notebooks and text books throughout school and uni, but I’ve never (from what I can remember) written my name on a novel or other non-course-related book.) I thought, maybe I could write something like “Please return to ——” on the inside cover. For some reason I thought that if I was going to vandalise the book with my name, I might as well write something proper with it; and I thought that “Please return to ——” could be taken philosophically as a reminder for myself to return to myself.
It was with some disbelief and amazement that I then read this quote from Meditations several days later:
When circumstances force you to some sort of distress, quickly return to yourself. Do not stay out of rhythm for longer than you must: you will master the harmony the more by constantly going back to it.
– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 6
So now my “Please return” note on the inside cover seems more fitting than ever. (It still felt wrong, though, writing in the book…) I will try to think of this quote whenever I’m in some sort of distress that is making me act uncharacteristically. In fact, I had occasion to apply this “meditation” just last week.
Ok, to be fair, it probably wasn’t that much of a revelatory coincidence that I thought to add the “please return to…” thing because Marcus Aurelius does reflect a lot on his life, and what he’s been through, and what he’s learnt; so it’s like he’s reminding himself about the sort of person he can and should be. The quote above was probably more of a culmination of his other “reminders” to himself from earlier in the book (or something like that…)
A few days ago, I wrote my own “reminders”. I mean, “return to yourself” is great, but I just needed something more specific. I’m still considering whether or not to share those here, but, if I do, it’ll have to be a separate post because this one’s already getting too long!