meditations – last days

I’ve still been reading Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, still been carrying it around with me everywhere I go (I always take a book wherever I go – well, almost everywhere). A colleague (now, sadly, ex-colleague) commented the other week, when she saw me walking around at work with it, that she thought I was holding the Bible. I joked to her that it basically was like a bible to me.

My copy is getting nicely worn out around the edges. It’s taken me so long to get through it all because I keep re-reading parts of it. When I come back to it, I tend to re-read about a page immediately preceding where I’m actually up to. This is partly because I forget where I’m up to on the page (I don’t always have time to read to the end of a chapter, and putting a book down mid-chapter doesn’t really bother me anyway); but also because a lot of the time when I put down Meditations, it’s because I’ve just read something that I want to reflect on, so I just close the book and stare out the window or something.

Throughout the book, Marcus Aurelius writes a lot about dying. In some parts, it sounds like he’s got a terminal illness, and is coming to terms with his inevitable death. There is an introduction to the edition I have, but I haven’t been bothered reading it yet (I don’t think I’ve ever read an introduction/preface before launching into a book – fiction or otherwise). I also still haven’t researched anything about his life, so I don’t even know if he practised what he preached (so to speak). Anyway, the point is, I don’t know at what point in his life he wrote these meditations, but I suppose it doesn’t really matter – you don’t have to be old or ill to think about this stuff.

The main reason I reckon he’s dying when he wrote this, is that there seem to be several iterations of the notion of imminent (or at least inevitable) death throughout the book. He says not to fear death; and affirms that three more days is as good as thirty more years if you’re endeavouring to lead a good life, or make some positive contribution, or whatever else we’re supposed to do.

Not sure if I’m interpreting this correctly, but he basically seems to be saying that it doesn’t matter how much longer we have to live – just start now. Know that you could die at any moment, but know also that that doesn’t matter.

Apparently the “live each day as if it were your last” thing is from Marcus Aurelius. I did not know that. But there’s more to it, which isn’t usually quoted:

Perfection of character is this: to live each day as if it were your last, without frenzy, without apathy, without pretence.
– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 7, paragraph 69

I’m pretty sure when I read that, I was sitting in a cafe in a shopping centre, waiting for a friend. And I’m pretty sure when I read that, I had one of those moments when I just had to stop, re-read it a few times, and then close the book (but not before I wrote it down, noting which page it was on).

… without frenzy, without apathy, without pretence.

Maybe I’ve been thinking about death too much this year. But maybe it’s good to remember that life is uncertain and almost certainly too short. And maybe it’s ok not to do anything extravagant or glorious with your hypothetical “last day”, as long as you don’t do anything disagreeable either.

Funnily enough, when I was thinking about how it’s been a while since my last “meditations” post, and wondering what I should write about, I asked myself what one quote I’d like to share if this was going to be my last post ever. Certainly didn’t have to think about that one for too long.

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6 thoughts on “meditations – last days

  1. Although it is a well-known saying to live each day like your last, I’ve also read variations on it that we should live each day like it’s our first day of a new life. What would you like to be in your new life? What would be different? What would be the same?
    I find these questions very compelling.

    • Very compelling, indeed! And certainly a more positive perspective.
      There is one part in Meditations where he writes something like “Imagine that you died right now – but you actually haven’t, so now you can consider how great it is that you didn’t die just now” (of course, I’m just paraphrasing here). Not quite the same thing, but similar (?)
      Hmm.. I’m gonna go ponder your “first day” questions some more…

  2. It is SO difficult to hold on to the mindset he describes. There are so many attributes of “being human” that conspire against it. It’s well worth trying (to live “without frenzy, without apathy, without pretence”) but I wonder if it sets some of us up to be disappointed in ourselves for not managing it, or not managing it often enough. I’m just thinking aloud here…

    • Yeah, to be honest, there are quite a few things in Meditations that have made me feel like I’m failing to be a decent human being and/or feel like he’s severely criticising my life (I have been thinking about writing a couple of posts about this too). But mostly I just think of it as something to aspire to, or realign my thinking. It’s kind of like that whole thing about “aiming for the stars” so that if you fail, you’ll still end up …somewhere up there… Yeah, I don’t remember how that one goes lol

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