How often do you see government officials talk about spirituality and our connection to the universe? Almost never.
A rare exception to this rule was the great Stoic philosopher and emperor Marcus Aurelius. He possessed both worldly power and immense wisdom. To this day, he continues to impact our lives through his work written two millennia ago.
Since discovering his writings, I have been rereading Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations and savoring every ounce of wisdom I can. Today, I would like to share with you five Marcus Aurelius quotes that improved my mindfulness practice and lead to deep reflections, which I share below.
1. “Take away thy opinion, and then there is taken away the complaint, “I have been harmed.” Take away the complaint, “I have been harmed,” and the harm is taken away.” — Marcus Aurelius
This quote reminds of all the times I used to overthink minor conflicts at my workplace. If someone reprimanded me for doing a poor job or made a critical remark, it would get to me. Throughout the day, I would replay the conversation in my mind and imagine all the ways I could have responded to my colleague.
I would write entire scripts in my head about standing up for myself and proving that I was right. In the process, I would feel angry at myself for not doing so, which made me feel even worse than during the actual conversation.
The worst part was that I willingly created this suffering for myself. I would not let go of negative thoughts and keep the conflict alive in my head, giving it more power over me.
Have you ever noticed this tendency in your own life? How often do you continue to carry conflicts in your mind after the actual incident has ended?
2. “Men seek retreats for themselves, houses in the country, sea-shores, and mountains; and thou too art wont to desire such things very much. But this is altogether a mark of the most common sort of men, for it is in thy power whenever thou shalt choose to retire into thyself.” — Marcus Aurelius
This is one of those Marcus Aurelius quotes that makes me remember how I used to crave travel. I saw it as an escape from the drudgery, boredom, and unhappiness. For me, the grass always seemed greener on the other side. “This is where people really live a full life,” I thought to myself whenever I was planning a new trip abroad.
New experiences dulled my pain, and for a few weeks I felt a little bit happier. But the happier I felt abroad, the more miserable I felt when I finally got back home. Everything around me seemed gloomy and unwelcoming. I felt disappointed and wanted to go back and never return.
Later, I realized that no matter where you move, sooner or later, everything would lose its appeal. Your surroundings will eventually become familiar and uninspiring. True joy can never come from the circumstances of your life but only from your inner state of being. If you cultivate inner stillness, nothing from the outside world can trouble you.
You gain the ability to see everything with fresh eyes, devoid of mental labels. You gain the ability to feel a connection to the outside world which is very hard to put into words. And even if you can’t travel for the rest of your life, you will never feel bored or lonely because you will feel one with life.
What about you? Do you feel the need to travel all the time? Do you treat travel as an escape from daily routine?
3. “Consider for example, the times of Vespasian. Thou wilt see all these things, people marrying, bringing up children, sick, dying, warring, feasting, trafficking, cultivating the ground, flattering, obstinately arrogant, suspecting, plotting, wishing for some to die, grumbling about the present, loving, heaping up treasure, desiring consulship, kingly power. Well, then, that life of these people no longer exists at all.” — Marcus Aurelius
Whenever I read this quote, I remind myself that whatever difficulties I’m facing right now are impermanent. But we don’t always follow this wisdom in our daily lives; instead, we often do the opposite. We tend to blow everything out of proportion. Every little thing that goes wrong becomes a matter of utmost importance. We dwell on it and feel anxious and discontent.
What I’ve discovered through my spiritual practice is that most situations resolve themselves if I don’t give them the significance that my mind wants to give them. In the past, I would become distraught and start erratically doing something, adding more anxiety and worry. But now I simply let it be. I do whatever I can at this moment, but I do it from a place of inner stillness, not worry and anxiety.
Do you notice this tendency in your own life? Do you let small things take over your life and give them more significance than they really have?
4. “When we have meat before us and such eatables, we receive the impression that this is the dead body of a fish, and this is the dead body of a bird or of a pig; and again, that this Falernian wine is only a little grape-juice, and this purple robe some sheep’s wool dyed with the blood of a shell-fish: such then are these impressions, and they reach the things themselves and penetrate them, and so we see what kind of things they are.” — Marcus Aurelius
This quote reminds of all the times I relied on external possessions to build my identity. I used to buy things to enhance my sense of self.
For example, I believed that owning a specific smartphone model would reflect my wealth. Similarly, I was convinced that wearing clothing from a particular brand would reflect my personality. I wanted these possessions to project a certain image of who I was.
Furthermore, I went only to specific theaters, museums, and restaurants simply because they were popular among my social circle. I chose these venues because they aligned with the identity and social status I sought to portray.
I applied this type of logic to other aspects of my life, constructing my identity around material possessions and external affiliations, deluding myself into thinking it reflected my true self. However, I later discovered that these superficial aspects were never indicative of the real me. What’s worse, they contributed to much of my unhappiness.
How much importance are you placing on external things in your life? Do you have a tendency to equate your “self” with them? Take a moment to think about it.
5. “Love that only which happens to thee and is spun with the thread of thy destiny. For what is more suitable?” — Marcus Aurelius
This is one of the best Marcus Aurelius quotes that gives me the strength to live my life unapologetically and face every challenge without inner or outer resistance.
It reminds me that we are part of something bigger, an interconnected web of all that is. In a sense, the entire history of the world has brought about this moment we’re experiencing right now.
What could be more insane than resisting this moment and making an enemy of life itself? When we stop resisting by bringing ourselves in alignment with reality, life becomes lighter and more cooperative.
But I’m not saying we should become passive, do nothing, or let other people manipulate us. Acceptance of the present moment is a place of strength, not weakness. It means we know where we are, what we’re facing, and what we need to do to resolve the situation. Every action is powerful because it comes from the place of inner calm.
What do you think about these Marcus Aurelius quotes? Do you have a favorite one of your own you want to share?
Hi, I’m Gavril, the guy behind this blog. What you see here is the combination of my three favorite things: reading, writing, and mindfulness. While you’re here, subscribe to my blog updates and gain access to free mindfulness resources for stress relief.