Start Your Day Like a Roman Emperor
I was recently reviewing the journal entries of Marcus Aurelius (Roman Emperor and Stoic Philosopher) and I found a quote that inspired me to try starting my mornings like the Roman emperor himself. Marcus Aurelius writes the following passage:
“Begin the morning by saying to thyself, I shall meet with the busybody, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial. All these things happen to them by reason of their ignorance of what is good and evil. But I who have seen the nature of the good that it is beautiful and the bad that it is ugly, and the nature of him who does wrong, that it is akin to me, not [only] of the same blood or seed, but that it participates in [the same] intelligence and [the same] portion of the divinity, I can neither be injured by any of them, for no one can fix on me what is ugly, nor can I be angry with my kinsman, nor hate him. For we are made for cooperation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of upper and lower teeth. To act against one another then is contrary to nature; and it is acting against one another to be vexed and to turn away.”
Essentially what he is saying is that we must anticipate the likelihood that we will meet all kinds of people in our day, good and bad, and that it is foolish to suppose that we will not. Not only this, but we should start each day by making a promise to ourselves that we will strive to work in friendly cooperation with all people who we meet, because we are not meant for conflict, but for synergy.
I would like to take this idea a little further and share a quote from another Stoic, Epictetus, who wrote the following:
“Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle: Some things are within our control, and some things are not. It is only after you have faced up to this fundamental rule and learned to distinguish between what you can and can’t control that inner tranquility and outer effectiveness become possible.”
It is foolish to suppose that bad things will not happen, mean people will not enter our lives, and unfavorable circumstances will not arise. Therefore, if it is foolish to think that these things will not happen, is it not also foolishness to be surprised when they do? It is only when we have accepted the inevitable that we can live a life of true inner peace. The man who knows what to expect is not surprised when he is face to face with that very thing. It is imperative that we accept that although we may not necessarily be able to control the events or people in our lives, we can definitely control our reaction to those events and people. Once we understand what we can and cannot control we are well on our way to experiencing, as Epictetus puts it, “inner tranquility and outer effectiveness.”
Take an inventory of yourself and your own reactions to life and you may be surprised to find that you have mislead yourself into thinking that you can control more than you actually can. There is a true sense of freedom for the person who can let go of the fake control that we all cling to. Begin at once to recognize that you will face all kinds of people and circumstances in your life, and the best and strongest way to face those situations is to expect them, and to promise yourself that you will face them all with a spirit of courage, cooperation, and joy.
Wake up each day like the Roman emperor; clear with the knowledge of what to expect, and strong in the conviction to face life with cooperation and understanding. If you’ll wake up like this each day you will surely not encounter anything out of the ordinary, and, in a weird paradox, by letting go of control you will have gained far more control of your life than most people ever do. Those who let go of what they cannot control and focus on what they can are well on their way to experiencing the rise to the good life.