Written as a personal diary for spiritual development, Marcus Aurelius's "meditations" were not meant for publication nor posterity, yet the Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher has provided inspiration and guidance for more than eighteen centuries. Now, after nearly two thousand years, Mark Forster has adapted the ideas and principles relevant to the Roman world of the second century and has made them accessible to the twenty-first-century reader.
About the Author
Mark Forstater is a producer of films, television documentaries, audio tapes, and now books. His most famous film production is Monty Python and the Holy Grail. An American, he lives and works in London. He is married and has three daughters.
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What Is the Right Way to Live?
Remember that even if you were to live for three thousand years, or thirty thousand, you could not lose any other life than the one you have, and there will be no other life after it. So the longest and the shortest lives are the same.
For this present moment is shared by all living creatures, but the time that is past is gone forever. No one can lose the past or the future, for if they don't belong to you, bow can they be taken from you?
Keep in mind these two things: First, that since the beginning of time the cycles of creation have shown the same recurring patterns, so it makes no difference if you live for one hundred years, two hundred years, or forever. Second, that the person who lives the longest life and the one who lives the shortest lose exactly the same thing.
For the present moment is the only thing you can take from anyone, since this is all they really own. No one can lose what they do not own.
I'm sitting in a cybercafé in Soho, London, sipping on a cappuccino.
Inside, young business men and women with mobile phones keep in touch with their offices, friends, and lovers across the country. Travelers sit at consoles surfing the Internet and collecting e-mail from around the world.
Outside, cars, taxis, and buses crisscross the polluted city ferrying people through the crowded streets. Below my feet, underground trains speed through the bowels of the earth. Nearby, highspeed trains depart for Brussels, Paris, and Rome.
Overhead, planes with hundreds ofpeople on board travel vast distances. Unseen, communication satellites circle the earth.
Although we live in a time of an incredible explosion in communications, knowledge, and wealth, we have begun to realize that it will not be possible to sustain the life we are currently leading for very much longer.
We are faced with a world that is suffering at our own hands. Science, technology, and "progress," the gods that we believed would provide all the answers, have shown themselves to hold false promises.
Science and technology have extended and increased the power of individuals and groups to an extent undreamed of by our ancestors. The ordinary person in the developed world lives a life of comfort and luxury that most emperors and kings in history could not attain. The rapid access to information and goods, instant communication, and high-speed travel have transformed our lives.
But there is a price to be paid; this power has had an enormous impact on the environment, human rights, and the human condition in general. The major concern we will have to address in the new millennium is not how to increase technological power but how to control it.
Throughout history technological development has always moved itself forward, leaving the moral order trailing behind. In our time technological change and innovation have been so swift and transformative that the moral order has lagged well behind and is now struggling to catch up.
However, the dynamic nature of morality means that it does eventually catch up, and we are now seeing it confront the technological order. People are beginning to rethink moral conventions, to create new values that demand the control and limitation of science and technology.
In this confrontation, ancient Greek philosophy, and in particular Stoicism, is well placed to help us manage our future.
When astronauts brought back photographs of the earth seen from space, the image of our blue and delicate planet floating among the white clouds in its living atmosphere triggered a deep response. Childlike feelings of amazement, wonder, and connectedness that we had lost made this image a spiritual symbol for our age. It stands for the growing awareness that we and the planet are part of a single system; that we can no longer think of ourselves as in some way separate from the natural world.
We now hold the future of the earth in our hands. In the past our efforts were concentrated on harnessing nature, taming nature, keeping natureunder control (the very language shows the problem) in order to ensure and promote our survival.
Nature and its great manifestation, Mother Earth, was not brought to her knees when we cut down trees or strip-mined for ore. And now that there are so many of us on the planet, and we have discovered techniques for extracting ore and oil with such ease, and have tampered so badly not only with the forests and the rivers but with the very building blocks of life, we have fooled ourselves into believing we are "the Masters of the Universe." Now that our efforts have gone beyond mere survival into a vast and sophisticated expansion of our concerns, we have the ability to create and destroy life on this planet. But our manipulation of nature threatens to make life intolerable for us.
This raises questions about the relationship between humanity and this beautiful sphere we live on. Are we a kind of global brain and nervous system, whose consciousness can comprehend the consequences of our actions and change them in time to reverse the effects of our worst excesses?
Are all of our activities part of the continuing evolution of this planet? Or are we a planetary cancer, a late malignant growth on the earth, destroying the biological fabric that took so many millennia to create? Will we see the complete destruction of the remaining rain forests? Will we live to see the last of the mountain lions? Will we in fact make this planet uninhabitable?
Whether we become the benevolent consciousness of the earth or its destroyer lies in the will, the desires, and the inner being of every man and woman alive today. The question of survival on earth may well be the ethical question that Socrates asked over 2,300 years ago: "What is the right way to live?"
If we want to survive into the next millennium, we could do worse than take lessons from the Stoics and from Marcus Aurelius on how to live our lives.The Spiritual Teachings of Marcus Aurelius. Copyright © by Mark Forstater. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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I found is powerful message to clear the clutter in our lives and live simply.