The Quest For Virtue
Recently I read a new edition of Marcus Aurelius’s “Meditations,” a collection of his private thoughts written to aid in his personal growth and self-discipline. Aurelius was a Roman Emperor and Stoic philosopher, or as Plato would have called him, a “philosopher-king.” The book long has been a favorite of mine, so when a new translation by Robin Waterfield was released, I jumped on it.
“Meditations” continues to attract a broad readership, not least because of the glimpse it gives into Rome’s golden era, but also because of the unmistakable sincerity and earnestness of Aurelius’s journey to improve his self-discipline in word and deed. Aurelius wrote about his internal struggles with the many trials and distractions of his outward worldly life, using the tenets of Stoicism to help him determine what was truly important.
Our “command center,” as Aurelius calls it, gives us control of our actions to do good or bad within this tiny flash of time on a microscopic dot in this very large universe. Striving for legacy is unnecessary since the immensity of time and the impermanence of all things do not allow for fame beyond a generation or two. Even the strongest memories fade, and renown is fleeting and evanescent. Instead, our happiness and peace of mind depend on fulfilling our virtuous potential in a God-guided world. To do this, we must take appropriate actions when necessary and remain indifferent to almost all else.
Though written long ago, Aurelius’s thoughts are relevant to our choices in this modern world. Like him, we all are on a quest for virtue with varying conditions and challenges. At the end of the day, we have to make the best of our circumstances and not worry about things out of our control, seeking always to be a good steward of whatever we have materially and whoever we influence spiritually. The ongoing quest for self-perfection through virtuous acts is an elusive one seemingly achieved only by saints. But there is hope; as Oscar Wilde said, “…every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.”
Patrick J. Wood
Author of the newly released book “Dear Reader: Meditations,
Musings And Moments In Time”, available on Amazon.com
All proceeds go toward eradicating Homelessness in Wisconsin.