I’ve recently been struck by the fact that the noble Emperor Marcus Aurelius began his meditations by giving thanks.
The first book ‘The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, Debts and Lessons,’ begins with him listing in words every good person that he’d met who’d had some positive influence on him. Everyone from old friends, advisors, people of note and teachers are included. He includes both the exalted and the humble in this first meditation.
Whilst initially you might think, ‘what’s the point of this?’ desperately trying to plough through it to the ‘interesting stuff,’ (like I did) about life, the universe and generally everything, the more apparent it becomes that giving thanks in this way is a brilliant piece of stoic practice that we can all benefit from.
Whilst writing is certainly fun, you don’t have to list every nice person you’ve met on paper, it’s perfectly fine to spend a few minutes each and every day thinking on the good people who are in your life right now as well as those good people who for whatever reason are no longer participants in daily affairs.
They might have moved away, you may have grown apart, life takes people in interesting directions, it’s rare to be friends with the same people forever as they will all walk different paths to you in life. Your paths may converge over shared interests but it’s the nature of mankind to be individualistic and diverging.
It’s like two leaves falling into a stream they may well be swept along by the same currents, but over time they will separate and find their own way to the ocean or the river bank as applicable, but their good deeds and positive influence on you will continue to this very day.
When I was a young man, just beginning in the world of work, I used to meet all sorts of different and interesting people, some nice, some not so nice, they were usually new colleagues (some who became friends) and management types, who employed a variety of techniques to get everyone working.
On dealing with the nice ones I would say to myself ‘that someday, if I’m a manager I will be like him/her,’ and seek to duplicate the elements of his management style and persona that I deemed to be good, kind, just and fair.
Likewise when meeting bad people, bad employers or bad managers I would silently say to myself that “I would never be like that arsehole!’
The good managers were respectful, understanding, kind and considerate, caring not only about the work but about the mental well-being of the people working for them, contrasted with the bad ones that didn’t give a ‘shit,’ barked orders, shouted everybody down, interrupted work and were reactively lurching from one crisis to another stressing everybody as they did so.
No wonder people used to ring in ‘sick,’ unable to face the day, which further pressured the already hectic workplace. Some workplaces became hell-holes that nobody would stick around in for too long. I learned an important lesson back then that people valued being treated well as more important than being paid well.
The first book, ‘Debt’s and Lessons’ teaches you that stoically it’s important that bad examples of both persona and skill are not to be followed. As a true stoic you are concerned only with living a good life of virtue derived from use of your rational faculties.
Good examples or positive ‘role models,’ are to be not only admired but gratefully received into your own consciousness as harbingers of virtue, especially if they’ve gifted you with a nice personality trait or a pattern of good behaviour that makes you a better man or woman as a result of their influence.
“MY FIRST TEACHER
“Not to support this side or that in chariot-racing, this fighter or that in the games. To put up with discomfort and not to make demands. To do my own work, mind my own business, and have no time for slanderers.’
Marcus’s First Teacher is unnamed, and probably a slave, nevertheless Marcus takes time to remember him with gratitude and to remember the lessons learned from him, judging his ‘First Teacher,’ by the value of his character and not his lowly birth.
“An example of fatherly authority in the home. What it means to live as nature requires.
“Gravity without airs.
“To show intuitive sympathy for friends, tolerance to amateurs and sloppy thinkers. His ability to get along with everyone: sharing his company was the highest of compliments and the opportunity an honour for those around him.
“To investigate and analyze, with understanding and logic, the principles we ought to live by.
“Not to display anger or other emotions. To be free of passion and yet full of love.
“To praise without bombast; to display expertise without pretension.”
So to conclude I spend a few minutes each day, thinking about the good people in my life and silently thanking them for the good influence they bestowed upon me. I feel fantastic as a result, really grateful and humble. It lifts my mood and helps me focus on the day at hand, banishing depression and filling me with a sense of gratitude without inflating my ego.
It also makes me mindful of how much worse my life could be or could have been without the influence of these kind and noble souls, thus peace of mind is assured through the benefits of this simple and noble practice.
One day I might even write it all down in a book, just for my own use of course, so that I might read my words and be reminded fully of just how fortunate and lucky I have been. I would urge you all to do the same and ‘meditate,’ stoically every day.