Concentrate every minute like a Roman—like a man—on doing what’s in front of you with precise and genuine seriousness, tenderly, willingly, with justice. And on freeing yourself from all other distractions. Yes, you can—if you do everything as if it were the last thing you were doing in your life, and stop being aimless, stop letting your emotions override what your mind tells you, stop being hypocritical, self-centered, irritable. You see how few things you have to do to live a satisfying and reverent life? If you can manage this, that’s all even the gods can ask of you.
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
The famous statue of Marcus Aurelius on the Capitoline hill in Rome bespeaks the same reality as these words of his Meditations. Here is a man resolute in his purpose. He knows what he’s about, and he realizes what life requires of him at each moment.
Concentrate. Gather your attention in such a way that there is a center in everything you do. A center is a point of focus, and a point from which to measure everything. Every action will be different if it radiates, as it were, from the center.
Aurelius’s words offer eye-opening insight into the various things that undermine our concentration. How often our emotions carry us away from the center, overriding what we know in our mind, or should have known. Or, we are hypocritical—like a stage actor, more concerned with how we appear than how we really are.
Then the real stopper: we are self-centered, which in fact is always to lose our center, forfeiting real concentration: just as surely as the artisan/craftsman of any kind that focuses first on himself can never really excel in his craft. And we are irritable, which invariably means we are distracted from really matters most.
A satisfying and reverent life: what a lovely couplet capturing a precious and rare reality! This Roman does what the greatest of Romans do for us: remind us of a central aspect of being human. We must discern the center, and learn to con-centrate. In all that we do. In a sense, it really is that simple, and that wonderful.
Personal Note: Recently while walking through Rome with some of my family, we came upon this statue. We were committed to going everywhere by foot on a beautiful sunny morning, and having misinterpreted our map regarding how to get to the Colosseum from our flat across the river in Trastevere, we found ourselves climbing up the backside of the Capitoline hill. The next thing we knew, we were in the presence of Emperor Marcus Aurelius astride his trusty steed. What a delight, as I was already steeping myself in his Meditations.
Marcus Aurelius (121-180 A.D.) was a philosopher and Roman emperor. His Meditations is a classic of Western thought.
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