The Meditations: The Art of Not Caring
By Jason Shin
Marcus Aurelius once said, “He does only what is his to do, and considers constantly what the world has in store for him—doing his best, and trusting that all is for the best. For we carry our fate with us —and it carries us.” In his book The Meditations, Aurelius argues for the value of stoicism by conveying a diversity of concepts on the dichotomy of control and stoic virtue and acceptance, while addressing his harsh emperor life. These concepts are still regarded as one of the most intellectual advice and opinions from the ancient world. Aurelius’ concepts,to this day, yield massive influence on individuals, prompting them to change their mindset for the better while informing them on the attributes of stoicism. Such diverse concepts in the book raise several questions: What are the fundamental beliefs addressed in The Meditations? How does this provide a structural basis of understanding regarding the philosophy of stoicism in general? How can we apply this school of thought to literally master the “Art of Not Caring?”
Fundamentally, the philosophical interpretation of stoicism boils down to the understanding of the dichotomy of control. The dichotomy of control embraces the notion that some events are out of our control, and that we should only worry about the things that are actually within our control. Aurelius writes that some misfortunes are not our fault and dwelling on them won’t incite change. Rather, it is through taking control of the events that we do have power over, that incites change in the first place.
But on a deeper level of understanding, a similar line of reasoning can be applied to understand how we, as human beings, perceive pain by understanding that pain is beyond our control and it’s rather exaggerated by our estimate about it. As Aurelius says in his book, “If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to our estimate of it.” Thisnot only accentuates the cruciality of perception, but also how, with the understanding that some adversities are completely out of our control, we can minimize pain. If we have trust in our own mind, we can overcome obstacles, as evident from Aurelius’s line, “You have power over your mind —not outside events.” As such, even under adversity, if we are unbothered by the events that are out of our command, and as long as we efficiently allot our focus on the present and the things that we can incite change, our hardships will be ameliorated and our days would be easier.
But on an entirely different scope of understanding, Aurelius sees stoic virtue and acceptance in a few different layers. Primarily, with regards to how we can perceive social situations with stoic virtue, Aurelius argues that despite the number of disconveniencing individuals in our social sphere, as humans, we all have innate flaws so putting them under blame is irrational. Rather, we should be mindful of our speech and refrain from shameful sayings that we will regret later. Lastly, he disavowed revenge in general, thinking that it is better not to imitate injury, and that as human beings, we have a natural responsibility to act righteously in an absolute sense and be undisturbed by external factors, like public opinion, in which we have no control over. In essence, these intrinsic values can allow us to achieve stoic virtue and reach stoic acceptance where we can accept and utilize the sociality of our peers to better ourselves.
Beyond the abstract concept itself, these ideologies can be applied to our lives through many practical ways. For instance, the next time we encounter heavy traffic, we can regard it as an opportunity to grow our patience rather than complaining over the delay of hundreds of cars that we have no control over. As such, the simple understanding that complaining wouldn’t yield practical changes can allow us to move past the tragedies and downfalls that life brings. Additionally, instead of worrying over a deadline that we have no command over, we can focus on the things we can do right now, for instance, starting the assignment to solve this obstacle once and for all. Furthermore, instead of being close-minded to certain individuals, we could be more forgiving and virtuous. When in heated conversation with someone, we should refrain from regrettable offenses and instead endeavor to focus on actual matters that will solve the problem itself, like striving to achieve understanding and forgiveness. The list goes on, and it is important for individuals to implement these mindsets along with the many other practical methods not listed in their daily lives.
With the rise of social media, instances where we tremble from our own insecurity and fall into a pit of vulnerability are too ubiquitous. So is the practice of worrying about trivial matters that have no effect. With the mindset of Aurelius, a renowned Roman emperor and stoic, perhaps we can overcome these insecurities and achieve peace within ourselves. It is with my strongest advice, to read and analyze the book yourself, and try to understand the ancient ways to stoicism. As these concepts and lessons are applied in our lives, they will amalgamate into a sophisticated structure of mind, where we have adamantine levels of happiness, determination, endurance, and virtue.