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What to Think About — Marcus Aurelius and the Monkey Mind


Meditations of Marcus Aurelius

Yesterday I was reading through a bit of Meditations by Marcus Aurelius–on the free Kindle books list!–when I had an unpleasant jolt: I’ve never talked about that book here on the blog, despite my belief that it might be the finest book ever written.

If you want to read a book about living a good, productive life, you could do much worse than Meditations.

Now I’m going to paraphrase like a fool and tell you what made me want to write this post:

Aurelius suggests that the best state of mind to be in–now keep in mind that he was a Stoic–is one where you could reveal any thought you were having, at any time, to anyone, and not be embarrassed by it.

No! I don’t want to play.

The implication is that if you’re always thinking worthwhile thoughts, of course you wouldn’t mind sharing them with everyone.

For MA, this would mean your mind was always engaged with questions of reason and self-improvement.

How to be a better father, or son, or brother.

How to be more temperate.

How to be kind.

How to let things slide when they really don’t matter or you can’t change them.

How to avoid boasting.

Using fewer words to mean more.

Living in the moment.

Accepting your fate.

How to trust your own opinions.

That sort of stuff.

I would absolutely not want to get called on every thought I have. My mind is lively, but it’s scattershot. The brain is a wonderful, crazed machine, capable of zillions of connections every minute, many of which I probably wouldn’t share.

On the way to work yesterday, a twenty-minute commute, I thought about the following things:

  • Sex
  • A scene from the John Lithgow season of Dexter
  • How much I was dreading a meeting I had to go to
  • Where I could buy one of those collar-extenders things that make buttoning the top button tolerable
  • What I was going to speak about in April while in Minneapolis
  • I won an argument with a friend from the past
  • Sex
  • When I would find time to work on the book
  • How I was annoyed that I have a pass to a rec center but we don’t use it much
  • I’ve never had a flat tire on a freeway
  • And more

The monkey mind. I have it. Some of these thoughts proceeded from the others. Some just appeared. I’ll be writing about this more in the newsletter that I’ll be putting out this weekend, so if you’re not in the book club and this interests you, jump right in.

I would not say I have the disciplined brain of a philosopher or a stoic, but I think it would be useful at times.

How about you? On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being “I’m proud to share what I’m thinking at any second,” where are you on the scale?

Read the book! It’s short and wonderful.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Spencer March 29, 2012, 10:53 am

    I would fall around a “-2” on your scale. But I appreciated your 20 minutes of candor above. Maybe I will try it, on my own, as an exercise. Don’t be surprised if some of the entries look familiar.

  • Heather March 29, 2012, 12:56 pm

    DUde. . . my score’s so low it’d be a negative number. I’m proud to see, though, that you only put sex down twice. But a tthe same time. . .twice? Only TWICE?????? REALLY?!?!?!? I’ll have to download this one tonight

  • Todd March 30, 2012, 6:43 am

    Heather, what Josh didn’t say was that this was a 30 second breakdown of his thoughts. In that case, thinking about sex twice isn’t bad. 😉

    Seriously, I’m probably somewhere around a 4 or 5 on the scale.