Favorite Quotes from The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius

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Below is a collection of my favorite quotes from the Robin Hard translation of Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.

Book 2

“At every hour devote yourself in a resolute spirit, as befits a Roman and a man, to fulfilling the task in hand with a scrupulous and unaffected dignity, and with love for others, and independence, and justice; and grant yourself a respite from all other preoccupations. And this you will achieve if you perform every action as though it were your last, freed from all lack of purpose and wilful deviation from the rule of reason, and free from duplicity, self-love, and dissatisfaction with what is allotted to you.” - 2:5

“You ill-treat yourself, ill-treat yourself, O my soul; and no occasion will be left for you to do yourself due honour. For the life of every one of us lasts but a moment, and yours is almost done, and yet you have no respect for yourself, and allow your happiness to depend on what passes in the souls of other people.” - 2:6

“Theophrastus speaks like a true philosopher when he says in his comparison of faluts that faults (for one may make such a comparison when speaking in a more or less popular sense) committed through appetite are graver than those committed through anger. For when a person loses his temper, he seems to turn his back on reason with a kind of pain and unconscious wringing of the heart, but when he offends through appetite and is overpowered by pleasure, he somehow seems more licentious and more unmanly in his wrongdoing. Theophrastus was right, then, and was speaking as befits a philosopher, when he maintained that wrongdoing associated with pleasure calls for harsher condemnation than that associated with pain. Generally speaking, in the latter case the offender is more like a person who has first been injured by another and has been driven by pain to lose his temper, while in the former he has been impelled to do wrong as a result of his own inclination, being carried away by appetite to act as he does.” - 2:10

“There is nothing more pitiable than the person who makes the circuit of everything and, as the poet says, ‘searches into the depths of the earth,’ and tries to read the secrets of his neighbor’s soul, yet fails to perceive that it is enough to hold fast to the guardian-spirit within him and serve it single-mindedly; and this service is to keep it pure from passion and irresponsibility and dissatisfaction with anything that comes from gods or human beings.” - 2:13

“Even if you were to live for three thousand of years or ten times as long you should still remember this, that no one loses any life other than the one that he is living, nor does he live any life other than the one that he loses, so the shortest life and the longest amount to the same. For the present is equal for all, and what is passing must be equal also, so what can be lost is shown to be nothing more than a moment; and no one could lose either the past or the future, for how could he be deprived of what he does not possess? So always bear in mind these two points: firstly that all things are alike in nature from all eternity and recur in cycles, and it therefore makes no difference whether one sees the same spectacle for a hundred years or two hundred or for time everlasting; and secondly that the longest-lived and the earliest to die suffer an equal loss; for it is solely of the present moment that each will be deprived, if it is really the case that this is all he has and a person cannot lose what he does not have.” - 2:14

“Again, our soul does violence to itself when it turns away from any other person or moves against him with the intention of causing him harm, as is the case with those who lose their temper; and thirdly, when it is overcome by pleasure or pain; and fourthly, when it acts a part, and says or does anything under false pretences; and fifthly, when failing to direct any act or impulse of its own towards a definite good, it embarks on anything whatever in an aimless and ill-considered manner, whereas even the most insignificant action should be performed with reference to an end; and the end for all rational creatures is this, to conform to the reason and law of the most venerable of cities and constitutions.” - 2:16

“In human life, the time of our existence is a point, our substance a flux, our senses dull, the fabric of our entire body subject to corruption, our soul ever restless, our destiny beyond divining, and our fame precarious. In a word, all that belongs to the body is a stream in flow, and all that belongs to the soul, a mere dream and delusion, and our life is a war, a brief stay in a foreign land, and our fame thereafter, oblivion.” - 2:17

Book 3

“We must take account not only of the fact that our life is being consumed each day and an ever smaller part of it is left, but also of this, that if one should live longer, it is by no means clear that one’s mind will remain unchanged and still be adequate for the understanding of affairs and for the theoretical reflection that strives after a knowledge of things divine and human… we must act with all urgency, then, not only because we are drawing closer to death at every moment, but also beacuse our power to understand things and pay close attention to them gives out before the end.” - 3:1

“Truths such as this should also be carefully noted, that even the by-products of natural processes have a certain charm and attractiveness. Bread, for instance, in the course of its baking, tends to crack open here and there, and yet these very cracks, which are, in a sense, offences against the baker’s art, somehow appeal to us and, in a curious way, promote our appetite for the food. And again figs, when fully ripe, tend to split open; and in olives which are ready to drop, the very fact of their impending decay lends a peculiar beauty to the fruit. And ears of corn bending towards the earth, and the wrinkled brows of a lion, and the foam dripping from the jaws of a wild boar, and many other things are far from beautiful if one views them isolation, but nevertheless, the fact that they follow from natural processes gives them an added beauty and makes them attractive to us. So if a person is endowed with sensibility and has a deep enough insight into the workings of the universe, he will find scarcely anything which fails to please him in some way by its presence, even among those that arise as secondary effects.” - 3:2

“So what does it all amount to? You climbed aboard, you set sail, and now you have come to port. So step ashore! If to another life, there will be no want of gods even in that other world; but if to insensibility, you will no longer be exposed to pain and pleasure, or be the servant of an earthen vessel as inferior in value as that serving it is superior, the servant being mind and guardian-spirit and the master mud and gore.” - 3:3

“Do not waste what remains of your life in forming impressions about others, unless you are doing so with reference to the common good. For you are depriving yourself of the opportunity for some other action which may be of real benefit, to imagine instead what so-and-so is doing and to what end, and what he is saying or thinking or planning, and give yourself over to other impressions of that kind which serve only to divert you from paying proper attention to your own ruling centre. Rather, you must exclude from the sequence of your thoughts all that is aimless and random, and, above all, idle curiosity and malice; and you must train yourself only to think such thoughts that if somebody were suddenly to ask you, ‘What are you thinking of?’ you could reply in all honesty and without hesitation, of this thing or that, and so make it clear at once from your reply that all within you is simple and benevolent, and worthy of a social being who has no thought for pleasure, or luxury in general, or contentiousness of any kind, or envy, or suspicion, or anything else that you would blush to admit if you had it in your mind.

For such a man, who no longer postpones his endeavor to take his place among the best, is indeed a priest and servant of the gods, behaving rightly towards the deity stationed within him, so ensuring that the mortal being remains unpolluted by pleasures, invulnerable to every pain, untouched by any wrong, unconscious of any evil, a wrestler in the greatest contest of all, never to be overthrown by any passion, deeply steeped in justice, welcoming with his whole heart all that comes about and is allotted to him, and never, save under some great necessity and for the good of his fellows, giving him thought to what another is saying or doing or thinking.” - 3:4

Book 4

“When the ruling power within us is in harmony with nature, it confronts events in such a way that it always adapts itself readily to what is fesible and is granted to it.” - 4:1

“People seek retreats for themselves in the countryside, by the seashore, in the hills; and you too have made it your habit to long for that above all else. But this is altogether unphilosophical, when it is possible for you to retreat into yourself whenever you please; for nowhere can one retreat into greater peace or freedom from care than within one’s own soul.” - 4:3

“If intelligence is common to us all, then so is the reason that makes us rational beings; and if that be so, then so is the reason that prescribes what we should do or not do. If that be so, there is a common law also; if that be so, we are fellow citizens; and if that be so, the world is a kind of state.” - 4:4

“Nothing proceeds from nothing, just as nothing returns to nothing–so our intelligence also has come from some particular source.” - 4:4

“You entered this world as a part, and you will vanish back into that which brought you to birth.” - 4:14

“What ease of mind a person gains if he casts no eye on what his neighbor has said, done, or thought, but looks only to what he himself is doing, to ensure that his own action may be just, and holy, and good in every regard.” - 4:18

“One who feels a passionate desire for posthumous fame fails to recognize that everyone who remembers him will die very swiftly in his turn, and then again the one who takes over from him, until all memory is utterly extinguished as it passes from one person to another and each in succession is lit and then snuffed out.” - 4:19

“I hardly need say that praise means nothing to the dead; but what does it mean to the living, unless, perhaps, it serves some secondary purpose? For you are rejecting inopportunely the gift that nature grants to you in the present, and are setting your mind on what others may say of you.” - 4:19

“Everything that is in any way beautiful is beautiful of itself and complete in itself, and praise has no part in it; for nothing comes to be better or worse for being praised.” - 4:20

“Everything suits me that suits your designs, O my universe. Nothing is too early or too late for me that is in your own good time. All is fruit for me that your seasons bring, O nature. All proceeds from you, all subsists in you, and to you all things return.” - 4:23

“Either an ordered universe, or a heterogeneous mass heaped together which forms no proper order; or can it be that a certain order subsists in you, but disorder in the whole, and that too when things are distinct and yet interfused and bound together by a common sympathy?” - 4:27

“Love the art that you have learned and take your rest in it; and pass through the rest of your life as one who has entrusted all that he has, with a full heart, to the gods, and makes himself neither a tyrant nor a slave to any man.” - 4:31

“Call to mind, say, the time of Vespasian, and you will see the same old things: people marrying, bringing up children, falling sick, dying, fighting wars, feasting, trading, working the land, flattering, putton on airs, suspecting their fellows, hatching plots, praying for the death of others, grumbling at their present lot, falling in love, piling up fortunes, lusting for high office or a crown; and now that the life of theirs is utterly dead and nowhere to be seen. And then pass on to the time of Trajan. Once again the same old things; and that life too is dead. Consider likewise the annals of other ages and of entire nations, and see how many people, after their brief exertions, soon fell prey to death and were resolved into their elements. But above all, you should run over in your mind those whom you yourself have known, who, distracted by vain pursuits, have neglected to do what their own constitution demanded, and to hold firm to this and reset content. And here it is essential to remember that the care bestowed on each action should be proportionate to its worth; for then you will not lose heart and give up, if you are not busying yourself with lesser matters to a greater extent than they deserve.” - 4:32

“All is ephemeral, both that which remembers and that which is remembered.” - 4:35

“There is a stream of things entering into being, and time is a raging torrent; for no sooner does each thing enter our sight than it has been swept away, and another is passing in its place, and that too will be swept away.” - 4:43

“Alwayws remember the saying of Heraclitus, that the death of earth is birth for water, and the death of water is birth for air, and that of air for fire, and conversely.” - 4:46

“If one of the gods informed you, ‘You will die tomorrow or, at any rate, the day after tomorrow’, you would consider it no great matter whether it were the day after tomorrow rather than tomorrow, unless, indeed, you were a terrible coward, for the difference is minimal; so likewise, consider it no great matter whether you will die after many a long year rather than tomorrow.” - 4:47

“In a word, never cease to observe how evanescent are all things human, and how worthless: today a drop of mucus, and tomorrow a mummy or a pile of ash. So make your way through this brief moment of time as one who is obedient to nature, and accept your end with a cheerful heart, just as an olive might ripen and fall, blessing the earth that bore it and grateful to the tree that gave it growth.” - 4:48

“Be like the headland, with wave after wave breaking against it, which yet stands firm and sees the boiling waters round it fall to rest. ‘Unfortunate am I that this has befallen me.’ No, quite the contrary: ‘Fortunate am I, that when such a thing has befallen me, I remain undisturbed, neither crushed by the present nor afraid of what is to come.’ For such a thing could have happened to anyone, but not everyone would have remained undisturbed in the face of such a blow.” - 4:49

Book 5

“So were you born for pleasure or, in general, for feeling, or for action? Do you not see how the little plants, the little birds, the ants, the spiders, the bees, each do their own work and play their part in the proper running of the universe? And will you, then, for your part, refuse to do the work of a human being? Will you not hasten to do what your nature requires of you?” - 5:1

“They cannot admire you for the sharpness of your mind. So be it, but there is much else of which you cannot say, ‘I have no gift for that.’ So display the qualities that are wholly within your power, sincerity, dignity, endurance, disdain for sensual pleasure, satisfaction with your lot, contentment with little, kindness, freedom, frugality, avoidance of idle character, and elevation of mind. Do you not see how many fine qualities you are already able to display, for which you can offer no excuse of want of natural talent or lack of aptitude?” - 5:5

“And so such a person, when he has done a good deed, does not shout about it, but passes straight on to the next one, as the vine yields new clusters of grapes when the season comes around.” - 5:6

“I am composed of the formal and the material; and neither of these will perish into nothingness, just as neither arose from nothingness. Thus every part of me will be appointed by change to a new position of some part of the universe, and that again will be changed to form another part of the universe, and so on to infinity.” - 5:13

“Revere the highest power in the universe, the power that makes use of all things and presides over all. And likewise, revere the highest power in yourself: and this power is of one kind with the other. For in yourself too, this is what makes use of everything else, and your life is governed by it.” - 5:21

“Think of substance in its entirety, of which you have the smallest of shares; and of time in its entirety, of which a brief and momentary span has been assigned to you; and of the works of destiny, and how very small is your part in them.” - 5:24

“Live with the gods. And he is living with the gods who constantly displays to them a soul that is satisfied with the lot assigned to it, and who is obedient to the will of the guardian-spirit which Zeus has granted to each of us as a portion of his own being to serve as our overseer and guide; and this guardian-spirit is the mind and reason of each one of us.” - 5:27

Book 6

“Let it make no difference to you whether you are shivering or warm if only you are doing your duty, or whether you are over-tired or have had sufficient sleep, or are greeted with disparagement or praise, or are in the process of dying, or are busy with something else. For even the act of dying is one of the acts of our life; and so in that, too, it is enough to make good use of what the moment brings.” - 6:2

“The ruling centre is that which arouse itself, and adapts itself, and fashions itself according to its will, and makes what ever happens to it appear to itself as it wishes it to be.” - 6:8

“Either a hotchpotch and the entangling of atoms and their dispersal, or else unity, order, and providence. If the first thought is true, why should I even wish to linger in such a random assemblage and chaotic disarray? Why should I be concerned about anything other than how, one day, I shall ‘turn to earth’? And why, indeed, should that trouble me? For dispersal will be my lot whatever I do. But if the other alternative is true, I submit reverently, I stand secure, I place my trust in the power that governs all.” - 6:10

“When you have savouries and fine dishes set before you, you will gain an idea of their nature if you tell yourself that this is the corpse of a fish, and that the corpse of a bird or a pig; or again, that fine Falernian wine is merely grape-juice, and this purple robe some sheep’s wool dipped in the blood of a shellfish; and as for sexual intercourse, it is the friction of a piece of gut and, following a sort of convulsion, the expulsion of some mucus. Thoughts such as these reach through to the things themselves and strike to the heart of them, allowing us to see them as they truly are. So follow this practice throughout your life, and where things seem most worthy of your approval, lay them naked, and see how cheap they are, and strip them of the pretences of which they are so vain.” - 6:13

“At all times some things are hastening to come into being, and others to be no more; and of that which is coming to be, some part is already extinct. Flux and transformation are forever renewing the world, as the ever-flowing stream of time makes boundless eternity forever young. So in this torrent, in which one can find no place to stand, which of the things that go rushing past should one value at any great price? It is as though one began to lose one’s heart to a little sparrow flitting by, and no sooner has one done so than it has vanished from sight. Indeed, the very life of every one of us is like an exhalation from our blood or inhalation from the atmosphere; for such as it is to draw a breath of air into your lungs and then surrender it, so it is to surrender your power of respiration as a whole, which you acquired but yesterday or the day before at the time of your birth, and are now surrendering to the source from which you first drew it.” - 6:15

“If anyone can give me good reason to think that I am going astray in my thoughts or my actions, I will gladly change my ways. For I seek the truth, which has never caused harm to anyone; no, the person who is harmed is one who persists in his self-deception and ignorance.” - 6:21

“Alexander the Great and his stable boy were brought to the same level in death; for they were either taken back into the same generative principle of the universe or were scattered one and both into atoms.” - 6:24

“Death is a rest from the recalcitrance of sense, and from the impulses that pull us around like a puppet, and from the vagaries of discursive thought, and from our service to the flesh.” - 6:28

“Recover your senses, call yourself back, and now that you have roused yourself from your sleep and realized that these were mere dreams that were troubling you, look at these things as you looked at those.” - 6:31

“In this world there is only one thing of real value, to pass our days in truth and justice, and yet be gracious to those who are false and unjust.” - 6:47

“The glory-hunter holds that his own good lies in the activity of others, and the pleasure-seeker that it lies in his own sensations; but one who has understanding holds that it lies in his own activity.” - 6:51

“If the crew spoke ill of the captain or the patients of the doctor, would they be concerned with anything other than how that person could ensure the safety of his crew or the health of his patients?” - 6:55

“No one can prevent you from living according to the rule of your own nature; and nothing can happen to you which is contrary to the rule of universal nature.” - 6:58

Book 7

“How many people whose praises were once widely sung are now consigned to oblivion; and how many who sang their praises are gone and departed long singe.” - 7:6

“Do not allow the future to trouble your mind; for you will come to it, if come you must, bringing with you the same reason that you now apply to the affairs of the present.” - 7:8

“Is one afraid of change? Why, when what can come about without change? And what is nearer and dearer to universal nature? Can you yourself take a hot bath unless the firewood suffers change? Can you be nourished unless your food suffers change? Can anything else of value be accomplished without change? And do you not see, then, that change in yourself is of a similar nature, and similarly necessary to universal nature?” - 7:18

“Whenever someone wrongs you, ask yourself at once, ‘What conception of good and evil led him to commit such a wrong?‘” - 7:26

“It is absurd not to try to escape from one’s wickedness, which is possible, but equally absurd to try to escape from that of others, which is impossible.” - 7:71

Book 8

“Do not disturb yourself by picturing your life as a whole; do not assemble in your mind the many and varied troubles which have come to you in the past and will come again in the future, but ask yourself with regard to every present difficulty: ‘What is there in this that is unbearable and beyond endurance?’ You would be ashamed to confess it! And then remind yourself that it is not the future or what has passed that afflicts you, but always the present, and the power of this is much diminised if you take it in isolation and call your mind to task if it thinks it cannot stand up to it when taken on its own.” - 8:36

“Remember that your ruling centre becomes invincible when it withdraws into itself and rests content with itself, doing nothing other than what it wishes… By virtue of this, an intelligence free from passions is a mighty citadel; for man has no stronghold more secure to which he can retreat to remain unassailable from that time onward.” - 8:48

“The cucumber is bitter? Then cast it aside. There are brambles in the path? Step out of the way. That will suffice, and you need not ask in addition, ‘Why did such things ever come into the world?‘” - 8:50

“One who is afraid of death fears either an absence of consciousness or its alteration. But if consciousness is no longer present, you will no longer be conscious of any evil; and if you come ot have a somewhat altered consciousness, you will merely be a living creature of another kind, and you will not have ceased to live.” - 8:58

Book 9

“Whoever commits injustice acts irreverently, for since universal nature has created rational creatures for the sake of one another, to benefit their fellows according to their deserts and in no way to do them harm, it is plain that one who offends against her will is guilty of irreverence towards the most venerable of gods. And furthermore, one who lies is guilty of irreverence towards the same god; for she is also called Truth, and is the first cause of all truths. So one who lies intentionally is guilty of impiety, in so far as he commits wrong through deception; and one who lies unintentionally is also impious, in so far as he is out of tune with universal nature, and gives rise to disorder by entering into conflict with the natural order of the universe. For one who embarks of his own accord on a course which leads him to oppose the truth does enter into such a conflict, because he has received the necessary aptitudes from nature but has so neglected them that he is no longer capable of distinguishing falsehood from truth.

Again, one who pursues pleasures as being good and tries to avoid pains as being bad is acting irreverently; for it is inevitable that such a person must often find fault with universal nature for assigning something to good people or bad that is contrary to their deserts, because it is so often the case that the bad devote themselves to pleasure and secure the things that give rise to it while the good encounter pain and what gives rise to that.

And furthermore, one who is afraid of pain is sure to be afraid at times of things which come about in the universe, and that is already an impiety; and one who pursues pleaseure will not abstain from injustice, and that is a manifest impiety. But towards those things with regard to which universal nature is neutral (for she would not have created both opposites unless she was neutral with regard to both), it is necessary that those who wish to follow nature and be of one mind with her should also adopt a neutral attitude. Accordingly, anyone who is not himself neutral towards pleasure and pain, or life and death, or reptuation and disrepute, to which universal nature adopts a neutral attitude, commits a manifest impeity.

And when I say that universal nature employs these things in a neutral manner, I mean that, through the natural sequence of cause and effect, they happen indifferently to all that comes into being and whose existence is consequent upon a primeval impulse of providence, by which it set out from a first beginning to create the present order of things, having conceived certain principles of all that was to be, and assigned powers to generate the necessary substances and transformations and successions.” - 9:1

“Do not despise death, but wlcome it gladly, for this too is among the things that nature wishes. For as are youth and old age, growth and maturity, the appearance of teeth and whiskers and white hairs, and contraception, pregnancy, and childbirth, and all the other natural functions which the seasons of life bring around, so too is our very dissolution. It is the part, then, of one who is trained to reason, not to be casual in his approach to death, and neither to reject it violently nor treat it with disdain, but to await its coming as one of life’s natural functions; and as you now await the time when your unborn child will be delivered from the womb of your wife, so await the hour when your soul will break free of its bodily shell.

But if, in addition, you would like an unphilosophical rule which appeals to the heart, nothing will make you more cheerful in the face of death than to consider the things from which you are about to be parted, and the sort of characters with whom your soul will no longer be entangled. for although you should in no way be repelled by them, but rather take care of them and bear with them gently, you should nevertheless bear in mind that death will not part you from people who share the same principles as yourself; for this alone, if anything, could draw you back and detain you in life, that you would be allowed to live with people who had adopted the same principles as yourself. But as things are, you see how utterly wearisome is the discord of the life that you share with them, and you are moved to say, ‘Come quickly, death, or one of these days I too may forget myself.‘” - 9:3

“A person often acts unjustly by what he fails to do, and not only by what he does.” - 9:5

“Toil, not as one who is miserable, nor as one who wishes to be pitied or admired, but direct your will to one thing alone, to set to work or take your rest as the reason of the city requires.” - 9:12

“If it is not in feeling but in action that the good of a rational social creature lies; just as his virtue or wickedness lies not in feeling but in action.” - 9:16

“All is in the course of change; and you yourself are constantly changing and, in a sense, passing away; and so too is the entire universe.” - 9:19

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“All that you now see will very swiftly pass away, and those who have watched it passing will swiftly pass away in their turn, and he who dies in extreme old age will be brought to a level with one who has died before his time.” - 9:33

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Book 10

“Everything that happens either happens in such a way that you are fitted by nature to bear it or in such a way that you are not. If, then, it comes about in such a way that you are fitted by nature to bear it, make no complaint, but bear it as your nature enables you to do; but if it comes about in such a way that you are not fitted by nature to bear it, again you should make no complaint, for it will soon be the end of you. Remember, however, that you are fitted by nature to bear everything that you can render bearable and endurable through the exercise of your judgement, by suggesting the idea to yourself that your interest or your duty demands it.” - 10:3

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“Small is the span of time now left to you. Live as on a mountaintop, for what matter whether you live here or there, if everywhere you live in this great city of the universe? Let people see, let them study, a true man who lives according to nature. If they cannot bear with him, let them kill him! For it were better to die than to live such lives as theirs.” - 10:15

“Look carefully at every existing thing and reflect that its dissolution is already under way and it is in the course of change and, as it were, of decay or dispersal, or is dying in whatever way its nature appoints.” - 10:18

“As you engage in each particular action, stop and ask yourself this question: is death something terrible because I would be deprived of this?” - 10:29

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Book 11

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“In writing and reading, you cannot be the intructor before you have been instructed. How much more so in the art of living!” - 11:29

“Epictetus used to say that when you kiss your child you should say silenty ‘Tomorrow, perhaps, you will meet your death.’–But those are words of ill omen.–‘Not at all,’ he replied, ‘nothing can be ill-omened that points to a natural process; or else it would be ill-omened to talk of the grain being harvested.‘” - 11:34

Book 12

“I have often marvelled at how everyone loves himself above all others, yet places less value on his own opinion of himself than that of everyone else. At all events, if a god or some wise teacher presented himself and told him not to entertain any thought or idea in his mind without stating it aloud as soon as he had conceived it, he would not abide it for even a single day. So much the greater is our respect for what our neighbours think of us than what we think of ourselves!” - 12:4

“How ridiculous and ignorant of the world is one who is surprised at anything that comes to pass in life.” - 12:13

“Always consider exactly what it is that is creating an impression in your mind, and unfold its nature by analysing it into its cause, its matter, its relation, and its natural duration within which it must reach its cessation.” - 12:18

“Realize at last that you have something more powerful and more divine within you than the things that give rise to your passions and set you moving like a puppet. What is your mind taken up with at the present moment? Is it not fear? Suspicion? Appetite? Or something else of that kind?” - 12:19

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