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Book Summary Notes

The Inner Citadel

"Soon, you will have forgotten everything. Soon, everybody will have forgotten you. ~ Marcus Aurelius, Meditations"

“Marcus Aurelius was wrong. Eighteen centuries—almost two millennia—have passed, and the Meditations are still alive. Nor have their pages been reserved to a few aristocrats of the intellect, like Shaftesbury, Frederick II, or Goethe: on the contrary, for centuries they have brought reasons to live to innumerable unknown people, who have been able to read them in the multiple translations of the Meditations which have been made in every corner of the earth; and they still do so today."

"The Meditations are an inexhaustible source of wisdom; an ‘eternal Gospel,’ in Renan’s words."

"My intention, which is to offer the modern reader an introduction to the readings of the Meditations, will thus perhaps not be without usefulness. I will try to discover what Marcus wanted to accomplish by writing them, to specify the literary genre to which they belong, and, especially, to define their relationships with the philosophical system which inspired them. Finally, without trying to produce a biography of the emperor, I will try to determine how much of him is visible in his work.”

Why does something last millennia?

Something at the core of Meditations strikes something inside each one of us..

That's why it's lasted so long.. 

That's why we're reading this book.. 

That's why we're watching this video..

The content inside of mediations is the same content that is inside all of us.. 

  • The struggles to live up to our virtues.. 
  • The struggles to live the good life.. 
  • The struggles every human goes through!

I have yet to find a more elegant and simple way of describing these struggles than Stoicism provides..

Another helpful thing Stoicism provides us is many different angles and articulations of the 'solutions' that it's practitioners have found.. 

Practice

“Such writing exercises thus lead necessarily to incessant repetitions, and this is what radically differentiates the Meditations from every other work. Dogmas are not mathematical rules, learned once and for all and then mechanically applied. Rather, they must somehow become achievements of awareness, intuitions, emotions, and moral experiences which have the intensity of a mystical experience or a vision. This spiritual and affective spirituality is, however, quick to dissipate. In order to reawaken it, it is not enough to reread what has already been written. Written pages are already dead, and the Meditations were not made to be reread."

"What counts is the reformulation: the act of writing or talking to oneself, right now, in the very moment when one needs to write. It is also the act of composing with the greatest care possible: to search for that version which, at a given moment, will produce the greatest effect, in the moment before it fades away, almost instantaneously, almost as soon as it is written. Characters traced onto some medium do not fix anything: everything is in the act of writing. Thus, we witness a succession of new attempts at composition, repetitions of the same formulas, and endless variations on the same themes: the themes of Epictetus."

"The goal is to reactualize, rekindle, and ceaselessly reawaken an inner state which is in constant danger of being numbed or extinguished. The task—ever-renewed—is to bring back to order an inner discourse which becomes dispersed and diluted in the futility of routine."

"As he wrote the Meditations, Marcus was thus practicing Stoic spiritual exercises. He was using writing as a technique or procedure in order to influence himself, and to transform his inner discourse by meditating on the Stoic dogmas and rules of life. This was an exercise of writing day by day, ever-renewed, always taken up again and always needing to be taken up again, since the true philosopher is he who is conscious of not yet having attained wisdom.”

Reactualizing, rekindling and reawakening our inner state which is in danger of being numbed or extinguished!

That's what this journey is really all about!

  • Wisdom coming from all of the amazing books we've read isn't a computer program..  
  • Not something we can download and immediately be ready to boot up anytime something difficult happens!

What does the roadmap truly look like?

Finding wisdom and insight wherever we can..

  • Books
  • Meditations
  • Journalling
  • Conversation

Doing our best to continue to re-kindle and re-learn from different perspectives every single day! 

Continuing to grow the spark inside of us that seeks this wisdom..

Something I have noticed in coaching clients..

Often I get coaching clients looking to start a business, achieve a goal or get into better shape!  (Great) 

But one common thing I've found is that most of these people have tried a plan before..  

  • Business plan
  • Fitness plan
  • Career plan

Along the way somewhere they have 'failed' and didn't achieve what they set out to do..  They turn around and blame the plan!  Subsequently they get discouraged.

Here is the secret I share with all of them..  The 'plan' is not a mathematical model!  It's never going to be perfect!

Our job is to set out along the path, find insight and grow our wisdom..  Making changes along the way!  

Therefore..  The beginning plan almost doesn't matter!  The end plan will always be much different. 

This doesn't mean we can't stand on the shoulders of giants..  But it does mean we have to be willing to adapt along the way.  Re-actualize, rekindle and reawaken!

Inner Citadel

"In order to understand what Marcus Aurelius means when he says that things cannot touch the soul and are outside of us, we must bear in mind that when he speaks about ‘us’ and about the soul, he is thinking of that superior or guiding part of the soul." 

"It alone is free, because it alone can give or refuse its assent to that inner discourse which enunciates what the object is which is represented by a given phantasia. This borderline which objects cannot cross, this inviolable stronghold of freedom, is the limit of what I shall refer to as the ‘inner citadel.’ Things cannot penetrate into this citadel.

"When the guiding principle thus discovers that it is free in its judgments, that it can give whatever value it pleases to the events which happen to it, and that nothing can force it to commit moral evil, then it experiences a feeling of absolute security. From now on, it feels, nothing can invade or disturb it. It is like a cliff against which the crashing surf breaks constantly, while it remains standing unmovably as the waves come, bubbling, to die at its feet.”

“What troubles people is not things, but their judgments about things.” - Epictetus

The surf breaks crashing on the shore..

  • This is a state we all know too well!  It's where things like fears, doubts, uncertainties and anxieties live.
  • These states or emotions are in the Stoics eyes avoidable and in fact chosen!

What is the Inner Citadel?

  • Citadel: A fortress, typically on high ground, protecting or dominating a city. 
  • The Inner Citadel might be thought of as our higher mind..  Trained to choose our response to the outside world!  Protecting us from things like fears, doubts uncertainties and anxieties. 

How might we go about building our fortress?

  • “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing; the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” - Viktor Frankl
  • Viktor Frankl (a very Stoic thinker) believe that between the stimulus (outside) and response (inside) there was a space..  Just enough for us to make a choice.  
  • How are we going to react to this object or reality?
  • I believe that building our citadel happens right there.  Each time we choose a different (more virtuous) response we add one brick to the citadel..

What a great exercise!  

  • Step one: Come up against something difficult
  • Step two: Choose a virtuous response
  • Step three: Mentally add that brick to the citadel

Daimon

“Although the self may thus raise itself to a transcendent level, it is very difficult for it to keep itself there. The figure of the daimōn allows Marcus Aurelius to express, in religious terms, the absolute value of moral intent and the love of moral good. No value is superior to virtue and the inner daimōn, and everything else, compared to the mysteries which honor the eminent dignity of the inner daimōn, is worthless petty-mindedness.”

Who are you at your highest level?  [Daimon]

The Daimon is essentially the highest version of you.  (I like to think of it as the wisest version of myself). 

This is you on your best path!  Holding high your virtues and keeping tabs on if you're living up to them. 

Every moment we are alive there is a highest version of ourselves calling us towards it!

Time for an exercise!  What virtues does your inner Daimon uphold?

Find some virtues that you tend to have trouble upholding and imagine how your Daimon thinks of them.. 

Bring it into action!  The cameraman analogy. 

  • Anticipating something difficult?  Try this. 
  • Step one: Imagine your Daimon holding a camera on you in the situation..  
  • Step two: Think about how you might act given this is going to be recorded and played over and over again. 
  • Step three: Act so that you would be able to watch the video without being ashamed.

Fire

“The paradox of fire, which grows stronger the more things are brought to it which could smother it, or at least present an obstacle to it, is the same as the paradox of good will."

"The latter is not content with one field of exercise, but assimilates all objects, including the most diverse goals, communicating its goodness and perfection to all the events to which it consents."

"Fire and the good will are thus utterly free with regard to the matter they use; their matter is indifferent to them, and the obstacles which are set in their way do nothing but feed them. In other words, nothing is an obstacle for them.”

“That which impeded action thus becomes profitable to action, and that which blocked the road allows me to advance along the road.” - Marcus Aurelius 

There are going to be obstacles no matter what you are trying to accomplish..  That much we can be sure! 

  • Why then do we tend to stop when we come across the first obstacle?  
  • Why then do we dwell and worry about obstacles that might be in the way?

The Stoics ask us to think about obstacles in a different way..  

  • How might this obstacle contribute to my ultimate goal? 
  • What might I learn from this obstacle that will give me wisdom for the next one I encounter? 

The more wood you put on the fire the more it has to burn..  What an amazing concept!

  • The more obstacles that are in our way in the long run the stronger we get..  
  • After all that's one of our main goals!  Gain wisdom and get stronger so we may accomplish something exponentially meaningful.

Carpe Diem

"Marcus recalls the imperial courts of the past—that of Augustus, for example—in order to realize that all these people who have, for an instant, come back to life in his memory are in fact long dead."

"This is no more a case of obsession with death or morbid complacency than when, in the film Dead Poets Society, Robin Williams, who plays a teacher of literature, makes his students carefully study a picture of the school’s old boys. In order that his students appreciate the value of life, the teacher wants them to become aware that all the boys in the picture—apparently so alive—are now dead."

"He hopes they will thereby discover life’s preciousness, as he instills in them Horace’s saying Carpe diem (‘Seize the day!’). The only difference in these two outlooks is that for Marcus the only value is not just life, but moral life.”

We'll all be dead someday..  But today we are not!

This is one of the more powerful exercises coming from Stoicism.. 

  • The idea that contemplating and meditating on ones own death gives us the urgency that life desires.. 
  • The Stoics also believe that a moral life was our highest calling.

Today we are much more divorced from death than ever in human history.. 

  • Bodies are taken away by trained professionals and dressed up to look alive even in death..  
  • Most people don't regularly have to deal with death on a deeply personal basis..

But yet.. When we do have to deal with death?  We are charged with energy. 

  • Family, friends or pets die and we have a fire of urgency lit underneath us..  Propelling us to live life to it's fullest!
  • But why wait for such horrid circumstances?  We will all die one day..  Why not just remind yourself.

Carpe Diem: Seize The Day