One of the most inspiring messages of Meditations is Marcus Aurelius’s refusal to give into self-pity, even though he had intimately known the taste of tragedy. Most of the twelve books of Meditations had been written in military outposts on the northern and eastern frontiers of the Empire, while Marcus was away from home and defending the borders with the Parthian and Germanic empires. During his lifetime Marcus had witnessed the deaths of most of his thirteen children, and upon returning from his campaigns would also witness millions of his subjects perishing by the Antonine plague. His family legacy was marred by his incompetent and arguably mentally unstable heir Commodus, his only surviving son. Yet Marcus still stood strong. What History has most remembered are not his campaigns, policies or practical measures as leader; rather it is his unvanquished spirit and views on life that have been the most impactful.
You are the architect of your own life- no matter what life could possibly throw at you, he insisted. Marcus understood that the dialectic of life is such that all events and phenomena carry their opposites within them . Nothing that happens is purely good or purely bad; all perceived positive events, carry a kernel of the negative and all that may seem negative, has some positive opportunities built within. It is up to us to see the possibilities. The view taken is everything, Marcus still insisted.
Except that when we are overcome by victim mentality, it becomes harder to discern the opportunity resting within the disaster. Feeling ourselves a victim of fate disempowers us, whereas accepting all that befalls can ironically open the way to discovering the positive possibilities. Like a phoenix reborn from the ashes, we become more resilient with every challenge overcome.
When the sovereign power within is true to nature, it stands ready to adjust itself to every possibility and every chance that may befall…..Obstacles it encountered it converts into material for itself, just as a fire lays hold of things on top…for a blaze of fire at once assimilates all that is heaped on, consumes it, and derives new vigor from the process. Meditations book IV
Throughout his discourses with himself, Marcus reminds himself to be “true to nature,” and not to “quarrel with destiny,” even though destiny had not always been kind to Marcus Aurelius. Instead, he prepares himself for every eventuality, turning the challenge into a strength. He is intent on transforming the obstacle into an asset. Nothing is impossible. Such was the thinking of an empowered leader.
We too can decide to be unharmed by events, growing stronger with every challenge. As Marcus Aurelius had aptly observed: Our fire can burn brighter as it assimilates and transforms obstacles into opportunities.