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Marcus Aurelius in Modern Practice

A modern day life-hack inspired by the renowned Stoic

Like millions of people around the world, I am a frequent re-reader of the book Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.

A practice that Marcus describes in his writing that I am particularly intrigued by is his commitment to “Practiced Poverty.” While he was Emperor of Rome, Marcus would periodically disguise himself in commoner’s clothes and spend a day in the streets among the people. Marcus used this as a reminder of his humanity and sought to connect with the world as viewed from a more common perspective. He craved the lessons that could be gained by temporarily changing his circumstances.

Marcus Aurelius forced himself out of his comfort zone in pursuit of a better understanding of the world, and ultimately of himself. I love it.

After reading this my mind began racing to figure out how I too could temporarily change my circumstances to better appreciate the world. What daily crutches do I unknowingly let keep me from a more measured, human take on my surroundings? The answer quickly became obvious.

There is much discussion about modern society’s addiction to our phones. It is almost universally agreed-upon that less screen time is a goal we should all be striving for, but very few people (myself included) actually commit to practices that help cool their relationship with their phone.

One Saturday afternoon I tried leaving the house for a few hours without my phone. It took only minutes to realize just how hooked on it I was. I experienced a mild panic the first time I reached mindlessly into my pocket for my phone and discovered it wasn’t there. I quickly remembered that I left it behind by choice, and I took this was a sign that I should probably do this more often.

I learned a lot without my phone.

Without Maps, I enjoyed polite conversation with strangers when I needed confirmation on where I was headed.

Without music or podcasts, I listened to the sounds of the streets around me and interacted with familiar neighbourhoods in a deeper way.

While waiting in line for various things, I noticed and valued the small efforts business owners put into the experiences they wish to share with their customers.

Without social media, I was left internalize the things that I saw without the need to post or share getting in the way of a fuller enjoyment of the world.

Many times we try to better ourselves by adding something to our lives. But sometimes we can challenge ourselves just as effectively by taking something away.

I love my phone. It makes work easier, allows me to access new music and ideas, helps me find my way and even kills time when I’m uncomfortable with waiting.

But removing the convenience of mobile connectivity from my life for a few hours has become a regular practice for me. There’s so much around us that requires attention and proper gratitude, and every few days I force myself to do just that.

Like anything else, with practice it gets better every time.

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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