I’m rereading Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations. It’s the kind of book that you can open anywhere and find something worthwhile to ponder. My copy is filled with yellow highlights, and I marvel at his prolifically quote-worthy (and tweet-worthy) insights into the challenges of living an excellent human life.
What makes this book so remarkable, I think, is that he was not writing it for anyone but himself. He had no intent to publish what was the private diary of the most powerful man in the world. Instead of filling this journal, though, with the people and events of his life, which certainly would have been of great historical value, he instead wrote of his efforts to master his own mind and live in a virtuous, excellent way. The philosophical value more than makes up for what was lost to history.
Meditations is a sort of extended “note to self” wherein he is clearly talking only to Marcus Aurelius and chiding and encouraging and reminding himself of what should be his focus. There are sentence fragments galore. Some make no sense to me, and others are as starkly profound as anything I’ve read.
Uninhibited by what others might think, Aurelius was free to write with a remarkable rawness and candor that would be unlikely if he were writing for an audience.
This site is my attempt to somehow publicly share a sort of note-to-self journal. I keep a private journal (using Day One), and I find my writing there is not nearly as well thought out as what I post here. Being aware that someone else might read this (hello, lone reader) forces me to craft my thoughts with more care and intention.
Just as inviting people over forces you to clean up your apartment, writing something that other people will read forces you to think well. -Paul Graham
But I don’t want to come across as some pretentious expert with answers and solutions for all. I’m far from it. Yet I want the kind of candor and directness that Marcus has in writing to himself.
How to balance the authenticity a note-to-self approach with the benefits of writing for others? It’s a worthwhile challenge to attempt. Squelch the self-consciousness of being observed yet write with enough awareness of an audience to focus my thinking more sharply.
My imperative sentences are addressed to myself. “Do this…” “Think in this way…” Those are directed at me, and if a reader finds some value as well, excellent. But if I am the only person who derives any benefit from sharing my notes-to-self online, if this effort moves me just a little further along the path toward living a better life, that is excellent, too.
screenshot from my copy of Meditations