Throughout Meditations, the book published after his death containing his writing and personal reflections, Marcus Aurelius focuses on the mind and our thoughts, and how we can use our thoughts to give us guidance. Two areas that he returns to frequently are our life journey and how we think of our journey, and how we think about the people we interact with along our journey. While writing Meditations he was continually reminding himself not to be judgmental of others and to remain focused on the positive in his own life. His spirit is captured in the following quote which merges both of these ideas,
“How much trouble he avoids who does not look to see what his neighbor says or does or thinks, but only to what he does himself, that it may be just and pure; or, as Agathon says, look not round at the depraved morals of others, but run straight along the line without deviating from it.”
What he is saying is that those who begin to focus more on what those around them are doing begin to lose sight of their own lives and actions. When you continually worry if others are working as hard as you then your own work will suffer. If you focus on the things that other people have, you begin to depreciate the things that you have. These types of comparisons may help drive a capitalistic society today, but just as they were dangerous in the second century, in the 21st century they can detract from your overall life.
A better use of time and focus according to aurelius is to look inward and focus on presence. Avoiding lingering thoughts of a gilded past or glorified thoughts of a potential future, we are better served and can make the most of our time on earth if we can focus on where we are now, and how we can make the most of our current actions. Living with goals for the future and understanding and learning from the experiences that have shaped us is key, but when the past or future take over in our lives, then our current self becomes a less important afterthought. Remaining present, and pushing worries about others behind us can allow us to participate in activities we truly enjoy, and to maximize the time in which we actually experience the world. Aurelius continually encouraged himself and wrote down reminders to remain focused on the present, and to not let jealousy or worry over the actions of others detract from his own life.