If Marcus Aurelius had his choice, he probably never would have been emperor. If he could have chosen how his reign would go, he probably wouldn’t have spent it at war, far from home, either. But that was how life went. Those were the cards he was dealt.
What’s remarkable, though, is what he did with those cards, particularly in regards to the last part. Ernest Renan observed that Marcus’s Meditations—one of the most valuable and beautiful books ever created—came about because Marcus was “deprived of the ordinary society of learned men and philosophers” while deep in hostile territory.
Marcus wrote in Meditations that “what stands in the way becomes the way.” Really, the quiet scribbling he did in his tent was incredible proof of that idea. If things had gone differently, if he’d been able to enjoy a reign of peace and comfort at home, he may never have written a word. It was only because he was stuck at the front, because he was lonely and desperately needed mental stimulation, that he ended up recording this stunning and unprecedented examination of his own conscience. Under normal circumstances, he wouldn’t have needed to.
This is something that we need to remember when we are stuck somewhere or reckoning with an unpleasant loss of control. First off, that’s life. It doesn’t always go how we want it to go. Second, we have no idea what good might come of this. Even our own recent past can show that sometimes the worst experiences and circumstances can turn out to have been for the best. And third—and most importantly—each one of us possesses the power to actively transform what is in the way into the way.
Marcus did it. We can do it, too.
The front features a great mountain. The back shows Marcus’s enduring words: “The impediment to action advances action, what stands in the way becomes the way.”
Our hope is that when you encounter these obstacles you’ll feel the pendant around your neck and remember that each obstacle offers a chance to thrive no