We’ve all had things happen to us in life that seemed like a big deal at the time they occurred. But when looking back at them later we see how irrelevant, even mundane, the event is now. — Irony is a beautiful part of the human experience. — Yet this idea, this knowledge, is often forgotten in our day-to-day lives. It’s so easy for us humans to get attached to things, places and people. Billions of years of evolution gifted our species with this ability. We can imagine past events in our brains and project our needs, wants and worries into the future. But this is not without its downside. We can begin to get distracted with the Now, and neglect the full experience of true consciousness by remaining attached to an element of the past.
By consciousness I mean the experience we call life. The fact that you are reading this, having an experience, means you are conscious. Pure consciousness is uninterrupted awareness of reality and what Is. Free of thought and opinion. Free of the ego. Not everyone reaches such deep-seated enlightenment though, only a few in history have. — And honestly I don’t think I would want to as sometimes it’s best to tune some people out. — But the stoics of hellenistic times uncovered knowledge that can help us drown out interruptions that prevent us from thriving in the Now.
“Observe constantly that all things take place by change, and accustom thyself to consider that the nature of the universe loves nothing so much as to change things which are and to make new things like them. For everything that exists is in a manner the seed of that which will be”
— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
Now this quote merits a “woah, thats deep bro!” Maybe the late Roman Emperor was an edgy teen blasting deep quotes on tumblr and facebook.
But seriously lets examine this observation made in the 3rd century by, at the time, the most powerful man alive. This observation is obscenely obvious that no one can deny it. Nature is constantly changing, it has for billions of years, giving life and taking it along the way. Great nations have risen, many great men have lived and died. Nature brought forth great beasts that we now call dinosaurs and took them away. The very land that we stand on has changed drastically over billions of years. But even at an individual level things are constantly changing.
Our interests, relationships, job, status, possessions, morals et cetera are never edged in stone. We age with time. Our faces develop wrinkles, our muscles fade away, our hair turns grey and our memory declines. No one can deny that nature is constantly changing.
This acceptance of nature, and what Is, is immensely liberating. It is the root of freedom now. When all your attention is spent on the current situation that is before you, instead of harboring attachment to a past situation, you have a higher chance of prospering through it.
In March 15, 44 BC Gaius Julius Caesar was assassinated by a group of suspicious senators, bringing forth the events that would lead to the end of the Roman Republic. Caesars adopted son, born Gaius Octavius Thurinus, seized upon the weak state of Rome and prevailed in the power grab between, a just as determined, Marc Antony. He then became emperor Augustus bringing forth the rise of the Roman Empire. With the end of Caesars life came change that no one alive had ever experienced before. A console of Rome was killed by his own senators. It would seem utterly reprehensible to us had he not taken action because of Caesars death; it’s so obvious he did the right thing. He used the political apparatus to his advantage. There was no room for the past in the new and drastic situation he was in.
We can look at history and see all the times that people accepted a new and drastic situation and prevailed in the face of adversity. It seems so clear to us that they took the right action. We can read history as a story that unravels with change, and those who accept the change wholeheartedly and unapologetic suffer less. They most often prosper.
All of our individual lives are their own story filled with unique experiences and situations. Refusing to accept a situation that life has presented us with, to go against change, is to deny the story itself. (A cliché but beautiful analogy.)We must choose to accept change in whatever form it manifests if we want to live a good life. There is much pain associated with past events as well as good. We must accept them and extract the lessons only. Acceptance of change emancipates you of attachment, and you are left free to deal with the change to the best of your abilities.
‘’For everything that exists is in a manner the seed of that which will be.’’
The beautiful language used by the emperor here illustrates how even our current situation is just laying the grounds to what is to come. Wether a situation is good or bad, we know that it will be over soon, and in it’s place a new situation will rise. With this in mind we can remain detached from external forces and not be affected by them.
Now, stoicism is not complete numbness to emotion. No one’s calling for a zombie like state here, on the contrary. One should enjoy every emotion that makes us feel good.The stoics believed that the individual should be conscious enough to experience every emotion as they arise spontaneously but never get attached to them. In drawing attention to the ever-changing aspects of life, the stoics emphasized the need to enjoy the good parts while they last.
It’s important to know that nothing happens to us that we are not formed by nature to bear. Human problems require human solutions. Great problems arise with change, but it is our job to accept that change and rise above the problems it brings. There is no benefit in trying to go against nature.
“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”
— Winston Churchill