Marcus Aurelius on Time and Change

Written by Daniel Seeker

Dec 10, 2023

Everything is subject to change, whether we like it or not. Contemplating the constancy of change, whether from a philosophical perspective or a spiritual, can be a great way of cutting away redundant elements present in your life. This can be in the form of bad habits that you do in your everyday life or simply in how you think. When you know deeply that everything you perceive is subject to change, that nothing will stay the same in the long run, that includes your body, thoughts, feelings, sensations, other people, the world, nature or the universe at large, you naturally derive a sense of gratitude and humility towards life.

When you fight change, you’re fighting a battle that cannot be won. By embracing and understanding change you come into a certain psychological harmony with nature and life. The stoic philosophers of old understood this very well. They knew that everything they perceived was changing moment to moment, and that is why they emphasized the primacy of living a good life with a balanced mind amidst this constant change.

In this video, I’ve collected a handful of quotes by perhaps the most influential stoic philosopher of the ancient Roman world, namely Marcus Aurelius. Together we’ll dive deeper into his powerful words, thoughts and the profound lessons which we can learn from them.

First, as an introduction, let us briefly go through the life of the emperor, Marcus Aurelius.

Biography

Marcus Aurelius, the 2nd-century Roman emperor-philosopher, is best known for being the author of the work “Meditations”, a private philosophical diary offering a unique blend of practical exercises and original philosophical analysis.

Born in the year 121, and reigning until his passing at the age of nearly 59, Marcus, the last of the so called “Five Good Emperors”, was carefully chosen for his merit, having been adopted by Antoninus Pius under Emperor Hadrian’s directive.

Guided by Stoic philosophy, Marcus faced many challenges during his rule, including wars, rebellions, and a devastating plague that killed millions in the empire, with “Meditations” serving as a Stoic compass in navigating adversity.

Marcus’s legacy lies not only in stabilizing the Roman Empire but also in his timeless philosophical wisdom. “Meditations” is not just a guide for personal resilience but a reflection on existential questions and the complexities of being human.


Quotes & Excerpts

The universe is transformation: life is opinion.
Marcus Aurelius (Meditations – Book IV, 167 A.C.E.)

How soon will time cover all things, and how many it has covered already.
Marcus Aurelius (Meditations – Book VI, 167 A.C.E.)

How quickly things disappear: in the universe the bodies themselves, but in time the memory of them.
Marcus Aurelius (Meditations – Book II, 167 A.C.E.)

I am composed of the formal and the material; and neither of them will perish into non-existence, as neither of them came into existence out of non-existence. Every part of me then will be reduced by change into some part of the universe, and that again will change into another part of the universe, and so on for ever. And by consequence of such a change I too exist, and those who begot me, and so on for ever in the other direction. For nothing hinders us from saying so, even if the universe is administered according to definite periods of revolution.
Marcus Aurelius (Meditations – Book V, 167 A.C.E.)

This then remains: Remember to retire into this little territory of thy own, and above all do not distract or strain thyself, but be free, and look at things as a man, as a human being, as a citizen, as a mortal. But among the things readiest to thy hand to which thou shalt turn, let there be these, which are two. One is that things do not touch the soul, for they are external and remain immovable; but our perturbations come only from the opinion which is within. The other is that all these things, which thou seest, change immediately and will no longer be; and constantly bear in mind how many of these changes thou hast already witnessed. The universe is transformation: life is opinion.
Marcus Aurelius (Meditations – Book IV, 167 A.C.E.)

I am composed of the formal and the material; and neither of them will perish into non-existence, as neither of them came into existence out of non-existence. Every part of me then will be reduced by change into some part of the universe, and that again will change into another part of the universe, and so on for ever. And by consequence of such a change I too exist, and those who begot me, and so on for ever in the other direction. For nothing hinders us from saying so, even if the universe is administered according to definite periods of revolution.
Marcus Aurelius (Meditations – Book V, 167 A.C.E.)

Consider that before long you will be nobody and nowhere, nor will any of the things exist that you now see, nor any of those who are now living. For all things are formed by nature to change and be turned and to perish in order that other things in continuous succession may exist.
Marcus Aurelius (Meditations – Book X, 167 A.C.E.)

How small a part of the boundless and unfathomable time is assigned to every man! For it is very soon swallowed up in the eternal. And how small a part of the whole substance! And how small a part of the universal soul! And on what a small clod of the whole earth you creep!
Marcus Aurelius (Meditations – Book XII, 167 A.C.E.)

Acquire the contemplative way of seeing how all things change into one another, and constantly attend to it, and exercise yourself about this part of philosophy. For nothing is so much adapted to produce magnanimity. Such a man has put off the body, and as he sees that he must, no one knows how soon, go away from among men and leave everything here, he gives himself up entirely to just doing in all his actions, and in everything else that happens he resigns himself to the universal nature…

Constantly contemplate the whole of time and the whole of substance, and consider that all individual things as to substance are a grain of a fig, and as to time, the turning of a gimlet.

Look at everything that exists, and observe that it is already in dissolution and in change, and as it were putrefaction or dispersion, or that everything is so constituted by nature as to die…

That is for the good of each thing, which the universal nature brings to each. And it is for its good at the time when nature brings it.
Marcus Aurelius (Meditations – Book X, 167 A.C.E.)

Is any man afraid of change? What can take place without change? What then is more pleasing or more suitable to the universal nature? And can you take a hot bath unless the wood for the fire undergoes a change? And can you be nourished unless the food undergoes a change? And can anything else that is useful be accomplished without change? Do you not see then that for yourself also to change is just the same, and equally necessary for the universal nature?… Nature which governs the whole, will soon change all things which you see, and out of their substance will make other things, and again other things from the substance of them, in order that the world may be ever new.
Marcus Aurelius (Meditations – Book VII, 167 A.C.E.)


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<a href="https://nirvanic.co/author/seeker/" target="_self">Daniel Seeker</a>

Daniel Seeker

Daniel Seeker is a wandering dervish, creator of Nirvanic and a lifelong student of the past, present and future. He realized that he was made of immaculate and timeless consciousness when meditating in his hermit cave on the island of Gotland. His writings and his online course are mostly a reflection of that realizaton. Daniel has studied history, philosophy, egyptology and western esotericism at Uppsala Universitet. He’s currently writing his B.A. thesis in history which explores how Buddhist and Hindu texts were first properly translated and introduced to the western world in the late 18th and 19th century.

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