The world is a moving shift; life a succession of views. Meditations Book IV
One of the recurrent motifs of Meditations is acceptance of the inevitability of change. Raised on the writings of Heraclitus, whose concept of never being able to step in the same river twice is widely known, Marcus Aurelius understood change to be a constant of life. Remember the word of Heraclitus, he wrote, “The death of earth the birth of water, the death of water the birth of air, the death of air, fire.”
Resisting change was therefore futile and foolish in his eyes; you would be fighting the very logic of life. Change was the agent for moving the world forward. The universe is change, he insisted and being is a river in continual flow. Given that we can’t stop the course of events, it is wiser to embrace change and have a chance to shape our own future, he insisted, rather than to have change imposed from without.
All things would change into one another, like unripe grapes ripening and turning into raisins. Nothing, according to Marcus, could exist without change, even though the end of each stage coincided with its death- the birth of the raisin representing the death of the grape. And nothing elevated the mind, he insisted, more than systematically studying the logic of how one things transforms into another.
The savvy individual would not stand against the current of change, but rather like a surfer, time the waves and ride the tide. In our lives we too can learn when to give into timely change and adjust ourselves to new conditions, rather than wait until the change is over-due and sloppily imposed upon us. Whether we soar above or drown under the waves completely depends on our ability to anticipate change and be one step ahead of the events.
During the reign of Tsar Alexander II of Russia (1855-1881), known as the liberator of the serfs, the Tsar when he had decided to grant the indentured peasants their freedom, had announced to the reluctant nobles of Moscow: ” It is better to liberate the peasants from above rather than to wait until they win their freedom from below (by uprisings).” Tsar Alexander clearly understood the perils of siding against History.
The logical conclusion to embracing change is of course embracing our own annihilation, and death meditation (visualizing one’s own death), was a common practice among the Stoics. It was believed that we prepare our whole life to learn how to die with decorum and dignity. Seneca in particular was known to have said: “The wise man will live as long as he ought, not as long as he can,” thereby staying a step ahead of death itself.