In many sections of his writing in, Meditations, Marcus Aurelius comments on how we react to things around us, and how we can recognize that the outside world does not truly affect who we are, but that our reactions and thoughts are what shape us as human beings. Aurelius writes,
“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 though hast already witnessed. The universe is transformation; life is opinion.”
In this quote Aurelius is explaining the stoic idea that we can chose how to react to the world and events around us, and that we can control our emotions to better behave and think throughout our days and lifetime. There are few things which truly change the brain and shape the way in which the brain functions, and for the most part, how we experience life will be determined by the decisions we make, and how we allow our choices and experiences define us. We can label things as good or bad, but nothing truly is good or evil unless we decide in our mind that it is.
Aurelius is also speaking about the brevity of so many of our experiences in life. It can often be hard to imagine being someplace else, or having different experiences, but whatever our current state is, we likely will live in a massively different state in the future. There are things such as chronic disease or the loss of family which will be permanent and unchangeable, but the way that those things affect us can be temporary and bearable. Aurelius is reminding us that good or bad, we can change our lives and how we experience life through our thoughts and opinions. When we chose to bring a better perspective to our lives we can shape the lens through which we perceive our experiences, and we can chose whether things have positive or negative outcomes for ourselves. Recognizing that things don’t shape us as much as our own mind shapes us shows the importance of mental fortitude, and remembering how quickly life transforms helps us build the grit needed to maintain our thoughts and positivity.