We shrink from change; yet is there anything that can come into being without it? What does Nature hold dearer, or more proper to herself? Could you have a hot bath unless firewood underwent some change? Could you be nourished if the food suffered no change? Is it possible for any useful thing to be achieved without change? Do you not see, then, that change in yourself is of the same order, and no less necessary to Nature?
– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 7:18
Today’s Stoic Week theme is change. The quote chosen for this morning was from Seneca, describing the three branches of Stoic ethics. But last night I happened across this far more apt meditation by Marcus Aurelius.
Nothing happens without change. We live in a universe where entropy, the degree of disorder in a system, is always increasing. To resist such a force is futile. Instead we must embrace change as a necessary condition of our existence.
Change comes in many forms, throughout our lives. Our bodies degrade, we contract illnesses, we recover – or don’t. Our hair grows, and falls out. Lines appear on our forehead, and shadows under our eyes. We meet new friends, then move on and leave each other behind. We fall in love, and we fall out. We learn what entropy is, and forget again.
This is not terrible; this is right. This is the way of Nature. Marcus Aurelius puts it beautifully, so I’ll use his words again:
Is your cucumber bitter? Throw it away. Are there briars in your path? Turn aside. That is enough. Do not go on to say, “Why were things of this sort ever brought into the world?” The student of nature will only laugh at you; just as a carpenter or a shoemaker would laugh, if you found fault with the shavings and scraps from their work which you saw in the shop.
Yet they, at least, have somewhere to throw their litter; whereas Nature has no such out-place. That is the miracle of her workmanship: that in spite of this self-limitation, she nevertheless transmutes into herself everything that seems worn-out or useless, and re-fashions it into new creations, so as never to need either fresh supplies from without, or a place to discard her refuse. Her own space, her own materials and her own skill are sufficient for her.
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 8:50
Change, even disruption, is not only to be accepted, but used as raw material for new creations. What a wonderful attitude to take into today’s uncertain times, for change is entirely natural and nothing can come into being without it.