by Lydia Serrant
power over your mind
and you will
Are you finding yourself struggling with both expected and
unexpected changes in your life? Change is common to the human
experience, and no one understood this better than the ancient
Stoicism was a philosophy that
spread throughout ancient Greece and Rome from the 3rd
Century BC and was popular among all classes of society for around
The three most prominent
stoics of the time were,
The stoics were no
strangers to unwelcome change.
Stoics had their fair
share of opponents and more than once found themselves on the wrong
side of the law. Emperor Nero particularly opposed the Stoic
thinkers, despite the fact that he was once a student of Seneca.
Those that Nero did not
sentence to death were banished from Rome, where they further
developed Stoic philosophy in exile.
The Death of Seneca,
by Manuel Domínguez Sánchez.
During his exile in Corsica, Seneca wrote that his change in
circumstance was not at all that bad.
Seneca believed that
change is nothing but a change of place, mentally or physically. And
you will often find people in the same place of their own free will.
According to Stoic Philosophy, it is a state of mind, rather
than circumstance, that creates the true challenges and adversities
associated with change.
resistance to change
The problem with change is that most of the time, we like things the
way they are.
Even if your life is not
a comfortable one, most people prefer to stick with the 'Devil They
Know' than to venture out into the great unknown.
It is tempting to
cling to daily rituals...
Having systems and
routines in place provides a sense of 'security'.
We are not taught to see
the growth that can be had in change, instead, we are told to try to
get things 'back to normal' as closely and as quickly as possible.
The Death of Seneca,
Francios Ravenet I , 1768.
The Stoics knew that without change, none of us would exist.
The universe itself had
to undergo several stages of change before Life itself could be
allowed to exist. Marcus Aurelius wrote that 'Change is natures
delight' meaning that,
change is actually
woven into the universe...
We humans are built for
change and embracing new challenges is an opportunity for growth and
change? But what can exist without it?
What's closer to
nature's heart? Can you take a hot bath and leave the firewood
as it was? Eat food without transforming it? Can any vital
process take place without something being changed?
Can't you see?
It's just the same
with you - and just as vital to nature."
Meditations, Book VII.18
Most of the fear around
change is that we often fear that change is bad.
Seneca once wrote,
"We are more often
frightened than hurt, and we suffer more in imagination than in
Most often it is our
thoughts, rather than the change itself, that is the source of
our resistance to change.
Bust of Marcus Aurelius
As humans, we have a tendency to run scenarios through our heads
before the event itself actually happens.
This is great for
preplanning and strategy, however, we run into problems when our
minds automatically run through the 'worst-case' scenarios that may
or may not actually happen.
Most fears around change come from our in-built aversion to
suffering and our tendency to over-plan for suffering avoidance.
Suffering and change are often linked - or at least we perceive
that they are always linked.
But don't worry, the
stoics have a remedy for that too...!
The relationship between change and suffering is often
described in two phases.
Firstly, that we
suffer in our anticipation of change and the shift away from our
routine or the anticipation of loss (e.g., a loved one, a job, a
The second phase is the reaction to a change that has already
happened. It is about coming to terms with a loss (person or
circumstance) and the anticipation of finding balance or carving
a new path for ourselves out of the chaos.
Rome, Italy. Piazza del Campidoglio,
with copy of equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius.
The original is displayed in the Capitoline Museum.
The stoics overcome this
about how relatively small and unimportant we are as
Sounds harsh and
counterintuitive right? Yes...
But when you consider the
grand tapestry that is life and universe, our part is rather small.
"Consider the lives
led once by others, long ago, the lives to be led by others
after you, the lives led even now, in foreign lands. How many
people don't even know your name.
How many will soon
have forgotten it. How many offer you praise now - and tomorrow,
Meditations, Book IX.30
This is what today's
society refers to as the 'Ego
In other words,
who are we to expect
to go through life without any changes or challenges...?
that we play fate at its own game.
Instead of resisting
and battling change (which is a waste of time if the change has
already occurred), we should learn to embrace change and make an
opportunity out of adversity.
This is easier said than
done of course, but you'll find that working this mindset into your
daily life will make the process of change run a whole lot smoother.
Artistic impression of Epictetus,
including his crutch.
relationship with change
"It's not what
happens to you, but how you react to it that matters"
The bottom line,
according to the stoics, is that the best way to deal with change is
to try to change your
more on values than the current state in which you reside.
Of course, basic needs must be met such as food and shelter, but
the Stoics argue that change itself is not able to deprive you
of the ability to endure.
Change has changed people
for the better.
It was exile from Sinope
that lead Diogenes of Sinope to Athens where he went on to
become one of the founders of the Cynic School of Philosophy.
Had he remained in Sinope
he likely would have continued his life as a banker and his name
would have disappeared into obscurity.
No matter the circumstance brought about by change, your place in
nature and your virtues still remain. Even in the most challenging
of times, true friends will not refuse to associate with you and
change does not stop you from associating with new people.
In other words,
may come as a pleasant surprise, if you keep an eye out for