Marcus Aurelius on Perception and Reality

“The world is nothing but change. Our life is only perception. (bk IV ch 3)”

A great deal of our life is based on fiction which we mistake for reality.

We worry about this disaster in the future or we bother over this memory of the past.

The fact is that our memory of the event is transfigured by its repeatedly being brought before our minds with all of the negative feelings we associate with it.

And when it comes to the future, we imagine the worst, often with no evidence and then base our feelings in the present on this poorly authored sob story which has yet to occur.

Elsewhere, Aurelius says this “Today I escaped from anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions— not outside.(bk IX ch 13)”

But I think that if we, assuming we’ve discerned what is actually likely to happen or not, change our perception of things to something more in line with our desires and the good(s) we wish to possess, we’ll be less likely to be frozen by anxiety. Here’s what else he says on the matter:

Operatics, combat and confusion. Sloth and servility. Every day they blot out those sacred principles of yours— which you daydream thoughtlessly about, or just let slide. Your actions and perceptions need to aim:
(1)at accomplishing practical ends
(2)at the exercise of thought
(3)at maintaining a confidence founded on understanding.

(bk X ch 9)

In other words, if you don’t intentionally craft the way you perceive reality (insofar as we’re talking about perceptions and interpretations) then we’re merely at the mercy of our reflexive perception of things. But Marcus recommends a way forard. Bend your perceptions toward the maintainence of virtue, the accomplishment of good, and the practice of thought.


Aurelius, Marcus. Meditations: A New Translation (Modern Library) (Kindle Locations 1142-1143). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.


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