Lion King Quote About Your Past: “You Can Either Run From It, Or…”

Updated March 2, 2023

Are you grappling with something that you did or something that happened to you? Are you reminded of that Lion King quote about your past– the one that says, “you can either run from it or learn from it”?

In this article, we’re going to take a look at the meaning behind this quote and expand upon it to explore how to learn from your past like a Stoic.

That Lion King Quote About Your Past

Do you remember watching The Lion King way back in the 90s, following along with the journey of a young prince after his father is killed and his uncle convinces him to exile himself?

This film has some surprisingly deep themes that are worth exploring, which we will do today through the lens of one particular quote:

"Oh yes, the past can hurt. But from the way I see it, you can either run from it or learn from it."


The idea contained in this quote reflects some of the words of the ancient Stoic philosophers.

seneca image and quote about learning

“As long as you live, keep learning how to live. To err is human, but to persist is diabolical.”

– Seneca the Younger

We are going to make mistakes in our lives. Learning how to best live isn’t something we are born knowing. There are going to be aspects of our past that are difficult to confront.

The reality is, though, that we have to take a long hard look at our past in order to determine where we have gone wrong and what we could do differently next time. Otherwise, we’re fated to make the same mistakes and errors over and over again.

The Context of the Quote

If you need a little reminder of just who Rafiki is, no problem. Rafiki was the mandril (a large Old World monkey that looks similar to a baboon) with a West African accent that acts as a shaman to the lions of Pride Rock. He is the one that performs Simba’s presentation ceremony– where he lifts the little lion prince up for the entire kingdom to see.

While Simba is in exile, Rafiki travels to the jungle where the lion prince is living with Timon and Pumbaa. He teaches him important life lessons about learning from the past, during which time he says the above quote.

Raifiki plays the role of both a sage and a jester, appearing at times to be crazy but otherwise displaying that there is a depth of wisdom behind his tricks.

During the scene where Rafiki says this famous quote about the past, Simba has just seen a vision of his father (Mufasa) in his own reflection with the encouragement of the mandril. The ghost of his father says the following:

You have forgotten who you are and so forgotten me. Look inside yourself, Simba. You are more than what you have become. You must take your place in the Circle of Life.

After a little more back and forth, Mufasa disappears while Simba cries for him to not leave again.  Rafiki pretends that he didn't witness the interaction, and Simba tells him it “looks like the winds are changing.” Rafiki responds by saying that “change is good,” to which Simba replies:

Yeah, but it's not easy. I know what I have to do, but...going back means I'll have to face my past. I've been running from it for so long.

At this point, Raifiki smacks Simba with his staff. Simba asks why he hit him, and Raifiki says:

It doesn’t matter! It’s in the past.

When Simba says, “yeah, but it still hurts,” this is when Raifiki replies:

Oh, yes, the past can hurt. But the way I see it, you can either run from it or learn from it.

Rafiki tries again to hit Simba with his staff, but Simba ducks out of the way. Rafiki then asks him what he’s going to do next. After some back and forth involving Simba stealing the stick, Simba announces that he’s going back to his kingdom.

The Meaning of the Quote

Though this quote might seem simple enough, there is a depth to its meaning that is worth exploring. Many of us have painful memories and experiences in our past, and it’s easy to try and hide from them or run from them. In some cases, people can practically construct entire personas around avoiding the painful past they would rather not confront.

This isn’t a viable solution, though, if you’re interested in living authentically and growing as a person.

Rafiki offers two options for how to deal with the past: running from it or learning from it.

Learning from the past can be incredibly difficult, as it means that we have to look at what happened square in the face. We have to confront what has happened, how we feel, and perhaps most importantly, who we have been.

Accepting that you have made mistakes or dealing with difficult experiences is no easy task. It takes incredible strength to separate your sense of self from the person that you have been.

If you are able to do this, though, you’ll find that there are endless lessons to be learned that will help you as you continue forward in your journey through life.

Epictetus tells us that the person who is making progress does the following:

“In one word, he keeps watch and guard on himself as his own enemy, lying in wait for him.”

– Epictetus

If we are willing to truly examine ourselves– both our past and present selves– we can continue to make improvements. If we put more stake in who we are willing to become rather than who we have been, we can extract lessons from our experiences that provide priceless wisdom on our path to a good and virtuous life.

The Surprising Inspiration Behind the Lion King

It might seem strange to be featuring a quote from a children’s movie on a Stoicism site, but the truth is that this classic Disney film contains some jewels of wisdom and philosophical themes that are worth discussing.

For example, did you realize that The Lion King was inspired by William Shakespeare’s famous tragedy Hamlet?

Here are just a few of the similarities between The Lion King and Shakespeare’s longest play:

  • Both stories center around a fatherless prince
  • Both stories feature an uncle as the villain
  • Both stories involve the uncle convincing the prince to exile themselves
  • Both stories involve the dead father reappearing to their sons as ghosts

One of the alternate Lion King endings has Scar (the evil uncle) killing Simba (our prince), at which time Scar utters a line from Hamlet– “Goodnight, sweet prince.”

Beyond that, the story also included elements from the Biblical stories of Moses and Joseph. For example, Simba’s journey involves being born into royalty and then exiled. He then has to return in order to reclaim his own kingdom. This tale echoes the journeys of Moses and Joseph in the Bible.

Another influence on the story might not be quite as surprising as these other sources– another Disney movie released half a century earlier– Bambi.

Both Bambi and The Lion King deal with some surprisingly heavy topics considering that they are animated films with children as their primary audience. One of the main similarities is the death of a parent– in Bambi, the mother dies, and in The Lion King, Simba’s father dies.

How to Deal With the Past as a Stoic

Do you feel like you’re running from the past? Are there experiences you’ve had that you simply won’t let yourself face? Are there things that you’ve done that you’re too ashamed of to confront?

seneca the younger quote about the past

“Don't stumble over something behind you.”

– Seneca the Younger

Avoiding the past might seem like a viable strategy, but it ultimately means that you aren’t using all of the lessons that are available to you. Typically, it also means that you are moving further away from living authentically and that you are not engaging with your inner self in a way that is necessary if you are committed to living a virtuous life.

Let’s take a look at some of the Stoic ideas that you can use to learn from the past rather than run from it.

Accepting Fate

One of the concepts embraced by the ancient Stoic philosophers was the one conveyed in the Latin term amor fati. Though they didn’t use these precise words to describe the idea, the notion of loving one’s fate was something expressed in the writings of Marcus Aurelius and other Stoics.

marcus aurelius quote about fate

“Everything that happens, happens as it should, and if you observe carefully, you will find this to be so.”

– Marcus Aurelius

Embracing your fate means learning to accept and even love everything in your past, present, and future. It is a recognition of the larger order of the universe and the idea that everything that happens is necessary and perhaps even good.

Realizing What’s In Your Control

One of the central ideas in Stoic philosophy is the dichotomy of control. In short, there are some things that are in your control and some things that aren’t. Your ability to distinguish what is in your control from what isn’t in your control is an essential aspect of living a virtuous and good life.

“We must concern ourselves absolutely with the things that are under our control and entrust the things not in our control to the universe."

– Musonius Rufus

The reason that this matters so much is that you can end up spending a truly remarkable amount of time concerned with things that you cannot change. We only have so much energy, attention, and time in our lives. What if you shifted your focus toward things that you can control and learned to accept the things that are outside of your power?

If you think that this could radically change what your life consists of, you’re right.

"The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own…"


One of the things that is simply outside of your control is your past. It just is. It’s over. It’s done.

You can’t change that stupid thing you said to your best friend when you were drunk. You can’t change the fact that you took on way too much debt to get a degree that doesn’t seem to be paying off. You can’t change the fact that you rear-ended someone at an intersection when you were distracted by your phone.

It can be painful to accept the past. It really can be.

But once you do, you can move beyond the cycling thoughts of “what if” and “if only.” You can recognize that what you do have control over is what you think, say, and do right now.

That’s right. You have control over what you’re thinking about a situation. You have control over how you perceive your past experiences.

“Some there are that torment themselves afresh with the memory of what is past; others, again, afflict themselves with the apprehension of evils to come; and very ridiculously both - for the one does not now concern us, and the other not yet ... One should count each day as a separate life.”

– Seneca the Younger

We don’t have to torment ourselves with the pain of the past. We can, instead, learn to accept it and find the lessons hidden inside.

Dealing With Regret

Regret is something that we all deal with, though some likely struggle with it more than others. If we get lost in regret, it can deeply disable our ability to make decisions in the present and participate in the moment that we actually have control over– the present moment.

The ancient Stoics emphasized that actual life is contained only in the present moment, in that fleeting instance of the now.

marcus aurelius quote about the future

“Every man's life lies within the present; for the past is spent and done with, and the future is uncertain.“

– Marcus Aurelius

The past cannot be changed– it is the past. The future is out of our control. The present moment is where our power lies. By separating the present, past, and future, we can start to make sense of our feelings of regret.

Seneca reminds us that allowing the past to influence the present means that we are living inside our imaginations rather than in reality. Beyond that, our emotions often lead us to exaggerate the events of the past.

“We suffer more in the imagination than in reality."

 – Seneca 

At the same time, we shouldn’t simply try and forget about the past. Seneca also reminds us that forgetting the past is a recipe for a short and anxious life in the following quote:

seneca the younger quote about the future

“Life is very short and anxious for those who forget the past, neglect the present, and fear the future.”

– Seneca the Younger

Though we should focus our attention on the present moment, this doesn’t mean that we should try and erase our memories of past experiences. Instead, we should look at the past objectively and remain indifferent to it and accept it. Once we are able to accept the past, we can look at what has occurred with clear eyes and find the most valuable lessons hidden inside.

If you live a life full of regret, it means that you are imagining yourself in a different current outcome if you had simply acted differently in the past. This means that you’ll lead a life of dissatisfaction, which is certainly in contrast to a happy life and a peaceful mind.

“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.”

– Epictetus 

Here, Epictetus reminds us what it means to be wise and obtain a peaceful mindset. While you must extract the lessons from the past, you also have to learn to be grateful for your present reality.

It truly is possible to live a life free from regret. Though it might not happen overnight, you can find ways to recognize that the course you have taken in life is exactly what you needed, whether or not you were able to see that at the time.

Marcus Aurelius reminds us that "everything that happens, happens as it should, and if you observe carefully, you will find this to be so."

If you're overcome with regret, consider taking these words of the great emperor to heart. Perhaps you need to observe more carefully to see that everything that has happened was necessary and, perhaps, even good.

Once we learn the Stoic principle that we have control over our mindset and how we perceive situations, our entire lives can change for the better.

Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.”

- Marcus Aurelius

In his Meditations, we find the most famous quote by Marcus Aurelius:

You have power over your mind, not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”

- Marcus Aurelius

We can't go back in time and change the past. What we can control, though, is how we understand our own pasts and how we use the lessons we've learned throughout the rest of our lives.

Dealing With Embarrassment

When we’re embarrassed, we become aware of an error (whether real or imagined) that we’ve made and fear that other people won’t view us as highly as they once did.

We probably all have experiences in the past that leave us feeling embarrassed. We cringe when we replay the situation in our minds– why would we have said that? Why did we have to act that way?

Whether you’re feeling embarrassed about something that happened earlier today or twenty years ago, adopting a Stoic mindset can help you overcome this situation.

First of all, you’ll want to identify why you feel embarrassed. Is the error you made a real error, or are you simply letting your imagination take the reins?

If you have established that you are making a mountain out of a molehill, you can then look into why you might be inclined to exaggerate your mistake or why you might have felt embarrassed in a certain situation when it wasn’t particularly called for.

Maybe you realize that you are far too concerned with what other people think about you, for example.

If you do feel that you have made a real error, though, the second step is to figure out what the mistake precisely was. If you are committed to truth rather than your own ego, you will learn to delight in determining where you went wrong and what you could do next time around.

“If someone can prove me wrong and show me my mistake in any thought or action, I shall gladly change. I seek the truth, which never harmed anyone: the harm is to persist in one's own self-deception and ignorance.”

– Marcus Aurelius

If we seek the truth rather than the sensation of always being right, we can overcome feeling embarrassed when we make mistakes. We can learn to see mistakes as “our portals of discovery,” as James Joyce said.

Learning From Our Mistakes

When you run from the past, you're missing out on one of the best gifts that life has to offer-- the lessons we can learn from our mistakes. It might not be easy or fun to look back and think about where we went wrong, but if we are able to apply a growth mindset, we can tap into this priceless resource.

”A gem cannot be polished without friction, nor a man perfected without trials.”

– Seneca the Younger

We have to have difficult times to become stronger, and we have to make mistakes to learn lessons. If we are able to stay humble and curious, it's truly amazing how much we can learn from our past blunders.

Build a Relationship With the Present

It’s a bit terrifying to realize how much time you can waste living in the past. Whether you’re daydreaming about the good old days or lying awake at night drenched with sweat because of something that happened a decade ago, living in the past means that we are sacrificing the time when our actual lives occur– the present moment.

The Stoics don’t advocate that we simply forget about the past or don’t plan for the future. However, they also know how dangerous it can be to put our attention towards these two spans of time that either no longer exist or don’t exist yet.

“Don't let your imagination to be crushed by life as a whole. Don't try to pictures everything bad that could possibly happen. Stick with the situation at hand. ...Then remind yourself that past and present have no power over you. Only the present.“

– Marcus Aurelius

If there are things we need to deal with from the past, the only time we can do so is in the present. At the same time, we need to be self-aware about how we are reacting to our bird’s eye view of our life. If we find ourselves completely overwhelmed, it’s best to recenter ourselves in the present.

“Life is divided into three periods: that which has been, that which is, that which will be. Of these the present is short, the future is doubtful, the past is certain.”

– Seneca the Younger

We can feel completely controlled by our past. Marcus Aurelius reminds us that the days in the rearview mirror don’t have a hold over us, and neither do the days up ahead.

“Past and future have no power over you. Just the present - and even that can be minimized.”

– Marcus Aurelius

“Deem not life a thing of consequence. For look at the yawning void of the future, and at that other limitless space, the past.“

– Marcus Aurelius

At the end of the day, the past and the future aren’t something we have in our possession. They are memories, they are ideas, and they are products of our imagination. All we have is the present moment, which is the only thing we lose when we die.

“For a man can lose neither the past nor the future; for how can one take from him that which is not his? So remember these two points: first, that each thing is of like form from everlasting and comes round again in its cycle, and that it signifies not whether a man shall look upon the same things for a hundred years or two hundred, or for an infinity of time; second, that the longest lived and the shortest lived man, when they come to die, lose one and the same thing.“

– Marcus Aurelius

Take a Look at the Bigger Picture

As we grow older, we often realize that the things that concerned us when we were younger seem inconsequential and petty. Through trial, error, and the passage of time, we begin to learn what really matters and what simply isn’t worth worrying about.

For many people, this is something that happens naturally with age as they have more experiences through which to understand life. However, you can also practice zooming out even further beyond the span of your own existence to further gain insight into what really matters.

“Look back over the past, with its changing empires that rose and fell, and you can foresee the future, too.“

– Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius was aware that there are aspects of human reality that are cyclical, and that there are patterns to history.

“One who would converse about human beings should look on all things earthly as though from some point far above, upon herds, armies, and agriculture, marriages and divorces, births and deaths, the clamor of law courts, deserted wastes, alien peoples of every kind, festivals, lamentations, and markets, this intermixture of everything and ordered combination of opposites.”

– Marcus Aurelius

We are lucky to be able to learn not just from our own experiences but from the experiences of people across the world and across history. Not only can a bird’s eye view help put your troubles in perspective, but you can also glean priceless insight into how you want to think, be, and act right now.

Though you might think that the following quote originated in the timeless classic “Closing Time” by Semisonic, it actually stretches back a few thousand years to the writing of one of our favorite Stoics, Seneca the Younger:

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end.”

– Seneca the Younger

The universe is engaged in an endless cycle of change, or death, and rebirth. When something new comes about, it means that something else has come to an end. If you are able to perceive your past and your future with this lens, you’ll find that you are less pained by the ebbs and flows of experience.

Learning From Your Past to Live Your Best Life

We seem hardwired to try and avoid thinking about painful things, but confronting your past, learning to accept it, and extracting the lessons from it is something that we must do if we want to live authentically and virtuously.

Rather than seeing yourself as a fixed personality, adopting a growth-oriented mindset can help you come to terms with the person you have been in the past. You can learn to recognize how the experiences you’ve had have allowed you to learn important lessons in life. You might even be able to love the painful things that happened to you because you see them as an inextricable part of your story– the story of you becoming the best person you can be.

Are you searching for more information about how to live your best life? Are you in need of some inspiration in the form of quotes from brilliant ancient minds? Either way, make sure you head over to our Stoic Quotes blog.

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Written by: Sophia Merton
Sophia received her BA from Vassar College and has always maintained a deep interest in the question of how best to live one’s life. She hopes to help others understand how they can apply Stoicism in their day-to-day lives in order to become the person they want to be, embrace the present moment, pursue their purposes, and rid themselves of unnecessary anxiety.

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