Basically, Epictetus tells you to continually divide your moment-to-moment concerns into two bins: the things you can control, and the things you can’t. Whenever you feel any sort of anger, desire or aversion, you look at the situation in terms of those two bins.
You quickly notice that the first bin is much, much smaller, and fortunately, it’s the one you’re responsible for. Essentially, it amounts to your actions and choices. The second bin is enormous, and it is the responsibility of the gods.
One way to think of it it is that the Stoic is making a practice out of shrinking the sphere of concern down to roughly the same size as the sphere of influence, where it finally becomes manageable.
The first line of Epictetus’ manual of ethical advice, the Enchiridion—“Some things are in our control and others not”
For Epictetus, the only thing we can totally control, and therefore the only thing we should ever worry about, is our own judgment about what is good. If we desire money, health, sex, or reputation, we will inevitably be unhappy. If we genuinely wish to avoid poverty, sickness, loneliness, and obscurity, we will live in constant anxiety and frustration.
Of course, fear and desire are unavoidable. Everyone feels those flashes of dread or anticipation. Being a Stoic means interrogating those flashes: asking whether they apply to things outside your control and, if they do, being “ready with the reaction ‘Then it’s none of my concern.’ ”
when alone, “call it peace and liberty, and consider yourself the gods’ equal”; in a crowd, think of yourself as a guest at an enormous party, and celebrate the best you can.
Epictetus also won me over with his tone, which was that of an enraged athletics coach. If you want to become a Stoic, he said, “you will dislocate your wrist, sprain your ankle, swallow quantities of sand,” and you will still suffer losses and humiliations. And yet, for you, every setback is an advantage, an opportunity for learning and glory. When a difficulty comes your way, you should feel proud and excited, like “a wrestler whom God, like a trainer, has paired with a tough young buck.” In other words, think of every unreasonable asshole you have to deal with as part of God’s attempt to “turn you into Olympic-class material.” This is a very powerful trick.
“Starting with things of little value—a bit of spilled oil, a little stolen wine—repeat to yourself: ‘For such a small price, I buy tranquillity.’ ”
Albert Ellis came up with an early form of cognitive-behavioral therapy, based largely on Epictetus’ claim that “it is not events that disturb people, it is their judgments concerning them.”
If you practice Stoic philosophy long enough, Epictetus says, you stop being mistaken about what’s good even in your dreams. ♦
|10 best incoming links:
10 best outgoing links:
10 most popular nearby: