Monday, April 23, 2018

Epictetus Discourses Book 2 Chapter 8 - the divinity within

how should we spend our time and efforts?  should we spend them like animals - eating, defecating, sleeping, fighting, copulating, lazing?  animals do that, all day long and have no other thought besides the above.  humans must do these things for the body not to perish, but there is so much more to humans.

there is divinity in each of us.  we have a mind that thinks; we possess intelligence and reason.  this is our god-given blessing that is unique to us.  and instead of focusing on what is unique to us, we waste away our efforts and time on the same base things that occupy the attention of mere brutes.

as Epictetus says, we are creatures "placed in charge" and in us lies "a bit of God."

in today's modern world, people are fascinated by the invention of artificial intelligence.  humans can create life, but this is a biological aspect of humans and it is not enough.  we, as a species, are also trying to create a consciousness by our own design - inherent in us is this urge to create something that can exist on it's own.  this idea has been around for hundreds of years, ever since humanity has had the ambition to create something self-conscious, outside of the normal biological means of reproduction.

are we simply not trying to play like God?  God gave us our freedom and in turn, we are attempting to do the same.  "What other work of art comes ready equipped with the very powers the artist displayed in making it?   Do marble statues?  No, nor do bronze, gold or ivory ones.  The Athena of Phidias, once its arm was raised to support the statue of Victory, has maintained that pose for the duration of its long existence.  Zeus' works, on the other hand, are living, breathing creatures, with the power of perception and judgement" (verse 20).

and what are we to do with this unique gift?  we are to live our life according to virtue: integrity, honor, dignity, patience, calmness, poise, trustworthy, noble.  we ought to show others our strength: "a will that never fails to get what it wants, a faculty of aversion that always avoids what it dislikes, proper impulse, careful purpose and discipline assent" (verse 29).

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Epictetus Discourses Book 2 Chapter 5 - life is like ...

Epictetus instructs us that there are things in our control and things out of our control.  The things out of our control are called externals.

How are we to interact with externals.  He gives multiple examples of how life is like something and how there are things that are in our control and things out of our control.  He was Forest Gump's mama before there was a Forest Gump!

Life is like a card game ...
The chips and cards fall where they may - they are out of our control.

What is in our control is our reaction to them, by "making careful and skillful use of the deal - that's where [our] responsibility begins.  So in life our first job is this, to divide and distinguish things into two categories: externals I cannot control, but the choices I make with regard to them I do control."

Life is like an ocean voyage ...
You can choose the captain, the boat and the day you set sail and even the best time to sail.  "But then a storm hits.  Well, it's no longer my business; I have done everything I could.  It's somebody else's problem now - namely the captain's."  And if the boat begins to sink and my only choice is to drown, then I do it "fearlessly, without bawling or crying out to God, because I know that what is born must also die .... What difference does it make whether I go by drowning or disease.  I have to go somehow."

Life is like a ball game ...
Ballplayers do not value the ball, but rather focus on the skills needed to excel at the sport.  "If we are afraid to throw the ball, or nervous about catching it, then the fun is lost; and how can we preserve our composure when we are uncertain about what next to do?"

Just like we don't get to choose the ball, but we do get to choose whether to play the game or not, so too in life, we don't get to choose if we are imprisoned, exiled or executed.  We don't get to choose if our wife dies and our children become orphans.  We may play with one "ball" for 20 years and then the judge takes it away and gives us another.  The excellent athlete keeps his concentration and coolness and keeps playing, despite the change in equipment.  He used the ball, but he does not grow attached to it - the ball is just a means for demonstrating skill.

Life is like a weaving...
The weaver does not make the wool; rather she makes the "best use of whatever wool she's given.  God gives you food and property, and can take them back - your whole body too.  Work with the material you are given."

You are like a foot ...
The foot can only be useful in the context of the full body.  So too, the human can only be useful and understood in the context of community and the whole universe.

It is according to nature for the foot to be cleaned, to tromp through dirt and mud to step on needles.  It is also according to nature for the foot to be amputated, if the need arises.  You want your foot to be there to do those things.  You want your foot amputated if it puts the rest of the body at risk.  You do not want a foot that says, "I cannot walk today, I'd rather soak in a tub" - especially when you need it to play in the NBA finals!

Similarly, if you view yourself as part of the whole, then "for the sake of the whole, circumstances may make it right for you to be sick, go on a dangerous journey, endure poverty, even die before your time.  Don't complain."  Humans are part of a community of gods and men - in a community - it a city - in a state - in a nation - in a world - in the universe.

In sum
"In this body, this universe, this community, it is inevitable that each of us faces some such event [death, exile, being convicted].  Your job, then, is to appear before the court, say what you have to say and make the best of the situation."

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Epictetus Discourses Book 2 Chapter 1 - confidence, caution and your duty

I'm not going to commentate on this chapter.  I highlighted several parts and they really stand on their own.  I'll simply copy them here.

Be confident in everything outside the will, and cautious in everything under the will's control.  For if evil is a matter of the will, then caution is needed there; and if everything beyond the will and not in our control is immaterial to us, then those things can be approached with confidence.


When deer are frightened by the feathers, they seek safety in the hunters' nets.  Confusing ruin with refuge, they come to an ill-timed death.


Death is not fearful, but dying like a coward is.  So be confident about death, and caution yourself against the fear of it.


Pain too is just a scary mask: look under it and you will see.  The body sometimes suffers, but relief is never far behind.  And if that isn't good enough for you, the door stands open; otherwise put up with it.


Only educated people are entitled to be called free.  What else is freedom but the power to live our life the way we want?


No one doing wrong is free.  Do you want to live your life in fear, grief, and anxiety?  ... No one in a state of constant fear is free either.  By the same token, whoever has gained relief from grief, fear and anxiety has gained freedom.


What master, I wonder, do you yourself serve?  Money?  Women?  Boys?  The emperor or one of his subordinates?  It has to be one of them, or you wouldn't fret about such things.


I notice your clever phrases, yes - and you can have them.  Show me instead how you practice desire and aversion to get what you want and avoid what you do not want.  As for those treatises of yours, if you have any sense, you will go on and burn them.


[Socrates] would test and examine himself, forever subjecting to scrutiny one assumption or another.  That's the writing of a real philosopher.


Look how I don't fail in my desires, or have experiences I don't want.  I'll prove it to you in the case of death, I'll it to you in the case of physical pain, in the case of prison, of condemnation, and ill repute.  That's the real test of a youth fit to finish school.  ... be content to look like a nobody or know-nothing.


Show them this, though, that you know how not to fail in your desires or experience what you don't desire.


Your duty is to prepare for death and imprisonment, torture and exile and all such evils, with confidence, because you have faith in the one who has called on you to face them, having judged you worthy of the role.  When you take on the role, you will show the superiority of reason and the mind over forces unconnected with the will.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Epictetus Discourses Book 1 Chapter 30 - the point of it all

The real chapter title of Book 1 Chapter 30 is: How to prepare for trouble.  After I read the chapter a few times, I would have entitled the chapter: What's the Point of it All?  And by 'it' I mean life.

If you were to be judged by anyone or even by God, the judgement might be like an oral examination - to determine what you have learned.  This would be the first point of life: did you learn something?

One of the first questions of the examination would be about how you judged certain things.  What did you think of: exile, imprisonment, chains, death and disgrace.  In the year 2018, that list seems pretty harsh.  Who of my peers and friends has been sent to exile?  Who has been sent to prison?  Who is in chains?  Who has died ... well, plenty have died, but what did they think about death?  And who, of my peers in 2018, is disgraced?  What do these terms means in a post-modern society?  Let's examine them.

What does exile look like in corporate America?  Perhaps it looks like what happened to Steve Jobs in 1985.  "They basically stripped Jobs of responsibilities and gave him an office that he referred to as 'Siberia.'"  Similarly, today, we could be stripped of authority and the ability to make change in a company - our ranking could be tanked.

What does imprisonment look like?  Well, we still have prisons in 2018, but I think the idea implies being imprisoned unjustly - when you are actually innocent.  Rubin "Hurricane" Carter lived this.  Or perhaps we have been sentenced to a different kind of prison.

Do people actually wear chains in 2018?  Physically - maybe not.  Chains are simply devices that restrict our body.  Perhaps an illness casts a certain sort of chain on our bodies.

Disgrace has lasted well through time - people were disgraced centuries ago and they are still disgraced today.  In fact, the current President of the United States has used 'disgrace' multiple times in his first few years in office - firing cabinet members and staff at a whim.  At my company, I have seen a few examples of people who have fallen from grace.

Now - do any of these things really matter?  Or should we view them as "indifferents"?  If you were to pass the examination by God, you would need to view them as indifferents.  Indifferents are things that should not matter to you or me.  And why do they not matter?  Because these are things that are not in your control or my control.

Therefore, what should matter to you?  Focusing on things that you can control is what should matter to you.  And what can you control?  You can control your will and your impressions (your attitude).

Lastly, God might ask, "what is the goal of life?"  And if you can honestly respond with "to follow God" or "to love my fate", then you may have passed the examination.  And that is the point of it all.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Epictetus Discourses Book 1 Chapter 29 - mental toughness

The common theme from this chapter seems to be "mental toughness."

A person has to be really mentally tough to stand up to a tyrant and bully.  Mental toughness begins with the ability to derive contentment from within.  If you think you will be content by obtaining or avoiding things external to your mind, you will be disappointed.  As Epictetus says, "If you want something good, get it from yourself."

If you are able to gain contentment from yourself, then what can a tyrant do to you?  A tyrant may threaten to put you in chains, but he is not putting you in chains; rather he is putting your hands in chains.  A tyrant may threaten to lop off your head, but he is not killing you, he is killing your body.  Indeed, Epictetus is using some very extreme examples to make a point.  The modern-day equivalent is a saying that kids may say to a bully: "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me."

A tyrant or bully ultimately wants complete control over you - they want to control your judgments, your opinions, your thoughts.  But this is where the tyrant loses control.  He does not have this power.  He may have power to chain you, imprison you or kill you, but he can never control your thoughts.  But what about mind-altering drugs?  Well, then, that falls under the category of controlling your body (your brain), but the real you is not under his control.

Another aspect of mental toughness is to have patience with those who are not philosophical.  If you, as one who studies philosophy, have decided that true, meaningful happiness cannot be found in the opening of Christmas presents; and if a child comes up to you, to wish you a Merry Christmas, you do not begin to philosophize and say that Christmas is not "good", rather you should say, "Merry Christmas" back to the child.  Similarly, if you cannot persuade another person to change their perspective on philosophy, then treat them as you would a child who lacks understanding and context - be patient with them (see verses 30-32).

Furthermore, you can view people who "don't get it" as opportunities to practice what you learn from philosophy.  Are you up to the challenge of being patient with others?  Why did you read and study these things (Stoicism) if not to practice it?  You should be grateful for chances to demonstrate what you've learned, and disappointed when you don't have an opportunity to practice.  Gladiators begged to be put in the ring with worthy opponents - they were always eager to prove their mettle (see verses 36-38).

Developing mental toughness also requires you to embrace and love the life you've been given.  We do not get to choose our circumstances all the time.  We do not get to choose who our parents and family are.  You have the ability to cope and live in contentment now, in these circumstances.  Just like clothes and props don't make an actor great (it's his acting that makes him great), so too it is not our circumstances that make us happy; it's how we react to them that does!  Are you or can you be a philosopher as a Senator or Emperor?  How about as a garbage collector?  Epictetus makes a call to everyone: "What we need now are people to apply their learning and bear witness to their learning in their actions" (verse 56).

Monday, April 2, 2018

Epictetus Discourses Book 1 Chapter 28

According to the Stoics, people act according to their impressions.  What does that mean?  It means that when some event happens (it may just happen or the event may happen to us as an individual) we may react a few different ways.

We may react instinctively, without thinking.  Or maybe we simply observe the event - like watching a leaf fall from a tree.  Or maybe we acknowledge the event and consider what it has to do with us.  If we are required to have an opinion, we may think about it and decide.  If no opinion is required, perhaps we simply pass.  And on that last part - what criteria should we use if we are to have an opinion?

For many people, events impress themselves upon us and we allow ourselves to react without thinking.  You're reading a book in a quiet room.  A little girl enters the room and begins whistling.  It bothers you and you instinctively yell at her.  There was no wrong done on her part.  'But she should see that I'm reading and I need quiet!'  Fine, then teach her and try to persuade her why she should not be whistling in the room right now.

This is a dumb little example, but it is a microcosm of the greater world.  People may think that being angry is a virtue.  And until you can convince them otherwise, why should they not go on living angrily?  Either bear (have patience with) what others do, or make a genuine attempt to convince them of the better way.  But no grumbling and complaining.

Epictetus runs through a similar scenario with Medea (see this summary of her).  He succinctly states that Medea thinks it is better to gratify her anger toward her husband than to protect her children.  Most of us would see this as folly!  To which Epictetus says, "Well, demonstrate to her clearly that she is in error and she will not act on her idea. As long as you don’t lay it out for her, though, she has nothing besides her own idea of right and wrong to guide her. So don’t get angry at the poor woman for being confused about what’s most important, and accordingly mutating from human being to snake. Pity her instead. We take pity on the blind and lame, why don’t we pity people who are blind and lame in respect of what matters most?"  (see verses 8-9).

In so many cases, we assume the other person should know better?  Have we checked our assumptions?  And after having checked our assumptions and learning that the other person needs some educating, are we willing to help them by educating them - by showing them a better way?

The chapter pivots to point out that The Iliad and The Odyssey would not have happened had it not been for impressions and reactions of Paris and Menelaus.  The person Epictetus is having a dialogue with acknowledges that wars, the loss of men and razing of cities is simply due to some bad impressions by a few people.

And then Epictetus simply states that wars, razed cities and dead men are no different than dead sheep and birds nests being burned.  Now this is shocking to the other person and it may even be shocking to you and me to hear Epictetus so flippantly disregard life and property.  But he is willing to teach us.

There is no difference between a man's home and a stork's nest ... both are simply shelters; nothing more and nothing less.

But there is a difference between the man and the stork.  He says, "What counts as good and bad for man can be found precisely in those respects in which he differs from the beasts. If his special qualities are kept safe behind stout walls, and he does not lose his honour, trustworthiness or intelligence, then the man is saved. But lose or take away any of these qualities and the man himself is lost."

What makes humans unique, also defines our nature.  Our honor, trustworthiness, intelligence - our virtue is what makes us different from the beasts.  Living a life according to Virtue is our true nature.

He expounds, using The Iliad as an example: "Everything significant depends on this. Did Paris’ tragedy lie in the Greeks’ attack on Troy, when his brothers began to be slaughtered? No; no one is undone by the actions of others. That was the destruction of storks’ nests. His tragedy lay in the loss of the man who was honest, trustworthy, decent and respectful of the laws of hospitality.  Wherein did Achilles’ tragedy lie? The death of Patroclus? Not at all. It was that he gave in to anger, that he whined about losing a mere woman and lost sight of the fact that he was there not for romance but for war. Those are the genuine human tragedies, the city’s siege and capture – when right judgements are subverted; when thoughts are undermined."

I apologize for all the copying of quotes, but one more.  This is the rub: do we allow our life to be ruled by reactions to impressions?  Or do we put thought into our reactions?  This is how Epictetus closes the chapter:

"A sense impression appears and right away I react. Am I better than Agamemnon and Achilles, insofar as they do and suffer such wrongs by following their impressions, while the impression does not satisfy me? Is there any tragedy with a different source? What is the Atreus of Euripides? An impression. The Oedipus of Sophocles? An impression. The Phoenix? An impression. Hippolytus? An impression. What kind of person, then, pays no attention to the matter of impressions, do you think? Well, what do we call people who accept every one indiscriminately?


"And do we act any differently?"

Friday, March 30, 2018

Epictetus Discourses Book 1 Chapter 25 - protect what is yours

According to Epictetus, Zeus sent us here to earth with the commandment: "Protect what belongs to you at all costs; don't desire what belongs to another."

What truly, wholly belongs to us?  It is our perception - our opinion - our attitude.

Indeed, we can prioritize everything in our life, but whatever we decide to focus on, we ought not to resent it (see verse 17).

Epictetus also correctly points out that what we try to protect and cherish becomes a means for us to be enslaved.  He says, "If I cherish my body, I make a slave of myself, if I cherish my property, I make a slave of myself" (see verse 23).  When we place importance on things that don't belong to us or are not in our control, we only torment ourselves.  "In general, remember that it is we who torment, we who make difficulties for ourselves - that is, our opinions do" (see verse 28).

So what should we do?  We should practice "maintaining always the same even temper," for this is what Socrates did.

This is why the discipline of assent is so important.  We may experience a gut reaction to some event.  We ought to pause and in that pause, reflect on whether whatever it is that is trying to bother us.  Is it in our control?  Does it have sway or power over us?  Most likely it does not.  And instead, it is our perception that is holding us enslaved.  Therefore, we ought to check our assumptions and change our opinion as needed.  This is true freedom.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Epictetus Discourses Book 1 Chapter 24 - the struggle defines us

The first part of this chapter and the last part of this chapter are pure gold.

What makes us unique?  What defines us?

The Stoics would say that the obstacle is the solution to our problems.  Life throws challenges and curve balls at us and how we respond to them reveals who we really are.

Epictetus says, "the true man is revealed in difficult times."  When difficult times - challenges or obstacles in our path - come to us, how we react to them reveals who we really are.  And we need to be of the mindset that these challenges and obstacles are opportunities for us to prove ourselves - they are gifts for us to "rise to the occasion."  We can learn and read our Stoic principles all day long, every week, month after month.  But if we never have the occasion to prove that we have embraced them, then what have we accomplished?  Give me a challenge and I will show you what I've learned - what I have become - who I am.  Gold is revealed in the rock after the fire purges out all the waste.

Epictetus tells his students how the true character of Diogenes was revealed.  Diogenes wore the bare minimum of clothing.  He slept on the bare ground.  His proof of success was his confidence, his serenity, his freedom and his tough and radiant physique (see verse 8).

Certainly, you can avoid the challenges and obstacles; you can even exit through the door - permanently.  But if you do so, you'd be a greater coward than children.  Children will flippantly decide to not play anymore when they don't get their way - they disengage from the challenge or obstacle.  Is that who you are?  Or maybe you're the type who is not willing to exit through the door, but will still complain and carp and constantly be pissed off.  That certainly is no great existence either.

The best solution, according to the Stoics, is to face the challenge - embrace it - engage with it.  You will fail, and that is fine.  But keep moving forward; pick yourself up and get back in the game.  More challenges and obstacles will come.  So learn from the previous ones and improve when you meet the next round of challenges and obstacles.  Allow yourself to be defined by your trials - after all, they are yours.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Epictetus Discourses Book 1 Chapter 22 - preconceptions

If you were to tweet: "justice is fair" no one would dispute your tweet.  Similarly, you could tweet "bravery is admired" and no one would dispute it.

But if you tweet, "he was very courageous to stand up to the vice president the way he did" someone might reply, "not courageous, but idiotic."  And here is where we begin to deviate - in the application of some preconceptions.

Epictetus mentions religions and how they dispute what ought to be eaten or not eaten.  He also mentions a couple of main characters from The Iliad who argue over justice.  At the heart of it all, is where you put "the good" - where you place happiness and contentment in you mind.  Do you derive happiness and contentment from your body, property, parents, siblings, children, country and friends?  Aren't all those good things?  Most would say, "yes! absolutely!"  But if you place your whole happiness and contentment in things that are out of your control, you must constantly deal with sorrow and discontent.

Furthermore, some people will even place these externals in the domain of "coming from God."

God gives me a healthy body: I am blessed!  God gives my body cancer: I am cursed!

God gives me riches and land and a beautiful home: I am blessed!  God sends a drought and famine and my riches and land and home are lost: I am cursed!

God gives me wonderful parents and a family: I am blessed!  God causes my family to die and hate me: I am cursed!

God sends me to the richest, most powerful country in the world: I am blessed!  God allows another country to invade and conquer my country: I am cursed!

God gives me countless, kind friends: I am blessed!  God causes all my friends to leave me: I am cursed!

Truly ask yourself, do you need a functioning, healthy body to be happy?  Do you need property, land, riches, parents, brothers and sisters, children, a country and friends to be happy and content?  Most people say yes!  But the reality is that these things do not bring you happiness.

What are we to do with stories like these:

Stephen Hawking or Helen Keller (people who's bodies did not function well for them).

Eric Hoffer (who was never really rich and labored with his hands most of his life).

Countless other people who's stories are never told, but they are never rich, yet seemingly are always happy.

Myth or not, what about Job - how was he able to be content and happy when everything was taken from him?

Do we not admire people who've had property, health and family taken from them, yet they are still able to find happiness and contentment?

Ultimately, all these things are externals to our will.  Our mind - our attitude - how we view the world is based on what we decide to assent to (or agree with).  If we place all our hopes and dreams in externals, then we must accept and expect that our happiness and contentment will be out of our control.

And do you want to be in control of your happiness or would you rather roll the dice and see what happens?

If you want to be in control of your happiness, then focus on what is in your control: your attitude.  But if you want to take your chances, then pick something that is out of your control and let your emotions and attitude and state of mind depend on whatever happens to it.  Good luck!

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Epictetus Discourses Book 1 Chapter 19

This is an interesting chapter, especially if viewed in the context of modern-day corporate society - in which many of us make a living.

Vice presidents, executives, managers, divisional managers ... all of them wield power and authority.  But we fail to realize that the only power and authority they have is what we give them.  That power only exists in our own mind.  The power and authority is not real; not in the slightest.

Epictetus cuts right to the chase.  The only real power is the power of controlling our desires and aversions and our impulse control; in short, self-discipline (see verses 2-4).

And how should we view authority figures at work and in government?  We ought give them attention like we give our dishes or pets attention.  It is a necessity that has to be done; we do what we need to do, but nothing else.  The dishes are dirty, we wash them.  The horse needs to be groomed; we groom it.  There is no need to bow or show deferential treatment to them.

But those managers and bosses can fire you!  They can cut your pay!  Good point; then I'll watch out for them and perform my own due diligence like I would with anti-virus shots.  I'll do what I must for my own self-care, but I don't have to make my whole life dependent on them.  Soon, they will be retired, they will forget about you - they'll be golfing, going on vacations, put into a retirement home and soon, dead.

"If a [VP, manager, executive] threatens to [fire you, cut your pay], whoever holds his [pay, job] in high regard will beg for mercy, whereas the person who cares more for his character will answer back, 'Go ahead and [fire me, cut my pay], if that's what you want.'"

To which someone might ask, "And you don't care?"

And my response is, "I don't care.  I may have to pretend to care in front of people who value these kinds of things, but my sense of self-respect does not depend on their opinion.  I only do this so I can help my wife and children eat, sleep and go to school.  When the time comes that they can fend for themselves, I'll no longer need to pretend.  But as for now, I'll give VPs, managers and bosses the same respect and attention I give my dishes" (see verses 8-10).

Later, Epictetus talks about sacrifices and offerings to gods.  And he asks a really poignant question, "Now who, I ask you, has ever offered a sacrifice for right desires, or for impulses in agreement with nature?  We only thank the gods, it seems, for what we popularly supposes are the good things in life" (verse 25).

Let this be your guide for having the proper attitude in dealing with "people of authority."

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Epictetus Discourses Book 1 Chapter 18 - some questions

How should we view and deal with thieves and robbers?  How do you react and think about immoral people?

Someone poses this question to Epictetus: "Well, shouldn't we do away with thieves and degenerates?"

Epictetus responds, "Shouldn't we rid ourselves of people deceived about what's most important, people who are blind - not in their faculty of vision, their ability to distinguish white from black - but in the moral capacity to distinguish good from bad."  He compares the loss of moral capacity with loss of seeing or hearing and he asks if we should execute the deaf and blind?  If someone loses the capacity to be moral, Epictetus views this as similar to the loss of a sense.  Should we execute someone who is blind?  No!  Similarly, should we execute someone who's ability to make moral choices is lost?  No!

But I will say, how do you determine the difference between someone who has lost their moral ability and someone who knows right from wrong, but still chooses to be immoral?  That's a tough question.

Interestingly enough, while working today, I happened to have the TV on and the Today Show with Megyn Kelly aired a segment about mothers dealing with children who have brain disorders - the very kind that prevents them from making moral or empathetic choices.  It's an interesting segment to watch and should give you pause when you are quick to "hate and take offence" (see verse 9).  The Today Show segment is called "Mothers Open Up About Concerns For Their Children With Brain Disorders" and it aired today, March 22, 2018.

Epictetus then goes on to discuss how we need to not place our desires in things that can be robbed from us.  He goes so far as to say that a tyrant can chain us up, and lop off our head, but the tyrant can never take our integrity from us.

How do we get to be this resilient?  "We should discipline ourselves in small things, and from there progress to things of greater value.  If you have a headache, practise not cursing.  Don't curse every time you have an earache.  And I'm not saying you can't complain, only don't complain with your whole being."  Later he says, "You are invincible if nothing outside the will can disconcert you."

In summary, test yourself.  Allow yourself to get into the mindset of constantly being tested and then work to win at those tests - to be the better man!  To quote one of my favorite Rocky lines, "How much can you take, and keep moving forward!  That's how winning is done!"

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Epictetus Discourses Book 1 Chapter 15 - this is not the final version of ...

Have you ever wondered why another person can do such a thing?

How can they stand to live in a dirty room?  Why won't they put the lid on the toothpaste or put the toilet seat down?

Why does this manager have to be such a mirco-manager?

Why is she always so grumpy and bitter?

Don't they know how annoying it is when they do that?

Perhaps you can think of your own example as to why someone else acts in a way that bothers you.  Maybe some of these actions are simply preferences.  But what about people who are not virtuous - people who are mean, spiteful, arrogant?  Shouldn't they know better?

Epictetus reminds us that: how other people behave and how they act, falls under the category of "things not in our control."  He even helps us remember that people are always on a developmental journey.  We can give them the benefit of the doubt.  We can also remind ourselves that it may take a lifetime for some people to fully develop into a mature, caring, thoughtful human being.

He says, "Nothing important comes into being overnight; even grapes or figs need time to ripen.  If you say that you want a fig to flower, then put forth some fruit; then you have to wait until the fruit is ripe.  So if the fruit of a fig tree is not brought to maturity instantly or in an hour, how do you expect the human mind to come to fruition, so quickly and easily?"

When it comes to my own kids and they do something that isn't so smart, I say to my wife, "this is the final version of <name of our child>"

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Epictetus Discourses Book 1 Chapter 14 - God and our guardian angel?

The first part of the chapter discusses how God supervises everything.

Then comes this interesting part:
Is anyone saying that your capacities are the equal of God's?  Nevertheless, he has provided each of us with an individual guardian deity, which stays by our side and is in charge of looking after us - a guardian who never sleeps and is impossible to distract.  Is there any guardian to whose care he could have committed us that is better or more vigilant?  Whenever you close your doors and turn out your lights, remember, never say to yourself that you are alone; you're not.  God is inside, and so is your private deity; and neither of them requires light to watch you by.
This is the deity who deserves your pledge of allegiance, as soldiers swear before Caesar.  If they want to be paid, they must swear to put the emperor's safety first.  You, however, who have been chose to receive an abundance of blessings - and for free - why won't you swear a similar oath, and, if you have done so already, why not reaffirm the commitment?
What is this oath?  You swear that under no circumstances will you disobey, press charges, or find fault with God and his gifts.  You won't shrink from life's essential tasks or trials.
What I find interesting about this passage is the similarities between the Christian promise to 'obey God' ... such as a baptism ... and a reminder to keep that promise ... such as the sacrament.  And then there is the inner deity ... which sounds a lot like the Holy Ghost in some Christian theology.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Epictetus Discourses Book 1 Chapter 12

Even though the title of this chapter is called, "on satisfaction" it is more about learning the great lesson of life.

It matters very little what kind of God or gods you believe in.  Maybe you don't even believe in a God or gods.  Fine.  What follows is relevant to those who believe or not.

Epictetus defines the purpose of learning:  "Education should be approached with this goal in mind: 'How can I personally follow the gods always, and how can I adapt to God's government, and so be free?'" (verse 8).  Whether you believe in the gods or not, the statement above gets to the heart of this matter: coming to accept your lot in life (being satisfied).  If you believe in the gods, then your philosophical education aims to teach you how to accept the gods' will for you.  If you don't believe in the gods, then philosophy would still aim to help you accept your fate - the complex turn of events that has brought you to this point in your life at this very instant.  He later expounds on this education: "Getting an education means learning to bring our will in line with the way things happen" (verse 15).

When your lot in life says you must be alone, what should your attitude be?  "You should call it peace and liberty, and consider yourself the gods' equal."  And when you are in a large group of people, such as a party, you should think of yourself as "a guest at a feast or festival" and "learn to enjoy it" (verse 21).

Then he gives some very good, specific advice for children and parents - advice which I need to hear as a parent.  "Is someone unhappy with his parents?  Let him be a bad son, and grumble.  Is someone unhappy with his children?  Let him be a bad father" (verse 22).  Someone might retort, "Throw him in jail.  What jail?  The one he is in already, since he is there against is will; and if he is there against his will, then he is imprisoned" (verse 23).  You can either be 'free' in your lot in life or you can choose to imprison yourself.  The choice is yours.

When it comes to physical impairment, such as a bum or crippled leg, will you complain about your lot in life?  Epictetus seems to slap us in the face while saying, "Slave, are you going to be at odds with the world because of one lame leg?" (verse 24).  All I have to say on this matter is: Helen Keller and Stephen Hawking.  Don't know who they are?  Look 'em up!  They had a lot worse lot in life than a bum leg.  What impediment do you have and how does it compare?

Verses 26-27 are very important to consider, especially when deciding how one ought to spend their time.  I see a lot of people dedicate hours and hours in the gym, out running, training for marathons and triathlons.  But then they spend very little time developing their philosophy.  Epictetus makes it very clear where you should place your focus.  I contend, that if you spend the proper time sorting out your mind, philosophically speaking, the training of the body will follow.  But if you train the body first and at the expense of your philosophical learning, you may come to find you've placed your desires in something out of your control.  Now go read verses 26-27.

You do not have to choose a miserable life.  It is all in your head.  How long will it take you to finally learn this lesson.  If you are disappointed, it is very likely you've placed your desires in something out of your control.  Now, quickly realize you have the power to change your attitude; and soon, you will be able to "thank the gods for making you strong enough to survive what you cannot control" (verse 32).

If you truly want to be satisfied in life, you must learn that "the gods have released you from accountability for your parents, your siblings, your body, your possessions - for death and for life itself.  They made you responsible only for what is in your power - the proper use of impressions" (verse 33-34).

Maybe Mick and Keith should read some Epictetus :-)

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Epictetus Discourses Book 1 Chapter 9 (quotes)

Not really going to comment on this, but just share the parts that I highlighted in my copy.

student: "Epictetus, we can no longer stand being tied to this hateful body, giving it food and drink, resting it and cleaning it and have to associate with all manner of uncongenial people for its sake. Such things are indifferent, are they not, and as nothing to us; and death no evil thing? Aren't we akin to God, having come from him? Let us go home, then, to be free, finally, from the shackles that restrain us and weigh us down. Here we find robbers and thieves, and law-courts, and so-called despots who imagine that they wield some power over us precisely because of our body and it possessions. Allow us to show them that they have power over precisely no one."

Epictetus: "Friends, wait upon God. Whenever he gives the sign and releases you from service, then are are free to return. But for now agree to remain in the place where you've been stationed. Your time is short enough, and easy to endure for people of your convictions. No despot, thief or court of law can intimidate people who set little store by the body and its appurtenances. So stay, don't depart without good reason."

"It is absurd to suppose that, if a general of yours stationed me at a post, I would have to maintain and defend it, choosing to die a thousand times rather than quit, but if God has assigned us post with a set of duties, we might decide to abandon that."

"There you have a man who was a genuine kinsman of the gods.  But we, on the other hand, identify with our stomachs, guts and genitals.  Because we are still vulnerable to fear and desire, we flatter and creep before anyone with the power to hurt us where any of those things are concerned."

"Since I can get greatness of soul and nobility from myself, why should I look to get a farm, or money, or some office, from you?"

Monday, March 12, 2018

Epictetus Discourses Book 1 Chapter 6

Anthony Lake Oregon - fine hiking
The title of this chapter is On providence.

The point of this discourse is to show us that we are not mere brute animals.  What makes us humans unique is our providence-given abilities to "act appropriately, methodically, and in line with our nature and constitution" (verse 15).

Humans have the ability to think; to ponder; to reason and to appreciate.  What beasts make museums or art or music or ballets?  What animals write philosophical treatises or carry out experiments?  This is what sets us apart from all other creations.  Epictetus says we were "brought into the world ... to look upon God and his works - and not just look, but appreciate ... it is inexcusable for a man to begin and end where the beasts do" (verse 20).  He pleads to us "to look upon and appreciate God's works at least once before [we] die" (verse 22).

And where do we go to appreciate God's works?  I think they are not only found all over the world in the most pristine places, but they are also found in the day to day interactions.  To be able to see reason in philosophy and to see God's creations create!

Then the deep, reflective question Epictetus poses to us: "Will you never come to a realization of who you are, what you have been born for and the purpose for which the gift of vision was made in our case?"

And what about when difficult and disagreeable things happen to us?  How are we supposed to appreciate God's works then?  He offers a really good analogy.  People will take a pilgrimage to various places.  Perhaps they travel to Olympia or Mecca or to Washington D.C.  Despite the heat, humidity, the crowds, the traffic, the weather, the noise, the shouting - they endure it all to pay homage to whatever they find valuable.  Is this not true too with life and finding God or Zeus in the world?  Do we not fight the difficulties every day, if only to capture a glimpse of greatness?

And furthermore, God has given us the ability to endure said difficulties.  "Why should I worry about what happens if I am armed with the virtue of fortitude?  Nothing can trouble me or upset me, or even seem annoying.  Instead of meeting misfortune with groans and tears, I will call upon the faculty especially provided to deal with it" (verse 29).  And there is the rub - the key - the point of it all: to seek, to journey, to venture to find and then appreciate God's handiwork, while using the gifts God provides to enable us to get to that point.  To be able to seek, to use the inherent tools within us, to overcome and to achieve or at least to attempt to achieve.  That's all.

Without a lion to fight, there is no Hercules.  Without a hydra, stag or boar, there is no Hercules.  Without the challenges, Hercules has no definition, no existence.  "What would have been the use of those arms, that physique, and that noble soul, without crises or conditions to stir into action?" (verse 34).

Now, take note!  In the seeking of trying to appreciate God's creations, you not only discover and appreciate those creations, but in the doing you discovered something within you: fortitude, grit, determination, reason, justice, discipline.  And you ought to appreciate this too!  In the seeking, you come to appreciate God's work without and within.  You may even exclaim, "Bring on whatever difficulties you like, Zeus; I have resources and a constitution that you gave me by means of which I can do myself credit whatever happens" (verse 37).

Or ... or, you do not embark on the journey to seek and appreciate God's works and you fail to not appreciate God's works and you fail to discover God's works within you.  In other words, "you reproach the gods" (verse 38).  You become impious.  In Christian vernacular, you break the first great commandment.

And one final point before the big question of the day.  God has given each of us the resources to deal with whatever difficulties come our way in our search to appreciate God's works.  God has given us the choice; God has given us freedom to choose.  There is no "constraint, compulsion" or "impediment" in this choice of ours - the choice of seeking to appreciate God's work or not.

And finally, to the big question of the day (maybe the question of a lifetime): what will you choose to do?

Will you use your God-given resources and God-given character of strength and resilience to seek out ways to appreciate God's works (both externally and within you)?  Or will you be "peevish and malcontent?"

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Epictetus Discourses Book 1 Chapter 4

What is real progress in terms of Stoicism?

Epictetus resoundingly explains.

Stoicism is about living according to Nature where virtue is the sole good.

Therefore, if you want to make progress in becoming Stoic, you would not show a sage all the books you've read on the subject of Stoicism.  Rather, you would show them how you are living according to nature and focusing solely on virtue.  Epictetus likens this to an athlete.

"Show me evidence that you are an athlete."  The athlete would not show you his weight set!  Rather, he would show you his muscles and his strength.

What are the hallmarks of progress in Stoicism?

Renounce externals (desiring something that is out of your control, or avoiding something painful that is out of your control).

Focus on your character; cultivate it, perfect it.

Make your character honest, trustworthy, free.

Expunge from your life the following: sighs, sorrow, grief, disappointment and exclamations like, "poor me!"

Learn what death is; face it; realize it is your fate.

If you can do these things, then you are showing progress in becoming Stoic.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Epictetus Discourses Book 1 Chapter 2

Epictetus' Discourses are not the Meditations.  I can let a passage from Marcus simmer in my brain a few minutes and I think I can come to a conclusion what he means (along with the help of Hadot).  But for Epictetus, I need to read it a few times to comprehend what he's teaching me.

The subject of Book 1, Chapter 2 is 'how a person can preserve their proper character in any situation.'  The Stoics always say, "live according to Nature."  I think what Epictetus is trying to say in this chapter is, "live according to your specific nature."  Around verse 7, he says, that we need to "[consider] what agrees with our own, individual nature."

From there, once you know what you are, you can settle on what you will and will not do - what integrity means to you.  He says, "you are the one who knows yourself - which is to say, you know how much you are worth in your own estimation, and therefore at what price you will sell yourself; because people sell themselves at different rates."

This is a timely passage for me personally.  Every so often, I seem to go through some sort of existential mini life crisis.  When they occur, I seem to really wonder and question myself and if I'm adding any value to the world.  They typically begin on a Friday - after a long, slug-fest at work - commuting, meetings ad-naseum and seemingly not getting anywhere or accomplishing anything.  If asked, 'what did you accomplish today or this week?', I think the answer would be 'nothing of importance.'  The only, real, valid reason I work day in and day out is for my wife and family.  For them, I'm willing to sell my time and soul.  Maybe other people can't do that.  But I've found, that for me, that is the price I'm willing to sell for.

Epictetus offers an analogy about the selling price of one's soul.  Does one 'fall in line' or does one 'attempt to stand out'?  The analogy involves either being a white thread in a robe made mostly of white threads or being a purple thread, which when contrasted with the white threads, stands out.  For some, their price is steep - they would not settle or sell their soul to 'be like the crowd.'  He proceeds to give examples of some people's integrity at play.  They can be threatened, but they will still do their duty to death.

Now that price has been discussed, the question still remains, "what makes you unique?  what is your unique nature?  what are you not willing to sell your soul for, ever, in any circumstance?"  Epictetus discusses this in verse 30, "But how do we know what is in keeping with our character?"  Later, he answers, "The possession of a particular talent is instinctively sensed by its owner."  He also makes a clarifying point that sometimes we don't know what that talent is until after a 'winter training.'  He doesn't expound a whole lot on that, but to me, it sounds like we all, in a sense, grow into the talents that are unique to us.  Perhaps after some difficulty and challenges, our true talents - aspects that are unique to us individually - are revealed.

Let's assume you've found your talent.  Now, comes the possibility that you are not the best in whatever makes you unique.  To which Epictetus responds that "we do not abandon any discipline for despair of ever being the best in it."  Indeed, there can be a 'best' but by virtue of there being a 'best', there are dozens, hundreds, thousands of others 'not the best.'  The result: we still try.

Which brings me to my final point: talent stack.  Do yourself a favor and spend some time reading that link.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Epictetus Discourses Book 1 Chapter 1

I recently finished my personal commentary on Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.  The purpose of that little project was twofold.  First, it was intended to force me to really think about what Marcus wrote.  Second, I tried to write it in a way that my children could understand.  I'm hoping it will be a resource to them in their life journey.

My next project will have similar aims - really read and think about what I read and then explain it as if I were teaching my kids.  Epictetus will be my next focus; I'll go through Discourses, Fragments and then Enchiridion.  I'm reading from the Penguin Classics copy.  As passages stand out to me, I'll make remarks on them.  I will not copy the entire passage, as I did with Meditations.  If you're reading these blog posts, I suggest you find a copy of the book, and read the corresponding passage.  Also, not quite sure I'll make a post on every chapter of every book.  I'll just have to see how things go.

Let's get to it ...

Epictetus starts things off right by talking about one of the most fundamental aspects of Stoicism and life: determining what is in your control and what is not in your control.  This is called the Dichotomy of Control.

How to you apply the Dichotomy of Control?  Make a list!  Really think about what you can control versus what you cannot control.  And when we use the word "control" it is not partial control or some control.  Rather, it means entirely within our control.  This will be an ongoing topic and list as read Epictetus.

One item under the category "Not in my Control" is my body.  Epictetus uses a lot of examples of how the body is not under our control.  And while he is citing these examples, he is also point out what is in our control in each of those circumstances.

In one example, Lateranus is to be be-headed at the command of Nero.  Lateranus could not prevent himself from losing his head, but he could control his attitude about it.  So, "he held his neck out willingly to take the blow."  But that is not the end of the story!  The blow to his neck was not adequate and he didn't die!  After "recoiling" his head a bit, he "had enough self-command to offer his neck a second time" (p. 6).

The body may be put to death, but our attitude and reaction is up to us.

The body may be put in chains or thrown into prison, but our mind and will cannot be chained or thrown into prison.

And here is the million dollar quote from Discourses Book 1, Chapter 1: "That's the kind of attitude you need to cultivate if you would be a philosopher, the sort of sentiments you should write down every day and put in practice" (p. 7).  A bit later, he advises that we need to come to terms with what we have been given in life.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Commentary on Meditations: B12:36

Mortal man, you have lived as a citizen in this great city. What matter if that life is five or fifty ears? The laws of the city apply equally to all. So what is there to fear in your dismissal from the city? This is no tyrant or corrupt judge who dismisses you, but the very same nature that brought you in. It is like the officer who engaged a comic actor dismissing him from the stage. 'But I have not played my five acts, only three.' 'True, but in life three acts can be the whole play.' Completion is determined by that being who caused first your composition and now your dissolution. You have no part in either causation. Go then in peace: the god who lets you go is at peace with you.

This is my final entry on my commentary on Marcus Aurelius' Meditations.  It took me just under one full year to complete this small project (the first entry was Book 1 Chapters 1-4).  His ending chapter does not disappoint and is quite an appropriate topic on which to end: birth and death.

We had no control over our birth; and we will equally have no control over our death.

Therefore, have no worries over death.  Go about life, living in peace, content with your lot in life and focused on living a life according to Nature and virtue (temperance, courage, justice and wisdom).