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 :-)

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