Friday, November 1, 2019

Memento Mori (Memento Vivere) and Why I Should Give a Damn

This blog remained quiet all through the months of September and October, for various reasons.

Firstly: I spent time reading Pierre Hadot's Philosophy as a Way of Life, and I have been digesting it.  I'm reading it a second time now and will post several reviews and commentaries on it through this month.

Secondly: My practice of memento mori has sunken really deeply lately, so much so, that one of the conversations I had with my dear wife a few weeks ago, centered around the question: why did my parents decide to have me?  My father was 49 years old and my mother almost 40 when I was born?  What drove them to have a seventh child?  I don't have an answer yet, but I think I'm closer to it now.

Additionally, as I have pondered my death, I have seriously realized the futility of all the human efforts.  "What is the point?!" I shout out to the vastness of space towards the stars.  As Marcus, so often reminded himself, emperors, kings, conquerors, after having left a meager mark on the earth, have passed on to become dust and then are not even remembered after a few generations ... or sooner (see Meditations 8.21 as an example).  So what is the point of it all, if in the end, the world and everyone in it, will be sucked into a super-massive black hole?  After it has all been said and done, will there simply be silence, and no one there to not hear it?  I think, perhaps.  Or maybe we just do it all over again.

Does that scare you?  Depress you?  Or maybe it emboldens you?

My daily routine involves reviewing the day's events; making notes of improvement and actions done well and virtues displayed (or not).  A few weeks ago, I found myself writing the word "again" repeatedly.  The word "rut" comes to mind.  Days and weeks were beginning to feel like Groundhog's Day.  It didn't feel like I was accomplishing much, when in fact, I was.  Also, during this time, I noticed again, that people weren't really listening to me.  It was like I was a no-body; people might acknowledge me when I shared my opinion or views, but no one actually heeded my advice.  And so this thought of "what's the point?  what value am I adding?" grew stronger.  I began to question what real value I bring to this life.  If I'm ignored while I live, and I'll be long forgotten when I die, then my life really is like a tree that grows, dies and falls in the forest and no one hears it or sees it.

Sisyphus condemned to push a rock for eternity
I kept returning to Sisyphus.  For being so clever and to have outwitted many gods, he was condemned, by Zeus, to roll a boulder up a mountain, only to have it roll over the top of the mountain and back down.  And the condemnation also included him having to perform this chore every day, all day, for eternity.  How absurd!  How unproductive!  Nothing he did, in rolling this stone, accomplished anything.  The one thing he could possibly accomplish (rolling it up the hill and having it stay there), was not even possible.  My life, often feels like Sisyphus'.

A few weeks ago, I picked up Pierre Hadot's Philosophy as a Way of Life, as I have mentioned previously.  In the first few chapters, he quoted Georges Friedmann twice.
Take flight every day!  At least for a moment, which may be brief, as long as it is intense.  A "spiritual exercise" every day - either alone, or in the company of someone who also wishes to better himself.  Spiritual exercises.  Step out of ... duration ... try to get rid of your own passions, vanities, and the itch for talk about your own name, which sometimes burns you like a chronic disease.  Avoid backbiting.  Get rid of pity and hatred.  Love all free human beings.  Become eternal by transcending yourself.
This work on yourself is necessary; this ambition justified.  Lots of people let themselves be wholly absorbed by militant politics and the preparation for social revolution.  Rare, much more rare, are they who, in order to prepare for the revolution, are willing to make themselves worthy of it.
The words, "become eternal by transcending yourself" sunk deep into my soul.

Another passage, which I have often read and re-read via Hadot, is by Friedrich Nietzsche and deals with the concept of satisfaction and happiness:
The main question is not at all whether or not we are satisfied with ourselves, but whether, more generally, there is anything at all with which we are satisfied.  Let us suppose we said Yes to one single instant: we have thereby said Yes not only to ourselves, but to the whole of existence.  For nothing is sufficient unto itself - neither in ourselves, nor among things - and if, just one single time, our soul has vibrated and resonated with happiness, like a stretched cord, then it has taken all of eternity to bring about that single event.  And, at that unique instant of our Yes, all eternity was accepted, saved, justified and affirmed. (The Inner Citadel, p. 144)
Now, to go back to the idea of Sisyphus.  Albert Camus took the story of Sisyphus, turned it on its side and told people, like me, to take a look.  In The Myth of Sisyphus, he said:
I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain. One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself, forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.
And so Hadot, Friedmann, Nietzsche, Sisyphus and Camus, grabbed me by the shirt-collar and slapped me across the face!  If for one single moment, you can say you were pleased or happy or satisfied, even in the daily grind, then your life and the universe and the world and eternity, would have been worth it.  And if you can grab it once, then why not try to grasp at it again?  Why not perform a "spiritual exercise" and transcend yourself every day?  Why not aspire to the "higher fidelity" of life?  What if, for an instantaneously brief moment, that rock paused at the pinnacle, and Sisyphus simultaneously gazed across the universe and was able to grasp and comprehend the totality of God's creation (not unlike the Overview Effect)?

The ancient Stoics, while not astronauts, still aspired to achieve this view from above in their quest to become sages.  And while modern man has left the Earth's atmosphere and traveled our solar system, this spiritual exercise, for the post-modern human, is still worthy of practicing here on Earth - in a forest, or by a lake.  In a sense, it is not a memento mori practice, but rather a memento vivere practice!

Post-script quotes I found after this post was published.

From Seneca (source):
I often entertained the impulse of ending my life then and there; but the thought of my kind old father kept me back. For I reflected, not how bravely I had the power to die, but how little power he had to bear bravely the loss of me. And so I commanded myself to live. For sometimes it is an act of bravery even to live.
From Einstein:
There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Notes and What I Learned from "How to Think Like a Roman Emperor" PART 4

Get the book: How to Think Like a Roman Emperor by Donald Robertson

This is the final part of my notes on How to Think Like a Roman Emperor.  This part deals with many other psychological ailments that we put on ourselves, namely fear, anxiety, worry, anger and psychological fear and anxiety in anticipation of death.  Many of the things learned thus far can also be applied to dealing with the above.

Dealing with Fear, Anxiety and Worry
  • view "misfortunes" and "obstacles" as something good ... as opportunities.  early in my career, before I knew of Stoicism, I often heard managers speak of 'change' and 'bad events' as "opportunities" and I hated that they did this!  It felt like they were just being politically correct or bull-shitting us.  Years later, and after many "unfortunate" events, I now see the wisdom of viewing these events as opportunities.  These events are going to happen independent of my will and choice.  Regardless, what I do have control over, is my attitude and perception of these events.  And if I look for ways to turn these "setbacks" to my advantage, then I begin to see "obstacles as the way forward" - I used them to my advantage.
  • When Marcus Aurelius goes to war at nearly the age of 50, he did not fear it, rather "he embraced his new role completely and turned it into an opportunity to deepen his Stoic resolve." p. 191
  • Perhaps you suffer from "impostor syndrome" ... now think that the most powerful man in the world had to deal with something similar.  "When he arrived in Carnuntum to take command of the legions, he was both physically frail and an absolute novice - an "old woman" of a philosopher, sneered the future usurper, Avidius Cassius.  Everyone must have questioned Marcus's competence to lead such a massive campaign."  But he persisted and became a hardened veteran.  How did he deal with this?
The Stoic Reserve Clause
  • "it means undertaking any action while calmly accepting that the outcome isn't entirely under our control." p. 193
  • other phrases that people use to describe the reserve clause:
    • fate permitting
    • God willing
    • if nothing prevents me
  • you need to do your best, no matter what your job or duty is, while not becoming upset with the results; it's about having a learning mindset
  • it's also "the action of pursuing the common good that constitutes the virtue of justice" ... act with positive, intelligent intent p. 194
  • a consuming fire mindset; no matter what is thrown at it, the fire uses the material to grow ... "Whether he meets with success or failure, he makes good use of his experience" p. 196
Anticipating and Contemplating Adversity
  • one of the most important Stoic practices is contemplation of adversity or "bad" events, "Seneca calls this praemeditatio malorum" p. 198
  • meditate on your exile, illness, injury, death of a loved one ... this is "stress inoculation"
  • this can be done in your daily morning routine ... as you gain experience, you know things go bad; failure happens and so you can prepare for it in a number of ways
  • this practice helps you gain emotional resilience which is "the long-term ability to endure stressful situations without becoming overwhelmed by them" p. 199
  • the time to prepare is in times of peace and leisure
Become Familiar (used to) Adversity
  • "familiarity breeds not contempt but indifference.  We can expect anxiety to abate naturally with repeated exposure, under normal conditions ... the feared situation must be experienced for considerably longer than normal for anxiety to properly habituate." p. 201
  • set aside time (perhaps once a month or weekly) to contemplate catastrophic events; the key is to go deep - really think about how you would react, how you would feel - get into the moment and let it sink in deep
  • "maintaining the image for long enough [time] requires considerable patience and concentration" p. 202
  • Robertson aptly notes, "It's important to emphasize that any technique that involves imagining upsetting scenes should be approached with caution by individuals who suffer from mental health problems or those vulnerable to being emotionally overwhelmed, such as sufferers of panic attacks." p. 203
  • Epictetus also notes that it takes time and patience when going through this practice and that you should start small, then proceed to bigger things, up to and including your own death (see Encheiridion 26)
The Inner Citadel [of peace]
  • many people wish to escape the drudgery of daily life or the adversities and challenges we face by going on a vacation to a beautiful beach or mountain retreat, but this is not necessary; we can retreat to our inner citadels at any time
  • "true inner peace comes from the nature of our thoughts rather than pleasant natural surroundings" p. 206
  • the nature of our thoughts is in our control and we can choose to be content in any circumstance - things don't disturb us, rather it's our opinion of those things that disturbs us
  • to retreat to this peace, reflect on two things:
    1. Change is perpetual and eventually everything you see today will soon be gone and forgotten
    2. External things cannot touch the soul, rather the disturbance actually comes from within
  • in sum, Meditations 4.3.4 "The universe is change: life is judgement"
Worry Postponement
The Stoic Response to Anger
  • "It is impossible to make men exactly as one would wish them to be; we must use them such as they are." p. 218
  • "Being a Stoic clearly doesn't mean being a passive doormat.  However, the wise man will not get upset about things that lie beyond his direct control, such as other people's actions." p. 228
  • Marcus greatly admired the qualities of Emperor Antoninus
    • gentleness
    • mildness of temperament
    • patient tolerance
    • never rude, overbearing or violent to people
    • never lost his temper
    • every case was considered calmly, methodically and consistently
    • put up with those who found fault with him
    • found no fault with those who treated him unfairly
    • patience with those who opposed him
    • remained calm when people wanted to provoke him
  • If anger swells inside you, walk away; count to 10 or 100
  • Ten Responses to Anger
    1. Remember we are social beings; have a "fellowship" attitude; we can view others' opposition as opportunities to practice virtue / patience; at the very least, we can learn to tolerate others respectively
    2. Consider others as a whole; no one is perfect, this is not the "final version" of them - they are growing and learning too; try to see things from their perspective; assume positive intent on their part; forgive them
    3. No one does wrong willingly; tolerate or teach; people deserve love and respect
    4. No one is perfect (including you!); if others fail, you should use it as an opportunity for self-reflection - how many times have we been imperfect?
    5. You can never be certain of others' motives - give others the benefit of doubt; don't jump to negative conclusions
    6. Remember life is short; we all will die; nothing lasts forever
    7. People, things, events can't upset us, it is our opinions of those people, things and events that upset us!  Mind the gap!
    8. Anger is counter-productive; when you are angry, you are delaying the time it takes to solve the problem at hand; it's more efficient to react to people, things, events with rational calmness and empathetic kindness ... "it often requires more effort to deal with the consequences of losing our temper that it does just to tolerate the very acts with which we're angry." p. 241  "leave the wrong with the wrongdoer"
    9. Nature gave us virtue; I like to view life as a card game and I evaluate my move based on the context ... and I always have a stack of cards (virtues) to play in response to what has been played.  I can always play the "patience" card or the "teach them with kindness" card; I just need the discipline to play good cards every time!
    10. It's ridiculous to expect perfection from others!  Therefore, don't be or act surprised when people do unexpected things
Death Becomes us All
  • "The Stoics taught me to look death square in the eye, to tell myself with merciless honesty each day 'I am mortal,' all the while remaining in good cheer." p. 258
  • "Fear of death does us more harm than death itself because it turns us into cowards, whereas death merely returns us to Nature." p. 259
  • "What I spent my life learning I now see everywhere—as I turn my attention from one thing to another, all sides grant me the same vision. The universe is a single living being, with a single body and a single consciousness. Every individual mind a tiny particle of one great mind. Each living creature like a limb or organ of one great body, working together, whether they realize it or not, to bring about events in accord with one great impulse. Everything in the universe so intricately woven together, forming a single fabric and chain of events. Whereas I once saw each fragmentary part and with some effort imagined the whole, my sight is now transformed. Having let go of fear and desire forever, I can see only the whole to which every part belongs, and this appears more real to me than anything else. What I knew before, my life and opinions, seem like smoke through which I glimpsed Nature darkly." p. 264
  • "The mind of the Sage is like a star or our own sun, from which purity and simplicity shine forth." p. 265 (see this tweet too)
  • "Man was meant to be like this: striving his whole life with patient endurance to cultivate the pure light of wisdom within himself and allowing it to shine forth for the benefit of others." p. 266
  • "Rising above indifferent things, the mind of the wise becomes a well-rounded sphere, as Empedocles used to say.  It neither overreaches itself, mingling with external things, nor shrinks away from them.  Its light spreads evenly over the world around it.  Complete in itself, smooth and round, bring and shining.  Nothing clings to its surface and no harm can touch it." p. 267 (see this tweet too)
  • Get the book and read the whole last chapter!

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Notes and What I Learned from "How to Think Like a Roman Emperor" PART 3

Get the book: How to Think Like a Roman Emperor by Donald Robertson

Pain is Inevitable and Stoicism Can Help
  • Marcus went to war when he was almost 50 years old; he was already a frail person
  • "He'd been preparing himself to face this inner battle for most of his life ... gradually [learning] to endure pain and illness by utilizing the psychological strategies of ancient Stoicism." p. 156
  • regarding pain, "the wise man neither strikes a tragic attitude nor whines about what befalls him." p. 160
  • he reflected on how Antoninus died ... he "was always contented, always cheerful.  It's said that even as he lay dying, with his last breath he whispered the word equanimity to his guard." p. 161
  • Epicurus was also a model philosopher regarding suffering well; he "didn't complain or dwell on his symptoms.  In fact, he used his illness as an opportunity to converse in a dispassionate manner about how the mind can remain contented while the body suffers terrible pain and discomfort." p. 163
  • Meditations 7.64 is an excellent quote about Marcus reminding himself: mind over body
  • use your opportunities of pain to learn to cope ... examples include, running, lifting weights, playing sports such as basketball, enduring long hours (being drowsy).  "everyday tolerance of minor physical discomforts can help us build lasting psychological resilience" p. 165
  • Learn to "withdraw" or "separate" your mind from your body
  • Epictetus' leg!  his leg was "cruelly twisted" by his master; "Epictetus didn't react but remained completely composed.  He merely warned his master that the body was about to snap.  Epaphroditus continued twisting it" until it did snap.  "Rather than complain, Epictetus responded matter-of-factly: 'There, did I not tell you that it would break?'" p. 166
Stoically Learning From Pain
  1. Cognitive Distancing
    • "it's not events/things that upset us, it's our judgments of those events/things"; therefore, suspend judgement when it comes to pain and pleasure
    • be indifferent to indifferent things
    • it's not a matter of suppressing the pain (or pleasure), but rather to "not assign judgments to them as good or bad" p. 171
    • "neither to suppress or worry about unpleasant feelings ... accept them while remaining detached" p. 172
    • "The Stoics want us to go through a radical upheaval in our underlying values so that our supreme goal is to live with wisdom and its accompanying virtues." p. 172
    • "When your conscious mind, your ruling faculty, invests too much importance in bodily sensations, it becomes 'fused and blended' with them and it is pulled around by the body like a puppet on strings." p. 174
    • I didn't notice if Robertson mentioned or quoted this in his book, but I find Encheiridion 41 to be very important in this regard: "It is the mark of a crude disposition to spend most of one's time on bodily functions such as exercise, eating, drinking, defecating, and copulating.  These are things to be done just incidentally.  All your attention should be on your mind."
  2. Functional Analysis
    • After some cognitive distancing, you can now perform some functional analysis, or in other words, evaluating the consequences of your thinking - your opinion of judgments
    • "the fear of pain does us far more harm than pain itself because it injures our very character." p. 174
    • "to live life fully, you have to get out of your comfort zone, as we say today.  Fear of pain makes cowards of us all and limits our sphere of life." p. 174 ... in other words, show some courage in the face of pain.
  3. Objective Representation
    • look at pain objectively "as if [you] were describing the problems of another person" p. 175 ... don't say "My leg is really hurting" but perhaps call yourself in the 3rd person when describing the pain (in plain language)
  4. Depreciation by Analysis
    • again, use the discipline of assent to break things down into parts that don't have as big an impact as the whole; divide time into the present moment
    • view the pain in the context of "the view from above"
  5. Contemplating Finitude and Impermanence
    • "physicalizing" pain; "by attributing an arbitrary shape or color to" the pain p. 177
    • similar to the view from above, you can limit the pain in both time and space
    • "this too shall pass"
    • Either you can endure this pain now, or you won't and you will die, in which case you won't feel anything
  6. Stoic Acceptance
    • "actively accept" the pain
    • the dog and the cart ... be the dog walking with the cart, instead of the dog being pulled by the cart
    • "pain becomes more painful when we struggle against it" ... instead we should "accept the sensation and relax into it or even welcome it." p. 178
    • this is where hugging cold statues, taking cold showers and such comes into play.  by doing these hard exercises, we expose ourselves to discomfort and therefore we become more accepting of pain when it comes our way
    • tackle pain head on; like stamping out a fire or "grasping the nettle"
    • "struggling against things we can't control does us more harm than good" p. 181
  7. Contemplating Virtue
    • get into the habit of asking yourself, 'what virtue or capacity do I have, that I can exercise in this circumstance?' ... in the context of pain, you might ask, "what resources do [I] have that might help [me] cope better with pain?" p. 182
    • we can look at others who might be in the same situation and are facing it with equanimity and see how they endure it ... then we can emulate them
    • What we face in life can be bearable; when we have a reason to bear the pain, it become easier.  Nietzsche said, "He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how." p. 183
The Large Black Spot
a large black spot is drawn on a piece of paper.  this represents pain, a toothache, sciatica, melancholy, etc.  if you acknowledge it, then you draw a circle around the spot.  subsequent affirmations of the the spot, draw subsequent lines around it ... thus it actually grows!  if you continue to fear it, worry about it and looking for ways to avoid it, more is added on.

"One exaggerates, imagines, anticipates affliction," wrote Seneca.

"Do not let us build a second story to our sorrow by being sorry for our sorrow." p. 185

"he who knows how to suffer suffers less" p. 185

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Notes and What I Learned from "How to Think Like a Roman Emperor" PART 2

Get the book: How to Think Like a Roman Emperor by Donald Robertson

The Fork, Lucius vs Marcus and the Choice of Heracles

Marcus' brother Lucius partied hard and was not a virtuous man.  However, Marcus still learned from him.  "Marcus says only that he's grateful for having had a brother 'who by his character was able to stimulate me to cultivate my own nature.'" Marcus "became more determined to strengthen his own character after observing his brother's vices spiraling out of control." p. 116

We see many in life who chase after pleasures, whether to avoid emotional pain, or to distract "themselves from or [suppress] unpleasant feelings or as a way to escape" p. 117.  Stoics know that "chasing empty, transient pleasures can never lead to true happiness in the long run" p. 117.  Instead, Stoics choose to seek a life that enjoys "authentic happiness or fulfillment" which they called eudaimonia.

This fork in our road, whether to choose a life of ease and pleasure, or to choose a life of true, enduring happiness, is what many of us face.  The Stoics and Robertson portray this fork as "The Choice of Heracles"

Donald Robertson has done a nice video of this allegory:

And so you too face this same choice.  Do you pursue a life of ease and pleasure to achieve happiness or is it "more rewarding to face hardship voluntarily and cultivate strength of character"? p. 121

Heracles is a Stoic hero, as he cheerfully faced challenges and hardships and was able to achieve "a profound sense of inner satisfaction knowing that he was fulfilling his destiny and expressing his true nature.  His life had something far more satisfying than pleasure: it had purpose." p. 121

Marcus decided to choose the same path, as Heracles, when he was faced with that fork; "the goal of his life [was] not pleasure but action" p. 123

On Friends

Marcus "picked his friends carefully, based on the character traits he most admired rather than what seem congenial to those of his social class.  His friends' company wasn't always fun - sometimes they spoke plainly and criticized him - but he embraced them because they shared his values and helped to improve him as a person." p. 124

The Stoics Side with Heracles and the Country (Hill) Mouse

If you haven't figured it out by now, the Stoics argue a life of challenges, hardships and action is what is best.  This is why the Stoics repeatedly say "virtue is the sole good."

Aesop's fable of the country mouse and city mouse underscore this key point.  "The country mouse says he would rather dine like a peasant than risk being eaten alive by ravenous dogs."  Marcus makes the same observation in Meditations Book 11.22 when he wrote, "The hill mouse and the house mouse - and the frightened scurrying of the house mouse."

Greed, pleasures and the like won't lead to sustained happiness.  It is a false hope.  On the other hand, a life of virtue and equanimity and facing adversity with cheerfulness will lead to genuine fulfillment.  This is wisdom.

"The wise man's sense of delight comes from one thing alone: acting consistently in accord with virtue."  Marcus also notes that two other sources of joy which come from contemplating virtue in others and welcoming your fate. p. 132-133

Stoic Practices for Changing Desires p. 135-150

  1. Evaluate the consequences of your habits / desires in order to select the ones you want to change
    • it's not just identifying the ones you want to drop, but it's also identifying ones you want to introduce in their place
    • learn self control; other virtues ... especially courage and moderation
    • look at the habits in the long run
    • write down the pros and cons of the bad and good habits
    • picture the positive consequences of dropping the bad and replacing them with the good
  2. Spot early warning signs so that you can nip the problem in the bud
    • self-monitoring is key ... use Stoic mindfulness
    • keep a journal of emerging desires (date/time/place, early warnings, scale of the urge, scale of the pleasure, other thoughts)
    • "study yourself" and know your triggers and high-risk situations, looking for "signs that typically precede the desire"
  3. Gain cognitive distance by separating impressions from external reality
    • simply notice the delineation between your perspective/impression and the external reality of the situation ... this leads to separating our values from external events.  Personally, I call this "minding the gap."
    • Whatever this impression of your's is, you need to "apostrophize" it by telling it "you are just a thought and not at all the thing you claim to represent" ... recall when Kakia approached Heracles, she called herself Eudomonia.  This is the same thing ... the impression is not real, it is false.
    • by "defusing" these thoughts, you weaken the desire
    • if it helps, imagine a role model or your trusted mentor is watching you and imagine what they would say ... this is a form of using accountability to distance yourself from your impression
    • use the Discipline of Assent to break the impression of the thing down into something that isn't so impressive ... a divide and conquer or depreciation by analysis.  This is where a purple robe is just cloth with the shellfish blood dye in it; wine is just dead grapes, etc.
      • don't use such rhetorical language like "I'm dying for some chocolate.  Why is it so good?  It tastes like heaven!  This is better than sex!"
      • perhaps think of yourself like a scientist and view desires and impressions of things from a detached, clinical, perspective
      • regarding sex, Marcus described it as "the rubbing together of body parts followed by a convulsion and the ejaculation of some mucus.  Not very romantic, but that's the point - he was aiming to neutralize inappropriate sexual urges ... the point isn't to obliterate all desire but rather to moderate unhealthy or excessive desires." p. 146-147
  4. Do something else instead of engaging in the habit / desire
    • remind yourself often that you are always free to do something else
    • "do something that gives you a sense of genuine accomplishment"
    • "replace unfulfilling habits and desires with activities that you find more intrinsically rewarding"
    • when thinking of habits we want to instill in our lives, "we should be guided more by the qualities we admire in other people and our true values" p. 149
    • "if you want to be a good role model for your children, you should ask yourself what sort of person you are and what qualities you want to exhibit." p. 149
    • "we aim for wisdom and strength of character not because we're hoping to gain something else but simply because that's who we want to be in life." p. 149
Addition of the Improvement Cycle
  • Like Marcus did in Book 1, set aside time to think about the qualities in others that you love and wish to add to your character
  • visualize and contemplate these qualities and how you might instill them in your life
  • GRATITUDE plays a big role in the management of desires, by imagining you've lost certain things; keep a gratitude journal
  • Morning Meditation
    • picture how you will cope with the day's challenges ahead and what virtues you will use and how you will instill the desired characteristics in your life for that day
  • During the Day
    • be mindful, look for triggers and signs for impressions and desires
    • every day is practice!  every day is an opportunity to become better!
  • Evening Meditation
    • Review your day's events three times
    • Identify what you did well and what you didn't do so well
    • Praise yourself for the well-done and coach yourself for the ones that need improvement, imagine your mentor coaching you
  • With the above 3-step improvement cycle, you have the foundation and system for improving yourself and becoming more Stoic

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Notes and What I Learned From Reading "How to Think Like a Roman Emperor" PART 1

Get the book: How to Think Like a Roman Emperor by Donald Robertson

  • It should be "simple and modest" p. 69
  • It requires conciseness and objectivity p. 69
  • practice by "deliberately describing events more objectively and in less emotional terms" p. 73
  • "learn to take greater ownership of or responsibility for the catastrophic value judgements that distress us" ... use down-to-earth language ... decatastrophize things p. 73
  • It's not the end for the world ...
  • Will this matter in a few hours, days, weeks, months, or years?
  • Now that you're viewing this as not a catastrophe, what virtues can you use to deal with the situation?  What are some realistic ways to bear and deal with it?
  • Write letters to yourself using this simple language and write about positive opportunities to exercise strength of character p. 76
Cognitive Distancing p.78
  • Write down thoughts concisely when they occur; view them on paper/notebook/whiteboard ... if on a whiteboard, stand on the other side of the room to read/view them
  • Simply recognize your thoughts ... "I notice I am thinking ...."
  • Do the same as above, but refer to the thoughts in the 3rd person
  • Evaluate the pros and cons of the thoughts in a detached manner
  • Tally the times you've had such thoughts
Interesting tid-bit: "Marcus kept a statuette of Rusticus in his personal shrine and offered sacrifices in his memory" p. 86

What Rusticus Taught Marcus p. 87
  • not to be pretentious
  • dress like a normal citizen
  • to be a careful and patient student of philosophy
  • to read attentively instead of skimming
  • not to be swayed too easily by speakers who have a silver tongue
  • side note from Epictetus: show the fruits of philosophy in character and action
"Indeed, those who assume that they have the fewest flaws are often the ones most deeply flawed in the eyes of others." p. 89

Get a Mentor
  • find a suitable mentor in whose wisdom and experience you can genuinely trust p. 90
  • make the effort to acquire an older friend: one known for honesty & plain speaking, who has master the same passions that you need help with, someone who can properly identify your vices and tell your frankly where you're going astray
  • listen patiently to your mentor and take criticisms without irritation

  • "If the real goal for Stoics is wisdom, then sometimes just blurting out the truth isn't enough.  We have to put more effort into communicating with others effectively." p. 92.  On the same page, Robertson mentions Marcus' "impressive ability to resolve conflicts between his friends ... ability to unite all his friends together in harmony ... patient diplomacy and sensitive use of language ... always be tactful and honest."
  • "Stoics like Marcus placed a lot more value on manners and civility than the Cynics did.  The Stoics realized that to communicate wisely, we must phrase things appropriately.  Indeed, according to Epictetus, the most striking characteristic of Socrates was that he never became irritated during an argument.  He was always polite and refrained from speaking harshly even when others insulted him.  He patiently endured much abuse and yet was able to put an end to most quarrels in a calm and rational manner." p. 93
  • Regarding tact in response to criticisms of us, "we should give everyone we meet permission to tell us what our faults are ... and resolve not to be angry with any of them." p. 93 ... we ought to welcome criticism and "turn it to our advantage by making all [people] into our teachers ... and show gratitude ... to those who rebuke us." p. 94  However, we should be wise in discerning good advice (criticism) from bad ... we need to be "scrupulously honest with [our] mentor"
  • our soul should be "naked and simple"
  • we should "never crave anything in life that requires walls or curtains" p. 95

Your Values / Modeling

  • If you don't have a mentor or can't find one, you can use Marcus' example from his Book 1 and write about the values you admire in others ... "write down the virtues exhibited by someone you respect" p. 99 ... this stems from the advice given to Zeno to "take on the color of dead men"
  • Write these values down; think about them often, revise the list, process them again ... visualize these characteristics and traits and you will begin to live them ... this is how you "dye your soul"
  • Another idea is to write down the virtues of a hypothetical sage
Stoic Mindfulness / Prosoche / Daily Routine for Implementing Values
  • after getting feedback from a mentor or after identifying your values, you need to install a personal feedback system of introspection and improvement ... "continually to be self-aware, as if a wise mentor or teacher is observing you.  We call this Stoic mindfulness."  The old Stoics called it prosoche.
  • Morning and evening meditation provide planning opportunities for the day ahead as well as retrospectives for the day that has passed
  • For the morning, ask yourself two questions:
    1. What would the consequences be if you acted as a slave to your passions?
    2. How would your day differ if you acted more rationally, exhibiting wisdom and self-discipline? p. 105
  • For the evening, use guidance from "The Golden Verses"
    • Allow not sleep to close your wearied eyes.
    • Until you have reckoned up each daytime deed:
    • "Where did I go wrong?  What did I do?  And what duty's left undone?
    • From first to last review your acts and then
    • Reprove yourself for wretched acts, but rejoice in those done well
  • Sticking to this routine, you will begin to be more mindful during the day
More on Values
  • Consistent reflection on your values helps you find clear direction in your life
  • Additional questions might make your values even clearer:
    • What's ultimately the most important thing in life to you?
    • What do you really want your life to stand for or represent?
    • What do you want to be remembered for after you're dead?
    • What sort of person do you most want to be in life?
    • What sort of character do you want to have?
    • What would you want written on your tombstone? p. 108
  • Writing out lists; side-by-side columns
    1. The things you most desire for yourself in life
    2. The qualities you find most praiseworthy and admirable in other people
  • Contemplate "what would happen if you were to make virtue your number one priority in life?" p. 109

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Stewardship & Sustainability

I love peanut M&M's.  That chocolaty crunch gets me every time.  I pop one in my mouth, crack it down the middle with my teeth; the peanut separates from the chocolate and then I grind the whole thing and savor the taste.  Seeing a jar full of peanut M&M's is also very satisfying.  I can hardly help myself, if I walk in a room and see a jar of those delicious pebbles, I scoop a handful and begin to munch on them!

Years ago, I heard story about a jar of M&M's.  This world-famous rock band toured many, many cities.  As part of their contract with venues, they put a clause in that demanded all brown M&M's be removed.  You're probably thinking, "what the hell??  They must be prima-donnas!"  But there is more to it than that!

Think of it - this huge rock band production has literally tons of equipment that is hauled around from city to city.  Their concert schedule is very tight and there are thousands of things on the list to do in order for them to pull off a successful and safe concert.  The venue host has to be able to meet the demands of the band efficiently and quickly.  So the band produces a contract, provides it to the venue ahead of time.  And this contract is very detailed and if even one demand is not met, such as verifying the weight of the stage will support the band and the equipment, then the band's safety is in danger.  The band doesn't have time to verify the entire contract, but they want to be sure it has been met.  So that put a clause in there that demands brown M&M's be removed from the jar that is in their backroom.  When the band shows up, and sees brown M&M's they know the host has not read the contract! (link)

We live in a world that demands people get shit done!  We have busy lives and in some business and industries, there is a lot of complexity.  People are assigned duties and work and they are expected to GyShiDo!  In a more professional term, this is called stewardship.  You have been given some task; now you must steward it to completion.  If you complete a task, you might be given another one of equal or greater weight.  Once you string together multiple tasks for a consistent amount of time, you will be given more and weightier tasks and responsibilities, with greater complexity and difficulty.  People who show the ability to handle these problems "level up" in life.

In our capitalistic society, we reward people who can sustain their good stewardship.

A kid learns to take care of their body, their clothes, their room, their possessions, their friendships, their grades, their hourly wage job, their middle school and high school courses, and then their college courses.  If they complete the thousands of tasks during those years, they will graduate and most likely find a job and begin their career.  The cycle of stewardship and sustainability continues.  This is how winners are made.

So when you don't feel like cleaning up after yourself in the kitchen or if you don't want to organize your room, just remember you are making bad grooves and habits in your life.  Learn what it takes to get your shit done and then GyShiDo!

Friday, August 2, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 4.13 - To those who talk too readily about their personal affairs

To get right to the point, when it comes to sharing secrets and being vulnerable, Epictetus advises us to hold our cards tight to our chest, until we've determined that we can trust other people and they are virtuous.  Otherwise, just keep quiet.

We are often faced with people who try to gain our confidence who might share very personal information or a secret, in the hopes of getting us to reciprocate.  These are con-men and you need to watch out for them.

"When someone seems to have talked frankly to us about his personal affairs, we are somehow impelled to reveal our own secrets to him in turn, and we regard that as being frankness.This comes about partly because, after hearing our neighbor's confidences, it seems unfair not to reply in kind by giving him a share of our own; and also because we think that we won't give such people the impression of being frank if we keep quiet about our personal affairs." (v. 1-2, p. 275)

If you are going to share your personal affairs and secrets with others, you need to be sure you can trust them.  Otherwise, "it is just as if [you] had a water-tight barrel and [someone else] had one with a hole in it, and [they] came and entrusted [their] wine to [you], for [them] to store it in [your] barrel, and [they] then complained that [you] for [your] part didn't entrust [your] wine to [them]!" (v. 12, p. 276)

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 4.12 - On attention

Prosoche - being mindful; paying attention.

Society needs this more than ever.  I need it.  You need it.

Do you recall what you have done today?  What you have eaten?  Can you make an accounting of your time?

Simply paying attention is a difficult challenge.  But the more observant you are about your own thoughts and actions, the greater the insight you will have about what you can do and who you are.

Thus, Epictetus cautions strongly against relaxing your mindfulness.  "When you relax your attention for a short while, don't imagine that you'll be able to recover it whenever you please, but bear this in mind, that because of the error that you've committed today, your affairs will necessarily proceed far worse in every aspect." (v. 1, p. 273)  The reasoning goes that if you begin to break your habit of mindfulness, then you are at risk of developing the habit of not even trying to be mindful and then full inattention takes over - autopilot.

No, instead you should understand that everything can be done better with the habit of attention.  He asks if carpenters and ship helmsmen can do their job better by being inattentive?  The answer is a resounding NO!  Therefore, the opposite must be true.  You can live a better life, and perform your job much better by practicing mindfulness - by paying attention to what you are doing.  And if paying attention to your job is important, how much more important is paying attention to your life and what is truly yours: your choice; your attitude?

And if you mind your attitude and your choices, then you will have right thinking and right actions (discipline of assent and discipline of action).

Decide now, to be more mindful.  If you say, "'From tomorrow I'll pay attention,' be clear that what you're really saying is, 'Today I'll be shameful, importunate, and mean-spirited; it will lie within the power of others to cause me distress; I'll lose my temper today; I'll fall prey to envy.' ... But if it would be good for you to pay attention tomorrow, how much better it would be to do so today." (v. 20-21, p. 275)

Monday, July 29, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 4.11 - On cleanliness

There really isn't much to say on this chapter.  In a nutshell, Epictetus admonishes his students to be clean, so as not to offend others.

The desire to be clean should from from the same desire to have right judgements.  "A pure mind is thus one that makes right judgements, for that kind of mind alone can escape confusions and pollutions in its acts.  We should endeavour as far as possible to achieve something similar with regard to the body too." (v. 8-9, p. 270)

The body, therefore, is an outward representation of the inward.  Correct the inward, and the outward will follow.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 4.10 - What should we despise and what should we especially value?

What if?

That is a game so many of us play.  It's a good game to play, if you play it correctly.  But played badly, the game introduces so many psychological problems.

What kinds of "what-if's" roll around in your head?  I'll rattle off some that I've encountered in my own head and other people's heads.

What if ...
  • my house floods
  • I lose my job
  • I injure my knee terribly
  • my daughter gets kidnapped while on an overseas trip
  • my wife dies
  • my parents hate my lifestyle
  • my neighbors and co-workers disagree with my political opinions
  • another nation launches a nuclear missile onto my city
  • the earth gets hit by an asteroid
  • global warming were real or if were a hoax
  • I fail to budget my finances well
  • my identity were stolen
  • I don't have enough money to retire
  • the company I work for goes out of business
  • robotics and automation makes my career and job irrelevant
As you read this list, you may even feel the anxiety bubble up within yourself.  If so, identify it; acknowledge it.  If you can't mentally do this, then perhaps come up with a creative way to acknowledge it ... such as write the worry or worries on a whiteboard, and then stand on the other side of the room and look at them objectively.  Maybe pretend a friend of yours has these worries.  Regardless, figure out a way to recognize these anxieties.  This is the first step to dealing with it; this shows you are concerned about your own mental well-being.  Epictetus would even "congratulate [you] for having put aside the things that other people get exercised about, and their fears" and that you, on the other hand are willing to "concentrate on [your] own business in the area where [your] true self lies." (v. 5, p. 266)

Next, you need to determine if these things are absolutely within your control or not.  As Epictetus notes, "it is with regard to external things that all people fall into difficulty, fall into bewilderment.  'What shall I do?  How will it be?  How will it turn out?  I only hope this, or that, doesn't happen to me.'  All of these are expressions of people who are preoccupied with things that lie outside the sphere of choice."  (v. 1-2, p. 265)

Next, you need to change your thinking; perform some self-help coaching.  So tell yourself to "never desire anything that is not your own, and never seek to avoid anything that is not within your power.  Otherwise you're bound to fail in your desires, and bound to fall into what you want to avoid." (v. 6, p. 266)

Once you go through this thought process, you should realize there is no "room left for the questions 'How will it be?' and 'How will it turn out?' and 'I only hope that this or that doesn't happen to me.'" (v. 7, p. 266).

You might be thinking that Epictetus is advocating not planning for anything.  I don't think that is the case.  I think we can tackle the "what-if" questions, but we cannot turn our peace of mind / equanimity wholly over to things outside our control.  I think it is a spectrum. A lot of people allow their minds to go to the "what-if" questions and they worry endlessly about these things.  In a sense, they are like little hamsters running on a wheel and never going anywhere.  While other people decide to control their desires and aversions, knowing full well that much of this is out of our control.

So, go ahead and think about the "what-ifs" and make a plan to address risk (or maximize gain).  But don't let any of this stuff cause any fear and anxiety in your life.  Instead, use a "reserve clause" and tell yourself you intend to address the risks and gains in the "what-ifs" knowing full well that things may not work out as you intend.  And if they don't work out, then you won't be disturbed by them, but rather you will use your ability to act virtuously as needed.

Epictetus discusses Hercules.  He didn't even bother with the "what-ifs."  He just went out and lived life.  He never said, "'How can I prevent a huge lion from coming my way, or a huge boar, or a savage man?'" (v. 10, p. 266)

And like Hercules, you should not worry about death.  We will all die and we most likely will not have the choice in how we die.  But we do have a choice in our attitude at the time of death.  You can die while "carrying out some deed worthy of a human being, something beneficent, something that serves the common good, something noble." (v. 12, p. 266)  And if you can't be doing that, then you should focus on "putting [yourself] right, striving to perfect the faculty that deal with impressions, and labouring to achieve peace of mind, while yet fulfilling [your] social duties." (v. 13, p. 266-267)

Later on in the chapter, Epictetus notes that death is our ultimate harbor - we will all make port there!  "As a consequence, nothing that happens to us in life is truly difficult.  You can leave the house whenever you want and no longer be troubled by the smoke." (v. 27, p. 268)

The fruits of this mental work will be "freedom from passion, and freedom from disturbance, and to sleep soundly when you sleep, and to be fully awake when you're awake, to be afraid of nothing, and anxious about nothing." (v. 22, p. 267)

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 4.9 - To one who had become shameless

Epictetus seems to be talking to a man who had once embraced Stoicism, but then turned from it and now is distressed by seeing other people who are wealthy and have prominent public offices.

If you are similarly distressed, Stoicism offers the advice to: manage your desires!  "You're capable of not having need of wealth" and that you have the power to focus on "something of much greater value" - that of modesty, decency and noble thoughts (see v. 2, p. 264).

The man who does have wealth and prominence and a perfect body and who has a beautiful wife, may have to worry about "keeping on top of the hill" and retaining the image.  He may have to deal with jealousy (other men seducing his wife), or fear of losing his wealth and prominence.

Epictetus scolds this man who he's trying to help, "Man, you used to be modest and now you're no longer so.  Have you lost nothing?  Instead of Chrysippus and Zeno, you now read Aristides and Evenus [erotic novelists].  Instead of Socrates and Diogenes, you admire the man who is able to corrupt and seduce the largest number of women.  You want to be good-looking and make yourself so, although you're not, and want to display yourself in flashy clothing to attract women's attention, and if you come across some wretched perfume somewhere, you count yourself blessed." (v. 6-7, p. 254)

He later says, "What, is a bit of cash the only thing that a man can lose?  Can't self-respect be lost; can't decency be lost?" (v. 9, p. 264)  Just this last week, I watched the movie Fargo.  After tracking down and arresting Gaear Grimsrud, the police chief Marge Gunderson lectures him about all the death he caused "for a little bit of money."  It is quite a great scene that really puts life in perspective and draws attention to the fact that some people lose focus about what a good life is (watch it here).

Lastly, he coaches the man about how he can regain the good life.  "Fight against yourself; restore yourself to decency, to self-respect, to freedom ... condemn your own actions ... don't give up on yourself ... learn instead from what the wrestling masters do.  The boy has taken a fall: 'Get up,' he says, 'and resume the fight until you grow strong.'" (v. 11-15, p. 265)

Monday, July 22, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 4.8 - To those who hastily adopt the outward appearance of philosophers

Epictetus has a tooth to pick with some phonies!  He wants people to avoid this scenario: they see someone who looks like a philosopher (dresses like one, acts like one, etc.) but the person really isn't a philosopher, and therefore the observer discounts philosophy altogether!  I can almost see Epictetus do a face palm!

"When one sees someone making clumsy use of an axe, one doesn't say, 'What is the use of the carpenter's art?  Look at how badly carpenters work,' but one says instead, 'That man is surely no carpenter, because he is so bad at handling an axe.'" (v. 7, p. 259)

He further notes that people generally appreciate and understand the carpenter's work, the musician's skill and the artist's work, but when it comes to philosophy, people are confused, and jump immediately to looking at outward appearances to judge philosophy.

We ought to look at "the subject matter" of philosophy, when judging whether a person is a good philosopher or not.  Therefore, we don't judge the philosopher by what kind of cloak he wears, but by his reason and principles (see v. 12, p. 260).

He advises that when people attempt to become a philosopher, they should "conceal the fact" knowing that whatever they did, they were doing it for their own sake and not for show (see v. 17, p. 260-261).  The only way a person should show others they were attempting to be a philosopher was through their actions.
See how I eat, how I drink, how I sleep, how I endure things, how I abstain from them, how I cooperate with others, how I exercise my desires and aversions, how I maintain my social relationships, whether natural or acquired, without becoming confused or obstructed; and judge me by all of this, if you can. (v. 20, p. 261)
Furthermore, the success of a philosopher is judged by asking yourself some questions.  "If anyone can harm me, I'm not achieving anything; if I'm waiting for someone else to help me, I myself am nothing.  If I want something and it is not accomplished, then I'm miserable." (v. 25, p. 261)

Lastly, he uses an analogy for learning and practicing Stoicism:
First of all, you must undertake hard winter training, examine your impulses, and see whether they aren't those of a dyspeptic, of a woman seized with cravings during her pregnancy.  Take care at first that you're not recognized for what you are; practice philosophy for yourself alone for a short period.  For this is the way in which fruit is produced; the seed must be buried for a time, and lie hidden, and grow little by little to come to maturity.  ... Allow the root to grow, allow it next to bring forth its first joint, and then the second, and then the third; and in this way, the fruit will naturally force its way out, whether I wish it or not. (v. 35-36, 40, p. 262-263)

Friday, July 19, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 4.7 - On freedom from fear

it's about the game, not about owning more dice
My journey into Stoicism began over a decade ago.  After graduating high school, and after living in a foreign country for two years serving a church mission and after graduating from college and getting married and starting a family and working full time, I began to feel like something wasn't right.  I suffered from bouts of depression - especially on the weekends.  Between 2007 and 2014, the bouts got worse and worse, until my reasoning got to the point where I thought ending my life was more bearable than continuing to live.  Those were dark days.  It was like looking over a vast chasm that was pitch black and contemplating jumping into it.  There was real fear in my soul.

Instead of jumping, I reached out for help.  First to my wife, then to some others and eventually to a trusted therapist.  My therapist was able to help me correct some faulty internal thinking using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.  After I learned what CBT is, I then learned that it had strong similarities with Stoicism.  From there, I learned of Donald Robertson, Ryan Holiday, then Marcus Aurelius, Seneca and Epictetus.  The dark days, as I call them, have never returned and I doubt they ever will.  I can return to that vast, dark chasm and look down, but now I experience no fear whatsoever.  This is the freedom Stoicism offers.

Epictetus talks of a similar situation - that of staring at death in the form of a tyrant.
if someone who has no particular desire either to die or to live, but is happy to accept whatever is granted, comes into the presence of the tyrant, what is to prevent him from approaching him without fear? - 'Nothing.' - If someone feels the same, then, about his property, and his children, as that man feels about his body, and in short, he has been brought into such a state by some madness or despair that he doesn't care whether he has them or not, but as children playing with bits of pottery (dice) compete with one another in the game without caring about the bits of pottery, so he too has come to set no value on material things, but merely takes pleasure in the game and its moves, what tyrant could still inspire him with fear, or what guards, or what swords of theirs? (v 4-5, p. 254)
If someone who is mad (crazy) or someone who is in despair can achieve this state of mind, then surely "reason and demonstration [can] teach people that God has made all that is in the universe, and the universe itself as a whole, to be free from hindrance, and self-sufficient, and has made all the parts of it to serve the needs of the whole?" (v. 6, p. 254)  When that person has come to an understanding of this logic, there is nothing that can prevent them "from living with a light heart and easy mind, calmly awaiting whatever may happen, and putting up with what has already happened." (v. 12, p. 255).  That is the true Stoic mental state.

There is an old movie, based on an old book, which has an interesting scene in it.  It is from A River Runs Through It and it is about how the young Maclean is learning how to write well.  His father makes him write the same paper over and over again until it has been written well.  Once he accomplishes it, his father tells him to throw it away!  If you are like me, you might gasp a bit about all that work, only to be crumpled and tossed into the trash.  But, the ends have been achieved!  The young Norman Maclean learned what his father wanted him to learn.  The goal was not to write a perfect paper to be framed and published.  The goal was to have gone through the learning.  You can see this scene here:

Similarly, we must approach life and even our life itself.  The goal is not to hold onto wealth, health, possessions, fame, wife, children.  The goal is to go through the experience and to exercise what is truly yours: your use of judgement, impressions and virtues.

If the universe or God wishes you to be poor, then "bring it on" and demonstrate the part of "a good actor to play the part."  If the universe or fate wishes you to "hold office," then "bring it on."  If you should no longer hold office?  Bring it on.  If you should suffer hardships; bring it on.  To go into exile; bring it on.  You must learn to embrace this attitude: "Wherever I go, all will be well with me ... not because of the place [in time or space] but because of my judgements." (see v. 13-14, p. 255)

Your judgements are: you hold wealth, possessions, fame, health, relationships as externals and indifferents.  These things are the clay of life and inherently have no value.  The value is in what you do with the clay - what your unique judgement and virtue demonstrates.  "Let others be afraid [of losing or gaining] such things!  For my part I've enquired into them, and no one holds any power over me.  I've been set free by God, I know his commands, no one has the power any longer to enslave me, I have the right emancipator, I have the right judges." (v. 16-17, p. 256)

As for the tyrant, "I have no fear" of him or the way he can treat me.  "Why should I admire him any longer, why should I be in awe of him, why should I be afraid of his guards?  Why should I rejoice if he speaks kindly to me and offers me a welcome, and why should I tell others how he spoke to me?  Is he Socrates, by any chance, or Diogenes, that his praise should provide proof of what I am?" (v. 28-29, p. 257)

Don't be like those people whose concern is for living in "marble halls" or having hundred of people working for them ("slaves") or who are concerned about wearing "eye-catching clothes" or having many possessions, listening to the latest music, seeing the newest movies or getting the newest tech (see v. 37, p. 258).  As long as they "devote [their] concern to external things, [they'll] own more of those than anyone else" but their "ruling part" of them will be "filthy and neglected." (v. 41, p. 259)

But rather, be like a child, whose goal is to play the dice game.  They want to roll the dice and enjoy the game.  They value the game more than owning the dice!

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 4.6 - To those who are distressed at being pitied

Pity: the feeling of sorrow and compassion caused by the suffering and misfortunes of others.

"'It annoys me', someone says, 'to be pitied.'" (v. 1, p. 249)

Do you ever feel the pity of others?  If so, this is a symptom that you still care deeply what other people think of you.  You will be glad to know that you can do something about this, but it may not exactly be what you think it is.

What could be some reasons an aspiring Stoic might feel the pity of others?  It may be because the aspiring Stoic is in poverty, or doesn't hold public office or doesn't have a prestigious career, or perhaps he is ill or in poor health (see v. 2, p. 249).

And what should an aspiring Stoic be prepared to do about this feeling of pity from others?

Option 1: "convince the mass of people that none of these [poverty, prestige, poor health] are in fact [good or] bad, but that one can be happy even when one is poor, and holds no office, and enjoys no honor." (v. 3, p. 249)

Option 2: remedy the situation by getting out of poverty, gaining office and securing perfect health.

If you pursue "option 2", then you may need to uphold considerable pretense and conceal who you really are (what you really think).  You will need to make a show and make others believe you are something you are not and you may even need to "resort to mean tricks to appear better looking and of higher birth than you really are." (see v. 4, p. 249)

But if you pursue "option 1" you will soon learn "it is both impracticable and long to attempt that very thing that Zeus has been unable to achieve, to convince everyone about what things are good and what are bad." (v. 5, p. 250)

But what about a third option?  Does an alternative exist?  Indeed, it does.  It is the Stoic course of action and it is entirely within your control.  You must "give up things that lie outside the sphere of choice, and turn away from them and acknowledge that they are not your own." (v. 9, p. 250)  More precisely, you must "let other people be and become your own teacher and your own pupil." (v. 11, p. 250)

Instead of worrying about something out of your control - in this case, the pity of other people toward you - you should rather focus on worrying about how you are coming along in developing your own character and how you deal with impressions that present themselves to you.

As an example, let's say your "head is perfectly well [yet] everyone thinks that [you] have a headache" when in fact you don't even have the slightest of headaches.  What does it matter to you that everyone else thinks you have a headache?  You don't have a single ache or fever, yet everyone is acting as though you did!  What do you do?  Perhaps you "assume a doleful expression and say, 'Yes, to be sure, it is quite some time that I've been unwell' ... and at the same time, [you] secretly [laugh] at those who are taking pity on [you]." (v. 21, p. 251)

Do the same for all the externals in your life - think nothing of them, but if people who are uneducated and who place high value (who think these things are good) on a prestigious career, wealth, health and fame, pity you for not having these things, perhaps you say, "oh, thank you!  I'll do my best to bear my lot in life well" while inwardly laughing at the dolts who probably don't have a clue.  There is no reason whatsoever to "get worked up about what other people think of [you]." (v. 24, p. 252)  While "they've devoted their efforts to obtaining public posts, you [have devoted your efforts] to your judgements.  They to riches, you to the proper use of your impressions." (v. 25, p. 252)

As for you - you must focus on "how to make right use of your impressions" and to help you do so, "you should ask yourself as soon as you get up in the morning,

  • What have I still to do to achieve freedom from passion?
  • To achieve peace of mind?
  • Who am I?  Surely not a mere body?  Or possessions, or reputation?  None of these things.
  • But what?  I'm a rational living being.
  • What is required, then, of such a being?
  • Go over your actions in your mind
    • Where have I gone wrong? with regard to achieving happiness?
    • What did I do? that was unfriendly, or unsocialable, or inconsiderate?
    • What have I not done that I ought to have done? with regard to these matters?" (v. 34-35, p. 253)
In this way, you will be less concerned for the pity you are receiving from others, and more focused on making yourself a wise and just person.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 4.5 - Against those who are quarrelsome and brutal

"A virtuous and good person neither quarrels with anyone, nor, so far as he can, does he allow anyone else to quarrel." (v. 1, p. 245)

Epictetus points to Socrates as the exemplar as he settled many quarrels and how patient he was in dealing with other people, including his wife and son. (see v. 3, p. 245)  He was able to do this because "he kept the thought firmly fixed in his mind that no one can exert control over another person's ruling centre." (v. 4, p. 245)  He knew he could never change other people, but rather he focused on "attending to his own business alone in such a way that others too" would see his example and want to also act according to nature (v. 5, p. 245)  And for a person "in this state of mind" there is no "room left for contention." (v. 8, p. 245)

You can keep the peace and minimize quarreling by putting things in the proper context.

EVENT: "That man abused you"

RESPONSE: "I'm most grateful that he didn't hit me"

EVENT: "But he has gone on to hit you"

RESPONSE: "I'm most grateful that he didn't kill me"

This line of thinking is not unlike the teaching of Jesus when he instructed his disciples to "turn the other cheek" (see Matthew 5:38-40).

Some may think this reasoning is a bit extreme by today's standards.  Indeed, if someone hits you, there are avenues to pursue to seek justice and these avenues allow people to pursue justice dispassionately and Stoicly.

What ought to matter to the individual human?  Certainly not possessions and fame and distinguished appointments and careers.  Bur rather, it ought to be how the individual manages her impressions and "imprints" that are borne in her mind. (v. 15, p. 246)  And what imprints do her judgments carry?  "Gentleness, sociability, patience, love of her neighbor" and not "quick to anger" or "prone to rage" nor being "discontented with her lot." (v. 17-18, p. 246-247)

There is no need to worry about what other people think of you.  For their part, they are focused on wealth, health, prestige and fame.  But your craft is to focus on being a good human being - someone who is concerned about exercising the appropriate virtue (wisdom, justice, courage, self-discipline) in any given circumstance.  Beyond that, nothing else should matter to you.  So, "why worry about them?  Any more than a craftsman worries about people who have no knowledge of his craft." (v. 22, p. 247)  In this way, you can settle quarrels and not start them.

And when people try to read your mind or try to "trigger" a reaction in you, then you should "come forward to proclaim that you're especially amused by [them] who imagine that they're able to harm you." (v. 24, p. 247)  Similarly, "inhabitants of a well-fortified city laugh at those who are besieging them: 'Why are those men going to all that trouble to no purpose?  Our walls are secure; we have provisions that will last for a very long time, as will all the rest of our supplies.'  That is what renders a city secure and impregnable, and in the case of a human mind, it is nothing other than it's judgements." (v. 25, p. 247)

In a word, focus on strengthening your mind - on becoming mentally tough - and don't let possessions, wealth, health and fame drive your life.  These are the "puppet strings" you must cut.

"It is a person's judgement alone about each thing that harms him, and upsets him, and this is what gives rise to dissension, and civil strife, and war." (v. 28, p. 248)

This is your task: "to adopt an attitude" that "no tyrant can hinder [you] ... nor can any master, nor can the crowd hinder [you], nor can the stronger hinder the weaker, because this has been granted to us by God free from all hindrance.  These are the judgements that bring love into a household, and concord into a state, and peace among nations; and cause a person to be grateful to God, and confident at all times." (v. 34-35, p. p. 248-249)

Friday, July 12, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 4.4 - To those who have set their hearts on living at peace

You are travelling during the summer, on vacation.  After a long day of travel, you arrive at the hotel, check-in and then take your luggage to the room.  Immediately you love the room.  It's clean and cool; the beds are made and the window shows a great view to the beach.  Your thoughts and desires drift towards, "wow, wouldn't it be nice to wake up in this room, to this view every day!"  But then another thought wrings you back into reality; "Well, we will only be here a week, so I'll enjoy it while I can, and we check-out at the end of the week, I'll do so with gratitude and good memories in my heart."

It is this attitude of not wanting to hold on - this reserve clause of acceptance - that we need to embrace with regard to everything that is outside the sphere of our control.  And not only can this be applied to things that we desire, but it can and ought to be applied to things we may want to avoid.  And in this way, we can keep a constant, steady attitude in life.

"Remember that it is not only desire for office and wealth that debases men and makes them subservient to others, but also desire for quiet, and leisure, and travel, and learning ... what difference does it make, then, whether you set your desire on becoming a senator, or on not becoming one?" (v. 1-2, p. 239)  "Someone else is afraid that he won't gain office, while you're afraid that you will.  In no way should you be afraid, man!" (v. 19, p. 241)

"Nothing characterizes happiness better than the fact that it isn't subject to interruption or obstruction." (v. 6, p. 239)

No matter what happens, you should be steady; and even content with events.  "If this is what God pleases, so be it!" (v. 21, p. 241).  Your task is to "be happy, and be free from hindrance and obstruction." (v. 22, p. 241)

And, "if you attach value to anything at all that lies outside the sphere of choice, you've destroyed your choice.  Not only is [the appointment to] office outside that sphere, but also freedom from office; and not only want of leisure, but also leisure itself." (v. 23, p. 242)

If you are thrust into the commotion of every day life, it is in your power to change your attitude about the situation.  You can "think of it as a festival" if you wish, but "don't be irritable, don't be oversensitive about what comes to pass." (v. 24-25, p. 242).

Or, "if things turn out in such a way that you find yourself living alone, or with few companions, call that peace and quiet, and make use of those circumstances as you ought; converse with yourself, work on your impressions, perfect your preconceptions.  But if you get caught in a crowd, call it the games, call it a public gathering, call it a festival and join in the festival with everyone else." (v. 26, p. 242)

What is in your power?  The "ability to deal with impressions." (v. 28, p. 242)

"Haven't you heard it repeatedly stated that you must completely eradicate desire, and direct your aversion solely towards things that lie within the sphere of choice, and that you must give up everything, your body, possessions, reputation, and books or commotion, and office or freedom from office?  For if you turn aside from this course, you've become a slave, you're subject to others, you're liable to hindrance and constraint, you're entirely in the power of others.  No, you should keep the saying of Cleanthes at hand, 'Guide me, O Zeus, and thou, O Destiny'.  Is it your wish that I should go to Rome?  To Rome I go.  To Gyara?  Then to Gyara.  To Athens?  Then to Athens.  Into prison?  Then into prison." (v. 33, p. 243)

But who is Zeus, God and Destiny?  What if there is some person who claims they know the will of Zeus or God and they are telling me what to do?  Should I do so without thought?  I've made a note in my book on page 243.  "I'm ok with this if the 'divinity within me' is the part of the God who is directing the Universe and Destiny.  I don't want another man speaking for God, to me."  And to be clear, I believe there is a part of God that resides in me - the divinity within.  Marcus Aurelius references this several times in Meditations Book 2.13, 2.17, 3.4, 3.7, 3.15-16, 5.10, 12.1.  Practically speaking, this is hard work - trying to understand what God wants you specifically to do in this world.  Some might call it a personal calling.  Some might say that we were fated to do something.  Being true to this is what I think of as 'the divinity within.'  It is 'the god particle' if you have read God's Debris.

"There is one path alone that leads to happiness - and keep this thought at hand morning, noon and night - it is to renounce any claim to anything that lies outside the sphere of choice, to regard nothing as being your own, to surrender everything to deity, to fortune, to consign the administration of everything to those whom Zeus himself has appointed to carry out that task, and to devote yourself to one thing alone, that which is your own, that which is free from all hindrance." (v. 39, p. 244)

Live your life - go about what you think you should be doing.  But don't set your heart on things that are outside your control.  Go to school, get a job, marry, raise a family, go to work and contribute to society, but don't ever lose sight of the fact that all that you gain (health, wealth, fame, etc) can be lost and that if you lose it, you should view it as leaving a hotel room with a nice view.  Furthermore, events will conspire to "call you" to do something.  You may be called to lead an effort, or project at work or for the government or for your family.  You can choose to refuse, but you must look inside your heart - to the divinity within - to see what God has to say about it.  At some point, we have to act and not act.  We can't simply just drift in life aimlessly - or have others tell us what to do or not do.  So act!  Understand what the divinity within you says, find your unique calling and don't hold onto desires so harshly and don't avoid pain and discomfort at all costs.

The happy and industrious person "refers all his efforts to his own ruling centre, as he strives to bring it into accord with nature and to keep it so." (v. 43, p. 244)

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 4.3 - What things should be exchanged for what?

"This is the thought that you should keep at hand to apply whenever you lose any external thing: what are you acquiring in exchange for it?" (v. 1, p. 238)

The way he stats this is a bit cryptic, but further on, he makes that point that you wouldn't feel you've lost out if you exchanged a donkey in return for a horse or a sheep in return for an ox.  And when applied to losing external things (things outside our control), you would be worse off if you got upset by this loss, while on the other hand, if you keep your cool, you will have gained in virtue (wisdom, courage, self-control, justice).

And if he wasn't clear enough in this point, he makes it clearer when he says, "if you nod off just for a moment, all that you've amassed up until then, is lost and gone.  Pay careful attention, then, to your impressions; watch over them unceasingly.  For it is not something of little importance that you're trying to preserve, but self-respect, fidelity, impassibility, freedom from distress, fear, and anxiety, and in a word, freedom.  At what price will you sell that?  Consider how much it is worth." (v. 6-8, p. 238)

"Safeguard your own good in all that you do; and as for the rest, simply take what is granted to you in so far as you can make reasonable use of it, and be satisfied with that alone." (v. 11, p. 239)

Practically speaking, you have to do the math all the time.  If you want the serenity and you want to maximize it, and when something out of your control happens or some external possession is lost to you, will being anxious or complaining about it fix the situation?  Most likely not.  And in fact, by giving in to those emotions, you begin to lose all momentum you've previously gained.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 4.2 - On association with others

Recovering alcoholics often face a decision about their "old" friends or drinking buddies.  How can someone who is trying to stay sober, be hanging out with old drinking buddies at bars, while at the same time avoiding the temptation to have a drink?  It's nigh impossible.  Often, the best solution is to avoid the old friends.

This same concept is applied in many other areas of our life.  It is fleshed out in an excellent article I read recently called Catching Desires: Can you stop yourself being infected with other people's desires? by Bence Nanay.  So while we learned from Epictetus, in the last blog post, about how to go about minimizing our desires, we still are tasked, as Stoics, to interact with society every day.  As we do so, we need to be mindful about with whom we frequently associate.

"Never become so intimately associated with any of your former friends or acquaintances that you sink down to the same level as them; for otherwise, you'll destroy yourself." (v. 1, p. 327)

But what if I'm accused of being stand-offish or conceited by my old friends?

"Choose, then, which you prefer: to be held in the same affection as before by your former friends by remaining as you used to be, or else become better than you were and no longer meet with the same affection." (v. 3, p. 237)

A term I often hear these days, that applies this same idea, is "drawing boundaries."  The Stoics might even call it "circumscribing the self."  You can be kind and respectful to people, but you don't have adopt their choices or live like they do.  You be who you decide to be and let others decide how they should be.

Epictetus uses drinking alcohol as another example about how we need to choose with whom we are going to associate.  "Choose, then, whether you want to be a heavy drinker and pleasing to them [your drinking buddies], or a sober man and unpleasing to them." (v. 7, p. 237)

But decide, you must!  If you waffle and are "caught between two paths, you'll incur a double penalty, since you'll neither make progress as you ought nor acquire the things that you used to enjoy." (v. 5, p. 237)  You have to choose a philosophy and live it.  And some philosophies are like oil and water which don't mix - you have to choose between one of them.  "Roles as different as these don't mix." (v. 10, p. 238).

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 4.1 - On freedom

July 4th is the celebration of the United States of America's independence from England.  One of the well-know revolutionary cries comes from Patrick Henry, who passionately argued, "Give me liberty or give me death!"

The American revolutionaries were pursuing governmental freedom and justly achieved their cause.  Epictetus argues there is a higher, more difficult freedom to attain.  And in this post-modern America in 2019, when so many desires are easily and effortlessly obtained, the freedom Epictetus describes is much more difficult to achieve.  While our Founding Fathers gave us freedom from tyranny, we are left with the task of throwing off the shackles of desire and ease.

I suggest you read the entire chapter (here if you don't have a copy).  For my own benefit (and yours), I have shared the more impactful parts of the chapter below (from the Robert Dobbin's translation).

"That person is free who lives as he wishes, who can neither be constrained, nor hindered, nor compelled, whose motives are unimpeded, and who achieves his desires and doesn’t fall into what he wants to avoid." (v. 1, p. 217)

So far, so good!  I mean, who doesn't want that?  But there is much more to it!

Epictetus gives some examples of real slavery and real freedom.

"'A little wench’, he says, has enslaved me, a cheap one too.  Me whom no enemy has ever enslaved.'
Poor wretch, to be the slave of a young girl, and a cheap one at that!  Why do you still call yourself a free man, then?"  This passage is in reference to a mighty military leader, whose enemies cannot conquer him, but rather, he is conquered by a cheap prostitute.  Until this man can learn to "escape from desire and fear, how could he be a free man?" (v. 21-23, p. 218-219)

When we look at animals in the zoo or birds in a cage, a part of us feels sorry for them.  They are not free!  Others might say, "but the animal is safe; gets its food delivered to it; has a place to sleep!"  Indeed, the animal is living a "soft life" like many humans do.  But "the softer the life, the more it is a slave."  (v. 24, p. 219)  It cannot really do what it wants to do.  It must do what the zookeeper demands.  Indeed, "that is why we call free only those animals that won't put up with captivity, but escape through death as soon as they're captured." (v. 29, p. 219)
Diogenes remarks accordingly somewhere that the only sure means to secure one’s freedom is to be happy to die, and he writes to the king of the Persians, ‘You cannot enslave the Athenian state,’ so he says, ‘any more than you can enslave the fishes.’  —‘How so? Can’t I capture them?’—‘If you do,’ he replies, ‘they’ll immediately leave you and be gone like fish. For as soon as you catch one of those, it dies; and if the Athenians come to die when they’re caught, what good will you gain from your armed force?’  This is the language of a free man who has examined the question in all seriousness and, as might be expected, has found the right answer. But if you look elsewhere than where it is to be found, why be surprised that you never find it? (v. 30-32, p. 219)

We see that the American revolutionary sentiment is radically similar to fish and Athenians.  Freedom is so precious, death is the only alternative.  There is another example of a revolutionary who wanted freedom.  April 2019 was the 100th anniversary of his assassination.  Emiliano Zapata relentlessly pursued his dream of freedom and land, rallying Mexican peasants: "Prefiero morir de pie que vivir de rodillas [I'd rather die on my feet, than live on my knees]"

Returning to Epictetus; beginning in verse 33, he describes the life of a slave and the desire for freedom.  When granted his freedom, the slave leaps from the boiling water of servitude and into the frying pan of other "masters" such as making a living, paying taxes, working at a marriage, giving military service, and eventually into living in servitude again - this time as a senator in the government.  The point of this example is that this slave thinks he can find happiness in externals.  And so he spends time, effort and anxiety trying to be free of slavery, then of making a living, then of raising a family, then of military service and finally governmental service ... and he never is content; never gets what he desires.

Indeed, we all want "To live in peace, to be happy, to do all that one wants without being subject to hindrance or constraint."  (v. 46, p. 221)  And we attain that peace, not by seeking freedom in externals, but by focusing on things that are in our absolute control.  And this can be proven: Viktor Frankl found meaning in life despite the most unbearable circumstances; and we can all think of uber-rich celebrities, tycoons and politicians, who despite having everything are still malcontent.  These malcontents are true slaves.
if you hear him say ‘master’ from his heart and with true feeling, even if the twelve fasces are being carried in front of him, then call him a slave; and if you hear him exclaiming, ‘Wretch that I am, what things I have to suffer!’, call him a slave too. In a word, if you see him wailing, complaining, and living unhappily, call him a slave in a purple-bordered robe.  If he does nothing of that kind, however, don’t yet declare that he is free, but get acquainted with his judgements, and see whether they’re in any way subject to constraint, or hindrance, or unhappiness; and if you find that to be the case, call him a slave on holiday at the Saturnalia.  Say that his master is away from home; but he’ll be back soon, and then you’ll see what this man suffers!  Whoever holds control over anything that the man desires, and can procure it or take it away [is that man's master].—‘Do we have so many masters, then?’—Yes, so many. For even before these human masters, we have circumstances as our masters, and there are any number of those.  Because in truth, it is not Caesar himself whom people stand in fear of, but death, banishment, confiscation of their property, imprisonment, loss of civil rights. Nor does anyone love Caesar himself, unless Caesar happens to be a man of great worth, but it is riches that we love, or a post as tribune, praetor, or consul. As long as we love, hate, or fear these things, it necessarily follows that those who have power over them will be our masters. For that reason, we even worship such people as though they were gods, because we suppose that anyone who has the power to confer the greatest advantages on us is divine. And then we wrongly lay down this minor premise, ‘This man has the power to confer the greatest advantages.’ It is bound to follow that the conclusion drawn from these premises must be false too. (v. 57-61, p. 222-223)
You may be reading this and saying to yourself, "who is free then?  The way Epictetus describes things, makes it sound like we are all slaves!"  Now we are ready to learn!

Epictetus asks, "do we have nothing that is exclusively within our power, or is that the case with everything, or are there some things that are within our power while others are within the power of other people?" (v. 65, p. 223)  This is how we have to view everything in our life!  What is under our absolute control and what is not.  Then and only then will we begin to understand where true freedom lies.  This is "the dichotomy of control" or as William Irvine more succinctly puts it, the "trichotomy of control" (see links: here, here, and here)
  1. Things entirely, 100% in our control
  2. Things completely, 100% out of our control
  3. Things in-between, partially in our control, and partially out of out control
Do you have power over your body to perform perfectly anytime you want?  NO.  But you can control what you eat and how your exercise.

Can you have as much land as you want? NO.  But you can control some actions to gain land.

Can you have as many clothes, houses, horses, cars, family, friends as you want?  NO.  But you can control some actions to acquire these things.

It sounds like we don't have complete control over anything.  What do we have control over?

"Can anyone make you give your assent to what is false? - 'No one can.' ... Can anyone force you to direct your impulses towards anything you don't want? 'Indeed he can.  For when he threatens me with death or imprisonment, he can force me to it.'  If you were to despise death, however, or  chains, would you still pay any heed to him? - 'No.'"  (v. 69-71, p. 224)  Therefore, if you can control your attitude about death and prison, you can control your attitude about anything!

The point: "that which is not in your power to procure or keep as you wish is not your own.  Keep not only your hands well away from it, but first and foremost your desire; otherwise you've delivered yourself into slavery, you've put your head under the yoke, if you attach value to anything that isn't your own, if you conceive a desire for anything that is subject to anyone else and is perishable." (v. 77, p. 225)

Practice and be prepared to distinguish everything into two categories:

  1. what belongs to you, what you can control
  2. what does not belong to you, what you cannot control

And for those things partially in your control, be prepared to have a "reserve clause" and keep your eyes wide open to recognize that things may not go as you'd expect.

After time, and much practice, you will will be able to "distinguish those things that are not your own from those that are ... [and you will be able to] keep your desire fixed on [those things that are in your control] ... [there will be no one] left whom you need fear." (see v. 81, p. 225)

Marcus Aurelius spoke of a "fortress" when speaking of our will and attitude.  He said, "Remember that your directing mind becomes invincible when it withdraws into its own self-sufficiency, not doing anything it does not wish to do, even if its position is unreasonable. How much more, then, when the judgement it forms is reasoned and deliberate? That is why a mind free from passions is a fortress" (see Meditations Book 8.48).

Epictetus draws a similar comparison and how that fortress is not demolished from the outside, but rather from the inside.

"How is a citadel destroyed, then?  Neither by iron, nor by fire, by by judgements.  For if we pull down the citadel in the city, have we also pulled down the citadel of fever, the citadel of pretty girls, or, in a word, the citadel within us, and shall we have driven out the tyrants whom we have inside us, who we have exercising their sway over us day after day, sometime the same ones, sometimes different?  But this is where we must begin; this is where we must set out from to destroy the citadel and drive out the tyrants: we must give up our poor body, and it various parts and faculties, and our property, reputation, public posts, honours, children, brothers, and friends, and regard all of that as being not our own.  And if the tyrants are driven out from there, what need do I have to raze the citadel?" (v. 86-88, p. 226)

Epictetus more succinctly describes this process:
I have submitted my impulses to God. It is his will that I should have a fever? That is my will too. It is his will that I should direct my impulses towards a certain thing? That is my will too. It is his will that I should desire something? That is what I want too. It is his will that I should get something? That is what I want too. He doesn’t want that? Nor do I.  And so it is my will that I should die, my will that I should be tortured. Who can still hinder me, then, contrary to my own judgements; who can constrain me? No more than that would be possible with Zeus. (v. 89-90, p. 226)
We learn and gain this trust by "observing the wishes of God and his governing order." (v. 100, p. 227)

He continues with this line of reasoning and how God sent us to earth "with a small portion of flesh" to "observe his governing order, and accompany him in his procession and take part in his festival for a short period of time ... then, after having beheld his pagaent and festival for the time that is granted to you, to take your leave when he conducts you away, after having first paid obeisance to him and having thanked him for all that you've heard and seen." (v. 104-105, p. 228)  Then we depart this life, "grateful and reverent" to "make room for others." (v. 106, p. 228)

But while you are here, if the conditions "don't suit you, go away.  He has no need of a spectator who is always complaining about his lot.  He needs people to join in his festival and dances, so that they may, on the contrary, greet them with applause, and view them with reverence, and sing hymns in praise of the assembly.  As for the grumblers and cowards, he won't be sorry to see them gone from the assembly; for even while they were present, they didn't behave as though they were at a festival, and didn't fill their proper place, but lamented instead and found fault with the deity, their lot, and their companions, unconscious of what had been granted to them, and the powers that they had received for the opposite use - greatness of soul, nobility of mind, courage, and the very freedom that we are now investigating." (v. 108-109, p. 229)

And as for the externals God has given us (our body, and possessions, etc) use them!  But "don't get attached to them."  And to succeed in not getting attached to them, Epictetus says that we should reflect morning and night that these externals are dispensable.  "Begin with the smallest and most fragile things, a pot, or a cup, and then pass on to a tunic, a dog, a horse, a scrap of land; and from there, pass on to yourself, to your body, and the parts of your body, and to your children, your wife, your brothers.  Look around you in every direction, and cast these things far away from you.  Train yourself in this way, day after day ... [as a] slave on the way to emancipation.  For this is the way to true freedom." (v. 111-115, p. 229)

And then, if God or fate calls upon you to lose all these things, and you are tortured, flogged, jailed or beheaded, then you may be called "a noble spirit [who] comes off with added profit and advantage, while the person who is truly harmed, and suffers the most pitiful and shameful fate, is the one who, instead of being human, turns into a wolf, a viper, or a wasp."  (v. 127, p. 231)  In other words, you who suffer at the hands of others, are the ones who profit and show the true qualities of a human being.  While the ones who do the torturing, flogging, jailing and beheading are wolves, vipers and wasps.

Verses 130 and 131 summarize it all:
The person who isn't subject to hindrances is free ... who desires nothing that is not his own ... those [things] that are not within our power, either to have or not to have ... our body ... our property ... this is the road that leads to freedom, this is the only deliverance from slavery, to be able to say one day with your whole heart, 
Guide me, Zeus, and thou, O Destiny,
To wheresoever you have assigned me.
Diogenes was the perfect example of a person renouncing externals.  "Diogenes was free.  He had cast off everything that could allow slavery to gain hold of him to enslave him.  Everything that he had he could easily let go; everything was only loosely attached to him." (v. 153, p. 234)

"His true ancestors, the gods, and his true country ... the universe." (v. 154, p. 234)

Socrates is another excellent example of a man focused on the right things.  We can wave our hands and say Diogenes had it easy - he had no wife or children to care for.  Fair enough - so lets look at Socrates, "who had a wife and young children, but didn't regard them as being his own." (v. 159, p. 235)  He was drafted to serve in the military.  He served and "exposed himself to the dangers of war without sparing himself in the least." (v. 160, p. 235)  When "he was sent by the Thirty Tyrants to arrest Leon; being sure in his mind that such a deed would be shameful, he never even contemplated it, although he was well aware that he might meet his death as a result, if things turned out that way.  But what did that matter to him?  For there was something else that he wanted to preserve other than his body, namely his character as a trustworthy man, as a man of honour." (v. 161, p. 235)

"And when he had to drink the poison, how did he behave then?  When he could have saved himself and Crito said to him, 'Make your escape for the sake of your children,' and what did he reply?  Did he regard that opportunity as a godsend?  Not at all, he thought only about what would be proper for him to do; the rest he didn't even consider or take into account.  For he didn't want, so he said, to save his poor body, but to save that which finds growth and is preserved through right action, and is diminished and destroyed through wrong action." (v. 163, p. 235)

While many of us may have rationalized, when confronted with death, that if our life were spared, we would be able to help many people, but that if we are dead, we are of no use to anyone.  But if we look to Socrates, we know that "now that Socrates is dead, the memory of him is no less useful to the human race, or even much more useful than all that he did and said while still alive." (v. 169, p. 236)

Epictetus pleads to us to "reflect on these things, these judgements, these arguments, and look at these examples, if you want to be free, if you desire freedom in accordance with its true value." (v. 170, p. 236)

"For the sake of true freedom, which is secure against all treachery and is inviolable, won't you return that which God has given you when he demands it back?  Won't you not only, as Plato says, practise to die, but even to suffer torture, to go into exile, to be flogged, and in a word, give up everything that is not your own?  Otherwise, you'll be a slave among slaves." (v. 172-173, p. 236)

See for yourself - experiment if you must.  Once you have gained what you desire (health, wealth, fame, fortune, ease, the next gadget, etc), you will only be met again with a new desire for "what [you don't] have.  For freedom is not attained through the satisfaction of desires, but through the suppression of desires." (v. 174-175, p. 236)