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)

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