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

Speech
  • 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
Tact

  • "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"
Transparency
  • 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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gA-sEfXOaEQ

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)

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 3.26 - To those who are afraid of want

"You tremble for fear that you may run out of the necessities of life, and you lie awake at night." (v. 1, p. 212)

Stoicism would have you think about "memento mori" - that you will die someday; and that death is nothing to be feared.  If you can be comfortable with the idea that you will die at any moment, either to "a fever or a stone falling down on your head" (v. 3, p. 212), then why should you fear or worry about running out of the necessities of life?  Or why should you fear that your "family too will go hungry"? (v. 4, p. 212)

Rather, you should choose to exercise the virtue of courage and "confront every lack and want" realizing that we are reduced to death at some point.  And as part of the self-confrontation, to ask yourself if it is better to die hungry while being a good human being or to die "torn apart by indigestion and drunkenness" (v. 5, p. 212) while living a life of vice?  The Stoics would say, virtue is the sole good and it is better to die hungry, maintaining virtue, than to die of indigestion and drunkenness living a life of vice.

As for the shame of being reduced to such dire straights (being so poor that you don't even have food to eat), Epictetus responds, "you should learn first of all what is shameful." (v. 7, p. 213)  If something is out of your control, then it is not shameful.

He then scolds his students a bit for having such thoughts, "you've embarked on philosophy in name alone ... never have you desired firmness of mind, serenity, impassibility; never have you attended any teacher with that purpose of mind, but many a teacher o learn about syllogisms.  Never have you tested out any of these impressions for yourself, asking yourself, 'Am I capable of bearing this or not?'" (v. 13-14, p. 213)

He further scolds them for putting the cart before the horse, only he uses a different analogy.  "And what kind of doorkeeper can one place on guard where there is no door for him to watch over? ... Or how long will you keep measuring worthless ashes?" (v. 15-18, p. 214)  His students are more concerned for the body than they are for the soul or mind within the body.  They want to protect the body, but there is nothing in the body worth protecting.  They want to measure and care for something (the body) that will be reduced to ashes, rather than spend the time improving the object (the soul / mind) that is encased by the body.

Instead of spending time, anxiety, fear and effort on maintaining the body, you should spend time, anxiety, fear and effort on improving your mind - finding a philosophy that lasts; that "makes people [truly] happy" that "makes their affairs prosper as they would wish, and what makes it possible for them never to blame anyone, never to find fault with anyone, and to submit to the governing order of the universe." (v. 18, p. 214).  In summary, you should be concerned about improving "your own moral choice." (v. 24, p. 215)

The sooner you realize that the body is not more important than the mind or soul - and that you can prove to yourself that death means nothing, then you will begin to improve as a human being.

"Why don't you reflect, then, that for man the source of all evils, and of his meanness of spirit and cowardice, is not death itself, but rather the fear of death?  It is to confront this that you must train yourself, and it is towards that end that all your reasonings, all your studies, and all your readings should be directed, and then you'll recognize that it is in this way alone that human beings can attain freedom." (v. 38-39, p. 216)

Monday, July 1, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 3.25 - To those who fail to achieve what they have proposed for themselves

Epictetus reminds us that we will fail in our quest for living a virtuous life and that we can use those failures to our benefit.  Indeed, for "those who are engaged in the greatest of contests shouldn't flinch, but must be prepared also to take blows" (v. 2, p. 211).  What is this contest?  It is a contest "for good fortune and happiness itself" (v. 3, p. 211).

As Bruce Wayne's dad tells Bruce when he fall, "why do we fall Bruce?  So we can learn to pick ourselves up!"  Epictetus similarly teaches, "even if we should falter for a while, no one can prevent us from resuming the fight ... as soon as one has recovered and regained one's strength, and can muster the same zeal as before, one can enter the fight; and if one should fail again, one can enter one again, and if one should carry off the victory one fine day, it will be as if one had never given in" (v. 4, p. 211).

Then he gives a warning.  We must be wary of falling into the bad habit of being content to repeat the same mistakes.  "Don't begin, through force of habit, to be glad to repeat the process all over again, so that you end up like a bad athlete" (v. 5, p. 211).

Rather to repeating mistakes, "you ought to have remembered them ... in the same way as slaves remember the blows that they've received, to avoid repeating the same mistakes" (v. 9, p. 212).

Become the victor - the conqueror.  If you make a mistake, review them at the end of each day and think, if you were given the opportunity to live the moment again, what you would do differently.  Commit to change your thinking and attitude and when presented with the same test again, grasp the victory firmly in your hand!

Monday, June 17, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 3.24 - That we should not become attached to things that are not within our power

Attachment is real.  Another word for attachment is dependency.  An even more forceful word could be slavery.

If you consider the opposites of attachment, dependency and slavery, you will arrive at detachment, in-dependency and freedom.

When weighed on a value scale, I would wager most people would place more value on detachment, in-dependency and freedom.  The Stoics' goal was to help people become free of the mental chains we've wrapped ourselves in.

Assume you have some sort of relationship with another person; be it a spouse, a friend, a neighbor or co-worker.  They are independent from you and therefore they do their own thinking and you do your own thinking.  Does it make sense, then, to carry their mental baggage for them?  Or do you have enough of your own to deal with?  As Epictetus says, "If anyone suffers misfortune, remember that he suffers it through his own fault, since God created all human beings to enjoy happiness, to enjoy peace of mind.  He has provided them with the resources to achieve this" (v. 2, p. 198).  In other words, for those people who have matured enough and have enough mental ability to reason on their own, they can enjoy happiness and peace of mind - this is in their control.  Both the other person and you can enjoy independence (mentally speaking) from each other.

You might say that the other person, after you have left them for some reason, is now "inconsolable."  I think of a child leaving home to go to college and their mother is inconsolable.  In this case, we might say the mother has become too attached to her child; and she needs to cut the proverbial umbilical cord!  She ought to have reflected upon the thought that the day her child would leave home would eventually come.  Did she expect the child to live with her forever?  This does not sound like freedom for either the mother or the child.  Doing the mental work of anticipating someone leaving you is work you ought to do.  So that when the day comes, when someone leaves you through a separation or death, you won't become inconsolable.  This is a form of premeditato malorum or negative visualization.

We are not supposed to "pass our lives in perpetual misery and lamentation" and we must "wean ourselves once and for all" of this notion that separation is bad (see. v. 9, p. 199).  If we take the view from above - to look at the world and universe and one big whole - we will begin to appreciate the fleeting nature of time and space.  The Stoics view the universe as "a single city" of which "the substance ... is single too, and that there must be a periodic revolution when one thing gives way to another, and when some things are dissolved while others come into being" (v. 10, p. 199).  Indeed, we are cosmopolitans of time and space.

If we take this view, we will see "that everything is full of friends" both the gods and humans "who by nature form one family" and "that we should take delight in those with whom we live, without being upset to see others go away."  Furthermore, we ought to recognize that humans are not like trees and forced to be planted in one spot for hundreds of years.  Rather, we are "able to move from one place to another, sometimes under the pressure of specific needs, sometimes merely so as to enjoy the spectacle" (v. 11-12, p. 199).

And if that is not consolation enough, for those who have separation anxiety, then it may serve them well to also think that "no human being is an orphan, but that all have a father who takes care of them constantly and forever" and that you are free to look to god without an intermediary separating you, your loved ones and him (see. v. 15, p. 199).

Indeed, Stoicism aims to make the human free and happy.  And for someone to be free and happy, they must possess all that they want (see. v. 17, p. 200).  The question and challenge becomes, "what do you want?"  Do you want unlimited power, fame, health, possessions?  If so, then those are out of your control and you will fail.  But if you want to live a life of virtue, then you can be free and happy if you seek a virtuous life - this can be obtained independently from external factors, people and events.

As noted earlier in Discourses, Epictetus envisions a conversation with Zeus, in which Zeus tells him, "I've given you a certain portion of myself, this faculty of motivation to act and not to act, of desire and aversion, and, in a word, the power to make proper use of impressions; if you pay good heed to this, and entrust all that you have to its keeping, you'll never be hindered, never obstructed, and you'll never groan, never find fault, and never flatter anyone at all." (link)

And so the point of the two preceding paragraphs is that we have already been given everything to make ourselves free and happy which is the goal Zeus had in mind when he created and ordered the universe.  "Truly this is an ill-governed universe if Zeus doesn't set out to ensure that his own fellow citizens should be happy like himself" (v. 19, p. 200).

The good and virtuous human is the human who knows herself and himself (i.e. "know thyself").  Epictetus says, "how can someone be good if he doesn't know who he is?" (v. 20, p. 200).  Part of knowing who you are includes knowing what is in your control and what is not in your control.  And to desire something out of your control is foolish.  "To desire the impossible is the mark of a slave and a fool; it is the behavior of one who is a stranger to the world, and is fighting against God through the only means that is available to him, through his own judgements" (v. 21, p. 200).

Returning to the topic at hand - someone else is grieving; must you grieve too?  Epictetus asks why this other person hasn't made the effort to learn these principals.  Indeed we can "strive to put an end to it [their grief and suffering], but [we] won't strive to do so at all costs" (v. 23, p. 200).  Are we expected to not only be responsible for our own actions, thoughts and emotions, but also those of all those around us, plus the people on the other side of town or the country or even the other hemisphere? (see v. 26, p. 201).  It has to end somewhere.  This is why individuals are given free will - it is given to the individual - there is clearly a delineation between me and you.  And so, we can do our part to help alleviate others' suffering, but not at the expense of my own.

The topic then turns from grief over the physical and spatial separation between two individuals, to the permanent separation of people due to death.  Death is the ultimate separation of us and our loved ones.  But to expect that the separation will never come is to expect the impossible.  Old age comes; people die.  "Such is the nature of the world around us, such is the nature of the people with whom we share it; heat or cold, an unsuitable diet, a journey by land or by sea, the winds of the air, dangers of every kind, will cause one person to perish, another to be driven into exile, another to be dispatched on an embassy, and another to be sent out on a campaign" (v. 29, p. 201).

And if this separation causes you perpetual grief, you will quickly learn it happens to everyone, all the time, everywhere.  Are we then to "get upset by all of these things, and grieve, and be unfortunate and miserable, and be at the mercy of any external event, and not just of one or two, but of thousands and thousands"? (v. 30, p. 201).  The proposition is: we are made to be free and happy and to be so is in our control.  Therefore, grief or happiness is a choice.  Can this be proven time and time again?  The Stoics say, yes.

"The life of every one of us is a [war] campaign, and a long one subject to varying circumstances.  You must fulfil the role of a soldier and carry out every deed as your general bids" (v. 34, p. 201-202).  Freedom is not free, and must be fought for.

Epictetus would argue that real freedom is the aim of Stoicism, whereas, pleasure was the aim of Epicuranism (see. v. 37-38, p. 202).  "What else do these people desire than to sleep without hindrance or compulsion, and when they've risen from bed, to yawn at their leisure, and wash their faces, and then read and write as the fancy takes them, and then talk some nonsense or other, winning applause from their friends whatever it might be, and then go out for a walk and having taken a short stroll, take their bath, eat, and go to bed" (v. 39, p. 202).  If you do these very things, with your goal in life being pleasure, "why do you call yourself a Stoic, then?" (v. 41, p. 202).

No, rather what you should do, is what "reason demands ... for the sake of your country, of your family, of humanity" (v. 44, p. 203).  The Stoics believed we had a social duty to those with whom we lived.  And if reason demanded we helped others, we ought to - this is the Discipline of Action.  You ought to recognize those duties you should do "as a citizen, a brother, a friend" (v. 47, p. 203).

Some might be critical of you if you are not a successful citizen, brother, friend or neighbor - they might think you didn't put any effort into it (see. v. 50, p. 203).  "Don't you know that someone who is virtuous and good never acts for the sake of appearances, but only for the sake of having acted rightly?" The reward for acting rightly is having acted rightly (see v. 50-51, p. 203).  This is your sole purpose, as a human being, in life: to be virtuous, good and happy.  Otherwise you will simply be behaving as a little child (see v. 52-53, p. 204).

"When you've come to despise external things and all that lies outside the sphere of choice, and have come to regard none of that as being your own, but to consider one thing alone to be yours, to judge and think rightly, and to exercise your motives, desires, and aversions rightly, what room is left for flattery or self-debasement?" (v. 56, p. 204).

Furthermore, you are to act "noble-minded" and we should never "be self-abasing or broken-spirited, or should become dependent on another, or should ever find fault with either god or human being."  Indeed, we are to love our children and loved-ones, but our first duty is to be a friend of the gods (see v. 58-60, p. 204).  Again (feels like a broken record), we are not to be unhappy, "but we should instead be happy because of everyone else, and first and foremost because of God, who created us for this end" (v. 63, p. 205).  Diogenes was proof of this counsel.  He acted as a servant for Zeus; he was "full of care for others and obedient to God."  He even "befriended the pirates" who had taken him captive as he "tried to reform them."  And despite being sold into slavery, "he lived ... in just the same way as he had previously lived" when he was free (see. v. 65-66, p. 205).  And so we see an example of someone who proved that they could be free and happy regardless of external events or people.
That is how one acquires freedom. He [Diogenes] used to say accordingly, ‘Ever since Antisthenes set me free, I’ve ceased to be a slave.’ And how did Antisthenes set him free? Listen to what Diogenes says: ‘He taught me what is my own and what isn’t my own. Property isn’t my own; relations, family, friends, reputation, familiar places, conversation with others, none of these are my own.’ What is your own, then? ‘The proper use of impressions. He showed me that I possess that power free from all hindrance and constraint; no one can obstruct me; no one can force me to deal with impressions other than I wish. Who still holds any power over me, then? Philip, Alexander, Perdiccas, or the King of Persia? How could they? For someone who is destined to be overpowered by another human being must first have been overpowered well before by things.’  So accordingly, that person who doesn’t allow himself to be overpowered by pleasure, or by suffering, or by glory, or by wealth, and who is capable, whenever he thinks fit, of spitting his entire miserable body into some tyrant’s face and taking his leave—to what can such a man still be a slave; to whom can he still be subject? (v. 67-71, p. 205)
If you don't think freedom and happiness are the aim of life, then "what reason do you have for living, then?  To pile one sorrow on top of another to make yourself miserable?"  Epictetus boldly states, "I was born for the things that are good for me; I wasn't born for those that are bad" (v. 82-83, p. 207).

Training to Become Free and Happy

Remember you will lose everything and you will eventually turn to dust

"The highest and principal form of training, which stands, so to speak, right at the entrance, that whenever you become attached to anything, don't become attached as though it were something that cannot be taken away, but rather as though it were something like an earthenware pot or crystal goblet, so that if it should be broken, you'll remember what kind of thing it was and not get unduly upset" (v. 84, p. 207).

Do this for everything you have an attachment to.  Start small, with your favorite coffee mug and then proceed to things that are much more valuable to you.  A kitchen table, a nice flatscreen TV, your vehicle, your home, your career, your close & dear friends & neighbors, your relatives, your children, your spouse and then yourself.  A voice should always be whispering in your ear: "you may lose all of this; and someday, indeed, you will."  Whenever Roman generals returned triumphantly from war, they had a slave standing behind them, whispering in their ear, "Remember you are mortal" - memento mori (see v. 85, p. 207).

Additionally, be mindful of "whenever you take delight in anything" and when you do take delight in it, think of the "opposite impression" (v. 88, p. 207).

Be mindful that "you won't exist [forever], but something else will, of which the world then has need.  For indeed, you came into being not when you wanted it, but when the world had need of you.  And so a virtuous and good person, keeping in mind who he is, concentrates on one thing alone: how he may fill his post in a disciplined manner, remaining obedient to God" (v. 94, p. 208).

Keep this idea of impermanence in mind "by night and by day" and "keep these reflections at hand; write them down, read them, make them the subject of your conversation, whether with yourself, or with another" (v. 103, p. 209).

Also be mindful of letting your imagination of desire run wild.  "If your imagination gnaws at you, fight against it with your reason, wrestle it down, don't allow it to gain strength or pass on to the next state, of picturing everything that it wants in the very way it wants to" (v. 108, p. 209).  There is something insidious about Disney movies and catalyzing peoples' imaginations to run wild.  They begin to think they can get things that are out of their control.  And if they allow their desires to get out of control, and they do not obtain what they think they can get, they fall into anguish and at worse, mentally break down.

Furthermore, if it helps, you can replace your desire for external things, with the idea that you can be living proof that things don't make a person happy or content; and that contentment comes only from within.  In this way, you can "provide witness" that the good is found from within and not from without (see. 112, p. 210).