Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Epictetus Discourses Book 4 Chapter 4 - the world is my trainer

Allen Iverson, in one of the most memorable press conferences, made a very excellent point.  One that Epictetus made hundreds of years earlier.

True, Iverson and the 76ers were just defeated by the Celtics in the first round of the playoffs and true, it was a huge letdown for fans after the prior year, when Philadelphia made it to the NBA championship.  And in this context, the blaming fingers were out and wagging.  Instead of making the focus on the game, reporters and media chose to make it about practice.  Iverson's reaction, was appropriate.  Especially when you know the greater context of the situation.

Life (and the above example) is about the end result - the game; it's not entirely about practice.  Indeed, both are important, but what is more important is the game - the actual results.

So, who can blame Allen Iverson for berating reporters about choosing to focus on practice instead of the actual game?

Epictetus made a similar point: "life is composed of things other than books.  It is as if an athlete, on entering the stadium, were to complain that he's not out exercising.  This was the goal of your exercise, of your weights, your practice ring and training partners.  You want them now that the time to exploit them has arrived?"  In other words, the real athlete is all about the game - the result.  Practice, although important, is not actually the goal.

So, go ahead, read your books, talk about Stoicism on the Internet or with your friends and neighbors.  But if that is all you do, you've failed.  You have got to show something for all that reading!

And if you successfully apply what Epictetus taught, you will demonstrate, in the real world, that to be happy, you will be "unflappable" and "equal to every occasion".  You will demonstrate that you won't complain about events outside your control.  But rather, you will embrace them and view them as either additional practice or an actual test of what you've learned.

"If events ordain that you spend time either alone or with just a few people, look upon it as tranquility and play along with it for the duration.  Talk to yourself, train your thoughts and shape your preconceptions.  If, on the contrary, you happen upon a crowd, call it a sporting event, a festival or celebration, and try to keep holiday with the people." (verse 26-27)  To put this advice succinctly, go with the flow.  You've built your inner citadel!  Remember, it goes with you no matter where you go.

And in these situations, whether you're supposed to be alone or with a crowd, "It's high time you were tested.  Show us what you've learned, show us how well you've trained."

"There is one road to peace and happiness (keep the thought near by morning, noon and night); renunciation of externals; regarding nothing as your own; handing over everything to fortune and the deity."

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