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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Epictetus -- Sayings of the Stoic Life

Yesterday's NYT has a good Opinionator piece by philosophy professor Massimo Pigliucci about How to be a Stoic.  There's a lot of fluff, but his main points are:
Practicing stoicism can resemble some forms of religion:  it involves meditation, mindfulness, reflection on virtue, and reading inspirational texts
Start your day with 10 minutes of stoic meditation:
  • Rehearse the challenges of the day ahead in terms of which of the four cardinal virtues (courage, equanimity, self-control and wisdom) you might need to draw on.
  • Do an exercise called "Hierocles’ Circle": imagine yourself as part of a growing circle of concern that includes family, friends, neighbors, fellow citizens, humanity as a whole, other living beings, and Nature itself.
  • Do an exercise called "Premeditatio Malorum”:  visualize a catastrophe (such as job loss, injury, death), and see it as a “dispreferred indifferent”:  something you'd prefer not to happen, but something that does not affect your worth and moral value.
  • Pick a Stoic saying (see Epictetus quotes below); and read it a few times and absorb it.
For the rest of the day, practice mindfulness -- remember that you live only in the here and now and that you must not only must pay close attention to what you are doing because every choice you make has a moral dimension.
In the evening, practice meditation through writing in your diary -- your thoughts for the day, the challenges faced and how you handled them.

And here's an article by Jules Evans touting the benefits of stoicism, and its modern day counterpart -- cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

Another way to get into stoic philosophy is to read selected portions of Tom Wolfe's "A Man In Full,"  Start where Conrad, in prison because of a frustrating experience with a car tow, asks for  a copy of "The Stoic's Game," but instead gets a copy of "The Stoics," containing the sayings of Epictetus.  Then read the parts where he takes those sayings to heart, and acts accordingly.  Then start applying them to your own life.

Here is a long list of Epictetus sayings (mostly taken from Goodreads) to get you started:.  The first one is the one that got Conrad started:

“I [Zeus] gave you a portion of our divinity, a spark from our own fire, the power to act and not to act, the will to get and the will to avoid. If you pay heed to this, you will not groan, you will blame no man, you will flatter none”

Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.” 

 “There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power or our will. ” 

 “Don't explain your philosophy. Embody it.” 

“First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.” 

“Don't just say you have read books. Show that through them you have learned to think better, to be a more discriminating and reflective person. Books are the training weights of the mind. They are very helpful, but it would be a bad mistake to suppose that one has made progress simply by having internalized their contents."

“Man is not worried by real problems so much as by his imagined anxieties about real problems” 

“If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid.” 

“The key is to keep company only with people who uplift you, whose presence calls forth your best.” 

 “It's not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” 

“Any person capable of angering you becomes your master; he can anger you only when you permit yourself to be disturbed by him.” 

“Other people's views and troubles can be contagious. Don't sabotage yourself by unwittingly adopting negative, unproductive attitudes through your associations with others.” 

“He who laughs at himself never runs out of things to laugh at.” 

“Nature hath given men one tongue but two ears, that we may hear from others twice as much as we speak.” 

“All religions must be tolerated... for every man must get to heaven in his own way.” 

“Only the educated are free.” 

“Circumstances don't make the man, they only reveal him to himself.” 

“People are not disturbed by things, but by the views they take of them.” 

“To accuse others for one's own misfortune is a sign of want of education. To accuse oneself shows that one's education has begun. To accuse neither oneself nor others shows that one's education is complete.” 

“It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.” 

“First learn the meaning of what you say, and then speak.” 

“You are a little soul carrying around a corpse” 

“I laugh at those who think they can damage me. They do not know who I am, they do not know what I think, they cannot even touch the things which are really mine and with which I live.” 

“No man is free who is not master of himself.” 

“Attach yourself to what is spiritually superior, regardless of what other people think or do. Hold to your true aspirations no matter what is going on around you.” 

“The greater the difficulty, the more glory in surmounting it. Skillful pilots gain their reputation from storms and tempests. ” 

“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.” 

“Seek not the good in external things; seek it in yourselves.” 

“Caretake this moment. Immerse yourself in its particulars. Respond to this person, this challenge, this deed. Quit evasions. Stop giving yourself needless trouble. It is time to really live; to fully inhabit the situation you happen to be in now.” 

“If evil be said of thee, and if it be true, correct thyself; if it be a lie, laugh at it.” 

“Do not try to seem wise to others. ” 

“Don't seek to have events happen as you wish, but wish them to happen as they do happen, and all will be well with you.” 
“A ship should not ride on a single anchor, nor life on a single hope” 

“Preach not to others what they should eat, but eat as becomes you and be silent. ” 

“Know, first, who you are, and then adorn yourself accordingly.” 

“If you would be a reader, read; if a writer, write.” 

“If you would cure anger, do not feed it. Say to yourself: 'I used to be angry every day; then every other day; now only every third or fourth day.' When you reach thirty days offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the gods.” 

“I must die. Must I then die lamenting? I must be put in chains. Must I then also lament? I must go into exile. Does any man then hinder me from going with smiles and cheerfulness and contentment?” 

“Difficulty shows what men are. Therefore when a difficulty falls upon you, remember that God, like a trainer of wrestlers, has matched you with a rough young man. Why? So that you may become an Olympic conqueror; but it is not accomplished without sweat.” 

“It is not so much what happens to you as how you think about what happens."
“Events do not just happen, but arrive by appointment.” 

“Either God wants to abolish evil, and cannot; or he can, but does not want to.” 

“Remember that you ought to behave in life as you would at a banquet. As something is being passed around it comes to you; stretch out your hand, take a portion of it politely. It passes on; do not detain it. Or it has not come to you yet; do not project your desire to meet it, but wait until it comes in front of you. So act toward children, so toward a wife, so toward office, so toward wealth.” 

Put another way: ““Remember that you must behave as at a banquet. Is anything brought round to you? Put out your hand, and take a moderate share. Does it pass you? Do not stop it. Is it not come yet? Do not yearn in desire towards it, but wait till it reaches you. So with regard to children , wife, office, riches; and you will some time or other be worthy to feast with the gods. And if you do not so much as take the things which are set before you, but are able even to forego them, then you will not only be worthy to feast with the gods, but to rule with them also. For, by thus doing, Diogenes and Heraclitus, and others like them, deservedly became divine, and were so recognized.” 

“Asked, Who is the rich man? Epictetus replied, He who is content.” 

“God has entrusted me with myself.  No man is free who is not master of himself. A man should so live that his happiness shall depend as little as possible on external things. The world turns aside to let any man pass who knows where he is going.” 

“We are not disturbed by what happens to us, but by our thoughts about what happens to us.” 

“Know you not that a good man does nothing for appearance sake, but for the sake of having done right?” 

“Even as the Sun doth not wait for prayers and incantations to rise, but shines forth and is welcomed by all: so thou also wait not for clapping of hands and shouts and praise to do thy duty; nay, do good of thine own accord, and thou wilt be loved like the Sun.” 

“It is better to die of hunger having lived without grief and fear, than to live with a troubled spirit, amid abundance” 

“Give me by all means the shorter and nobler life, instead of one that is longer but of less account!” 

“-….when things seem to have reached that stage, merely say “I won’t play any longer”, and take your departure; but if you stay, stop lamenting.” 

“If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid with regard to external things. Don't wish to be thought to know anything; and even if you appear to be somebody important to others, distrust yourself. For, it is difficult to both keep your faculty of choice in a state conformable to nature, and at the same time acquire external things. But while you are careful about the one, you must of necessity neglect the other” 

“These reasonings are unconnected: "I am richer than you, therefore I am better"; "I am more eloquent than you, therefore I am better." The connection is rather this: "I am richer than you, therefore my property is greater than yours;" "I am more eloquent than you, therefore my style is better than yours." But you, after all, are neither property nor style.” 

“Appearances to the mind are of four kinds. Things either are what they appear to be; or they neither are, nor appear to be; or they are, and do not appear to be; or they are not, and yet appear to be. Rightly to aim in all these cases is the wise man's task.” 

“Nature hath given men one tongue but two ears, that we may hear from others twice as much as we speak.” 

“Demand not that things happen as you wish, but wish them to happen as they do, and you will go on well.” 

“Control thy passions lest they take vengeance on thee.” 


“No great thing is created suddenly.” 


“There is but one way to tranquility of mind and happiness, and that is to account no external things thine own, but to commit all to God.” 

“If someone speaks badly of you, do not defend yourself against the accusations, but reply; "you obviously don't know about my other vices, otherwise you would have mentioned these as well” 

“Small-minded people blame others.  Average people blame themselves. The wise see all blame as foolishness” 

“A guide, on finding a man who has lost his way, brings him back to the right path—he does not mock and jeer at him and then take himself off. You also must show the unlearned man the truth, and you will see that he will follow. But so long as you do not show it him, you should not mock, but rather feel your own incapacity.” 

“Difficulty shows what men are.” 

“It is our attitude toward events, not events themselves, which we can control. Nothing is by its own nature calamitous -- even death is terrible only if we fear it.” 

“You may fetter my leg, but Zeus himself cannot get the better of my free will.” 

“Men are not afraid of things, but of how they view them.” 

“Concerning the Gods, there are those who deny the very existence of the Godhead; others say that it exists, but neither bestirs nor concerns itself not has forethought far anything. A third party attribute to it existence and forethought, but only for great and heavenly matters, not for anything that is on earth. A fourth party admit things on earth as well as in heaven, but only in general, and not with respect to each individual. A fifth, of whom were Ulysses and Socrates, are those that cry: -- I move not without Thy knowledge!” 

“To Epictetus, all external events are determined by fate, and are thus beyond our control, but we can accept whatever happens calmly and dispassionately. Individuals, however, are responsible for their own actions which they can examine and control through rigorous self-discipline. Suffering arises from trying to control what is uncontrollable, or from neglecting what is within our power. As part of the universal city that is the universe, human beings have a duty of care to all fellow humans. The person who followed these precepts would achieve happiness.” 

“Whoever is going to listen to the philosophers needs a considerable practice in listening.” 

“First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.” 

“If any be unhappy, let him remember that he is unhappy by reason of himself alone. For God hath made all men to enjoy felicity and constancy of good.” 

“Tentative efforts lead to tentative outcomes. Therefore, give yourself fully to your endeavors. Decide to construct your character through excellent actions and determine to pay the price of a worthy goal. The trials you encounter will introduce you to your strengths. Remain steadfast...and one day you will build something that endures: something worthy of your potential.” 

“Do not afflict others with anything that you yourself would not wish to suffer. if you would not like to be a slave, make sure no one is your slave. If you have slaves, you yourself are the greatest slave, for just as freedom is incompatible with slavery, so goodness is incompatible with hypocrisy.” 

“On the occasion of every accident that befalls you, remember to turn to yourself and inquire what power you have for turning it to use.” 

“No great thing is created suddenly, any more than a bunch of grapes or a fig. If you tell me that you desire a fig, I answer that there must be time. Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen.” 

“When a youth was giving himself airs in the Theatre and saying, 'I am wise, for I have conversed with many wise men,' Epictetus replied, 'I too have conversed with many rich men, yet I am not rich!’.” 

“no man is free until he s a master of himself!!” 

“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” 

“What concerns me is not the way things are, but the way people think things are.” 

“Imagine for yourself a character, a model personality, whose example you determine to follow, in private as well as in public.” 

 “-Who are those people by whom you wish to be admired? Are they not these whom you are in the habit of saying that they are mad? What then? Do you wish to be admired by the mad?” 

“Is freedom anything else than the right to live as we wish? Nothing else.” 

“If you seek Truth, you will not seek to gain a victory by every possible means; and when you have found Truth, you need not fear being defeated.” 

“We must not believe the many, who say that only free people ought to be educated, but we should rather believe the philosophers who say that only the educated are free.” 

“Never say that I have taken it, only that I have given it back.” 

“Everyone's life is a warfare, and that long and various.” 

“Crows pick out the eyes of the dead, when the dead have no longer need of them; but flatterers mar the soul of the living, and her eyes they blind.” 

“If you want to improve, you must be content to be thought foolish and stupid.” 

 “Remind thyself that he whom thou lovest is mortal; that what thou lovest is not thine own; it is given thee for the present, not irrevocably nor for ever, but even as a fig or a bunch of grapes at
the appointed season of the year”
 

“Don't live by your own rules, but in harmony with nature” 

“The essence of philosophy is that a man should so live that his happiness shall depend as little as possible on external things.” 

“Freedom is not procured by a full enjoyment of what is desired, but by controlling the desire.” 

“For it is not death or pain that is to be feared, but the fear of pain or death.” 

“Whoever then would be free, let him wish for nothing, let him decline nothing, which depends on others; else he must necessarily be a slave.” 


“If you ever happen to turn your attention to externals, for the pleasure of any one, be assured that you have ruined your scheme of life. Be contented, then, in everything, with being a philosopher; and if you with to seem so likewise to any one, appear so to yourself, and it will suffice you.” 

“What then, is it not possible to be free from faults? It is not possible; but this is possible: to direct your efforts incessantly to being faultless. For we must be content if by never remitting this attention we shall escape at least a few errors. When you have said ‘Tomorrow I will begin to attend,’ you must be told that you are saying this: ‘Today I will be shameless, disregardful of time and place, mean; it will be in the power of others to give me pain, today I will be passionate and envious.’”

See how many evil things you are permitting yourself to do. If it is good to use attention tomorrow, how much better is it to do so today? If tomorrow it is in your interest to attend, much more is it today, that you may be able to do so tomorrow also, and may not defer it again to the third day.”
 
“When any person harms you, or speaks badly of you, remember that he acts or speaks from a supposition of its being his duty. Now, it is not possible that he should follow what appears right to you, but what appears so to himself. Therefore, if he judges from a wrong appearance, he is the person hurt, since he too is the person deceived. For if anyone should suppose a true proposition to be false, the proposition is not hurt, but he who is deceived about it. Setting out, then, from these principles, you will meekly bear a person who reviles you, for you will say upon every occasion, "It seemed so to him."
....” 

“You know yourself what you are worth in your own eyes; and at what price you will sell yourself. For men sell themselves at various prices. This is why, when Florus was deliberating whether he should appear at Nero's shows, taking part in the performance himself, Agrippinus replied, 'Appear by all means.' And when Florus inquired, 'But why do not you appear?' he answered, 'Because I do not even consider the question.' For the man who has once stooped to consider such questions, and to reckon up the value of external things, is not far from forgetting what manner of man he is.” 



“Most of what passes for legitimate entertainment is inferior or foolish and only caters to or exploits people's weaknesses. Avoid being one of the mob who indulges in such pastimes. Your life is too short and you have important things to do. Be discriminating about what images and ideas you permit into your mind. If you yourself don't choose what thoughts and images you expose yourself to, someone else will, and their motives may not be the highest. It is the easiest thing in the world to slide imperceptibly into vulgarity. But there's no need for that to happen if you determine not to waste your time and attention on mindless pap.” “Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our actions. The things in our control are by nature free, unrestrained, unhindered; but those not in our control are weak, slavish, restrained, belonging to others. Remember, then, that if you suppose that things which are slavish by nature are also free, and that what belongs to others is your own, then you will be hindered. You will lament, you will be disturbed, and you will find fault both with gods and men. But if you suppose that only to be your own which is your own, and what belongs to others such as it really is, then no one will ever compel you or restrain you. Further, you will find fault with no one or accuse no one. You will do nothing against your will. No one will hurt you, you will have no enemies, and you not be harmed.” 
“So you wish to conquer in the Olympic Games, my friend? And I, too... But first mark the conditions and the consequences. You will have to put yourself under discipline; to eat by rule, to avoid cakes and sweetmeats; to take exercise at the appointed hour whether you like it or not, in cold and heat; to abstain from cold drinks and wine at your will. Then, in the conflict itself you are likely enough to dislocate your wrist or twist your ankle, to swallow a great deal of dust, to be severely thrashed, and after all of these things, to be defeated.” 

“Men are disturbed not by things, but by the views which they take of things. Thus death is nothing terrible, else it would have appeared so to Socrates. But the terror consists in our notion of death, that it is terrible. When, therefore, we are hindered, or disturbed, or grieved let us never impute it to others, but to ourselves; that is, to our own views. It is the action of an uninstructed person to reproach others for his own misfortunes; of one entering upon instruction, to reproach himself; and of one perfectly instructed, to reproach neither others or himself.” 

“Now is the time to get serious about living your ideals. How long can you afford to put off who you really want to be? Your nobler self cannot wait any longer. Put your principles into practice – now. Stop the excuses and the procrastination. This is your life! You aren’t a child anymore. The sooner you set yourself to your spiritual program, the happier you will be. The longer you wait, the more you’ll be vulnerable to mediocrity and feel filled with shame and regret, because you know you are capable of better. From this instant on, vow to stop disappointing yourself.  Separate yourself from the mob. Decide to be extraordinary and do what you need to do – now.” 

Put another way:  

“How long are you going to wait before you demand the best for yourself and in no instance bypass the discriminations of reason? You have been given the principles that you ought to endorse, and you have endorsed them. What kind of teacher, then, are you still waiting for in order to refer your self-improvement to him? You are no longer a boy, but a full-grown man. If you are careless and lazy now and keep putting things off and always deferring the day after which you will attend to yourself, you will not notice that you are making no progress, but you will live and die as someone quite ordinary

"From now on, then, resolve to live as a grown-up who is making progress, and make whatever you think best a law that you never set aside. And whenever you encounter anything that is difficult or pleasurable, or highly or lowly regarded, remember that the contest is now: you are at the Olympic Games, you cannot wait any longer, and that your progress is wrecked or preserved by a single day and a single event. That is how Socrates fulfilled himself by attending to nothing except reason in everything he encountered. And you, although you are not yet a Socrates, should live as someone who at least wants to be a Socrates.” 



1 comment:

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