At times most of life seems arbitrary and maybe pointless. We seem to be cast into a sea whose waters are never calm and our boats seem to be always swaying, a slave to the whims of nature and vast water’s that seem to have no end nor a sense of their full depths.
This is more apparent in our lowest moments, after the anger, resentment, fear and all those emotions that come when your concept of life comes crushing on you. After all the layers peel off you might ask yourself all the questions constantly gnawing at you till that final why? Why all this and not this? It all seemed clearer at a prior time, that hope for something a bit better than what we have currently.
A gamble in which we are more optimistic on a win, yet we don’t control the wheels of fortune. When all that we cling to ends up hurting us. It doesn’t have to be always so, for life always forces us to be present at the moment. We often try to control the universe, a perilous pursuit in which we will never win. This control comes in the form of thoughts, of what should happen now, what should have happened in the past, and, what should happen in the future. These thoughts are nothing but the sharpening of a dagger that will split us open when the thoughts don’t come to reality, the more you resist being present, the more life will hurt.
Don’t demand that things happen as you wish, but wish that they happen as they do happen, and you will go on well.
Epictetus, Enchiridion, 8
This is something rather hard to accept. Making it seem like the only people who can go through life unscathed, are still too innocent or all too deluded. How then do those scathed in life’s fires go on living a life worth bearing, immune from all that ails them, beyond all that scarred them and fortified for all that is to come?
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.
Epictetus, Enchiridion, 1
Being present and conscious of our actions allows us to live a good and moral life in accordance with nature. Even though that which is not in our control seems fickle, weak and unreliable. Looking at this one might be sceptical, it’s as if I’m putting forward a sense of being like a monk, caught up in their tranquil world devoid of aspirations. On the contrary, it’s a call for patience in our pursuits, doing what we can and must and being grateful for what we currently have.
Is anything brought around to you? Put out your hand and take your share in moderation. Does it pass by you? Don’t stop it. Is it not yet come? Don’t stretch your desire towards it, but wait till it reaches you. Do this with regard to children, to a wife, to public posts, to riches, and you will eventually be a worthy partner of the feasts of the gods.
Epictetus, Enchiridion, 15
This is to help us to accept things as they happen without despair, complaining and anxiety. Also, there is a reminder of loss, when something passes by you. Loss is inevitable in human life, even though accepting a loss can weigh down on a person.
Never say of anything, “I have lost it”; but, “I have returned it.” Is your child dead? It is returned. Is your wife dead? She is returned. Is your estate taken away? Well, and it is not that likewise returned? “But he who took it away is a bad man.” What difference is it to you who the giver assigns to take it back? While he gives it to you to possess, take care of it; but don’t view it as your own, just as travellers view a hotel.
Epictetus, Enchiridion, 11
Our possessions can be taken away but control whether we are depressed about it. People can cheat us and we control to which degree this affects us. And this goes on to the next point on people’s opinions. Since in this approach we are bound to elicit opinions from those around us.
We have to admit that the constant pursuit of being liked is exhausting. There is no sense of tranquillity is always worrying about what people think. We must be content in being laughed at, ridiculed and despised if that is the price we pay for equanimity, freedom and tranquillity. We must be content to be thought stupid, and when someone speaks ill of us, we say; “He does not know my other faults, else he would not have mentioned only these.”
Epictetus, Enchiridion, 33
Someone can insult us but they can’t control what we feel and think about it. At the end of the day, the opinions of others are beyond our control. The degree to which they affect us lies in our control. Do we cling to the opinion of others and let them guide us, or do we take what benefit we can from them before we let them go forever to rot in the past?
When, therefore, anyone provokes you, be assured that it is your own opinion which provokes you.
Epictetus, Enchiridion, 20
We can’t control the world but we can control our attitude towards it. We must try to be present-day by day, staring down the darkness and refusing for it to scare us. With delightedness that comes from registering every kind of heaviness and transcending it.
Remember we can’t cling to the whims of nature, we just have to accept it and just focus on living well.