Epictetus Knew a Thing or Two
“The essence of philosophy is that a person should so live that their happiness shall depend as little as possible on external things.” Thus said Epictetus, a Greek Stoic philosopher who lived from c. 50 to 135 C.E. He was born a slave in modern-day Turkey, later lived in Rome, and was banished to northwestern Greece, where he died at the ripe old age of 85. One of his students wrote down his ideas in several books. According to Wikipedia, Epictetus taught that “philosophy is a way of life and not just a theoretical discipline. To Epictetus, all external events are beyond our control; we should accept calmly and dispassionately whatever happens. However, individuals are responsible for their own actions, which they can examine and control through rigorous self-discipline.”
This idea that happiness does not depend on external things is as American as dim sum. Our cultural philosophy, to the extent that we have one, is “whoever dies with the most toys wins.” We are a thing-based society. One of the unspoken horrors of the current pandemic is that it might deprive us of the time needed to acquire as much as possible. President Trump didn’t create this darker angel of our national character but is surely the poster child for it. Things may be bling, but for 150% Americans they clearly trump everything else.
America is of course a self-proclaimed Christian nation. Yet Jesus in the New Testament states that the kingdom of heaven is within. That’s about as unblingy as you can get. John Milton (d. 1674), next to Shakespeare generally considered England’s greatest poet, has his Satan in Paradise Lost lament, “Myself am Hell!” That’s Epictetus’ and Jesus’ point: We have heaven and hell within us, and it’s up to us to “where” we want to live. Attitude is important here, but we won’t get to inner heaven without self-disciplined behavior.
And now for a word from our sponsor. Sharon Clark and I had a little book published exactly a year ago: Wisdom for Living: Learning to Follow Your Inner Guidance. It contains 150 one-page short wisdom essays with an optional journal prompt at the end of each. We are now within a few dozen sales of 1,000, a magic number which, if we pass it, will net us six hours of free marketing consultation from our press’s marketing guru. So, if you’d like more daily wisdom to lean on during these difficult days or to send to a friend, look for our e- or paperback book at amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com. Who knows? You might be the one to put us over. Also, my free weekly wisdom blog can be found at the FB page of Reynold Ruslan Feldman; on Instagram @reynoldruslanfeldman; and on Twitter @reynoldruslan. Thanks, and stay safe.
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