Sunday, January 24, 2016

Epictetus was One Smart Slave

Epictetus was a slave of a freedman who was eventually freed. This slave lived from 55-135 A.D. and was a major Stoic philosopher. Unfortunately, his teachings were not committed to writing, but were chronicled by one of his pupils name Arrian and can be found In Discourses of Epictetus [C. A. D. 108] or The Works of Epictetus, Translated by Thomas W. Higginson. This ancient philosopher in part talked about how best to meet the requirements of life by being comfortable with nature. Some of his ideas pertain to perception as he reportedly said, “things appear as they are, or they are not, and do not even appear to be; or they are not, yet appear to be.” In other words, it is about how we perceive the world and give meaning to it-“nothing is good or bad thinking makes it so.” Of course, in addition to perception, senses and thinking, we also feel or emote and move or act-behavior. How we think and what we think significantly plays a major component in our mental health. This former slave also talked about being master of oneself. In order to know oneself, it would be helpful to be aware of our unconscious impulses, our ego ideal, use of our defense mechanisms, goal setting, expectations, success experiences, being in the here and now and development of conscience. Although the former slave didn’t use the concept of denial, he talked about not desiring a long life. For him, it meant that the fear of death was underneath the desire. He added that desiring a long life is useless, since all things in life are transient. He reportedly said, “May death take me, while I am thinking of these things, while I am thus writing and reading.” I agree with him in that I want to die while I’m being productive like when I’m trail running. I must admit that I want to live within a healthy mentally and physically lifespan. The brilliant Epictetus also talked about the power of our thoughts when he said “castaway sadness, fear, desire, and malevolence, avarice, effeminacy, and temperance.” He likely knew, a long time ago, that our thinking affects our feelings and desires. And if we can control and not get caught up in some othe irrational ideas that we hold, we actually might be able to live and act in accordance with the healthy philosophies of the past. An example of self-defeating thinking are related to thoughts around wanting approval, fears of failure, wishing for the biggest toys and blaming others for our misfortune. Acting on these irrational thoughts, results in making life less than desirable, but miserable. An important principle taken from Reinhold Niebuhr’s serenity prayer that was adopted by Alcohol Anonymous “oh God, give us a serenity to accept what cannot be changed. The courage to change what can be changed, and the wisdom to know the one from the other.” Epictetus originally said “no man is free un less he is master of himself.” And that the self-mastery comes through will. The will operates on those things within our power. He said “In our power are opinion, movement toward a thing, desire, aversion - whatever are our own acts. In other words, control the things you can and let go of the things you can’t. That lesson is used a lot, especially in sports. A number of years ago, a wise Canadian cowboy friend told me that he disliked those competitions that had a judge, evaluating and giving a number to his performance. He liked racing where the first horse across the finish line wins. In trail running, we cannot control things like the weather, trail obstacles and other competitors. We can only control things like purchasing our trail running equipment, our hydration, nutrition, and our conditioning. As far as college football is concerned, Coach Harbaugh would likely tell his players that they have no control over the season scheduling, rankings, flips of the coin, or even making the team. What they can do is to condition well, practice hard all the time, learn your assignment and have fun playing the game you love. Then, the coaches decide your fate or out of your control. The article regarding Epictetus was found in the January 9-10, 2016 of The Wall Street Journal.

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