“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.” ― Epictetus, Enchiridion and Selections from the Discourses
I thought it would be worthwhile to look more closely at what things are, and are not, in my control. Have I missed any biggies?
Things in my control
Things not in my control
Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Such as: My perspective and opinions; How I treat other people; How I respond to how other people treat me; What hobbies and interests I choose to pursue; How much exercise I do; What I eat and drink; How I wear my hair, makeup, and clothes; How I spend and/or invest my savings and my time; What I study, read, watch or listen to; What I choose to plant in my garden; How generous or not I am with my possessions and time; Who I choose to spend my time with; What values I have.
Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our actions. Such as: Getting older; Other people and their opinions of me; Whether other people agree with me or not; Whether other people listen to me or not; Whether other people understand me or not; Actions by other people; The weather; My genetic code; The stock markets; Other peoples’ actions; Death and illness; Disasters such as pandemics, bush fires, floods etc. Wars; The past and the future.
I can see how we can use this idea in our present lives, however it occurred to me today that perhaps it could help us deal with the past as well. I am inclined to believe that we have all had some bad/difficult moments or experiences throughout our childhood, teenage years and beyond. We didn’t have much say over some things and as children may not have had the capacity to reason to the same degree as we do today.
If you are like me, the past can still impact on us today by robbing us of our self-confidence and self-esteem – if we let it. What if we were able to look back with wisdom and realise that our judgements (of ourselves and others) at the time were incorrect or at least inaccurate?
Maybe this would help restore some peace of mind and liberate our thinking about who we are today.
Something worth giving some more thought to, I think!
Epictetus teaches us that each individual is responsible for their own good or their own evil; their own fortune or their own misfortune; their own happiness or their own own anguish. There is no such thing as being the ‘victim.’ Suffering is self-inflicted and can be cured through a discipling of the mind. It is not things that upset us, but our judgements about those things. “When we are frustrated, angry or unhappy,” Epictetus explains, “never hold anyone except ourselves – that is, our judgments – accountable.”
For the first time I have paid more attention to the “things I can change” aspect rather than the things I cannot. I think it is because I heard it in different words (Stoic philosopher, Epictetus), as above: “Some things are in my control and others are not” that opened my eyes. My focus up to now has mostly been on acceptance of the things out of my control. I still think that is valid and useful.
Now I can see more clearly that I have the ability and the right to be assertive around the issues where I do have control. If my motives are virtuous then I need not worry about the opinions of others. By virtuous I mean wise. The main difference in my thinking is not being concerned what others think. A liberating thought!
The Daily Stoic, written by Ryan Holiday, includes a wise quote for each day of the year and then a modern day interpretation of the quote. Today’s quote is from Roman Emperor and Stoic philosopher, Marcus Aurelius. I thought it to be relevant to today amidst the politics of COVID19.
Since late 2019 I have been preparing to deliver a Course for our local University of the Third Age called “Unleash Your Creative Spirit”. I put myself through the course for the second time and allowed all sorts of creative ideas to flourish. In some ways I turned my house upside down in the process. I have already shared some of those experiences in previous blogs.
Eighteen people enrolled and I divided them into two groups – morning and afternoon. It was due to start this Thursday 26 March and run for eight weeks (2 hours per fortnight).
I don’t think I need to tell you the cause of the cancellation! We can never predict what is going to happen from one day to the next. I am sure that is a lesson we are all coming to terms with in the time of this pandemic. It is really challenging my expectations of how I would like the world to be. I am trying to accept the things I cannot change and change the things I can. I have taken comfort in the Stoic philosophers and the following quote in particular:
THE BEST RETREAT IS IN HERE, NOT OUT THERE!
The Daily Stoic message for 21 March says:
“People seek retreats for themselves in the country, by the sea, or in the mountains. You are very much in the habit of yearning for those same things. But this is entirely the trait of a base person, when you can, at any moment, find such a retreat in yourself. For nowhere can you find a more peaceful and less busy retreat than in your own soul – especially if on close inspection it is filled with ease, which I say is nothing more than being well ordered. Treat yourself often to this retreat and be renewed.’
The Philosophy discussion group that I facilitate considered Confucius last week. Who would have thought that the topic would be so relevant – the 70th anniversary of Communism in China and the unrest in Hong Kong?
Some of the comments that came out of the discussion included: ‘Confucius spoke of unity but what we see in China today is uniformity’; ‘it is so difficult to examine an Eastern Philosophy when we (in the group) all grew up in Western democracies and can only try to consider Confucius’ (and China’s) ideas from a distance’ :
An article written (Why is Confucius Still Relevant Today?) for the National Geographic in 2015 interviews writer Michael Schuman, author of Confucius and the World He Created shone some recent light on where Confucianism sits with modern China. I did find him to have quite set ideas though.
Over the past week I became quite distressed at issues happening throughout the world and I know I am not alone. I have been looking hard for the positives but today I came to see I am powerless to change anything. I think I need to detach and let go … I found the quote below this evening and thought it to be relevant.
Sometimes surrender means giving up trying to understand and becoming comfortable with not knowing.
We had two interesting discussions on Thursday based on information on Descartes in Tom Butler-Dowdon’s book, 50 Philosophy Classics. I also provided some handouts based on my research mostly on the internet. This morning’s group found Descartes famous ‘I think, therefore I am’ difficult to grasp. Also the idea that Descartes could discard all existing knowledge and experience and start again in judging what he believed to be true. Is it really possible to imagine that all your past ideas and experiences can be erased to the point that the only thing one can know is that they are a ‘thinking thing’.
Descartes goes on to to say:
“And the whole force of the arguments I have used here to prove the existence of God consists in this, that I recognise that it would not be possible for my nature to be as it is, that is to say, that I should have in me the idea of a God, if God did not really exist.”
We discussed that people throughout time and in different cultures throughout the world independently believe in some form of higher power. But does that really prove that God exists? It doesn’t disprove it either!
The afternoon group suggested that Descartes’ attention to God in his writing was more pragmatic due to the time (early 1600’s) in France. Many of his ideas in maths and science, astronomy could have been seen as heresy if he didn’t publicly pay homage to a belief in God. Galileo suffered being called a heretic for his advances in scientific knowledge so Descartes, as a witness to this, withdrew some of his writings (The Book of the World).
Primarily our group is about having a stimulating discussion and keeping our brains active. The participants know that I am not a philosophy academic and hopefully that enables them to think and to express valid views on the topics raised in the book. And we can get to know each other and start to build some social networks in our community.
Recently I have been exploring many avenues seeking wisdom.
I have studied (with a small group of other interested folks) Socrates, Epicurus, Seneca, Montaigne, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche (not in any great depth, I might add!)
From there I spent some time in October studying the Stoics – Seneca again, Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus. Following on from there we leapt a few centuries to consider Karl Marx and Mary Wollstonecraft. We finished up with a quick look at Bertrand Russell and Australian philosopher, Peter Singer.
Now it would probably be useful for me to tell you all about them but I am probably too lazy to do that, to be honest. Anyway, if you are interested they are only a google search away.
While doing the above I also joined an online course with The School of Practical Philosophy. A small group of us met online on Monday evenings for an hour and considered a range of texts and some thoughtful discussion.
The thing that impacted me the most was the well known words used in the the song below. It was one of those ‘aha’ moments! Realising that the cycles of life keep turning and sometimes we are observers and sometimes participants. Sometimes things go the way that is pleasing to us sometimes they don’t!
Where does this leave me? Not sure! The journey continues …