“Let others practice lawsuits, others study problems, others syllogisms; here you practice how to die, how to be enchained, how to be racked, how to be exiled.” Epictetus
This is one of my favorite quotes from the Stoic master who was once a slave. That he came from slavery is an important point…you know that Epictetus is speaking from experience. Of the four most famous Roman Stoics, three were sentenced to exile. One committed suicide at the order of an emperor…these were philosophers who lived what they taught.
Hopefully we will never be literally enchained, racked or exiled…but we will die. We do experience being chained and enslaved by habits and desires we cannot control. We do torture ourselves with our habitual emotional loops. How many of us are exiled by divorce, or nursing homes, or just loneliness?
The linchpin of Stoicism as a philosophy of life is that no matter what form the chains take, no matter the discomfort of the exile or the torture it is still possible to lead a eudaemonic life. Eudaemonia is another Ancient Greek word that I find useful. A eudaemonic life is a good life, a flourishing life, that is what it means. According to Stoicism it is possible to lead a good life, a flourishing life even in prison, while sick or dying, or cast out far from your home.
This is possible because the philosophy gives us some guidance in building the inside-out life. The inside-out life isn’t based on conditions, it is not built on anything that can be given or taken away. This is freedom that expands in all directions because it is the center of all directions…
When asked what was the goal of his philosophical school Epictetus replied: “Fearlessness, Equanimity, and Freedom”. All of these qualities radiate from within. When we are centered there we are unshakeable.