“Straightaway then practice saying to every harsh appearance, “You are an appearance, and in no manner what you appear to be.” Epictetus “Enchiridion”
Philosophy without practice is good up to a point, but what do we do when our minds seem bent on assailing us with suffering? We need a practice, we need something we can do in these moments. In the above quote from our good friend Epictetus we have the directions for a classic Stoic practice, and one that we can begin to employ immediately.
Imagine that you are driving to work. You are listening to a podcast or some of your favorite music and seemingly out of nowhere you find yourself lost in thought about some worry or anxiety whether past, or future. If you have experienced this you will immediately know what I mean and the suffering that this can cause. Here is the trick of Epictetus’ practice: you have to catch yourself doing this. You have to find even a centimeter of distance between the thought and you (there is an interesting paradox). If you can catch this little bit of distance you can implement the practice. Take that distance (even if it is just a tiny bit of distance) and look at the pattern of disturbing thoughts. Try to cultivate the experience of looking at the thoughts, watching them (this helps create/increase distance) and once you have that (it can take only seconds) question the disturbing thoughts, “Who do you think you are? You are not what you appear to be.”.
That is it. It is that simple. While it is simple it is startlingly effective, in my experience, in derailing these thoughts. One can have the experience of recognizing that it is not necessary to fully buy into them…indeed, it is a choice. I find myself using this practice many, many times a day. I encourage you to experiment with it and and let me know how it goes. I hope it is as helpful for you as it is for me.
Stay tuned, there is more to come