“For it is not these small arguments that are wanted now; the writings of the Stoics are full of them. What then is the thing which is wanted? A man who shall apply them, one who by his acts shall bear testimony to his words. Assume, I intreat you, this character, that we may no longer use in the schools the examples of the ancients, but may have some example of our own.” Epictetus
I read this quote from our friend Epictetus as I was going to sleep last night. In fact, I think I fell asleep reading it. When I woke up this morning this quote was waiting for me.
It is a powerful quote. Think what it could mean to wake up everyday and actually put it into practice.
What is Epictetus talking about? He is talking about philosophy, he is talking about Stoicism. To my current mind the most profound aspects of Epictetus and the Stoicism he taught is the emphasis on Freedom (I capitalize it because I want to highlight the point that the Freedom Epictetus taught and the Freedom I am ultimately interested in, is of a broader nature than generally thought of, it is inside-out living). It was Epictetus’ claim that the philosophy he taught led to a life of Fearlessness, Equanimity, and Freedom.
Reading the above quote from Epictetus might be a bit confusing to anyone who is not familiar with the basics of Stoicism. After all, how are we to put into practice a teaching that we don’t know? Damn good point. Here is the beautiful thing about the Stoics, particularly the Roman Stoics, you can pick up the writings right now, today, exactly as you are, and make sense of them. They are not difficult to read. They speak across time in a language that is meant to be understood. In fact, it is my speculation, that if you try this you will find that you are already schooled in the foundations. If you are reading this you have grown up with it, you have been swimming in it for your entire life…it is your inheritance from something like 3,000 years ago.
I am not going to provide a lengthy explanation here. What I will give you a link to some wonderful collections put together by Massimo Pigliucci (a great exponent of modern Stoicism) where you can start your own study. Seriously, go check it out…enjoy!
For those who have some familiarity with the teachings of the Stoics and who are attempting to implement them into your modern life I think you will know exactly what Epictetus is charging you with. Today is the day that we start to live our philosophy of life. Each morning when we wake up there is another chance to put our philosophy of life into practice. Each time we are confronted with something we don’t want to do, something we do not want to deal with, we are actually being presented with an opportunity to practice our philosophy.
Here are my notes to myself in this regard: Today I am going to do my best to live the inside-out life, to live as a Stoic. Today I am going to treat myself with justice. I am going to do the things that build the person I am trying to become. This includes exercise, diet, study, writing, meditation. I refuse to waste my day. I refuse to zone out. I am zoning in. Today I am going to treat others with justice and kindness. I am going to do my best at my job. I will be kind when others are cruel or cold. I refuse to stay discouraged. I have the power to meet the tasks of a human being. When I encounter injustice today I will do my best to make it right. Today I will deny myself a comfort, I will volunteer. Today is the day, now is the moment to have courage, to be Free.
I hope this short post inspires. Stay tuned, there is more to come.