04 Jul Lessons with Philosophy – Epictetus the Stoic
My image of philosophy is tainted. When I think Philosophy, I think of students in films. I think of provocative questions with no answers to them. I have never found Philosophy an easy subject to approach.
Philosophy is also challenging discussion within a group dynamic. Most people have no interest. Others confuse it with politics, a topic which provides anybody with opinions for heated debate.
The elusiveness of Philosophy presents a high hurdle to overcome if you want to explore the subject. I don’t think anybody has ever fallen into Philosophy; you have to find it and pull it out of the weeds.
So where to start with Philosophy?
I began with the works of Epictetus, a Greek Stoic who lived in Rome around 50AD. I bought his teachings as an audiobook and got started.
Principally, the reason for choosing Epictetus was because he was a Stoic. I had heard a lot about stoicism, but I didn’t know what it was. Epictetus was a Stoic and that interested me.
I liked Rome. I liked the idea of reading something old. There are other Stoics out there. I decided to start with Epictetus.
Driving with Epictetus
Currently, I commute a three-hour drive from London to Norfolk. The audiobook is twelve hours long, providing me with four intensive rounds of Epictetus. You can also buy Discourses and Selected Writings’ on Amazon should you want to.
On my first drive, I found the first thirty minutes of Epictetus engaging. After that, for about an hour I struggled to absorb all of the key messages as they came so thick and fast. With books you can pause on each sentence, you don’t get that luxury with an audio book.
After I got used to the pattern and style, the time flies. Having to concentrate on each sentence placed me in a ponderous meditative state which I enjoyed. I felt reflective when I arrived at my destination.
With every subsequent drive, I found having less difficulty engaging with the content. I think I got used to the flow of the book the reading style.
What Epictetus taught me
Epictetus’ central teachings were about self-control. He said that external events were beyond the control of the individual; consequently, we should not waste time trying to control or worry about them. Internal events were things that we can control, our attention should focus on these.
He taught that there was no such thing as right and wrong. Things happen, they happen because they happen. To live in neutrality to these events provides a more stable mindset for making better decisions.
Lastly, Epictetus’ teachings encouraged us to live in the now, not the past or the future. He said that the past has gone and the future is uncertain. All we have is the current moment, to focus on anything else is to waste time.
Reflecting on the words of a Stoic
We live in a fast-paced world which is fighting for attention. Many things are happening outside of my control. I found turning off from it a pleasant release. I turned off my distractions such as Facebook and the news too, and I don’t regret it at all.
When everyone else is concentrating on the latest news, focusing on your world might seem odd, but I find it very calming. I only look at the things I can control. I care more about the things around me.
Living in the moment
I have often thought about the future. I think my budgeting skills have always been poor because of my view of the future. I used to budget with the opinion that a particular payment would come, only to find that it didn’t work out as I had originally planned.
Thinking in the moment has helped me reframe how I view the future. Budgeting is much easier now because I focus on now rather than tomorrow. It sounds simple, but it works.
I focus on where I am and the people I am with now. I feel happier as I don’t compare the moment to the past or the future. When you narrow down your sight, your vision becomes clearer.
Stuck in neutral
When everyone believes they are right, they can’t all be right. Reflecting on this stance makes it easier for me to try to understand and engage with perspectives that are not my own.
Seeing events as neither right or wrong also helps frame my understanding of situations. I usually never have the whole story, so playing a neutral stance forces me to think before I speak. I rise to anger less because I am less affected within the moment.
Reflecting on Epictetus
As I write, I feel that listening to Epictetus has helped me think about the things around me better. I wouldn’t have expected that outcome when I first started.
I enjoyed my first steps in Philosophy. Things that make you question yourself are fuels for growth. Personal growth is always positive.