How to Stay in the Moment with Stoicism
Part of what makes Stoicism fascinating to examine is the fact that three of its most well-known practitioners represented a wide spectrum of social positions. Consider Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Empire's emperor and one of the world's most powerful figures. Consider Seneca, an emperor's adviser, a renowned playwright, and one of the Roman Empire's wealthiest people. On the other hand, Epictetus, born into slavery, is the polar opposite. Stoicism is so powerful: it can provide timeless ideas that can benefit us in both good and terrible times, no matter where we are in life.
Epictetus and Stoicism
Unlike Marcus Aurelius and Seneca, Epictetus didn't write anything. Arrian of Nicomedia, a Roman citizen who attended Epictetus' lectures in Greece around 120 CE, copied and edited his teachings. Arrian was a highly competent Roman statesman and general who was likewise a prolific, intelligent, and gifted writer who was obviously fascinated by Epictetus' ideas. After transcribing eight volumes of the master's speeches, he understood Stoic principles, only half of which survive.
Epictetus was born as an enslaved person in an aristocratic household in Hierapolis (modern-day Pamukkale, Turkey) about 2,000 years ago. Epictetus learned philosophy through the Stoic Musonius Rufus, who became his teacher and mentor after his master, Epaphroditus, granted him permission to pursue liberal studies. Following Emperor Nero's death, Epictetus was given his freedom and began teaching philosophy in Rome for over 25 years. This persisted until the historic expulsion of all philosophers from Rome by Emperor Domitian. Epictetus fled to Nicopolis, Greece, and established a philosophical school there, where he lectured until his death.
10 Days of Learning From Epictetus
Each morning, Epictetus' students, including Arrian, were to ask themselves what they needed to do to better conquer their own fears and unruly appetites and to rid themselves from any vestiges of unjustified suffering. They were invited to think about what steps they needed to take to reach their full potential for living wisely and values like justice, courage, and temperance.
Being inspired by these daily lessons from Epictetus, we have created a 10-day journaling challenge for you, where each day is a new lesson. As Epictetus' students asked themselves, the questions you will ask yourself will be answered by you in your journal.
Your goal for this challenge is to reflect on the lesson given, think about how it relates to your own life, and work with introspection.
"Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants."
The Stoics thought that goods were transient and that what mattered was our opinion of something rather than the object itself. It's not the stuff you have that makes you happy; it's the experiences that make you happy, according to all existing studies on individual happiness. Greater money, after a particular income level, means more issues. It does not, according to studies, contribute to increased happiness.
We frequently feel compelled to have excellent stuff, yet having fewer wants allows us to focus more intently on fulfilling those desires. What good are amazing goods if they don't help you attain your objectives? True wealth does not come from material belongings but rather from fulfilling our objectives.
Always keep in mind that you may favorably recalculate your wealth right now by altering your goals and questioning your necessities. You'll have more of what you don't want if you don't like it. The less you rely on other factors, the more resilient and powerful you will become.
Question: What goods or aspects of my life would I consider my wealth?
"Man is not worried by real problems so much as by his imagined anxieties about real problems."
The phrase reminds us that concern is a construct of our own making. We have fear in our heads. Fear (or something close — I've heard various variations) is an acronym for False Evidence Appearing Real. It suggests that we have a tendency to exaggerate our issues in our heads; after all, our minds may be deceiving at times. And that the real problem isn't nearly as awful as it appears.
Anxiety stems from fear. We experience fear when we think of the future or something oncoming. We cannot fear something that's in the past. But we don't exactly know what will happen in the future? So why waste time making scenarios in our heads that may never happen.
Question: What are some of my fears that can be construed as irrational?
"First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do."
According to several studies, expressing what you're thinking makes something more real in your mind. That appears to be critical to me. Anything you can do to persuade your mind on all levels that you're serious about accomplishing something is a good thing.
Many learning approaches rely on saying things frequently. What method did you use to learn the alphabet? What way did you use to learn to count? How about teaching colors, shapes, and everything up until first grade? Even simple practices like daily affirmations get more power when said rather than read or pondered.
By saying that, you've created a contract with yourself, a commitment.
All exterior occurrences, Epictetus believed, were determined by Fate, and everything else was up to us. If we wanted to change, we had two options: wait for Fate to bring it to us or become what we wanted through our own efforts. That, in my opinion, is the essence of the quote.
Question: What kind of person do I want to become and be known for?
"Any person capable of angering you becomes your master; he can anger you only when you permit yourself to be disturbed by him."
The Stoics believed that we are all masters of our own emotions. Anger is one of the most powerful emotions we have to cope with. It appears to make evolutionary sense. When we are threatened, we react in a way that we believe will mitigate the threat. When someone talks ill of us or does or says something we don't like, we use anger to exert control over them.
But when we get angry, we're losing control of the one thing we genuinely can control - ourselves. If someone is easily offended and flies off the handle at the least thing, they're attempting to control others. We're handing over control of our emotions to another person.
You have a lot more sway over people if you can make them angry about anything. People go to war because they are furious about something, not because they are joyful and want to be kind to others. And it may have begun as a fear of something, but it was funneled into a rage. Remember that the only thing you can control is yourself. Therefore it's up to you to decide whether you want to be the master of yourself or surrender that authority to anyone who irritates you.
Question: When, why, and by who is my anger triggered most often?
"He who laughs at himself never runs out of things to laugh at."
We shouldn't take ourselves too seriously, which is one of the most crucial aspects of life. Remember that Stoics maintain that they will die in the future at the forefront of their minds, and when you look at life through that lens, you learn to give things their proper weight. Is that item you're worried about going to be significant in ten years? How about a hundred years? A thousand? ten thousand?
We talk a lot about how you can't control what other people think about you and how you can't control what they think about you. And I believe that being able to laugh at oneself is a location where you can relieve a lot of stress.
The more you learn to laugh at yourself and lighten up, the more you'll be able to enjoy your life and let go of things that don't go as planned. Are you able to laugh at yourself? Can you let go of your ego long enough to understand you can laugh at yourself and the ridiculous things you cling to?
Question: If others laugh at you, can you recognize that it impacts you as much as you let it?
"Caretake this moment. Immerse yourself in its particulars. Respond to this person, this challenge, this deed. Quit evasions. Stop giving yourself needless trouble. It is time to really live; to fully inhabit the situation you happen to be in now."
Establishing strong connections with the people around us, in each moment, is crucial to living well, right? "True happiness is a verb. It's the ongoing dynamic performance of worthy deeds. The flourishing life, whose foundation is virtuous intention, is something we continually improvise, and in doing so our souls mature. Our life has usefulness to ourselves and to the people we touch." says Sharon Lebell. If we approach life as Epictetus proposes – and embrace each moment as vital and sometimes all we have – then making those connections with the people around us, each moment, is key to living well? Practicing an "ongoing dynamic performance of honorable deeds," as a daily ritual can bring out the best in us.
Epictetus wants you to live in the now, do things on time, and really live and benefit from each situation that life puts you in. It is really the only way to live well. Be present in the now, and focus your attention on what's in front of you.
Question: What daily tasks do I need to do to live well?
"A ship should not ride on a single anchor, nor life on a single hope."
You can attempt something in multiple ways because you have options. If a second anchor held you in place, you might be able to send a diver down with a new line and recover the first anchor. If you had a second anchor, you could at least save the ship from the shore's rocks. If you have another option in mind, you could choose to wake the crew early and get underway. The point is, in life, you should always have a Plan B.
Let's begin by considering your hopes, dreams, and ambitions. They all roughly map to the same thing, with some differences. What do you want to do, who you want to be, and what do you accomplish? What do you do if all you ever wanted to do was play professional football and then ruin your knees?
Question: What do you want to do, become, or achieve?
Take a little time to make sure you include some of the things you're currently doing where you're still in the middle of the achievement process. Begin by doing something you're already doing. What are you attempting to become or do, and what remains to be done?
Most people are dealing with a variety of issues. Look through the rest of the list for something that piques your curiosity, something engaging. It should be something so significant or interesting that it will entice you to get off the sofa and hold your attention even if things don't go according to plan.
"It's not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters."
What happens is pretty much the same for everyone; what people do differs. "But you don't know the disappointments I've had," some argue. Come on, we've all had our share of disappointments. Disappointments aren't something that only the impoverished get. They are in everyone's possession. The question is, "What are you going to do about it?" It doesn't matter what happens to you; what matters is how you react to it. You must choose to adjust your reactions to the pain of your past, whether it happened yesterday or years ago because you are in control of the result of your life...and you always have been.
Instead of accepting that others were not good, kind, or loyal, and instead of chucking those old emotional issues in the trash, our friends who just can't get over it, whatever "it" is, will be their undoing. As they continue along their life's journey, their unwillingness to select an alternative path by forgiving and forgetting will dull their bright future to a muted brightness.
Question: What is the nature of my reactions to bad things as they happen to me?
"You become what you give your attention to."
If we want to improve and concentrate on our tasks, we must be ready to tune out. Disconnect from the constant barrage of noise, gossip, ignorance, and petty obsessions that everyone bombards you with.
When our attention is dispersed all over the place, we have less energy and focus on devoting to what counts. Our curiosity, originality, and critical thinking are sabotaged by our excessive ingestion of insignificant trivialities. It's the same with those you pay attention to. If you spend a lot of time with people who have nothing else to contribute but gossip and slander, you'll unconsciously start to copy their unpleasant behavior.
If you devote most of your attention to whatever celebrity injects whatever in there wherever you're putting your self-confidence at risk.
You've got better things to do, after all. You'll act as though you're a member of the community you want to be a part of. Allowing the insignificant to govern your perception is a bad idea. Stop surrendering power to those who are constantly attempting to shape your reality. If you think and act like everyone else, you'll look and act like everyone else. You will have the same things as your peers if you do the same things they do.
Question: What things in my life require my strongest attention, and what don't?
"No person is free who is not master of himself."
To be the ruler of your own personal kingdom, you must have self-control. You can keep control of your emotions and make decisions in your life instead of letting your passions do it for you if you have self-control. How essential is self-control to you from that perspective?
The list of passions is endless, ranging from the desire to gambling to excessive alcohol consumption to various other activities. But they all have one thing in common. A ruler and one who is governed are always present.
If emotion reigns supreme, you are a slave to it, susceptible to its every whim. If you're the boss, you can do whatever you want. If you allow your desires to have a mind of their own, they will take over your life. This is why learning and practicing self-control is extremely important.
Question: What are my indulgences that make me lose my self-control?
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