Archive for May, 2009


5/5/2009 – Technology of Self

In my spare moments, I enjoy reading the wisdom writings of the ancients.  Much of stoic philosophy informs the way I try to live my life today.  The perspectives it values resonate with me and augment many of the Buddhist beliefs I already hold.  I find, in particular, that it is very helpful for me to reflect on the words and teachings of Graceo-Roman philosopher, Epictetus (c.AD-55-135).  A freed slave, he formed and oversaw a philosophical school in early 2nd century AD, Nicopolis, where he and his students tackled questions of illness and fear, family, friendship and love.  In short, they debated on how one can live a happier, healthier, more productive and meaningful life – and we all could do with a bit of that, couldn’t we!

Epictetus is famous for his common-sense approach to life’s dilemmas.  His psychological insights have a down-to-earth ring about them.  Marcus Aurelius, the renowned Roman Emperor (himself a great thinker, author and student of Epictetus), was hugely influenced by Epictetus, as are many contemporary philosophers, writers and psychologists – ranging from Pascal to Descartes, from Michel Foucault to Tom Wolf and Albert Ellis.  His influence throughout history has been enormous.  His central doctrine advises us to perceive exactly what is in our power to change and what is not, urging us to embrace our fate and to live in harmony with nature.

Personally, when I find life’s stresses becoming a little too intense, I often reach for the tool box of Epictetus’s clarifying and sobering thoughts.  He insisted that, “it is not events that disturb people, it is their judgments concerning them”.  Our emotional responses to upsetting actions – not the actions themselves – are what create anxiety, fear and depression.  He noted that our emotions are products of our judgments, which are often irrational, prejudiced and biased.  I find his style of dialogue refreshing and humble.  You never feel as though you are being spoken down to; on the contrary, you feel as though he is genuinely confiding in you – using unstuffy, straightforward terminology with largely no dogma attached.  He utilizes a light-hearted manner while helping us deal with life’s losses, disappointments and grief.

It is, without doubt, a great consolation to know that another – albeit in centuries past – has felt and experienced the same tribulations as oneself, and has had the compassion to put on record  his thoughts and observations for others to benefit from.  Epictetus offers us a technology of our inner selves.  Check him out – you won’t be disappointed.  He has helped me, and if the need arises, perhaps he could do the same for you.

Thanks for stopping by.

– Martin

“My mind represents for me my medium – like wood to a carpenter, or leather to a shoemaker.  The goal in my case, is the correct use of impressions.” – Epictetus

“Don’t hope that events will turn out the way you want, welcome events in whichever way they happen:  this is the path to peace.” – Epictetus


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