December 20, 2017 - Ancient Stoicism in Plain English
The main objective of Stoic Training
Key ideas of this discourse
Impressions are the raw material we need to work with.
By nature, we gravitate towards what is good and move away from what is bad.
Our only concern is about our choices. Good and bad arise out of our choices and others have nothing to do with it.
If you are interested in getting something from others, you need to give them what they want.
This is how you train yourself. Throughout the day observe people and situations. Some of these may strike you as fortunate and others as unfortunate. Test each situation by this criterion: “Is this situation the result your choice?” If the answer is no, then it is none of your concern. Your judgments in such situations are mere opinions with no substance.
Just as a ray of light is not disturbed when its reflection in water is disturbed, your knowledge and virtues are not disturbed when you soul appears disturbed.
Impressions are our raw material to work with
The human body is the raw material for the physician and physiotherapist. Land is the raw material for the farmer. The raw material for good human beings is their own mind – to respond to impressions the way intended by nature. How did nature intend? To assent to what is true, dissent from what is false, and suspend judgment when uncertain; similarly, to desire what is good, to reject what is bad, and be indifferent to what is neither.
Your soul gravitates toward good and recoils from bad
A banker or a retailer cannot refuse to accept legal currency. They are obliged to accept it, whether they like it or not, in exchange for goods of equal value. So it is with the soul. When you present it with something good, it immediately moves towards it and it is repelled by anything bad. The soul will never reject a clear impression of good, any more than you would reject legal currency. Every action of God and humans are solely based on this principle. Good is preferred above every form of relationship.
“My father is nothing to me, only the good.”
“Are you so unfeeling?”
“It’s my nature. I am so designed by God. If good turns out to be something different from decency and fairness, then off go father, brother, country, and the rest. What! Am I supposed to give up my own good so you can have yours? Why?”
“Because I am your father.”
“But not my good.”
“Because I am your brother.”
“But not my good.”
On the other hand, if we place our good in right choice, then maintaining such relationships also becomes good. Anyone who gives up some material things also attains good.
“My father is wasting my inheritance.”
“But he is not harming you.”
“My brother will get a bigger inheritance.”
“Let him take as much as he likes.”
Will he take a greater share of honesty, loyalty, and brotherly love? No. Not even God can do that. He placed my good nature in my power and gave it to me, as he has it himself – free, clear, and without restrictions.
To get what you want, offer others what they want
Different people may use different currencies. If you pay them in their currency, what they sell can be yours.
A corrupt person comes to power. What currency does he recognize? Money. Show him the money and you can carry off what you please.
You face an adulterer. What currency does he recognize? Pretty girls. Offer the right currency and get what you want.
Another is addicted to boys. Give him his currency.
Another is fond of hunting. Give her a handsome horse or dog. She may groan and complain but will have an inner compulsion to sell what you like for the currency you offer.
The basic training procedure
Here is how you train yourself. Go out early in the morning. Examine closely whomever you see or hear and consider what you have seen:
A handsome man or a beautiful woman? Test them by your rule: Is their beauty within your choice? No? Forget them.
Someone grieving for the death of a child? Apply the rule. Death is beyond your choice. Dismiss it from your mind.
A consul met you? Apply the same rule. Is consulship inside or outside your choice? Outside. Throw that aside as well. It failed the test. Reject it. It is nothing to you.
If we practiced this way every day from morning to night, by God, we would see some results. As it is, though, we are half asleep and overcome by every impression we face. If we ever wake up, it is for a brief while in the lecture theatre. When we go out, if we see someone in distress we say, “He is crushed;” if we see a consul we say , “A lucky man;” if we see a poor woman, we say “How tragic! How is she going to get her next meal?”
Get rid of deceptive opinions
We must get rid of such deceptive opinions with all our strength. What is misfortune? An opinion. What is subversion, dissension, complaint, blame, accusation, or foolish talk? All mere opinions, things that are not subject to our choice. If you transfer your opinions to what is within your choice, I guarantee you peace of mind, no matter what is happening around you.
Your knowledge and virtues are not affected by impressions
The soul is like a bowl filled with water. Impressions are like a ray of light that strikes the water. If the water is disturbed, the ray will seem to be disturbed as well, although it is not. So when someone loses consciousness, her knowledge and virtues are not compromised, but the spirit in which they exist. Once the spirit returns to normal, so do knowledge and virtues.
Think about this
What, after all, are sighing and crying, except opinions? What is ‘misfortune’? An opinion. Discourses III.3.18. Epictetus [RD]