B1 Intermediate US 9 Folder Collection
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Even though they followed the same philosophy, Marcus Aurelius was an emperor and Epictetus
was a slave.
The fact that someone from the lowest class became one of the greatest Stoic philosophers,
indicates that Stoicism isn't just for the elite: it's for everyone.
Part of Stoic philosophy is the ability to keep a calm mind.
As a matter of fact, the Stoics believe that humans in a state of flourishing have attained
true happiness, which always goes together with inner peace.
The works of Epictetus reveal the importance of tranquility, and that we should value this
over lesser things like money, reputation, and even the body.
He tells us that a calm mind is not achieved by trying to alter and control our surroundings;
it's achieved by the way we think.
The main work of Epictetus is called Discourses; a collection of lectures that were written
down by a pupil named Arrian.
This same pupil also compiled the Enchiridion, which means 'handbook' and is quite easy
to read and digest.
In these sources, we can discover how Epictetus thought about coping with daily worries, stressful
events, and hardships, so we can keep a calm mind regardless of what the world throws at us.
Let's start with the first one:
(1) Act in accordance with nature.
When Epictetus was teaching, one of his students told him that he wanted to go home, because
he was sick.
Epictetus, then, sent him home.
But also asked his student whether or not he thinks that with his condition he is able
to improve his moral purpose and, thus, him coming to class was the right thing to do.
He said:
Go back and tend to your affairs at home.
For if your governing principle cannot be brought into conformity with nature, no doubt
your paltry piece of land can be made to conform with it.
End quote.
The lesson we take from this is that we should do what the current situation asks from us.
Whatever overcomes us is the way of the universe.
There's no need to force things, so when we're sick we shouldn't force ourselves
to do things we cannot do.
In many cases, the best way to treat an illness is by accepting it, and doing what's best
for us in that given moment.
Sure, Epictetus also stated that illness is a hindrance to the body, but not to our ability
to choose.
Which doesn't mean that we should force ourselves to perform our duties which might
only make it worse; it means that despite the physical hindrance, we still can choose
to panic or to make rational choices in a more tranquil fashion.
When we look at a pandemic, for example, we see two extremes: on one end, there's panic,
on the other end there's this complete nonchalance.
In the first case, people are overtaken by fear and emotion, and in the second case,
people refuse to see the problem and, perhaps, try to make themselves look tough.
But acting in accordance with nature, meaning the nature of the universe as well as our
human nature, starts by acknowledging the situation, doing proper research, and taking
the necessary measures while keeping a cool head.
No matter how we choose to react; it's important to remember that sickness and death are simply
part of nature.
We all go someday.
Which brings us to the next one:
(2) Watch your judgments.
Anxiety isn't caused by the environment.
It's caused by the position we take towards the environment.
We all have our frames of reference, and from that frame, we decide what we tolerate and
what we don't tolerate.
There's nothing wrong with that.
Oftentimes, it serves a purpose to discern right from wrong.
However, our judgments become a problem if they make us feel entitled to things that
we're naturally not entitled to.
For example, we can be angry for a lifetime because we feel entitled to the good parents
we never had.
But Epictetus points out that we're not entitled to a good parent.
Just to a parent.
And this is true for many things.
So, why should we feel distressed by the things that are entirely natural?
I quote:
Distinguish within your own mind, and be prepared to say, “It's not the accident that distresses
this person, because it doesn't distress another person; it is the judgment which he makes
about it.”
End quote.
Again, this is important when we face illness or death.
These things are nothing new.
They're part of nature, as much as war and violence, and should rather be approached
with equanimity than strong aversion.
Moreover, when we don't carry strong desires and aversions, we're more capable of dealing
with the situation in a rational way, than when we're led by irrational thoughts and
emotions.
(3) Focus less on things outside of your control.
At the beginning of the Enchiridion, we'll find the famous dichotomy of control, which
is a cornerstone of Stoic thinking.
It emphasizes that some things are up to us, and others are not and that we ought to focus
on the former, and have contempt of the latter.
As living creatures in this universe, we have to deal with what's around us.
We might desire to control the outside world, perhaps by money, a position of power, physical
strength, intelligence, or intimidation.
But, at the end of the day, these are just instruments that can influence but never control.
And even if we do manage to control some things, there's always a billion of other things
that slip out of our hands.
What we do control according to Epictetus is our own faculty.
And that's what we should focus on.
What happens around us isn't that important.
It's more important what we do with it.
Therefore, we can choose to focus our attention on our own thoughts and emotions, rather than
constantly worrying about stuff we can't do much about anyway.
This doesn't mean that we close ourselves off completely.
It means that we develop a healthy indifference towards outside events so that they won't
stress us out too much.
This is where amor fati, the love of fate, comes in.
Because is there a better way to deal with the unavoidable, than to embrace it?
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STOICISM | How Epictetus Keeps Calm

9 Folder Collection
jeremy.wang published on March 30, 2020
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