Epictetus, Stoicism, Anger

The exact date escapes me, but I remember that my studies of Buddhism started around the summer of 2012. Stoicism came into my life a few years later in a form of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. Currently reading Epictetus’ Discourses I come upon a point after point where similarities between the two philosophies are striking.

Buddhism, personally, feels more like a philosophy, rather than religion.

An important line of thinking that is shared by the two philosophies of Buddhism and Stoicism concerns our craving and want of things. Those wants are not limited to material possessions that we can acquire in exchange for money. Included is the achievement of certain benchmarks that we often treat as physical things that are to be achieved in life: a ‘good job’, high social status and the rest…if these “needs” could be met then most certainly we have achieved happiness. Right?

Let’s see what Epictetus has to say:

​If you must be affected by other people’s misfortunes, show them pity instead of contempt. Drop this readiness to hate and take offence. Who are you to use those common curses, like ‘We get angry because we put too high a premium on things that [people] can steal. Don’t attach such value to your clothes, and you won’t get angry with the thief who takes them. Don’t make your wife’s external beauty her chief attraction, and you won’t be angry with the adulterer. Realize that the thief and the adulterer cannot touch what’s yours, only what is common property everywhere and not under your control. If you make light of those things and ignore them, who is left to be angry with? As long as you honour material things, direct your anger at yourself rather than the thief or adulterer.“*

Have you seen a teenager wear a new pair of white sneakers, only to become enrage when someone accidentally steps on them? The addition of about a dozen years since I had graduated from high school graduation had given me a new perspective on purchasing sneakers. With age came a great many things to preoccupy my mind other than the cleanliness of my footwear: making the most out of being a husband and a dad, squeezing in more time for reading, work/job/career (can’t figure out which one is more appropriate). Most challenging part of life is not taking this said life too seriously.

It could be just that I live in New York City… lack of smiling faces, impatient drivers honking, dirt and garbage everywhere…but when all else fail I take a pause and think of what a wise man once said: don’t take things too seriously, remember that we are talking monkeys flying through space on a piece of rock.**

*Epictetus, Discourses and Selected Writings (ISBN: 9780141917481)
**paraphrasing Joe Rogan

Far away worries

The dense block of wisdom that is Aldous Huxley’s The Perennial Philosophy provides many quotes for contemplation.

“​Sufficient not only unto the day, but also unto the place, the evil thereof. Agitation over happenings which we are powerless to modify, either because they have not yet occurred are occurring at an inaccessible distance us, achieves nothing beyond the inoculation of here and now with the remote or anticipated evil that is the object of our distress. Listening four or five times a day to newscasters and commentators, reading the morning papers and all the weeklies and monthly nowadays, this is described “taking an intelligent interest in politics.” St. John of the Cross would have called it indulgence in idle curiosity and the cultivation of disquietude for disquietude’s sake.” Aldous Huxley, The Perennial Philosophy, p, 103-104

Done as a cost cutting measure at the time, the decision not to sign up for cable TV three years ago has mostly been a positive one. In no way do I miss the gloom-and-doom newscasts.

There was a time when I felt compelled to read the Daily News and the New York Post. At times I had even picked up the pricier New York Times. Most likely because at that time I was still in college and had declared Political Science as one of my three majors. Reading newspapers is seems now like such a long time ago.

I wonder if the pre-Internet, pre-soundbite, generations were leading comparatively ‘happier’ lives than we do today?

Contemporary thinking tends to equate technological progress with quality of life. Much like what we mean by the term evolution is not a necessarily progress towards a positive, but only what is advantageous due to current circumstances, and also comes with trade-offs (see here), so is the thinking that what we have right now, today, is the best case scenario of the circumstances that have led us to live the way that we do today.

If there has never been a better time to live then now then what have we give up to have this luxury?


I wonder what people think about. I wonder why human beings stick to the same old patters of thought day after day. Year after year.

Passing of someone close; birth of a child, are certain to have a profound effect on one’s patterns of thinking, thus, in a majority of such circumstances it must be inevitable that one shifts a gear and possibly beings to experience life in a different light.
Is it possible to go through life without having a moment where you life outlook changes by itself?

Without being pushed to change does one continue in a line of thinking? Or is a push necessery for change?

Is knowing enough without experience?

I wonder how people remain in a “us versus them” mindset in relation to other human beings without any drastic change. Basically, can profound change…develop, on its own.

We, human being, have been deceived by claims that we are different. We have been fooled into thinking real the term race. Under the blue skies, under the heavens, are we but one big family. We just just look different.

Are there not similarities shared among familial groups?

Human beings are like flowers: we are of different colors, tints, shades. Some are big and some are small. Some are short and some are tall (I am beginning to sound like one of the stories that I read to my son before bed). Still flowers are flowers. So why do we insist on denying ourselves such beauty?

Caught Up in an Activity Trap

“It’s incredibly easy to get caught up in an activity trap, in the business of life, to work harder and harder at climbing the ladder of success only to discover it’s leaning against the wrong wall. It is possible to be busy -very busy- without being very effective.”

“People often find themselves achieving victories that are empty, successes that have come at the expense of things they suddenly realize were far more valuable to them. people from every walk of life-doctors, academicians, actors, politicians, business professionals, athletes, and plumbers-often struggle to achieve a higher income, more recognition or certain degree of professional competence, only to find that their drive to achieve their goal blinded them to the things that really mattered most and now are gone.”

What is it that we are looking for? And do we ever find it?

The trade-offs. The sacrifice. The missed experiences and events. Are they worth it?

Have you become what through you wanted to be? Have you achived your potential?

Ocean and Waves

“Our practical projects have run into confusion again and again through failure to see that individual people, nations, animals, insects, and plants do not exist in or by themselves. This is not to say only that things exist in relation to one another, but that what we call “things” are no more than glimpses of a unified process. Certainly, this process has distinct features which catch our attention, but we must remember that distinction is not separation. Sharp and clear as the crest of the wave may be, it necessarily “goes with” the smooth and less featured curve of the trough.”

There are things that we call differences with which we are able to differentiate one another, but we are too close to the subject at hand in order to perceive it objectively and to see it with certain clarity. Perspective. We lack the perspective when considering our place on this earth, and especially in this universe, as being separate from one another, and separate from our environment. This we are not.

Consider the example above, taken from The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are by Alan Watts, people and the groups in which we place ourselves in order to differentiate can be considered an ocean. Each group of people can be construed as a wave, but we do not see all of humanity as a totality that is am ocean, much less a wave. No we do not. We see ourselves as individual drops of water. We lack perspective of how we fit together in order to form a magnificent force that is an ocean. We are unable realize the comparison in seeing our efforts in groups akin to the waves hitting the beach. Only imagine if we realize our potential to act as one. The force of waves, the force that is the whole ocean. What a glorious feeling that is.

Agent of Change

The human body is an organism of change. It is change.

We go through life often like a water float that is anchored to the water bed – moving here or there but not really going anywhere.

Do not think of yourself as a powerless spectator in the events that are happning all around you.

To try if futile. You must do! As the saying goes, “Try notDo or do not there is no try.”

Be the agent of change that you would like to see. Visualize it!

In sports there a various methods of visualizing. Boxers, for example, are taught to punch through their targets. Obviously the intention of the method is not to punchy a hole in the opponenet, but to make sure that the force of the blow remains constant throughout its application to the target.

Do not lose focus and apply maximum effort because you are your own agent of change.



On Change

All of us seek change in one form or another, but it is how we go about it that determines the success of our action plan to change.

Change is so much more than a single decision that is made in hopes of changing the schematic of one’s everyday existance. Change is about a methodical approach to altering the common habits that are ingrained on to the sub-conscious level of our functionality in life.

Change is to go go beyond habits and rituals that have long become the norm. That decision is not made by a simple utterance of a declaritive proclamation.

Change is not a numbered list where the end result comes first and the steps of how to follow. But it is a mode of thinking – mindset – that recongizes the hurdles that are preventing one from continualy improving in order to escape the self-sufficiency of the boundaries that hereinto been prescribed by societal norms, mixed messages of contemporary media and the motivational drivers of the human instinct that skews the intellect  and forces the mind into thinking that the self is more important than the whole world.

It is this self-indulgence that has been placed upon the pedestal as the all important mark that one should strive for. This inward way of thinking cannot give birth to change. Change comes about not when you think the world owes it to you and that it should help you change. No, it is you that owes it to the world, and everyone in it, to improve continualy and realize your human potential on this planet.

On Understanding and Truth

Seek truthThere is a point of realization that one must come to in order for the thing that one is thinking thinking about to suddenly become clear. Like a pot of water that is set to boil, so can a mind be set to a fire that will eventually bring about knowledge. That knowledge can only be brought about by the force of friction of thoughts within ones consciousness as one explores various conditions and arguments on an internal question.

Thoughts and ideas come up with the help of coal. Fuel for the fire to burn even hotter is the search for knowledge that one must acquire in order to come to a realization of the question that one seeks an answer for, or an idea, a concept, that one seeks to understand beyond the superficial pillars that are visible to everyone. But to see these self-evident truths is not the point. The point of inquiry is to penetrate the exoskeleton of an idea – mystery – and examine its foundation.

Foundation itself is not to be taken for granted. Just as it is not enough for a construction-site foreman to know that cement is essential to the structural integrity of a foundation, so it is essential to know what binds the various aspects of an idea together in order to give it a structural integrity of its own – its essence and truth.

So it is not seeing the big picture that presents us with the optimal view of the subject in question. It is the deepest understanding of the internal laws and mechanism that allow us to gain the deepest understanding of the driving forces and the building blocks, which is required to understand the essence of truth.