Manual For Living, A Timeless Guide to Life

The Wisdom of Epictetus

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A Manual for Living, A Timeless Guide to Life

Many people turn to the Bible for answers to their deep philosophical questions, moral quandaries, and guidance for how to live aligned in word and action.

As a person driven to face the obstacles in my path to overcome them, psychology and philosophy are the fields that best guide and enlighten me.

While it's true that I turn to my friends and siblings for advice and their opinions when I'm struggling, I am in constant conversation with some of my favorite Stoics and psychologists.

Here's my Philosophy posse: Epictetus, Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, Montaigne, and Rilke. While Rilke wasn’t a traditional Philosopher, Stoic philosophy profoundly influenced his notions of virtue.

Most people think of Stoicism as "emotionless," but this is outdated thinking. Put into today's parlance, Stoicism is based on rational thinking.

Psychologists teach anxious people to use evidence and rationality to manage emotional spin out.

Therefore, Stoicism isn't about eliminating emotion, but managing it.

And it's this aspect of Stoicism that is most helpful and applicable in daily life.

And I'm not alone. Albert Ellis developed Cognitive Behavioral Therapy upon Stoic principles.

Epictetus's commitment to living a morally awake life is, coincidentally, my goal! And the point and purpose of this newsletter.

Unlike his contemporaries Marcus Aurelius and Seneca—both power players in the Roman Empire, Epictetus was born into slavery around 55 C.E. in what is now South Western Turkey and moved with his enslaver to Rome, where he studied (while still enslaved) with the Stoic teacher Gaius Musonius Rufus (who taught to live for virtue and not pleasure).

Epictetus believed that suffering results from mistaken beliefs about what is truly good. Many people invest in the wrong things or ways, preventing them from growth and true happiness.

Epictetus spread his message to all people and also invested in living consciously. He believed that the way to be awake was to practice, to work on yourself daily. While he didn't seem to write anything of his own, one of his students, Arrian, wrote his lectures for a friend in painstaking detail. A collection of these lectures, known as the Discourses (or Diatribes), came out in eight volumes, but only four survived.

Manual (or Enchiridion) is a selection of excerpts from the Discourses and forms an essential summary of Epictetus' teachings. Modeled after military manuals, soldiers carried the manual into battles.

It's upon those remaining texts that A Manual for Living is based. In contemporized language, author Sharon Lebell summarizes his main ideas. This simple introductory guide reminds me of how to live a better life.

It lives on my nightstand.

Here is a sampling of this volume, which you can buy here.

No One Can Hurt You

People don’t have the power to hurt you. Even if someone shouts abuse at you or strikes you, if you are insulted, it is always your choice to view what is happening as insulting or not. If someone irritates you, it is only your own response that is irritating you. Therefore, when anyone seems to be provoking you, remember that it is only your judgement of the incident that provokes you. Don’t let your emotions get ignited by mere appearances.

Try not to merely react in the moment. Pull back from the situation. Take a wider view, compose yourself.

Spiritual Progress is Made Through Confronting Death and Calamity

Instead of averting your eyes from the painful events of life, look at them squarely and contemplate them often. By facing the realities of death, infirmity, loss and disappointment, you free yourself of illusions and false hopes and you avoid miserable, envious thoughts.

Events Don’t Hurt Us, But Our Views of Them Can

Things themselves don’t hurt or hinder us. Nor do other people. How we view these things is another matter. It is our attitudes and reactions that give us trouble.

Therefore, even death is no big deal in and of itself (ahem, Epictetus, with this I take issue). It is our notion of death, our idea that it is terrible, that terrifies us. There are so many different ways to think about death. Scrutinize your notions about death—and everything else. Are they really true? Are they doing you any good? Don’t dread death or pain dread the fear of death or pain.

We cannot choose our external circumstances, but we can always choose how we respond to them

Create Your Own Merit

Never depend on the admiration of others. There is no strength in it. Personal merit cannot be derived from an external source. It is not to be found in your personal associations, nor can it be found in the regard of other people. It is a fact of life that other people, even people who love you, will not necessarily agree with your ideas, understand you, or share your enthusiasms. Grow up! (This is a little harsh, dude). Who cares what other people think about you!

Create your own merit.

Personal merit cannot be achieved through our associations with people of excellence. You have been given your own work to do. Get to it right now, do your best at it, and don’t be concerned with who is watching you.

Do your own useful work without regard to the honor or admiration your efforts might win from others. There is no such thing as vicarious merit.

Other people’s triumphs and excellences belong to them. Likewise, your possessions may have excellence, but you yourself don’t derive excellence from them.

Think about it: what is really your own? The use you make of your ideas, resources and opportunities that come your way. Do you have books? Read them. Learn from them. Apply their wisdom. Do you have specialized knowledge? Put it to its full and good use. Do you have tools? Get them out and build and repair things with them. Do you have a good idea/ Follow up and follow through on it. Make the most of what you’ve got, what is actually yours.

You can be justifiably happy with yourself and at ease when you’ve harmonized your actions with nature by recognizing what truly is your own.

Clearly Define the Person You Want to Be

Who exactly do you want to be? What kind of person do you want to be? What are your personal ideals? Whom do you admire? What are their special traits that you would make your own?

It’s time to stop being vague. If you wish to be an extraordinary person, if you wish to be wise, then you should explicitly identify the kind of person you aspire to become. If you ave a daybook, write down who you’re trying to be, so that you can refer to this self-definition. Precisely describe the demeanor you want to adopt so that you may preserve it when you are by yourself or with other people.

Here is my beloved copy

Who or what do you turn to in times of despair or to keep grounded? Tell me in the comments.

Until next week, I remain…



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