Finding Happiness the Epictetus Way: #3
Epictetus was a Stoic philosopher. He was born a slave at Hierapolis, Phrygia and lived in Rome until banishment when he went to Nicopolis in Greece where he lived the rest of his life. His teachings were noted down and published by his pupil Arrian in his Discourses. Philosophy, he taught, is a way of life and not just a theoretical discipline. To Epictetus, all external events are determined by fate, and are thus beyond our control, but we can accept whatever happens calmly and dispassionately. Individuals, however, are responsible for their own actions, which they can examine and control through rigorous self-discipline. Suffering arises from trying to control what is uncontrollable, or from neglecting what is within our power.(see: Finding Hapiness the Epictetus Way #1)
The Enchiridion, or Handbook of Epictetus, or simply “The Handbook”, is a short manual of Stoic ethical advice compiled by Arrian. The Handbook is a guide to daily life. Epictetus focuses his attention on how to practically apply oneself on a philosophical level.
Epictetus says, “Don’t be prideful with any excellence that is not your own. If a horse should be prideful and say, ” I am handsome,” it would be supportable. But when you are prideful, and say, ” I have a handsome horse,” know that you are proud of what is, in fact, only the good of the horse. What, then, is your own? Only your reaction to the appearances of things. Thus, when you behave conformably to nature in reaction to how things appear, you will be proud with reason; for you will take pride in some good of your own.”
Commentary : Many of us in the present world gain a sense of identity from our position, power & possessions. People take pride in in possessions as if the things are a reflection of them & their personality. Recently I’ve been listening to an Ad on F.M. Radio which goes something like this: ‘Your identity is know by your dress & address’ & then suggests for better status buy a home at such n such place. Gone are the days when we were known by who we are as a person, our inherent nature, our kindness, our strengths, now we are known for things we own!!! I remember watching another Ad of T.V. some years ago where a family meets a friend after long, they invite him home, he’s reluctant to come as he’s busy elsewhere but the family hounds him & literally kidnap him n bring him home so that they can impress him with their furniture/ paint/ some such thing which I’m forgetting at the moment. In fact such false Identification is the cause of our consumer culture, where people work hard at jobs they don’t like, to buy the stuff they don’t (really) need to impress the people they don’t like!!
The things you own end up owning you. It’s only after you lose everything that you’re free to do anything. ~Fight Club movie
Eckhart Tolle beautifully captures this malady of identification with things & it’s pitfalls in his book ‘The New Earth’. Here’s the extract from the book:
IDENTIFICATION WITH THINGS
The people in the advertising industry know very well that in order to sell things that people don’t really need, they must convince them that those things will add something to how they see themselves or are seen by others; in other words, add something to their sense of self. They do this, for example, by telling you that you will stand out from the crowd by using this product and so by implication be more fully yourself. Or they may create an association in your mind between the product and a famous person, or a youthful, attractive, or happy looking person. Even pictures of old or deceased celebrities in their prime work well for that purpose. The unspoken assumption is that by buying this product, through some magical act of appropriation, you become like them, or rather the surface image of them.
And so in many cases you are not buying a product but an “identity enhancer.” Designer labels are primarily collective identities that you buy into. They are expensive and therefore “exclusive.” If everybody could buy
them, they would lose their psychological value and all you would be left with would be their material value, which likely amounts to a fraction of what you paid.
What kind of things you identify with will vary from person to person according to age, gender, income, social class, fashion, the surrounding culture, and so on. What you identify with is all to do with content; whereas, the unconscious compulsion to identify is structural. It is one of the most basic ways in which the egoic mind operates.
Paradoxically, what keeps the so called “consumer society” going is the fact that trying to find yourself through things doesn’t work: The ego satisfaction is short-lived and so you keep looking for more, keep buying, keep consuming.
Of course, in this physical dimension that our surface selves inhabit, things are a necessary and inescapable part of our lives. We need housing clothes, furniture, tools, transportation. There may also be things in our lives that we value because of their beauty or inherent quality. We need to honor the world of things, not despise it. Each thing has Beingness, is a temporary form that has its origin within the formless one Life, the source of all things, all bodies, all forms. In most ancient cultures, people believed that everything, even so called inanimate objects, had an indwelling spirit, and in this respect they were closer to the truth than we are today. When you live in a world deadened by mental abstraction, you don’t sense the aliveness of the universe anymore. Most people don’t inhabit a living reality, but a conceptualized one.
But we cannot really honor things if we use them as a means to self-enhancement, that is to say, if we try to find ourselves through them. This is exactly what the ego does. Ego identification with things creates attachment to things, obsession with things, which in turn creates our consumer society and economic structures where the only measure of progress is always more. The unchecked striving for more, for endless growth, is a dysfunction and a disease. It is the same dysfunction the cancerous cell manifests, whose only goal is to multiply itself, unaware that it is bringing about its own destruction by destroying the organism of which it is a part. Some economists are so attached to the notion of growth that they can’t let go of that word, so they refer to recession as a time of “negative growth.”
A large part of many people’s lives is consumed by an obsessive preoccupation with things. This is why one of the ills of our times is object proliferation. When you can no feel the life that you are, you are likely to fill
up your life with things. As a spiritual practice, I suggest that you investigate your relationship with the world of things through self-observation, and in particular, things that are designated with the word “my.” You need to be alert and honest to find out, for example, whether your sense of self-worth is bound up with things you possess. Do certain things induce a subtle feeling of importance or superiority? Does the lack of them make you feel inferior to others who have more than you? Do you casually mention things you own or show them off to increase your sense of worth in someone else’s eyes and through them in your own? Do you feel resentful or angry and somehow diminished in your sense of self when someone else has more than you or when you lose a prized possession?
Excerpt taken from Chapter 2 of ECKHART TOLLE — A NEW EARTH: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose
- Finding Happiness the Epictetus Way : #1 (ritusthoughtcatcher.wordpress.com)
- Finding Happiness the Epictetus way #2 (ritusthoughtcatcher.wordpress.com)
- The Moral Panacea (new.exchristian.net)
- Looking to the Dietary Gods: Eating Well According to the Ancients (fourhourworkweek.com)
- The Spirituality of Dress and The Dandy (kingpinchic.com)
- Things I am Grateful For (ritusthoughtcatcher.wordpress.com)