“When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to contemplate, to enjoy, to love.” – Marcus Aurelius
The Stoicism of Marcus Aurelius, of Seneca, of Musonius Rufus, and – yes – of Epictetus is a philosophy of life. As William Wallace says in the movie Braveheart, “Every man dies, but not every man really lives.” How many people do you know who waste their lives on things that have no purpose? The truth is this: the vast majority of the people of this world waste their lives on trivial matters, on concerns with “fun”, on things outside of their own lives. Let us not do this – let us return to Epictetus so that we may learn how to live, and how to imbue our training with philosophy itself, let our training be a place where we can apply philosophy so that it carries over into all of our life outside of training.
Epictetus on the Importance of Training Our Minds:
When walking, you are careful not to step on a nail or turn your foot; so likewise be careful not to hurt the ruling faculty of your mind. And, if we were to guard against this in every action, we should undertake the action with the greater safety.
Wherever our minds go, there will the rest of our lives be. With our thoughts, we create our world. I don’t mean this in some airy, narcissistic, new-age sort of way – sorry, Oprah, but our minds do not create our reality – we cannot magically think ourselves rich or married to a Playboy bunny. But our thoughts do create the way in which we handle our world. If our thoughts are full of joy, peace, tranquility, thinking no harm to ourselves or to others around us, then this is how our lives will be.
Do not spend your time daydreaming about the past or worrying about the future. Learn to live in the present, giving your mind – and therefore your body and the rest of your senses – to whatever current task you are occupied with.
Do you need to gain as much muscle as possible in the shortest period of time? Then spend your time, and your thoughts, occupied with doing just this. Eat the foods that are conducive to building as much bulk as possible. Do not think about how in the past you have neglected proper eating. And do not fantasize about the junk food you will eat in the future once you have acquired the body you desire.
Do the same thing with your training. Follow the proper workout for building bulk – you can find plenty of good training programs here on my blog. Whenever you find a training program, then give yourself over to just that style of training. Do not waste thoughts on the training you did in the past, or the sort of training you will do in the future to “cut up” (whatever the hell that means) once you have acquired enough muscle. And do not waste thoughts on how other people are training.
In short, only concern your thoughts with what is under your control. This will not be easy at first. It will take some time to train your mind. But the time spent will be worth it.
Epictetus on Not Letting our Accomplishments Lead to Arrogance:
These reasonings are unconnected: “I am richer than you, therefore I am better”; “I am more eloquent than you, therefore I am better.” The connection is rather this: “I am richer than you, therefore my property is greater than yours;” “I am more eloquent than you, therefore my style is better than yours.” But you, after all, are neither property nor style.
Our “accomplishments” in training should never make us arrogant. If you have 20 inch arms, this does not make you better than the pencil-neck with 10 inch arms; it simply means that your arms are larger. If you can bench 400 pounds, this does not make you better than the grown man who can only bench press 135. It simply means you are capable of benching 400 pounds.
Keep in mind that even though you may have 20-inch arms, even though you may bench press 400 pounds, there are men who have 21-inch arms, and there are men that bench press 700 pounds. Neither are they “better” than you, but they are larger, they are stronger, and therefore you have some training that still needs to be done.
You can always get stronger and bigger.
You can always acquire more virtue.
This is another area where we can apply proper thinking. Think about your own training, your own results, and your own goals. Do not concern yourself with the accomplishments or the goals of others. Envy, jealousy, pride – these things must be removed from our character if we are to ever attain tranquility and peace, if we are to ever become beings worthy of being called men.
Epictetus on Not Talking About Philosophy (or Training):
Never call yourself a philosopher, nor talk a great deal among the unlearned about theorems, but act conformably to them. Thus, at an entertainment, don’t talk how persons ought to eat, but eat as you ought. For remember that in this manner Socrates also universally avoided all ostentation. And when persons came to him and desired to be recommended by him to philosophers, he took and- recommended them, so well did he bear being overlooked. So that if ever any talk should hap-pen among the unlearned concerning philosophic theorems, be you, for the most part, silent. For there is great danger in immediately throwing out what you have not digested. And, if anyone tells you that you know nothing, and you are not nettled at it, then you may be sure that you have begun your business. For sheep don’t throw up the grass to show the shepherds how much they have eaten; but, inwardly digesting their food, they outwardly produce wool and milk. Thus, therefore, do you likewise not show theorems to the unlearned, but the actions produced by them after they have been digested.
I enjoy philosophy. I enjoy reading about philosophy. I enjoy practicing philosophy.
I enjoy strength training and bodybuilding. I enjoy reading about strength training and bodybuilding. I enjoy the actual training itself.
But I have come to the conclusion – and it’s an easy conclusion to come to if you spend much time among the average person – that the majority of people could care less about training, and even less about philosophy. (For that matter, some of the “men” into strength training are some of the least philosophical you will find – they are as shallow and materialistic as the rest of the world.)
What other people care about, however, is theirs to care about – or not care about, in this case. We should never try to impose our beliefs or opinions on other people. If others are interested in training, or interested in knowing more about the philosophy we practice, then that is another matter entirely – in this instance, we should willingly help others, even go out of our way to do so. Caring about others, having compassion and concern for others (whether it’s their bodies or their minds) is different from trying to impose our beliefs on others.
Be at ease among people. This will do more to “evangelize” others than all the talk in the world. When they see that we are at peace, that our minds and our bodies are tranquil and healthy, they will naturally want to know more about it. They will ask about our training, or ask about how we have acquired such a sense of ease. In fact, because we seem at ease, they will not be intimidated to ask about our training, how it is that we build our bodies.
I hope you the reader have enjoyed this brief series on Epictetus, and I hope that it will have ignited a spark (at least in some of you) to enquire more about living a philosophical life. I will do some more articles on applying Stoic philosophy to modern life. Until then, let me leave you with this final section of The Enchiridion, where Epictetus quotes from some of the great philosophers that predated him:
Upon all occasions we ought to have these maxims ready at hand:
“Conduct me, Jove, and you, O Destiny, Wherever your decrees have fixed my station.” (Cleanthes)
“I follow cheerfully; and, did I not,
Wicked and wretched, I must follow still
Whoever yields properly to Fate, is deemed
Wise among men, and knows the laws of heaven.”
(Euripides, Frag. 965)
And this third:
“O Crito, if it thus pleases the gods, thus let it be. Anytus and Melitus may kill me indeed, but hurt me they cannot.” (Plato’s Crito and Apology)