“Some things are up to us and other things are not.”
So begins the Handbook, by Epictetus, one of the heaviest-hitting Stoics of ancient Greece.
Roughly 2,000 years later, a wise friend of mind said something similar. "Put your hand in front of your face, palm toward the face, about an inch away. Now -- everything on the palm side of your hand you can control. Everything else ... good luck."
All of us are, today, are living amid a whole array of different cataclysms. Environmental, political, social, and economic changes whose scope isn't even remotely clear at the moment.
But it's easy to feel, right? Talk about anxiety-producing phenomena.
While we can and should do everything within our power to help shape the kind of world we want to live in, it's also important remember the wisdom of Epictetus each day, in the moment: most of these gut-wrenching surges are happening, and will happen, both with us and without us.
That said, we can do things that no one else can do for us:
- Keep and strengthen our equanimity
- Mindfully choose, each hour, what we put into our bodies
- Continue to move our bodies in ways that delight us
- Practice sitting still each day, simply noticing whatever arises --sounds around you, your breath, bodily sensations of pressure, vibration, heat/cold, and thoughts themselves, and beginning again when you notice you've been lost in thought.
Epictetus and the other Stoics attempted to be continually mindful of the fact that, because we have zero control over other people’s actions and opinions we must, ultimately, be indifferent to them. Live in accord with your own need for equanimity and inner peace, and even cataclysmic changes will leave you unflappable.
Developing an internal creed of our own flourishing, of equanimity, especially in the presence of external blame and also praise, is the way forward, says Epictetus. Everything else is noise. This commitment lies entirely on the "me" side of the hand in front of our faces.
We must never forget, too, that we are also primarily social beings, and have duties and responsibilities to other people (and to our communities, however defined). Applying this commitment to equanimity to our relationships is, it seems, the absolute best we can do both for ourselves and for others.