There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t read some form of stoicism. On any given day I am reading the works of Seneca, Epictetus or Marcus Aurelius.
Once upon a time I was a mental wreck. I was always overthinking every possible detail for every possible situation that has occurred and will occur.
There was no “escaping” this type of behavior as I had formed my identity around it. This was the identity of a man who had everything figured out. I prided myself on getting things to work out in a calculated manner.
I was living on my own in a basement apartment in Mount Vernon, New York figuring out how to make ends meet while going to school full time.
The stress got to a point where one day I just let go. I said:
“You know what? It is what it is. I’m going to just let my life go to crap.”(I didn’t say it in those exact words. There were a lot more expletives in that line of thought.)
At that moment I felt peace and calm. That is until I returned right back where I was before, stressing, freaking out about every little thing.
It wasn’t long after that that I started searching for that same “calm” again. I tried to replicate it by telling my self “I don’t give a crap if my life fell apart” but this was purely intellectual and it didn’t stick.
The Art Of Indifference
I don’t remember how but I found myself reading the works of Epictetus. I came across one particular line in one of his books.
“Seek not that the things which happen should happen as you wish; but wish the things which happen to be as they are, and you will have a tranquil flow of life.” -Epictetus
This was the quote that fully put me on to stoicism. Back then I didn’t know that’s what this philosophy was called but I was drawn to the works of Epictetus as well as his peers in this philosophy.
It was this quote that made me realize the power of surrender, which is what the threshold of aforementioned stress and anxiety triggered within me.
It wasn’t an intellectualization that brought this realization of calm into fruition in that particular instance, it was a deeper knowing within.
This also calls into question the necessity of auditing our current perspectives on life.
We can have the aforesaid realization that blossoms from within or, if you’re more heady and intellectual, you can adopt the idea that you are not liable to maintain a perspective that yields anxiety as your default.
Meaning you can consciously make the choice to be indifferent to your circumstances.
“Men are disturbed not by the things which happen, but by the opinions about the things; for example, death is nothing terrible, for if it were it would have seemed so to Socrates; for the opinion about death that it is terrible, is the terrible thing.” — Epictetus
In order to truly release needless anxiety, we have to release our useless judgements of the anticipation of any such a event we look forward to or want to avoid.
That mental work is essential. What about a thing itself is bad or good, even?
It is purely our stance on it. Because if we were to revoke our judgement of something, we revoke its anxiety inducing allure.
For example, this morning I forgot to move my car from a spot reserved for snow storms. It snowed on Saturday and when I went outside to move my car I saw a bright green warning sticker on the passenger side window along with a note informing me of my blunder and the would be $300 towing expense I would have to pay if this happens again.
Naturally I would have gotten upset but I thought nothing of it, as I was in the wrong and should have paid more attention to the weather reports.
As I was shoveling and picking the ice from around my car to move it, a little middle aged woman, seemingly the property manger or something comes up to me to give me a piece of her mind.
“You were parked here since Saturday. This spot is reserved for snow storms when we shovel. You was ‘this’ close to having your car towed with $300 due from you.”
I simply looked at here with an indifferent expression and said
“Ok?” As I pointed to the bright green sticker along with the letter she wrote on the windshield “Yeah I got your message it won’t happen again.”
My indifference prompted her to further berate me over a nothing situation which I ignored. Eventually she walked away.
“Who then is invincible? The one who cannot be upset by anything outside their reasoned choice.” — Epictetus
Like people, imaginary events or circumstances like to play on some sort of anticipated regret if we do not behave in some sort of way. For this I have another of my favorite quotes.
“It is the part of a great mind to despise wrongs done to it; the most contemptuous form of revenge is not to deem one’s adversary worth taking vengeance upon. Many have taken small injuries much more seriously to heart than they need, by revenging them: that man is great and noble who like a large wild animal hears unmoved the tiny curs that bark at him.” — Seneca
Remember, our anxieties, all of it is needless. We can take the perspective of a grounded spirit or the watchful, observant, cerebral mind that re-labels and sees things as they are.
“A Selection from the Discourses of Epictetus with the Enchiridion” by Epictetus