Pleasure can become Punishment

“Whenever you get an impression of some pleasure, as with any impression, guard yourself from being carried away.” — Epictetus, Enchiridion, 34

My first thought is, how can pleasure ever become a punishment?  But we have all had those moments of over-indulging.  Over eating, or maybe a little too much of the drink.  Ever over sleep?    Feels so good to curl up into bed.  When you wake in the morning the covers feel soft and the eyes droopy.  With nothing external forcing you up, you roll over and once again doze off.  Feels so good as you drift in and out of sleep, “you’re catching up” you tell yourself.  However, when you do get up you find that it is already in the late afternoon.  “Where has the day gone?”  Lost opportunities to get stuff done.  On top of that, even with all the rest, you continue to feel groggy.  Head hurts, hungry, and still tired I personally always find it hard to get moving.  The restful few hours starts to feel like a burden.

Pleasure can be great, wonderful, and energizing – but too long, it can become destructive.  As distractions engage our minds, the other necessities in life continue to build up.  Eventually, they will start to weigh on the mind – which can sometimes send you back to the pleasure as an escape.

However, pleasurable activities are important.  Not only offering us a break from the everyday tasks and hardships.  It can allow us to escape our everyday, and rejuvenate our energy stores.  For if you always are working – what is it for.  Pleasure is not bad, but excessive indulgence can be problematic.

Feb 9th – You don’t have to have an opinion

This is another area I know that I need to work on.  So often I have an opinion on products, situation, and experiences – even when they are not mine.  While they often come from a place of good intention and empathetic desire, my opinions don’t often help and are sometimes quite short sighted.  My editorial reflection on things is often filled with emotion even when I try to suppress it.  The opinion breaches that boundary between fact and perception.

That is not to say that opinions are a bad thing, they are the foundation behind our passions.  Your opinions often reflect you, expressing your likes and your dislikes.  However, just as you can be extremely passionate about some things, it is completely reasonable to have no opinions on things that do not impact your life.

The trick is to learn to be supportive without having an opinion, allows you to stay emotionally detached.

 

For the hot-headed man

“Keep this thought handy when you feel a fit of rage coming on – it isn’t manly to be enraged. Rather, gentleness and civility are more human, and therefore manlier. A real man doesn’t give way to anger and discontent, and such a person has strength, courage, and endurance – unlike the angry and complaining. The nearer a man comes to a calm mind, the closer he is to strength.”
– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 11.18.5b

Be the one in control of your passions, rather than the one controlled by your passions.

This particular passage is a major take away for me, though not a new lesson. While I don’t find myself an angry man, I do find I am often controlled by my passions. This has often hurt me, both personally and professionally. I have destroyed relationships and hurt my reputation by allowing my passions to control me, and the weakness of my insecurities show through for all to see.

This is a struggle for me, and not one can set me off like my kids. For while they hold all my love, they also hold all my fear and weakness. In the end, I feel horrible that I raised my voice or issued a decree in a fit of rage. There are many excuses that I use, some even valid and impacting contributing factors. And while I may return to apologize and attempt to mend that damage done, my reputation and the respect that I crave is destroyed.

I cannot control other peoples actions, I can only control how I respond. Let me show kindness and strength.

You don’t have to stay on top of everything

“If you wish to improve, be content to appear clueless or stupid in extraneous matters — don’t wish to seem knowledgeable. And if some regard you as important, distrust yourself.”
– Epictetus, Enchiridion, 13a

In today’s world, news is being pushed at us from all sides. The goal is to be conscious about the information we pay attention to. Much of the gossip in our lives we need not pay attention to, the ‘who’s who’ and latest shows. What impact does it have on your life? What choices have you changed due to that information?

At times it is hard, the news can be captivating. It can feel relevant. Yet, often it isn’t. You have no say in the outcome, so input into the process, your immediate health is not at risk – so why are we so enthralled? In some cases it is entertainment, but often it is a perceived impact. Likely why the news drives so often to the dramatic, if not to the completely sensationalized.

It is in this vein that I have been trying to steal myself away from the daily news updates and regular tv shows. While I often find myself on the outside of so many conversations, overall it does not bother me. That said I am not completely detached, I keep my ear to the ground for actual news. The trick is knowing the difference.

The three areas of training

“There are three areas in which the person who would be wise and good must be trained.  The first has to do with desires and aversions – that a person may never miss the mark in desires nor fall into what repels them.  The second has to do with the impulses to act and not to act – and more broadly, with duty – that a person may act deliberately for good reasons and not carelessly.  The third has to do with freedom from deception and composure and the whole area of judgement, the assent our mind gives to its perceptions.  Of these areas, the chief and most urgent is the first which has to do with the passions, for strong emotions arise only when we fail in our desires and aversions.”
– Epictetus, Discourses, 3.2.1-3a

To recap, the three areas are: 

  1. Our desires, what we want and what we want to abstain from.
  2. Our impulses and motivations, revisiting the why in the things we do.
  3. Train our judgement, and the choices we make.

It is also important to note, that our desires drive our passions, which is in turn tied very closely to our emotional state.  If we obtain our desires, we are excited – but when we do not we are often left dejected and depressed.  While if we fall prey to those things we otherwise try to avoid, we get upset and self deprecating – which can intern also lead to depression and anger.

Together they represent the What, the Why, and the How for handling each of life missions.  While discussed independently, it is hard to handle any task without working all three.  You will hear people talk about “finding your why”, but the why is meaningless with you first determining your what – and once those are discovered you are left with working the how.  

Work on them together by being mindful to their individual impacts throughout your day, train them as you focus on a muscle group in the gym by reflecting and analyzing them independently.  However, viewing them as a whole would be like not understanding the different aspects of the body.

Train your mind.

On a side note, I really enjoy the way The Daily Stoic presented the transactions of this quote from Epictetus.  The phrase, “…that a person may never miss the mark in desires nor fall into what repels them,” just feels so elegantly stated.