What we control and what we don’t
“Some things are in our control, while others are not. We control our opinion, choice, desire, aversion, and, in a word, everything of our own doing. We don’t control our body, property, reputation, position, and, in a word, everything not of our doing. Even more, the things in our control are by nature free, unhindered, and unobstructed, while those not in our control are weak, slavish, can be hindered, and are not our own.”
— Epictetus, Enchiridion, 1.1-2
This is is probably my favorite teaching thus far. Focus on only what you can control – and you can only control yourself. You cannot control people’s actions or feelings, but you can control your actions and feelings. When you stop and dwell on this for a moment you see that so much of today’s anxiety centers around this. Concerns and worries tend to not stem from things that you can control, but dependencies from other things, people, and situations.
It becomes empowering to allow yourself to let go of those things and instead focus on the things you can control. You can prepare for an unfortunate situation or just release the emotions caught up in a past relationship. Keep in mind, preparation was one of the key functions of the mind in, presented in the Jan 7th meditation. It is also the easiest way of overcoming the setbacks in life.
If you are worried about losing your job, instead of focusing on the possible loss and fallout – focus on building your network, preparing your resume and financial situation. By focusing on things within your own control your mind will not fear the things that may happen.
This works in regards to your emotions as well. For years following my separation and inevitable divorce I was focused on how people would see me, how my ex felt about me, how the legal process would go, etc. In fact the list of fears was endless, from the kids to my financial situation. In the end, it was the look at this particular reflection that has allowed me the most growth as I move forward. I no longer focus on how I appear as a dad, but try to focus on ‘being an involved father’. I no longer dwell on what “she” does, and instead focus on what I am doing.
It has been incredibly freeing.