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Selections from The Enchiridion by Epictetus 
Edited version © SpiritSite.com (some language has been adapted and/or simplified)

 


"We aren’t disturbed by things that happen, but by our interpretations of these things."

Enchiridion Selections, Part One

Some things are in our control and others are not.

Things that are in our control are our decisions, desires, wishes – basically, our own thoughts and actions. Things that aren’t in our control are the thoughts and actions of others.

If you remember what is in your control and what is not in your control, then no one will trouble or threaten you. In addition, you will never find fault with anyone, or accuse anyone. You will do nothing that brings you pain. No one will hurt you. You will have no enemies. You will never be able to be harmed.

Try, then, to say to every difficult event, "You are but an appearance, and not really the thing you appear to be." And then ask yourself, "Is this in my control, or isn’t it?" If it isn’t in your control, do not think about it any more.

In regard to things that you find useful – or that you deeply love – remember to remind yourself of their nature. Begin with the most insignificant things. 

If, for example, you are fond of a specific cup, remind yourself that it is just a cup. Then if it breaks, you will not be disturbed, for you have remembered its true nature.

Similarly, if you kiss your child or wife, remember that you are only kissing their bodies, and that you will not be apart from them if either of them dies. In this way, you will remember their true nature.

When you are going about any action, try to put the action in perspective. 

If you are going to the pool or the beach, remind yourself of what usually happens there: some people splash water, some push, some use poor language, and others steal things.

If you do this, you will be able to safely go to the pool or beach without losing your peace of mind. You’ll say, "I will now go to swim, and keep my mind in a state of peace." 

If something should happen – if someone splashes you with water, or steals something from you – you can say, "I didn’t just come to swim. I came to keep my mind in peace, and I am not surprised that these things happened. I have no need to lose my peace of mind."

We aren’t disturbed by things that happen, but by our interpretations of these things. 

Death, for instance, is not terrible – otherwise Socrates would have felt so. It is the terror that we feel towards death that is terrible.

Therefore, when we are disturbed or upset, let us not blame it on others. A beginner on the spiritual path will blame his state of mind on others. An intermediate will blame his state of mind on himself. But a truly knowledgeable person will blame neither others nor himself – he will simply make a change.

Imagine that you are on a voyage, and your ship is anchored. You go onto shore to get some fresh water, and along the way you amuse yourself by picking up a shell or some other object.

Even though you are enjoying yourself, your attention should be focused on the ship, waiting for the captain to call, "all aboard." When this happens, you must immediately leave your shells and run back to the ship. 

So it is with life. If you are given a wife or nice home, that is fine. But if the captain calls, you must run to the ship. Your focus should always be on this.

Don’t demand that events happen as you wish, but wish for them to happen as they do, and you will be happy.

Sickness is a difficulty to the body, but not to the mind – unless you let it. Lameness is a difficulty to the leg, but not to the mind. Say this to yourself with regard to everything that happens, then you will see nothing as a difficulty to your true self.

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