Epictetus is thought to have been born some time in the 50’s AD in Hierapolis, located in modern day turkey and died around 135 AD. He was a Greek speaking stoic philosopher who was born a slave. Epictetus being born a slave perhaps will help you take on board what he teaches as he most definitely practised what he preached. He spent some of his life as a slave in Rome for Epaphroditus who was an important secretary of the emperor Nero. Unusual for a slave to be educated in such a way, it is said that Epictetus studied under Musonius Rufus who was a roman senator (part of the political institution) and stoic philosopher who spent some time teaching in Rome. Once Epictetus was granted his freedom he also began to lecture in Rome however he was banished presumably because of the edict of Domitian (in 89) that banned philosophers from the Italian peninsula.
Now that you know a little bit about Epictetus let us talk about one of his messages that we can implement in to our lives to reinforce our inner citadel (a stoic term that represents the fortress inside us that no person or situation can ever break down!)
‘Who is the invincible human being?’ a rhetorical question once asked by Epictetus who then answered… ‘One who can be disconcerted by nothing that lies outside the sphere of choice’
What Epictetus called the ‘Sphere of choice’ is simply things that we can control, for example the way we perceive a situation. With that being said, not being unsettled by anything outside the sphere of choice represents all external situations that we do not have any ability to change, for example you invest in some property and the market crashes or you put on a brand new white t shirt made of the most comfortable bamboo material, only to have a bird decide it was that time, whilst directly above you. Simply realizing the difference between the sphere of choice and externals that we have no control over is very empowering by itself, if you realize that you have no ability to change something then why would you waste your energy on it? Or to take it a step or two further, why waste your energy on reacting to something that again, you have no control over?
However Epictetus takes it a step further… ‘Its not what happens to you but how you react to it what matters.’ In my opinion, what he means here is anything outside your sphere of choice (something you cannot control) that turns out to be a difficult or unpleasant situation should be seen as an opportunity to better oneself, an opportunity to turn adversity in to a benefit, seeing the situation as a chance to strengthen our mind and/or physical self.
If you can implement these teachings in to your life think about how much stronger you will become, if you can train yourself to first, know the difference between the things that you can and cant change, and second, when faced with adversity, use this as an opportunity to excel and become better. How will adding this thought process to your life strengthen you and decrease stress?
– If this teaching of Epictetus interested you be sure to read ‘Epictetus – Discourses and Selected Writings’. You can grab your copy here and learn from one of the great stoic philosophers at your own leisure.