A Manual for Living (Epictetus)

Epictetus (50–135 CE) was born as a slave in Hierapolis, Phrygia. After Emperor Nero’s death, he eventually gained his freedom and taught Stoic philosophy in Rome for close to 25 years. Emperor Domitian, who feared the dissenting influence of philosophers, banished Epictetus from his home. He traveled to Nicopolis in the northwest of Greece and developed his own school, teaching in exile until his death. His ideas impacted historical figures such as Emperor Hadrian and Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Although Epictetus never wrote down his teachings, his disciple Arrian, who was a famous historian, recorded what he had said.

Epictetus’s main works are the Discourses and the Enchiridion.

Sharon Lebell has interpreted his timeless philosophy in “A Manual for Living.” She is the author of such inspiring works as “The Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness” and “The Music of Silence: Entering the Sacred Space of Monastic Experience.”

Lessons of Epictetus:

1.) Some things are in your control and other things are not. Some of the things in your control are your opinions, aspirations, desires, aversions, and actions. These things are under your influence to a certain degree. Some of the things that are not in your control are the body you are born with, who your parents are, and your status.

Once you have learned what is in your control, don’t concern yourself with what is not in your control. Your death, for example, is not in your control, but your attitude toward the idea of death is in your control. Your response to your fleeting time on earth, to the death of a family member and friend, to how you communicate with those who are grieving, is in your control.

2.) Events are as they are. Your interpretation of different events is what gives them meaning, value, and significance. If you’re undisciplined, you will divide your experiences into rigid categories of right and wrong, good and bad, true and false.

Your judgements create heaven and hell.

3.) What matters is what you can do with what you are given. Look for opportunities in every obstacle you encounter and respond in an appropriate manner. You may need patience for adversity, self-restraint for lust, humility for criticism, compassion for the suffering of others.

4.) You cannot be expected to give what you do not have, whether that is money, power, time, or skills. If you can help, do so without any expectations. If you can become powerful and rich and famous while still maintaining your integrity, then do so.

At the same time, you will be challenged throughout your life. To preserve your integrity, to make the right moral choices, you may need to let go of a certain level of comfort, status, and money. You may even be ridiculed or persecuted for holding onto what you value as true and ethical. When you focus on what you can do with what you have, you will live harmoniously. When you neglect what is in your control and resist what is natural, you’ll never be at peace.

5.) Events are impersonal — neither good nor bad. They will unfold as they do, despite all your wishes and expectations. Undisciplined people will look for signs that reinforce their beliefs, prejudices and opinions, while disciplined people will adapt to nature and act from their own moral principles.

Events will reveal their hidden lessons to you when you are humble enough to receive them. You must remain open and honest, while not sticking to the rigidity of your own conclusions.

6.) Wise people do not blame others or beat up on themselves. They look inside themselves for useful answers.

It is easy to label the universe in black-and-white categories, judging events as successful and unsuccessful, right and wrong, good and bad. It is far more courageous to look within yourself — examining your motives, intentions, desires, and aversions — while deciding on what action is the best one to take in each situation. Always ask yourself, “What is the right thing to do?” Then do it.

7.) Think about the purpose behind your speech. Many people express any passing thought that enters into their minds without concerning themselves with the consequences of their words. Unchecked speech can run away from you. You can fall into unthinking habits that disrespect yourself and others.

Speech is neither good nor bad but people often talk to each other in a careless manner. It’s seductive to prattle on about nothing, to chat about trivial matters, to gossip about another person when they are not nearby, to laugh at someone else’s misfortunes rather than laughing with them. Speaking in this way degrades you as a person and strains your relationships. It is better to remain silent than to indulge in harmful speech. You become what you focus on.

8.) Life is too short for you to indulge in mindless consumption. Be aware of what you absorb, whether it’s from a TV show, songs on the radio, political speeches, or arguments. Discover what nourishes you, what enhances your well-being, rather than what feeds your ignorance, greed, and anger.

When you don’t choose for yourself, someone else will choose for you. And they always have their own agenda.

9.) You are influenced by the communities you are in. Without realizing it, you’ll adopt their values, opinions, aspirations, and habits. You’ll learn how they interpret the world. Be careful about the people you are around, even if they are kind, talk about wanting to improve themselves, and desire to know you more. They may not be a healthy influence on you due to their ignorance, destructive behavior, and prejudices. Seek out those who uplift you, who make you a better person, not those who diminish you.

10.) Do not feel compelled to justify yourself. Let your worthy deeds speak for themselves. You cannot control what others think about you, but you can control the development of your character.

Here’s to the Helpers

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An old man had a habit of early morning walks on the beach. One day, after a storm, he saw a human figure in the distance moving like a dancer. As he came closer he saw that it was a young woman and she was not dancing but was reaching down to the sand, picking up a starfish and very gently throwing them into the ocean.

“Young lady,” he asked, “Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?”

“The sun is up, and the tide is going out, and if I do not throw them in they will die.”

“But young lady, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it? You cannot possibly make a difference.”

The young woman listened politely, paused and then bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it into the sea, past the breaking waves. “It made a difference to that one.”

We have traded our intimacy for social media, our romantic bonds for dating matches on apps, our societal truth for the propaganda of corporate interests, our spiritual questioning for dogmatism, our intellectual curiosity for standardized tests and grading, our inner voices for the opinions of celebrities and hustler gurus and politicians, our mindfulness for algorithmic distractions and outrage, our inborn need to belong to communities for ideological bubbles, our trust in scientific evidence for the attractive lies of false leaders, our solitude for public exhibitionism.

We have ignored the hunter-gatherer wisdom of our past, obedient now to the myth of progress.

But we must remember who we are and where we came from.

We are animals born into mystery, looking up at the stars. Uncertain in ourselves, not knowing where we are heading. We exist with the same bodies, the same brains, as Homo sapiens from thousands of years past, roaming on the plains, hunting in forests and by the sea, foraging together in small bands.

Except now, our technology is exponentially increasing at a scale that we cannot predict.

We are overwhelmed with information; lost in a matrix that we do not understand.

Our civilizational “progress” is built on the bones of the indigenous and the poor and the powerless.

Our “progress” comes at the expense of our land, and oceans, and air.

We are reaching beyond what we can globally sustain. Former empires have perished from their unrestrained greed for more resources. They were limited in past ages by geography and capacity, collapsing in regions, and not over the entire planet.

What will be the cost of our progress?

We have grown arrogant in our comfort, hardened away from our compassion, believing that our reality is the only reality.

Yet even at our most uncertain, there are still those saints who are unknown and nameless, who help even when they do not need to help.

They often are not rich, don’t have their profiles written up in magazines, and will never win any prestigious awards.

They may have shared their last bit of food while already surviving on so little. They may have cherished the disheartened, shown warmth to the neglected, tended to the diseased and dying, spoken kindly to the hopeless.

They do not tremble in silence while the wheels of prejudice crush over their land.

Withering what was once fertile into pale death and smoke.

They tend to what they love, to what they serve.

They help, even when they could fall back into ignorance, even when they could prosper through easy greed, even when they could compromise their values, conforming into groupthink for the illusion of security.

They help.

Stoic Philosophy: Epictetus on Control

Stoic Philosophy: Epictetus on Control

Epictetus was born as a slave in Ancient Greece. He became a prominent Stoic philosopher during the Roman Imperial Period, later influencing such people as Marcus Aurelius. Although he never wrote his teachings down, his pupil, Arrian, did.

His main works are the Enchiridion and the Discourses.

Some things are in our control while other things are not. We should focus on what is in our control.

Our desires and aversions, how we choose to think and act, our pursuits and goals and preferences, are in our control (to a degree).

What is not in our control are the bodies that we are born with, our reputation, old age, illness, and death.

When we try to control the things that are not in our control, we will suffer. We must look directly at what we can control and not burden ourselves with what is not in our control.

Our expectations are not life. We must mentally prepare for adversities while being content with what we have, not wishing for what we cannot control.

Other people’s opinions are their own. Instead of manipulating what they think about us, we should work on mastering our own virtue.

Let’s look at what is within our power and act wisely rather than looking at another person for our worth.

We are all born with different abilities, privileges, struggles. Instead of judging ourselves, let’s act out our roles with dignity.

While we didn’t choose to be born or to be placed under certain circumstances, we can choose our own attitudes and ideas and actions.

We should demonstrate our philosophy through how we live. Our true master is within us first.

We should never sacrifice our humanity for the fleeting approval of others.

It is easy to be seduced by what is external and uncontrollable, but in doing so, we may risk our own integrity.

If we compromise who we are for long enough, we may lose who we are forever.

Every difficulty is a question.

We must answer with how we live.

Spend time with those who help us to grow and avoid those who diminish us. Endure those who insult us with humor, humility, and kindness.

We don’t need to explain who we are to those who refuse to understand us. We only need to focus on what’s in our power, letting go of opinions and speculation and gossip.

We don’t need to talk about ourselves like we are important. There is no need for us to boast or blame. We can remain quiet, but when speaking, speak objectively.

Review what has happened at the end of each day. Investigate what we have done well and poorly. We can cultivate habits that are virtuous while remaining compassionate toward our mistakes.

Enter the Kettlebell! Strength Secret of the Soviet Supermen (review)

For Russian strongmen, elite military forces, and hardened criminals in Chechnya, the kettlebell has been an essential tool for developing a balanced musculature, endurance during the most grueling physical trials, functionally explosive strength, and a whole host of other benefits.

A tiny iron cannonball doesn’t seem that impressive, but after gripping at its cold handle and ripping into the momentum of a swing, there is nothing more punishing or more addictive.

Kettlebells come in poods. For example, the average male beginner uses 1 pood (16 kgs. or 35 lbs.) while the advanced lifter uses 2 poods (32 kgs. or 70 lbs.). There are different weights for every level. One must master the lighter weights to progress onto the heavier ones, but even the most powerful athletes can accomplish their goals with 1 pood.

In “Enter the Kettlebell,” Pavel Tsatsouline describes the correct (and most thorough) techniques available for exercises like the sumo deadlift, face-to-wall squat, halo, swing, snatch, clean, and get-up.

Pavel encourages a daily practice, not a burnout. Kettlebell training requires a lot of skill and patience to do well. For instance, to do a proper two-handed swing, one needs to maintain a box squat alignment, keep a straight but not upright back, generate power from the hip but not in the arms, sit back rather than dip down, and so on.

This book uses a minimalist approach and recommends two kettlebell exercises for the most benefit: the swing and the get-up.

“The swing will take care of your back, legs, heart, and lungs. The get-up will temper flexible and resilient shoulders, ready for exercises and spots skills that traditionally trash them: punching a heavy bag, grappling, heavy pressing and jerking, and so on.”

Once one has practiced these exercises for a long time (weeks to months to even years), focusing on finesse over speed and technique over high repetitions, additional exercises can be incorporated.

Kettlebell cleans, snatches, and presses are demanding. One needs to use strength and flexibility to do them well. Pavel argues for slow strength training with lower reps. Rather than championing the popular fatiguing way of strength training, he believes that slow training minimizes injuries, while building resiliency and power.

When using kettlebells, one is always in the Yin Yang of relaxation and tension. Like any good martial artist knows, it’s all about timing.

“Tension and relaxation are the two sides of the performance coin. An always-tight powerlifter can hardly move. An always-loose yoga practitioner is weak. A karate master, who moves like lightning and then freezes for a split second to put all of his mass behind the punch and then recoil with relaxed quickness like a snake’s tongue, has both. In the words of the late Okinawan karate master Chozo Nakama, this is ‘relaxed tension.’”

Kettlebells bring the entire body into each movement. One exhales with control like a boxer throwing a cross, relaxing and then tensing, building up their combat conditioning. Kettlebells reduce injuries through a stabilization of numerous muscles, strengthening the back, arms, shoulders, abs, legs, glutes, and grips.

Pavel recommends training everyday. Stay consistent but always vary in the workouts each time, switching from heavy to light weights, focusing on proper technique in between sessions, never exercising until fatigue.

He suggests using ladders, starting low. Switching hands, resting. Then slowly building up to fifty repetitions, one hundred repetitions, in a short period of time. Eventually, as one progresses, one will build 1 ladder (1, 2, 3, 4, etc.) to 2 ladders, 2 ladders to 3 ladders, and so on. This can take a few minutes, a few hours, or even a full day.

When it comes to rest in between sets, that depends on individual goals.

“Either extreme of rest between sets — less than a minute on one end, and 10 minutes and more on the other — will make you strong for different reasons. Extremely short breaks will make you stronger by building muscle in the tradition of Charles Staley’s EDT (edtsecrets.com). Extremely long breaks will make you stronger by improving your skill of strength in the tradition of my GTG program from The Naked Warrior. Medium breaks will give you a mix of muscular and neural adaptations. This is why I have not specified how long you should rest between your sets in this book. Why complicate?”

Kettlebell training can be timed as well. Alternating rep/rest periods at random, experimenting daily to build up to high reps in a short amount of time, can be challenging and rewarding. HIIT and Tabata are two beneficial methods for intense, short workouts.

Kettlebells are versatile, adaptive to both the person and program. They’re simple, effective punishers, training raw power and strength, conditioning and balance, flexibility and skill.

One can combine kettlebells with intervals of pull-ups and pushups, shadow boxing and sprints. Athletes can alternate with barbells and machines and dumbells and ropes. They can skip those tools all together and use kettlebells alone.

From stretching hip flexors to stabilizing joints, from building raw power to reducing the chances of arthritis, from lowering heart rate to increasing balance, kettlebells are underrated in the fitness world.)