Leave All Behind

"On a voyage, when the ship is anchored, if you go on shore to get water, you may gather a small shellfish or cuttlefish along the way as a side issue for yourself, but your thoughts must be directed at the ship and you must be constantly watchful if not the captain calls. And if he calls, leave all of it behind, so you won’t be thrown into the ship bound like cattle. It is the same in life: if instead of a small shellfish and cuttlefish, you are given a wife and child, there is nothing against that. But if the captain calls, rush towards the ship and leave all behind without looking back. And if you are old, don’t even go far from the ship, so you won’t default when you are called."  (Epictetus)

Enchiridion 12: Peace Of Mind; or, "If you would improve" (part 1)

"If you would improve, lay aside such reasonings as these: 'If I neglect my affairs, I shall not have a maintenance; if I do not punish my servant, he will be good for nothing.' For it were better to die of hunger, exempt from grief and fear, than to live in affluence with perturbation; and it is better that your servant should be bad than you unhappy.

Begin therefore with little things. Is a little oil spilled or a little wine stolen? Say to yourself, 'This is the price paid for peace and tranquillity; and nothing is to be had for nothing.' And when you call your servant, consider that it is possible he may not come at your call; or, if he does, that he may not do what you wish. But it is not at all desirable for him, and very undesirable for you, that it should be in his power to cause you any disturbance."
(Epictetus, Enchiridion 11)

They got it pretty close: peace of mind does not depend on circumstances or other people. So, are you happy? Content? Do you have peace of mind? The question was not, "how's it going?" because it can be going not-so-well and one can still have peace of mind. 

Today's thoughts are rich with illustrations but can be easily lost or confused due to our temporal and cultural separation. Nevertheless, the principle is timeless. 

"If you would improve, lay aside such reasonings as these . . ."

Want to be better off? Then let go of trying to micromanage the world. It won't fall apart if you release your grip. Matter of fact, the world doesn't even know you are there. So stop making difficulty and find your happiness in something greater. You won't find peace of mind in your stuff nor will you find it in others. 

If you've ever expected perfection out of someone, what was the end result? Should you say, "they proved to be a disappointment," then know your perspective was off. Should you say, "my expectation was too high because I fall short too," then you are improving. 

Consider also the person who is insistent about their rights. Where is their happiness? If you have an attitude of entitlement, then everything will go wrong for you and there will never be contentment. 

"Begin therefore with little things."

Start small. Why? Because bigger things are just too much! Epictetus gets intensely personal because he shows how easy the wrong perspective destroys peace of mind. 

Having raised children, messes are bound to happen. Problem is, there were times when it was impossible to tell who made the mess. So I have a choice: walk into the room, look around and and shout, "Who did this?" blow my stack, get angry and terrify the children until I got an answer. Or I could walk in, look around and say, "Well, that happened," maintain my composure and deal with it. What happened was, you got stuff, it gets messy. Clean it up.  

Everything costs something. You buy stuff and stuff makes clutter. Truthfully, before learning any of this, I often took the first choice because (upon reflection) my time and energy must now be interrupted to cleaning up a mess not my own--I've been "put out." So I got upset. To make matters worse, one child would blame another just to keep from being punished, so when the punishment reigned down on another, the true perpetrator was both relieved and delighted. All because I had the wrong perspective. 

Going a step further, think about things you buy--what are you after? Perfection. But what you get is a product. And that product will most likely fail before it's warranty runs out. And that warranty should be the first sign that what you buy is not really what you want. So if you are willing to shell out the dollars to get it, be willing to let it go in the future. Besides, when you die, you can't take it with you. 


The only thing that destroys peace of mind is that to which you grant permission. Like the band sang:

"Now you're climbin' to the top of the company ladder
Hope it doesn't take too long
Can'tcha you see there'll come a day when it won't matter?
Come a day when you'll be gone, whoa

I understand about indecision
But I don't care if I get behind
People livin' in competition
All I want is to have my peace of mind."

Well, if that's all you want, then get it!

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