“Of things some are in or power, and others are not. In our power are opinion, movement toward a thing, desire, aversion and in a word, whatever are our own acts: not in our power are the body, property, reputation, offices, and in a word, whatever are not our own acts…… remember then, that if you think the things which are by nature slavish to be free, and the things which are in the power of others to be you own, you will be hindered, you will lament, you will be disturbed……examine it……. If it relates to anything which is not in our power, be ready to say, that it does not concern you.
“To a great extent fatigue in such cases is due to worry, and worry could be prevented by a better philosophy of life and a little more mental discipline.” I think we could all benefit from this pity observation every now and then. An interesting exercise for the persistent worrier to undertake would be to try and calculate how much hours of his life were wasted by unnecessarily thinking and worrying. It would, no doubt, run into thousands of useless hours; hours that cannot be returned to you.
“Nothing is so exhausting as indecision and nothing is so futile” indeed, I would add that life seems to unfold by itself, irregardless of what we wish to see, or how we want it to be. Mostly it turns out for the better, only rarely, does it seem, to go bad (I’m talking about our ordinary daily wants and needs and desires) Another exercise, then, to carry out, is to reflect on all the times you worried about a possible, impending problem, as opposed to actually dealing with it, when or if, indeed, it emerged at all? So much of our time is spent in fantasy, WHAT IF, IF-THEN WHAT WILL I DO?…… We become angry and upset over things that have not happened yet; Epictetus then, was correct: he said that some things are in our power, and some things are not; concerning things under our control - we can simply do our best; think things through with the best evidence available to us - as to all else, we will just have to wait till we get more knowledge - it is beyond our power; out of our hands.
“The wise man thinks about his troubles only when there is some purpose in doing so; at other times he thinks about other things, or, if it is night, about nothing at all.” Thinking practically then, and knowing when to abandon thinking, is, I believe, a skill and a mental discipline, that can be learned. Purposeful thinking consists of: ends and goals; possibilities and opportunities; doubts and certainties; means and methods. A good person to consult on this is Edward De Bono. De Bono, who coined the phrase: “ Lateral Thinker”, offers a range of practical thinking tools to help one make decisions and think creatively. A few of his tools are: PMI, Positives, Minuses, and Interesting; EBS, Examine Both Sides; TEC, Task and Target, Expand and Explore, Contract and Conclude.
Its useful, perhaps then, to familiarize oneself with these tools; moreover, mind maps, lists, and clearly formulating the problem in writing, are skilful techinques of dealing with problems, whatever they may be. It is certainly an improvement, as opposed, to simply going round and round in unending circles of discursive thought. There are, however, a few positions we can reach by such disciplined thinking. 1. We can have sufficient reason for acting. 2 sufficient reason for believing. 3. Sufficient reason for not acting. 4. Sufficient reason for not believing. 5. Suspending judgement or action pending further information. Once, though, we have made our decision, we ought to stick with it until shown to be wrong, or so demonstrated that there is a better way of doing something. Once we have solved our problem, or done our best with it; we should then, simply retire from the thinking process.
Absorption into something helps dissipate the self: painting; exercise; long walks in the hills; golf - whatever takes you fancy. For me, I find the practice of insight mediation, enormously useful and relaxing. It many ways it can provide a template of mental discipline, and a access to serenity. This, I will be discussing in my next blog.