January 13, 2017 – Circle of Control


“We control our reasoned choice and all acts that depend on that moral will. What’s not under our control are the body and any of its parts, our posessions, parents, siblings, children, or country – anything with which we might associate.”- Epictetus, Discourses, 1.22.10

I failed to qualify these meditations in a specific way. If you’ve been following from day one you are very aware of a pattern, that being finding clarity. Well, January is the month of “Clarity”. It sits under the first of three parts called “The Discipline of Perception”. As a teaser, February will be “Passions and Emotions”, with part two being “The Discipline in Action”, and this starts in May.

It is important to note this because…well…I don’t want anyone to lose interest. I could see myself following these posts, eventually thinking, “I get it! My mind is what I control!”. What I’m hoping will happen is a habit of being aware of how we think on a more regular basis. It is one thing to know, and it is another to practice.

The example of “parents” hits home with me. As someone who works in the technology field, my mother is constantly asking me for assistance with her devices. I’m more than happy to oblige, but when the same questions are asked repeatedly I get irritated. It’s a pet peeve of mine. So how should I respond? The easy answer is with infinite love and understanding. But is that realistic? What of the virtue that is self-reliance?

In his work Self-Reliance, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote:

“Men have looked away from themselves and at things so long that they have come to esteem the religious, learned and civil institutions as guards of property, and they deprecate assaults on these, because they feel them to be assaults on property. They measure their esteem of each other by what each has, and not by what each is.”

In would be a fools platform to entertain the idea that we could know everything, or that we could even know to a level that learning would become unnecessary. If I do value self-reliance, and I admit to the fact that we are always learning, then what does it say of me that I would be bothered by those who seek knowledge? What must I be imposing upon them, and how they retain this knowledge, that my patience is predicated on the number of times they may ask the same question?

If repetition is critical to retaining knowledge, then it is reasonable that someone who does not use, for example, a technical device in a certain way might continue the need of repeated assistance. If I’m being honest with myself it would serve me to correlate what my mother is asking me with my repeated need to recall whether a book title receives quotations or italics.

Today’s meditation puts it very simply: “There is clarity in simplicity.” How much time is wasted being frustrated? How much energy is expended bring one’s self back from frustration? In my example, and in most all situations, the simple solution is to help. Whether that is direct assistance, or pointing my mother to a complimentary resource. To approach the problem this way admits that I might not understand why this question is being asked. The person asking is not under my control so rather than think about why they are asking it seems better to help.

Consider the words of Lao Tzu:

Simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures. Simple in actions and thoughts, you return to the source of being. Patient with both friends and enemies, you accord with the way things are. Compassionate toward yourself, you reconcile all beings in the world.”

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