“These things don’t go together. You must be a unified human being, either good or bad. You must diligently work either on your own reasoning or on things out of your control – take great care with the inside and not what’s outside, which is to say, stand with the philosopher, or else with the mob.” – Epictetus, Discourses, 3.15.13
The translation used for this meditation is an interesting one, and frankly, I find it to misrepresent the quote. I’m reading from Discourse, Fragments, Handbook, author Epictetus, translated by Robin Hard, with Christopher Gill as a contributor. In this translation this selection reads:
“These things don’t go together. You must be just one man, either good or bad; you must devote your efforts either to ruling your centre or to external things; in other words, you must assume the part either of a philosopher or of a layman.”
The selection, 3.15, is titled “That we should approach everything with circumspection”. To be circumspect is to be thoughtful. To carefully consider one’s options. Epictetus is asking us to take into account what comes before and after the actions we undertake. For example, in 13.5.2-3 he states:
“(2) ‘I want to win Olympic victory.’ Well, consider what comes before and what follows after, and only then, if there is any advantage for you in it, actually set to work. (3) You must accept the discipline, submit to a diet, abstain from eating cakes, train under orders, at a fixed time, in heat or cold, and you mustn’t drink cold water or wine just as you wish; in short, you must give yourself up to trainer as you would to a doctor,”
I have a wonderful personal trainer. Lisa isn’t my full-time trainer, but a group of us get together once a week, and if I have no conflict I will attend. Apart from a wonderful community of people, Lisa is an amazing motivator. When I started working with her she asked me what my physical goals were, and she created workouts for me to perform on my own that were geared towards meeting those goals. Unfortunately, leveraging yesterday’s meditation of measuring one’s self, what I thought I could accomplish was much below my abilities and I ended up injuring myself. But that’s another story.
During one of our Wednesday night workouts, I joked with Lisa about my love for Oreo cookies. I actually sent her a picture of me on the cookie aisle in front of the many flavors that Oreo offers us. Lisa reminded me that I would never reach my fitness goal if my diet consisted of Oreos. Not only did I have to exercise, but I had to maintain a quality diet that didn’t work against my exercising.
Epictetus is asking us to consider what is most important: the internal or the external. Do we go with appearances, or do we develop a strong core? The mob moves without thinking. We cannot be part of the mob. We must be aware of the importance of how our thoughts will drive our actions, and our actions must take into account not only the planning but also the outcome. Am I willing to give myself to Lisa as my personal trainer? Am I willing to follow her dietary requirements? Am I willing to put forth the effort during her routines?
It’s easy when one’s trainer (or teacher) is inspirational, but as people, we may not come with the best attitude and the same is true for the trainer. The trainer is external and out of our control. Our attitude is all ours. It is a waste of my time, and Lisa’s, if I’m not committed so it’s important to ensure my mind is well kept. Don’t let that Oreo distract you.