Examining Epictetus #40: This Body Does Not Belong to You

The first inspection on the house I was going to rent went well. There were only a few minor issues with the property, and those were all well-documented. Over the course of the next year, I took care of it like I owned it. After all, this was my home. When the rental agreement expired, we conducted a final inspection. I turned in the keys and moved on with my life.

When I was conceived by my parents, I moved into my new body. Since then, I have tried my best to take care of it, but in truth, I will one day return it to the ground from whence it came. As long as I am in my body, it is the home of my soul and spirit. I do not own this body. Instead, I am just borrowing it on a long-term lease.

Well, what did Zeus say? ‘Epictetus, if it were possible, I would have made your little body and possessions both free and unrestricted. As it is, though, make no mistake: this body does not belong to you, it is only cunningly constructed.’

Discourses 1:1.10-11

How profound are these words! We are only clay in a body that doesn’t belong to us. If Nature or the Earth is truly our Mother, then we must give back to her the bodies we have borrowed. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be.

What should we do then? Make the best use of what is in our power, and treat the rest in accordance with its nature. And what is its nature? However God decides.

Discourses 1:1.17

This body that I am renting, what should I do with it? It may not belong to me, but it is my home. Would I let it fall into disrepair because it is only a rental? Of course not! For if my mind and soul are trapped in a toxic environment and are unable to operate in its optimal state, what kind of condition will they be in when they move on and go to their next existence? Can a dull me expect to shine in my next incarnation if it did not have its proper training?

What should we have ready at hand in a situation like this? The knowledge of what is mine and what is not mine, what I can and cannot do.

Discourses 1:1.21

This is our situation. This is our knowledge. We are only here temporarily. In time, we must all die. None shall escape. Unable to change this situation, how will I expire? Will I mourn and bewail the inevitable, or will I face it bravely? Will I fight to stay trapped in a corporeal state, which is destined to break down and decay in its attempt to be reunited with the earth? Doing so will only delay the elevation of this spirit to a higher plane.

I must do what is in my power and let go of the things that are not.

That’s the kind of attitude you need to cultivate if you would be a philosopher, the sort of sentiments you should write down every day and put in practice.

Discourses 1:1.25

A philosopher’s goal is to find the truth, to study it, and then learn how to operate within its parameters. This is my goal. I never dreamed I would be a philosopher. And yet, here I am, a mere student longing to understand.


Quotes from Epictetus’ Discourses Book 1, Chapter 1.

Feature photo by Jairo Alzate on Unsplash

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