Examining Epictetus #5: Can I Master Myself?

The song kept playing over and over in my head. It was one of the song’s my eight-year-old son likes to listen to. It is not a bad song, just not one I want to have my brain playing on repeat mode.

There was a little rough spot on my finger. It bothered me. I picked at it, scraped at it, and kept messing with it until I ended up with a worse problem than when I began.

How many times have I gone on autopilot, completely unconscious of my actions? How many times did I pop the top on a can that I really didn’t want but opened anyway because it was there? The same could be said for the snack in the pantry, the overwhelming desire to go to sleep (I love my naps), or even the automatic slapping of the snooze button without even thinking about it. The more I think about it, the more I realize that I don’t have complete control of my own person.

Epictetus said, “No man is free who is not master of himself.” Consider this when your automatic actions are no longer serving you. Are you the master of your own mind and able to reprogram yourself? It is a question that I must ask myself. Am I a slave to my passions? Am I in control? And if I am not, and I know I am not, then how can I gain my freedom?

I don’t have the answers yet. I know it starts with mindfulness. It starts with observing my actions and behaviors. Once I realize what I am doing, then I can concentrate on taking the necessary steps.

Feature photo by Zulmaury Saavedra on Unsplash

Only Forward

This morning I listened to a guided meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh. It was a simple 15 minute practice into mindfulness. Being mindful is being in the present. When you concentrate on your breathing, you are being mindful. When your mind wanders, the concentration is no longer on the breathing.

I struggle with being fully present. In my twenties and thirties, I lived in the past. I spent so much time on “what might have been” and “what happened” that my progress was slow to move forward. I wasn’t aware of what was going on in the here and now, because I could not escape my demons from the past.

And then something happened as I got older. I left the past and moved right into the future. Progress stalled again as I was tormented by stress and anxiety. I was looking so far ahead that the projects I started were never being completed. My dreams were not coming to fruition but only remaining as dreams.

What I was lacking was balance. Since I was living in the past, I wasn’t learning from it but only repeating the same mistakes. Lost in the future prevented me from completing the tasks at hand. It does no good to be “way back when” or “someday up ahead.” Like the Jesus Jones song, I need to be right here, right now.

I demolish my bridges behind me –then there is no choice but forward. –Fridtjof Nansen

What do you know about Fridtjof Nansen? I had to look him up, and what I saw was amazing. This man was a Norse Indiana Jones. He was a champion athlete, museum curator, and artic explorer. He cross-country skied across Greenland. Two others attempted it before him and only made it 100 miles before turning back. Nansen forced himself into a one-way trip with no hopes of rescue by turning around. The only direction he could go was forward. Later in life, he would become a diplomat and a statesman eventually winning the Nobel Peace Prize for his humanitarian work in helping refugees after the First World War. Nansen lived a full life. He tested the limits of what was possible. If he could do it, what is keeping us from our own grand pursuits? Are we willing to test our limits and do something extraordinary with the lives we have been given?

Fridtjof Nansen
From Google Page 1 search.