In his book the Enchiridion, the Greek stoic philosopher establishes and discusses the core tenant to stoicism. It is simple, “It is not what happens to us in life that matter, but the interpretation we choose to take that does.” Quite simply we can choose how we feel about whatever comes our way in life. His argument is that whenever something good or evil happens in our lives it’s not the event or actions that really bother us. It is our own interpretation and opinion on the event and outcome that dismays or excites us. That being said, I am not as stoic as I’d like to be. When I’ve been stuck inside my small apartment for weeks on end and a powerful thunderstorm strikes leading to countless tornadoes and an inevitable power outage. I am dismayed to say the least. To be more truthful I was quite pissed off.
We’ve all seen those flow charts, I’m sure, that some engineer or mechanic had put up somewhere that shows the flow of their problem solving mindsets with some humor. Did this happen? Yes or no? With arrows falling through to a text box with another question or some witty answer. There is a much simpler and somewhat witty chart for stoicism. Do you have a problem in your life? Yes or no? Can you do something about it? Yes or no? Then don’t worry about it. The point being if you can’t do something then don’t worry about it and it you can then you still don’t have to worry because you can do something about it. Regardless of the situation the outcome should always be the same. Don’t worry about it. As much as I try to practice this philosophical indifference to life’s difficulties, I still find myself irritated, worried or irate at the things that happen more often than not.
So there I sat at 9 o’clock on a Sunday. A scotch in my hand as I the latest Mahogany Sessions on YouTube and tried to make believe I didn’t have to wake to work tomorrow. Then the lightning struck as the wind howled outside my window and it all went black. The power had gone out and now my weekend was for sure at an end. While I started to debate with myself if I should go to bed, my eyes began to adjust and notice the night was brighter than my apartment. I stepped out on my balcony and lit a cigar as I starred at the lights in the distance. It became clear that the power was only out in my apartment complex and not the rest of the city. I stood in awe, feeling a bit like I imagined Nero did as he watched Rome burn. Thunder crashed in the sky, wind shook the trees and rain fell everywhere. Yet there in the distance was this warm and intoxicating glow of calm. After about half an hour the power was restored but I had hardly noticed. Drenched to the bone and more than a little inebriated, I could say I felt stoic for the first time in a long while. I had seen the calm in the storm.
There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will.-Epictetus