“There are three areas in which the person who would be wise and good must be trained. The first has to do with desires and aversions—that a person may never miss the mark in desires nor fall into what repels them. The second has to do with impulses to act and not to act—and more broadly, with duty—that a person may act deliberately for good reasons and not carelessly. The third has to do with freedom from deception and composure and the whole area of judgment, the assent our mind gives to its perceptions. Of these areas, the chief and most urgent is the first which has to do with the passions, for strong emotions arise only when we fail in our desires and aversions.”EPICTETUS, DISCOURSES, 3.2.1–3a
Stoicism as principle constantly asks us to evaluate our actions and thoughts and here in today’s mediation Epictetus asks us to train ourselves if we want to be wise and good. All the three areas are within our control and can be worked upon by consciousness.
1. Our desires
There is no end when it comes to desire something. There are some desires which are completely unattainable and are not good for us and deep down we also know that. One might say what is the harm in desiring it from afar. But is it a path to a healthy life and a healthy mind?
I have been guilty of doing this time and again. Building desires for things or people which is not good for me, or is unattainable. I used to think that it’s ok if I don’t get it, I can still love it from afar. Reading what I have written just above makes me sound so pathetic and yet so human.
But this continuous feeling of lack took a toll on my mental health in due time. Due to this whenever I used to get something I used to get possessive about it and that’s because continuously desiring something unattainable creates a feeling of lack. This feeling in turn brings insecurity and other issues. But sooner I realized that and I am now very thoughtful of the things that I desire now.
2. Our motivations
Why do we do something we do? Is it on impulse? Or have we stopped thinking about the real reason behind it because we are scared to face what we find?
I have been acting on impulse on almost everything in my life only to regret it later. And the reason is I was just too scared to know myself. If I don’t act on my impulse I know I will have to think deeper and I know my good sense will prevail me to do this act.
With time I am not scared anymore to dig deeper inside myself and to find out the reasons why I am doing something.
3. Our judgment
Last but not the least, our judgment and our ability to reason. There is a lot of unknown bias that each of us has which in turn affects our judgment. I have talked about it earlier in this previous post too that how we can’t trust our brain completely to know what we think we know. That’s why it is important to build a value system and always measure our thoughts and actions against it.
As quoted by Ryan Holiday in his book, all the three areas though are independent are still intertwined and hence it’s important to master all three areas.
Our judgment affects what we desire, our desires affect how we act, just as our judgment determines how we act.