Philosophy Friday: How To Achieve Tranquility
“The things in our control are by nature free, unrestrained and unhindered, but those not in our control are weak, slavish, restrained, belonging to others.”
— Epictetus, Stoic Philosopher, Former Slave
With this passage, Epictetus tells us that the things within our control, our thoughts and voluntary actions, we control completely. In this realm, we merely need to refuse to buy into negative judgment spirals developing in our heads and instead direct our thinking towards uplifting, calmer thoughts—and we are there.
Whatever we are upset about, whether it’s because we’ve wasted serious money on a bad investment, broken up with our long-term partner, or lost our job due to uncertainty created by the pandemic—we alone can snap ourselves out of this depressive funk. And we can do so thoroughly (some aspects of modern psychology notwithstanding), and nobody can stop us. We can turn our thinking around—we have the power of instant serenity—if we so choose.
This process of achieving tranquility in the face of adversity only works if we have practised beforehand fortifying ourselves in smaller settings. For example, suppose another person is annoying us or traffic is heaving, and we find ourselves getting upset. In that case, we can try to stay relaxed by seeing the positive in the current situation. “Great—Here is another opportunity for me to practice my patience and keep my calm”.
After a while, we’ll find ourselves complaining less and being more peaceful in all manner of situations that would have frustrated us before. Trust me on this—I have been through this exercise. I frequently complained about external circumstances over which I had little control: Cranky kids, jam-packed supermarkets, a broken-down car, expensive house repairs, and so on. But I am better now. And you, too, can achieve inner tranquility during situations that are frustrating or panicking other people. It only takes a little practice.
“Begin therefore from little things. Is a little oil spilt? A little wine stolen? Say to yourself, ”This is the price paid for equanimity, for tranquility, and nothing is to be had for nothing.” When you call your servant, it is possible that he may not come; or, if he does, he may not do what you want. But he is by no means of such importance that it should be in his power to give you any disturbance.”