Chapter 5 of Epictetus’ Enchiridion
(My version, adapted to a more modern idiom from the 1888 translation by George Long.)
Humans are disturbed not by events, but by their opinions about events.
For example, death is nothing terrible.
For if it were, it would have seemed so to Socrates — and it certainly did not seem terrible to him.
The opinion about death — that it is terrible — is the terrible thing.
When then we are impeded or disturbed or grieved, let us never blame others, but ourselves — and not even ourselves, but rather our opinions.
It is the act of an uninstructed person to blame others for one’s own bad condition.
It is the act of one who has begun to be instructed, to lay the blame on oneself.
And it is the act of one whose instruction is completed, neither to blame another, nor oneself.
“It is the act of one whose instruction is completed, neither to blame another, or oneself.”
It’s then clear, isn’t it, what is to blamed — if it’s not another, or oneself?
Of course he’s already named what is to be blamed, earlier in the passage: opinions. Opinions about events.
In Anthony de Mello’s system, Epictetus’ opinions are called “illusions.”
And in Albert Ellis’ writings, “irrational beliefs.”
Each one of these three teachers insisted that no event has the power to give us a negative emotion.
Putting aside a very few extreme cases which would occur to anyone (physical torture, for example), don’t you think that idea is worth testing?
If no matter what events occurred in your life you could choose to avoid disempowering emotions, and choose empowering emotions, wouldn’t you want that choice?
If three great minds — an ancient philosopher (Epictetus among others), a talented psychotherapist priest (Anthony de Mello), and the greatest psychotherapist of the 20th Century (Albert Ellis) — all told you this was possible, wouldn’t you at least want to try it?
This condition is real. They each devoted much of their lives to teaching us this truth.
To fully confirm that it works, you’d need to acquire some systematic experience and instruction in it.
But you can get some test results immediately. You can try specific recipes, and observe how you’re able to drop negative emotions and choose positive emotions.
You can observe, too, how profoundly the effect plumbs you. These recipes are not cheap tricks from off the Internet. They are the considered teachings, passed along, of the most profoundly helpful minds ever to teach us.
You can find these recipes for dropping disempowering emotions in the writings of Albert Ellis, and in the writings and audio of Anthony de Mello, and — adjusted to an idiom for modern ears, stripped of jargon and hocus pocus and religiosity — in my podcast and audio products.
You can test and prove for yourself Epictetus’ signposts to a life of emotional power, choice, and control.