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Originally written on May 13, 2014. 

'For he is free to whom everything happens according to his will, and whom no man can hinder. "What then, is freedom madness?" Certainly not: for madness and freedom do not consist. "But, you say, I would have everything result just as I like." Do you not know that freedom is a noble and valuable thing? But for me inconsiderately to wish for things to happen, as I inconsiderately like, this appears to be not only not noble, but even most base. For how do we proceed in the matter of writing? Do I wish to write the name Dion as I choose? No, but I am taught to choose to write it as it ought to be written. And how with respect to music? In the same manner. And what universally in every art or science? Just the same. If it were not so, it would be of no value to know anything, if knowledge were adapted to every man's whim. Is it, then, in this alone, in this which is the greatest and the chief thing, I mean freedom, that I am permitted to will inconsiderately? By no means; but to be instructed is this, to learn to wish that everything might happen as it does. And how do things happen? As the disposer has disposed them?'

 

- Discourses of Epictetus

 

True freedom consists in conforming our will to the will of Nature; bondage consists in desiring Nature to conform to our will. If our will is aligned with the will of Nature, there is nothing that can hinder us or happen contrary to our will, but if we desire that Nature should conform to our will and precede only in a way that pleases us we have deluded ourselves into believing that the cosmos is egocentric. This false belief will subsequently lead to false judgments and give rise to the passions that we will live in bondage to until we change our beliefs to true beliefs. Think about it this way: if Nature conformed to the whims of every man, the world would be a very chaotic place; there wouldn't be any laws governing the cosmos, everything would be random and sometimes contradictory. What would happen if one man's desires contradicted another man's desires? It would be impossible for such a universe to exist. Order and beauty can only exist if the cosmos is governed by reason; likewise order and beauty can only exist in our lives by following the dictates of reason.

Though I no longer hold an orthodox Stoic view on ethics, in large part because I have considered that humans are not fundamentally rational, I still find it useful to adhere to most Stoic doctrines, especially 'conforming our will to the will of Nature' or, in other words, not worrying about the things outside of our control. Reason, of course, may facilitate this end, but it must ultimately come from an inner tranquility habituated by much reflection on strong passions elicited by circumstances or events outside of our control and meditation, which helps us narrow our focus on things we can control e.g. our breathing, posture, gaze and thoughts. I had not given this particular doctrine much thought over the past couple of years until I stumbled upon it in November. I got something different from reading the passage this time around, as if there were a meaning there that I hadn't noticed before. It struck me as something I knew intuitively, but forgot instinctively; something that eluded me whenever I got angry at willfully ignorant people, had fits of road rage, and stressed over every trifling matter. I became absorbed in my own microcosm and lost sight of the big picture; that I had no power to change the things that I regularly stressed over, and that I could put my emotions to more productive ends by investing them in the things I controlled. 

 

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