This January, a friend challenged me to join her in reading The Daily Stoic, a book which, every day, takes a passage from one of the ancient philosophers and expounds upon it. Here is the passage from last Friday, 13th January.
We control our reasoned choice and all acts that depend on that moral will. What’s not under our control are the body and any of its parts, our possessions, parents, siblings, children or country – anything with which we might associate.
Epictetus – Discourses
I’ve touched on this idea in previous blogs. It’s covered in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey, in that excellent book. What I’m intrigued by in this meditation is the all-encompassing nature of what we are not in control of.
I think we all accept that we cannot control, or even influence, what is happening in Ukraine. We cannot control the economy. We cannot control what Harry will say next.
Some of us may admit we can do nothing with our family, but possibly we hope we have some influence with our parents, siblings, children and friends. We assume, however that we can control our bodies. We assume we control our possessions.
But maybe we don’t.
I could not control the fact that my car broke down and needed a new clutch, and then a new starter motor. I could not stop my dishwasher from developing a fault. When my neighbour recently suffered a break-in, she could not control what the thieves took.
Back in July, I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. This has failed to respond to treatment and has worsened until I am in constant pain and am weak and exhausted. I feel as if my body has betrayed me. I expected to control my body: I did not expect it to let me down. I must accept I cannot, after all, control my body.
The Daily Stoic makes the point that the only thing under our control is our mind.
No. Even our mind is not necessarily under our control. My Moodscope scores have plummeted due to the colitis; they look as bad as when I am in one of my bipolar depressions. What’s different about this is I can, however, still take reasoned decisions.
That word reasoned is important. We cannot control our emotions and, I would argue, there are certain mental conditions that rob us of the ability to make reasoned decisions. Before I started my medication, my bipolar manic periods would result in me making drastic purges of the house. I would throw out things that I later realised were vital. My children will never let me forget I threw out their “Red Books” containing the records of their vaccinations – which were needed for school. This was not a reasoned decision.
My Father-in-Law, a once brilliant scientist, now 94, is muddled and confused. He has lost his reason.
So, is anything under our control?
Our reasoned choices, yes, but not our reason itself.
Hold on lightly, therefore, to everything, because we can control nothing.