I recently saw Derren Brown’s new stage show. If you haven’t been I thoroughly recommend giving it a go. Mind blowing as always.
It’s ok, I’m not going to give anything important away, but there is one thing I learnt from there that I’d like to share with you all here.
He told us about Epictetus, a Roman slave and secretary to the Emperor Nero, who also had a passion for philosophy. He studied Stoicism, and through his studies he formed what is, to me, quite a simple yet freeing philosophy.
He said that there are two things in life; that which we can control, and that which we can’t. And of that which we can control there are only two things; what we think and what we do. And any attempt to control the things we can’t – “…our bodies, possessions, glory and power.” – will only lead to unhappiness: Or, as he put it, “…errors, misfortunes, [and] slavery of the soul.”
I like that idea, not only because it’s true, but because it’s easy to remember. It’s just two things, and two things.
Think about it. If we could learn to differentiate between the things we can control and the things we can’t, and then exercise some control over the things we can, imagine how much happier our lives would be.
No more getting stressed because your train is late. No more feeling guilty because you didn’t measure up to someone else’s expectations. No more worrying about what’s going to happen tomorrow, or what you did yesterday, or even what you should do today. The world is a massive place full of things that will happen whether we’re there or not, so how much control can we really have over them?
But! We do have an effect. Of that there is no doubt. We just can’t control what that effect will be. All we can do is think clearly, act responsibly, and hope for the best. Whatever will be will be. And if our actions come from a well thought out, positive place, then we can rest easy at night knowing we have probably left the world in a slightly better state than when we found it.
That’s the way it seems to me anyway. Perhaps you disagree? And if you do, well, there’s not much I can do about that now, is there? 😉