Embrace and Adapt to the Circumstances

“Circumstances do not rise to meet our expectations. Events happen as they do. People behave as they are. Embrace what you actually get.”1 -Epictetus

I don’t deserve this. I try to do everything right. I show up and do my job. I’m a dedicated spouse and an even more dedicated parent. Why am I suffering? Why is God silent? Why is He allowing this to happen?

Does that train of thought sound familiar? I have gone through that script so many times, I should’ve been nominated for a major acting award.

(Before I go on, I want to make a disclaimer: No one, under any circumstances deserves to be abused, mistreated, harassed, or tormented by anyone else. If you find yourself in that situation, please seek help).

Deserve. A word which signifies an entitlement or something that is owed to us. We often think of deserve as a reward for doing the right thing, for not acting like everyone else around us. Deserve means we should be spared from a life of pain and suffering. However, all of us, deep inside know that is not the case.

Life is unfair. Legal or social justice does not always prevail. A husband or wife can decide they want out after decades of marriage. You can be fired or laid off from that job for which you earned while climbing the corporate ladder. A retirement fund or savings account can be wiped out with one swift downturn in the market or a major illness. You may have reached middle aged or older only to find yourself starting over. Life is unfair.

To paraphrase the above Epictetus quote: It’s not about what we deserve, it’s about what we get. We must manage our expectations of love, marriage, career, health, and everything else we deal with in this life.

I never thought my health and career would take a turn for the worse at thirty-eight. I never conceived that I would be divorced three years later. I didn’t expect to start over in a one bedroom apartment. Life will take you places you don’t want to go. Life will drag you kicking and screaming if it must. However, it’s not all bad and you are tougher than you think you are.

I agree with Epictetus that we must temper our expectations as we go through life. I’m not saying to prepare for catastrophic failure, but we must train ourselves to adapt to changing circumstances. Jesus said that in this world, we will have tribulation, but we can take solace in knowing He has overcome the world. The Buddha said existence is suffering. Yoda said that we must let go of everything we fear to lose. Basically, bad times are going to come, we must find peace and contentment in the worst of circumstances. To use a sports analogy, if our game plan is not working, we must be able to make adjustments on the fly. Embrace where you are and God bless you.

1Epictetus The Art of Living: A New Interpretation by Sharon Lebell. San Francisco: Harper Collins (1995): 7.

Don’t Believe Everything You Think

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Photo by Marcelo Chagas on Pexels.com

Thousands of thoughts course through our minds each and every day. Some thoughts can be routine, such as What am I going to eat for lunch? or I need to get the car in for an oil change. However, thoughts can be a destructive force when dwell upon the negative, the resentful, and the angry.

I’ll never be successful.

How can anybody love me?

I’m a failure.

How could she do that to me?

I’ll never forgive myself/him/her.

The list goes on and on.

Have you ever found yourself in a thought cycle of negativity? How did you respond? If you suffer from a mental illness such as depression or anxiety, does negativity thinking make it worse? The truth be told, you didn’t gain anything from the negative thoughts other than the loss of an opportunity to enjoy life.

The more you look around the more you notice how society gears us toward the negative. The continuous negativity of the news cycle, the gritty and violent nature of popular entertainment, and even religion, which tells us we are all fundamentally flawed, in combination with our own life circumstances overwhelms us into thinking we will never crawl out of this mental and spiritual abyss.

As a Christian and as someone who lives with depression, anxiety, and multiple chronic illnesses, I find my thoughts swirling down the drain so to speak. I have dealt with thoughts of resentment and anger over circumstances while I fumed at myself for putting myself into that situation. I believe Christ has forgiven me of my sins, but I have a hard time letting go of my mistakes.  My inability to forgive myself is my thought struggle. What’s yours? So, what are some practical ways that we can overcome these constant negative thoughts?

Eliminate the “Woulda, Shoulda, Couldas”

As the cliche goes, “Hindsight is twenty twenty.” Ah,the past. “If I know then what I know now, I would have done this.” “I should’ve seen this coming.” “I could have done it differently. We must understand the past is gone. We can’t do anything about it. Doc Brown and his DeLorean aren’t showing up, neither is Doctor Who and the Tardis. We have to cut ourselves some slack here. We made a decision based on the information we had at the time. If we had different information, yes, we probably would have chosen differently, but that’s not the case. We can only go forward from here.

Focus on what you can control

We can’t pick our circumstances. We can’t manipulate people into doing the right thing according to us. We had no control over the country or family into which we were born. The only thing we can choose is how we respond to the events around us. Our responses can help determine how we overcome the obstacles we face. The best way to dealing with events is to look at what is directly in our control and don’t worry about what is not in our control.

Temper your expectations

There are things in life we just expect or assume to be true. For example, we may believe that life should always treat us fairly. We may believe that people should always do the right thing. We may think that if we dedicate our lives to God, then our lives should be free from pain and suffering. If you have lived for any significant amount of time, we know that we cannot live by these assumptions. Life is not fair. People can’t be counted on to do the right thing because some people’s ideas of right and wrong are different from yours. Finally, following God does not guarantee a bed of roses. Jesus said to take up your cross, not exactly an east feat. Tempering your expectations does not mean to walk around hopeless and cynical, but be realistic in how you view the world and people. If we understand that the best laid plans can go awry, then we are better prepared to handle problems as they arise.

This is not a complete list by far, but I hope this helps you throughout your day. God bless.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Power of Acceptance

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Acceptance of what has happened is the first step to overcoming the consequences of any misfortune.” – William James1

It is what it is,” is a popular American saying, which means “accept it because there’s nothing you can do about it.” While in the moment the expression sounds like a cop out of resignation, but within this cliché is a nugget of wisdom.
There is power in acceptance. Acceptance helps you come to terms with what happens in life, no matter if it is death of a loved one, divorce, job loss, or our own looming mortality. Acceptance allows us to grow. For example, I am perfectly fine with the man I am at forty-one and I do not grieve about not being the man I was at twenty-one. I have come to embrace who I am and what I have been through in this life. However, this does not mean that I have liked everything that has happened,but I have used these building blocks of character to form the foundation of who I am today.
Acceptance can also help bring us peace of mind and process life’s events, as my favorite philosopher, Epictetus, put it succinctly: “Don’t demand or expect that events happen as you would wish them to. Accept events as they actually happen. That way peace is possible.”2
In fact, Epictetus put down a good foundation for us to follow concerning the power of acceptance.

Manage your expectations

Circumstances do not rise to meet our expectations. Events happen as they do. People behave as they are. Embrace what you actually get.”3

Be weary of attachments

Open your eyes: Seeing things for what they really are, thereby sparing yourself the pain of false attachments and avoidable devastation. Think about what delights you- the tools on which you depend, the people whom you cherish. But remember that they have their own distinct character, which is quite a separate matter from how we happen to regard them.”4

Attitude goes a long way

When something happens, the only thing in your power is your attitude toward it; you can either accept it or resent it.”5

Manage your perceptions and judgments

What really frightens and dismays us is not external events themselves, but the way in which we think about them. It is not things that disturb us, but our interpretation of their significance. Stop scaring yourself with impetuous notions, with your reactive impressions of the way things are! Things and people are not what we wish them to be nor what they seem to be. They are what they are.”6

Life will never be perfect and as Epictetus pointed out, will turn out according to our expectations. One of the most important lessons I have learned is to be happy with who I am. Don’t waste your time trying to make everyone happy, because you won’t. You are the one who lives this life with your mind, your perceptions, your experiences, your genetic makeup, and the consequences of your choices.Therefore, embrace this life because it is the only life we get. God bless you.

2Epictetus, The Art of Living, A new interpretation by Sharon Lebell. San Francisco: Harper Collins (1994): 15.

3Ibid, 7.

4Ibid, 7.

5Ibid, 7.

6Ibid, 7-8.

Managing Our Anger

Growing up, I was a fan of The Incredible Hulk TV show which starred Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno. In every episode, David Banner (Bill Bixby) would warn somebody, “Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.” However, the time would come when David Banner would reach the point of getting angry and his eyes would change color. The Hulk was going to show up on screen any minute. (As a side note, in the comics, movies, and cartoons, The Incredible Hulk’s alter ego is Bruce Banner. A network executive did not like the name Bruce, thus Bruce Banner became David Banner for the TV show). The Incredible Hulk is essentially a Dr. Jekyll/Mr.Hyde story, where one person has two distinct personalities. Dr. Banner does his best to control the monster inside of him, but he still morphs into The Hulk. The question becomes how well do you control the angry monster inside of you?

Anger, if not kept in check, can be a destructive force. Anger has been the cause of countless wars, acts of violence, broken homes, broken lives, and suffering. If you’ve ever lost your temper, it does not mean you’re a bad person, you’re human. Even the Lord Jesus Christ lost His temper when he overturned the money changer tables in the Temple.

I don’t like who I am when I get angry because I become a totally different person. I lose control and my thoughts race along with my blood pressure. The rational, collected side of me steps away and the reactive emotional side takes over. One of my personality flaws is that I don’t speak out at first and I choose to bottle up the anger. However, when the stress becomes too much, I erupt like a long dormant volcano and my hulking green monster emerges. My wife refers to these episodes as my “Three-to -six month meltdowns.” After these episodes, I am fine for a while.

The Bible does not say “don’t get angry,” it says “In your anger, do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” (Ephesians 4:26-27, NIV). Anger is like a guest who long overstays their welcome in your home. Anger will eat away at you and could turn into bitterness, wrath, and may even make you vengeful towards another person, where you would want to cause them harm.

When you feel the tension rising up, take a step back and examine why you’re angry. Is this situation within your control? Did you just make a poor choice? Are you mad at something someone else did to you or a loved one? Is your anger a result of depression or anxiety? Is this a temporary or long-term situation? Please don’t act on impulse when faced with these situations, but consider that your reaction is perfectly within your control.

I am relying on my faith in Christ and study of Stoic philosophy to help guide me through the depression and anxiety, which are some of the main causes of my getting upset when unfavorable circumstances arise. If we can discover the triggers for our anger, we will be better equipped to deal with those situations.

Even in our technologically advanced modern age, I believe we can still rely on the wisdom of the ancients to guide us on how to manage our anger.

“Do not hasten in your spirit to be angry, for anger rest in the bosom of fools.” (Ecclesiastes 7:9, NKJV).

“He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, And he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.” (Proverbs 16:32, NKJV).

“The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression.” (Proverbs 19:11, NKJV).

In this short video, the Stoic Philosopher Seneca’s viewpoint on anger is examined: Seneca on Anger.

Anger seems to be an expected emotion in our society. Anger is everywhere. In this age of social media, the “angry mob” mentality can quickly to take over when someone does or says something out of line. There is no doubt that people and situations will make us angry, but we don’t have to stay there. Who really wants to be angry all the time? I don’t believe that’s any way to live.

The biggest obstacle to overcoming our anger doesn’t lie within society, but in the space six inches between our ears: our minds. Emotions lie within our will and our will is within our control. Are you listening to or watching a program that causes you to get angry? Don’t listen to it or watch it. Is job-related stress getting to you? You can always change jobs or even careers. Is there someone who stresses you out? You can always change your reaction to that person. Thoughts rushing through your mind? Take the time to journal, relax, pray, meditate, exercise, or maybe enjoy some classical music. You can walk out of the prison of your mind any time you want. God bless you all.

 

 

 

Celiac Disease: One Year Later

This week marked a rather dubious anniversary- it has been a year since my diagnosis of Celiac disease. What is Celiac disease? I had the same question when my gastroenterologist asked me if I had ever been tested for it. Celiac disease is an allergy to gluten, a binding protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. My diagnosis was confirmed through blood work and an endoscopy.

People who are allergic to gluten can suffer from a host of health problems- anemia, inflammation, intestinal issues, fatigue, vitamin, mineral, and calcium deficiencies, among others. Celiac disease can also interact with and complicate other autoimmune disorders, which can make diagnosis tricky. For a more in-depth study of Celiac disease, I recommend the book Celiac Disease: A Hidden Epidemic by Peter H.R. Green and Rory Jones.

My diagnosis was an immediate lifestyle changer. After thirty-nine years of eating what I wanted to, I was forced to give up a lot of the food I enjoyed. Eating out became challenging because I could not order any type of pizza, pasta, pancakes, breaded food, soups, deep fried food, no pies with crust or cakes. Celiac disease forces you to read food labels even closer than before. When you read food labels look for such words as “wheat flour,” “barley,” “rye,” “glutamate,” and the phrase “may contain traces of wheat.” Although you may think a certain food is clear of gluten, it may have been made in a facility where gluten products are made. To be on the safe side, look for “certified gluten free” on the label.

Celiac disease not  only affects you, it affects those around you. When my wife and I are trying to decide where to go for dinner (one of the longest discussions a couple can have), she has to ask “What can you eat there?” When work orders pizza for everyone, you may have to explain why you’re not eating pizza. (You ever notice how people look at you if you aren’t eating pizza?). At certain family meals, the gluten-free food is in a separate dish, which is made known to me and those in attendance.  One of the unexpected upsides is that family members specially bake gluten-free desserts for me, even when it’s not my birthday!

My diagnosis is not all gloom and doom. I still enjoy meats, fruit, vegetables, some cereals, coffee, and dairy products. I have learned to cook with gluten-free flour, which means pancakes and waffles. I can enjoy pizza, it just has to be a gluten free crust. Though I may long for a gluten-filled meal, I just think of the consequences and how I will feel later (tried that already). I just have to think back to my struggle with anemia and it deters me from eating gluten. (For more information on my struggle with anemia, I invite you to read my post, “How Blood Loss Lead to New Life.”) https://triumphantinchrist.wordpress.com/2016/07/31/how-blood-loss-led-to-new-life/

As I reflect on this past year and learning to live with Celiac disease, I do not mourn over the foods I cannot eat, but rejoice at the foods I can eat. I am thankful to be making good progress in my health and I have educated myself much more. In fact, I would consider Celiac disease to be a mixed blessing of sorts because most of the foods I cannot eat were not good for me in the first place. Though this diagnosis changed my life, it will not stop me from living a full life. In my personal journal on this topic, I came across this quote from my favorite philosopher, Epictetus:

“Nothing truly stops you. Nothing truly holds you back. For your own will is always within your control. Sickness may challenge your body. But are you merely your body? Lameness may impede your legs. But you are not merely your legs.? Your will is bigger than your legs. Your will needn’t be affected by an incident unless you let it. Remember this with everything that happens to you.”1

God bless you all.

1Epictetus The Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue Happiness, and Effectiveness, Translated by Sharon Lebell. San Francisco: Harper Collins (1995): 16.

Seek Happiness from Within

Happiness is an inside job. In order to find our happiness, we must shut the door on the clamor that is modern life and seek the peace within ourselves.

Your happiness is squarely on your shoulders. Our happiness is the result of our internal response to external circumstances. Yes, there will be horrible, soul-crushing, darkness which will at times, mask our landscape, but you do not have to stay there. The ancient Greeks had a word, Euthymia, to describe a pleasant, peaceful state of mind. The Stoics, Seneca in particular, preferred the word Tranquility.  The Bible speaks of the peace that transcends all understanding.

In order to bring change to our world, we must do the work ourselves. Don’t look to people, governments, or stuff to make you happy or change your circumstances. Start with you. Seek God’s forgiveness, then make peace with yourself. You can’t change yesterday’s decisions and you can’t worry about tomorrow’s choices. It’s only you and this moment.

Epictetus said, “Regardless of what is going on around you, make the best of what is in your power, and take the rest as it occurs.”

God has equipped all of us, albeit with different talents and skills, but we are all equipped nonetheless. Take the tools you have and build the life you want.

Negative Visualization and Faith

What’s the worst that can happen?” If you ever asked this question, you have been greeted more than likely with being shushed, glares, or heard, “Don’t say that.”

As humans, we do not like to contemplate the worst-case scenario. In fact, we develop a kind of superstition about such questions as “What’s the worst that could happen?” because we have tendency to think that asking such a question is going to invite some heartache or tragedy into our lives.

Although we do not like to mention it, we do take precautions against the worst-case scenario. If we are worried someone would break into our home, we lock our doors and windows, we install a security system, or we may purchase a weapon to protect ourselves in the event of a home invasion. We also purchase homeowner’s or renter’s insurance in the event our home is burglarized or damaged by a fire or disaster. We have health insurance in the event we get sick. We have car insurance in the event our car is wrecked or stolen. We buy life insurance to make sure our family is taken care of in the event of our death.

It is only right and commendable that we take precautions to protect our families and everything we have worked for in our lives. However, what if we were able to contemplate the worst case scenario without living a life crippled by fear and anxiety?

The Stoics practiced what is called negative visualization.

Negative visualization does not mean that we live as a “Gloomy Gus” or “Debbie Downer,” finding the negative in everything, but it teaches us to have peace of mind in the midst of challenging circumstances. Thus, negative visualization can mentally prepare us and lessen the impact of the worst case scenario. This in turn will increase the joy in our lives as we embrace our loved ones and this present moment even more.

According to William B. Irvine, “Negative visualization, in other words, teaches us to embrace whatever life we happen to be living and to extract every bit of delight we can from it. But it simultaneously teaches us to prepare ourselves for changes that will deprive us of the things that delight us. It teaches us, in other words, to enjoy what we have without clinging to it. This in turn means that by practicing negative visualization, we can not only increase our chances of experiencing joy but increase the chance that the joy we experience will be durable, that it will survive changes in our circumstances.”[1]

Someone right now may be raising the objection, “Aren’t we as Christians supposed to have faith that God will protect us?” Yes, we are supposed to have faith, but our faith does not prevent us from experiencing hardships in this life.

“We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22b, NIV).

“Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 2:3, NIV).

“I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NIV).

Thus, by practicing negative visualization, we can still have faith and joy in the midst of circumstances.

Going back to the example of protecting our homes. Let us imagine someone breaks-in to your house and steals your new TV. Naturally, we would be upset about our TV being stolen, but we can take stock of what’s around us. If we were to step back, we could be thankful that we were not physically harmed, our family is safe, our pets are safe, the house is still standing, and the insurance will replace the TV. We have reason to praise God although our TV was stolen.

We can examine terrible situations and still find a reason to rejoice. I have discussed in several posts about my battles with anemia and celiac disease. I was very ill and could have had a fatal heart attack due to the strain the anemia placed on my body. While going through the anemia was difficult, the doctors found out that I have celiac disease. Celiac disease is an allergy to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Patients with celiac disease also experience anemia. I had to make sudden dietary changes, but it worked out for the best because I am no longer anemic. I have my energy back and was blessed with a second chance at life.

I came close to death, but I did not die. I know that one day I will die, but I do not let that stop me from living life. In fact, going through this trial with my health has given the opportunity to be more mindful of the life that is all around me. My faith has been deepened through my experiences because I know that God has allowed me to endure and to overcome these obstacles. If I were to contemplate what would come next, I know I would be able to handle that as well. Maybe you have already experienced a worst-case scenario- whatever that is. You are still standing. You are still here. You have lived through that experience, even though it may be the lowest point of your life. You have the training and strength to get through the next trial. We must not take anyone or anything for granted. Let us be grateful for the present moment. God bless you all.

[1] William B. Irvine, A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy. New York: Oxford University Press. 2009:83.

Seneca, Providence, and Adversity

“Without an antagonist prowess fades away. Its true proportions and capacities come to light only when action proves its endurance. You must know that good men should behave similarly; they must not shrink from hardship and difficulty or complain of fate; they should take whatever befalls in good part and turn it to advantage. The thing that matters is not what you bear but how you bear it.”- Lucius Seneca, “On Providence.”[1]

 

I recently came across this quote and it gave me pause.  The obstacles and challenges of this life seem to converge and overwhelm us at every opportunity. If you have not been challenged in a while, you do not have to go looking for it, it will find you. We should not live in fear of what comes next, but we must draw on the reserve in our spirits and be ready to apply what we have learned from previous tests.

Every great hero needs a great adversary. Could you imagine Batman without The Joker? Luke Skywalker without Darth Vader? Sherlock Holmes without Professor Moriarty? Think of the countless great athletes who managed to step up their game when faced with an equally talented opponent. All of the training, prayer, study, sleepless nights, thinking, crying, frustration, pain, grief, loss, and hurt have come down to this: it is time to prove it to yourself. You cannot worry about what others will think, you must have the confidence in your God-given abilities. God leads us in and shows us the way.

“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13, NIV).

Seneca goes further to describe God’s role in our overcoming adversity:

“God’s attitude to good men is a father’s; his love for them is a manly love. ‘Let them be harassed by toil and sorrow and loss,’ says he, ‘that they may acquire true strength.’”[2]

On the surface, that sounds kind of harsh, but God has His reasons, He wants you to be strengthened and He is working on you to become a battle hardened soldier.

“Pampered bodies grow sluggish through sloth; not work but movement and their own weight exhausts them. Prosperity unbruised cannot endure a single blow, but a man who has been at constant feud with misfortunes acquires a skin calloused by suffering; he yields to no evil and even if he stumbles carries the fight on upon his knee.”[3]

We may never get an explanation in this life as to why something happened. Great thinkers, theologians, and philosophers may never answer the question of “Why do we suffer?” to satisfy everyone. But know, like Esther, you “were born for such a time as this.” I will conclude with a few more quotes from Seneca’s essay, “On Providence.”

“Prosperity can come to the vulgar and to ordinary talents, but to triumph over the disasters and terrors of mortal life is the privilege of the great man.”[4]

“Cruelty presses hardest on the inexperienced; the tender neck chafes at the yoke.”[5]

“The demonstration of courage can never be gentle. Fortune scourges and rends us: we must endure it.”[6]

“No tree stands firm and sturdy if it is not buffeted by constant wind; the very stresses cause it to stiffen and fix its roots firmly. Trees that have grown in a sunny vale are fragile. It is therefore to the advantage of good men, and it enables them to live without fear, to be on terms of intimacy with danger and to bear with serenity a fortune that is ill only to him who bears it ill.”[7]

May the Lord bless you and keep you.

[1] Moses Hadas, The Stoic Philosophy of Seneca. New York: W.W. Norton & Company (1958): 30.

[2] Ibid, 30.

[3] Ibid, 30-31.

[4] Ibid, 36.

[5] Ibid, 37-38.

[6] Ibid, 39.

[7] Ibid, 40.

Book Review- The Art of Living

In a continuing series, I am reviewing and sharing some of the influential books that have helped me on my life’s journey.

Epictetus’ book, The Art of Living, is an incredible philosophical book that gives the reader practical insight on how to live a virtuous life of inner peace, no matter the circumstances we face in life.

Epictetus (55AD-135AD) was a slave who took an interest in philosophy. Epictetus later gained his freedom and became a teacher of Stoicism. Epictetus today is regarded as one of the pillars of Roman Stoicism, along with Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Seneca. The essence of Stoicism is that it is not what happens to you, but how you respond that counts. The Stoics, especially Epictetus, write that we should focus solely on what is in our control and not worry about what is not in our control. You do not have to be a philosophy major to understand Epictetus, as he presents his philosophy in a practical and straightforward manner.

“Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle: Some things are within our control, and some things are not. It is only after you have faced up to this fundamental rule and learned to distinguish between what you can and can’t control that inner tranquility and outer effectiveness become possible.”[1]

Epictetus then distinguishes what is and is not in our control:

“Within our control are our own opinions, aspirations, desires, and the things that repel us. These areas are quite rightly our concern, because they are direct subject to our influence. We always have a choice about the contents and character of our inner lives.”[2]

“Outside our control, however, are such things as what kind of body we have, whether we’re born into wealth or strike it rich, how we are regarded by others, and our status in society. We must remember that those things are externals and are therefore not our concern. Trying to control or to change what we can’t only results in torment.”[3]

Epictetus also stresses the importance of not getting caught up in other peoples’ business and stick with what is our concern because we will not be forced to do anything we do not want to do. Another aspect Epictetus emphasizes is the importance of managing our perceptions, or how we see and interpret events. It is important to gauge these perceptions by what is within our control and what is not in our control.

“From now own, practice saying to everything that appears unpleasant: ‘You are just an appearance and by no means what you appear to be.’ And then thoroughly consider the matter according to the principles just discussed, primarily: Does this appearance concern the things that are within my own control or those that are not? If it concerns anything outside your control, train yourself not to worry about it.”[4]

Other Brilliant Quotes from Epictetus

“Circumstances do not rise to meet our expectations. Events happen as they do. People behave as they are. Embrace what you actually get.”[5]

“It is not so much what you are doing as how you are doing it. When we properly understand and live by this principle, while difficulties will arise- for they are part of the divine order too- inner peace will still be possible.”[6]

“Never depend on the admiration of others. There is no strength in it. Personal merit cannot be derived from an external source.”[7]

“Nothing truly stops you. Nothing truly holds you back. For your own will is always within your control.”[8]

“Every difficulty in life presents us with an opportunity to turn inward and to invoke our own submerged inner resources. The trials we endure can and should introduce us to our strengths.”[9]

“Although we can’t control which roles are assigned to us, it must be our business to act our given role as best as we possibly can and to refrain from complaining about it. Wherever you find yourself and in whatever circumstances, give an impeccable performance.”[10]

The Art of Living has been a very influential book for me as I have journeyed through the last eighteen months of my life. I have learned and applied many aspects of Epictetus’ wisdom to my own life, which has enhanced my faith and navigated me through difficult choices. I have also found parallels in Scripture, which makes this book compatible for Christians as well.

If you truly want to live a happy life, it all starts with you. Be content in all circumstances and realize that everything happens for a reason. We may not know the reason, but we have been assigned this season of our lives. Make the most of it. Focus internally and do not worry about the externals. God bless you.

[1] Epictetus, The Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness. A New Intrepretation by Sharon Lebell. San Francisco: Harper Collins (1995): 3.

[2] Ibid, 3.

[3] Ibid, 3.

[4] Ibid, 5.

[5] Ibid, 7.

[6] Ibid, 9.

[7] Ibid, 12.

[8] Ibid, 16.

[9] Ibid, 17.

[10] Ibid, 24.

Book Review: The Obstacle is the Way

In what I hope will be an ongoing series, I will be reviewing and sharing some of the influential books that have helped me on my life’s journey.

All of us face obstacles in one form or another. Often these obstacles seem to be overwhelming, insurmountable, formidable, and we surrender before we even begin to fight.  However, what if we viewed the obstacle in front of us not as a source of despair, but as an opportunity? In other words, what if we took a perceived disadvantage and used it to advance ourselves? Ryan Holiday explores this thought process in his book, The Obstacle is the Way: The Ancient Art of Turning Adversity into Advantage.

Holiday masterfully combines the principles of Stoic philosophy with profiles of historical and contemporary figures such as John D. Rockefeller, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Thomas Edison, Margaret Thatcher, Steve Jobs, Barack Obama and Nick Saban to name a handful of people who saw opportunity and seized it when others retracted in fear.

Marcus Aurelius’ book Meditations serves as the inspiration for the book. Holiday quotes Aurelius: “Our actions may be impeded…but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”[1]

Holiday expands on these principles throughout the book, but he summarizes what we need to do in order to overcome our obstacles:

“Overcoming obstacles is a discipline of three critical steps. It begins with how we look at our specific problems, our attitude or approach; then the energy and creativity with which we actively break them down and turn them to opportunities; finally, the cultivation and maintenance of an inner will that allows us to handle defeat and difficulty. It’s three interdependent, interconnected, and fluidly contingent disciplines: Perception, Action, and the Will.[2]

Throughout the book, Holiday employs such Stoic principles as negative visualization, which is being able to examine the worst case scenario in any given situation. Negative visualization is not fear or pessimism, but serves as a way for us to adapt and anticipate obstacles that may come our way. Holiday also employs the Stoic mindset of separating what is in our control and what is not in our control. For example, our thoughts, emotions, decisions, attitudes, will, and reactions to events are perfectly within our control. What is not in our control? The Stoics, particularly Epictetus, called these events “externals,” such as what happen to us, our reputation, our property, the economy, the weather, and our overall health. The Stoics also believed that no matter what you do, be the best at it. We must also be mindful of the present moment. There is a process we must follow in order to be successful. If we remain persistent and work at the obstacle, we will find success.

My favorite story in the book is about Thomas Edison. Holiday relays a story that Thomas Edison received word that his factory was on fire. Edison came to the factory and viewed the fire, in which the various chemicals in the building were reacting to the fire, and shot yellow and green flames high into the sky. What was Edison’s reaction to the fire? Did he say, I’m Finished? Did he say, I’m sixty-seven years old and I’m too old to start over? Did Edison rant and rave, scream and have himself a “good old fit?” The story goes that Edison sought and found his son in the massive crowd of onlookers and instructed him to, “Go get your mother and all her friends. They’ll never see a fire like this again.” Edison added, “Don’t worry. It’s all right. We’ve just got rid of a lot of rubbish.”[3] Of course, as prolific of an inventor as Edison was, there wasn’t simply “rubbish” alone that was lost in the fire. Within weeks, the factory was running a partial shift and within a month the factory was back to operating two shifts. Also, Edison and his investors lost quite a bit of money due to the fire, but he was still able to recover and earned back ten times the loss in revenue. What separated Edison’s mindset? Edison simply perceived obstacles not as failures and setbacks, but as discovering the ways something would not work.

Holiday adds, “To do great things, we need to be able to endure tragedy and setbacks. We’ve got to love what we do and all that it entails, good and bad. We have to learn to find joy in every single thing that happens.”[4]

In his book, Holiday admits that taking this approach to adversity is a difficult process, but it can be done with enough hard work and persistence. I highly recommend The Obstacle is the Way to anyone no matter the stage of life. There is great wisdom and perspective that can be gained from this book.

[1] Ryan Holiday, The Obstacle is the Way: The Ancient Art of Turning Adversity into Advantage. London: Profile Books LTD, 2014: XIV.

[2] Ibid: 9.

[3] Ibid: 150-151.

[4] Ibid: 151.