Stephen Whitmore

Know Thyself

2018-02-09 11:41:55

It’s difficult to express in words, but I’ve been feeling a growing sense of knowing myself. It’s like what I thought to be “confidence”, but… deeper? Like a tree with very deep roots, there’s a sense of unshakability. The winds will come, but as I know myself more deeply and respect that self, the winds of change seem less daunting.

Buddhism actually has a notion called The Four Worldly Winds that follow this exact metaphor. The four winds are:

They’re called winds because they can blow freely in either direction, and, like the wind, are largely arbitrary-seeming and, fundamentally out of our control.

And yet we affix our worth and happiness to them. This connects well with Epictetus’ notion in stoicism of distinguishing between external and internal control. He writes

In life our first job is this, to divide and distinguish things into two categories: externals I cannot control, but the choices I make with regard to them I do control. Where will I find good and bad? In me, in my choices.

But how do we distinguish the two? Epictetus stands ever at the ready:

Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions.

The things in our control are by nature free, unrestrained, unhindered; but those not in our control are weak, slavish, restrained, belonging to others.

Remember, then, that if you suppose that things which are slavish by nature are also free, and that what belongs to others is your own, then you will be hindered. You will lament, you will be disturbed, and you will find fault both with gods and men. But if you suppose that only to be your own which is your own, and what belongs to others such as it really is, then no one will ever compel you or restrain you. Further, you will find fault with no one or accuse no one. You will do nothing against your will. No one will hurt you, you will have no enemies, and you not be harmed.

By clinging to the outcome of external events, we suffer. By focusing on what we can control we can at least find some amount of solidity to work with the actual reality that we face in each moment.

Slowly coming to learn myself over the last year and a half of this journey, I feel like I’m starting to feel a definite shift. The road stretches yet infinitely long in the horizon, but today I feel like my roots reach just a bit deeper than before, and I stand just a bit firmer than before.

I feel ready for whatever comes next.