Ah, to rifle through books and papers and rediscover a gem of a book. Or rather, in this case, a printout of but a few pages, stapled at the top, that could so easily have been carelessly tossed to the bin.
I had to stop myself from reading the whole thing this morning - that's how good it is. The kind of book that makes one particularly eager to rise from sleep in the morning. It is the Ἐγχειρίδιον Επικτήτου, the Enchiridion by Epictetus, which you may find here. Oh, to be reunited with a wise text! It is like finding a parent after a hazardous journey, a parent who wants to brush off all the scratches, and make one new again, the best version of oneself.
But I will try to refrain from quoting the work here, because I fear I will end up copying the whole thing out. What I will say is that it is a guidebook for how to live well - remember that once upon a time, Plato professed how to live the Good Life - not a series of empty abstractions. I read last night that the Romantic Idealists were the only ones in the 18th and 19th century to take the Good Life seriously - this was the time when philosophy became the cold, distant subject it is today. Who, in our age, is pursuing the Good Life? Living well is that engaged understanding of self, or as the Enchiridion explains, understanding the limitations of self. Our thoughts, opinions (desires, antipathies) are in our control; what others say of us, what we own, etc, is not. If someone spills wine over us, we are to say, instead of becoming angry: this is a small price to pay for retaining my peace. If one has felt bankrupt enough times by frustration, this will make sense. So we are to question the appearance of each thing that comes our way by asking: is this something within my domain? If it is not, we are not to mind about it. Whether we are poor, crippled, a governor - our task is the same: to do the best with what we are given, what is in our command: our thoughts, pursuits, actions.
Once upon a time, I knew a very worldly and successful photographer. He once surprised me, as we lunched at an incredibly crisp restaurant, by saying that he sometimes envied bartenders or even street sweepers, when their movements appeared to him well-measured and graceful; when it appeared to him that they had found an almost meditative peace in what they were doing. It is not our station, but how we are living our station. And, as promised in the Enchiridion, if we are living the way, we may even choose to turn down riches or power, but if we retain our peace along the way, we may one day be admired. That said, if we covet admiration, it won't be worth the cost.
When I was going through the first part of the text, I realised that some ideas were the same as those in some of my favourite Rumi passages, which in turn are the same as some of my favourite passages in the Tao Te Ching. Perhaps I should write about this one day. In any case, it is my opinion that in the Enchiridion one can find what one was looking for - answers to burning questions: it contains those answers, and more.