There is a valuable life story by Epictetus and what is great about this storyteller is that he wonderfully balances and applies philosophy to ordinary people. His basic principle focused on “How do I live a happy, fulfilling life? How can I be a good person?” In a past post, I spoke about Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus was his teacher. He lived countless centuries back yet his three aspects, which even apply today, centred around:
• Mastering your desires
• Performing your duties
• Learning to think clearly about yourself and your relations with the larger community of humanity
One of my favorite pieces by Epictetus is where he talked about a young man who would go down to a pond every morning, look in to the depth and leave, only to return the next day. This went on for many years and he grew to be a just, strong and powerful leader. Then one day, he stopped coming. The ground, that this person walked upon, talked to the water and asked, “did you notice the young man who used to come here every morning does not come here any more?…I am the ground and could only feel his presence and it was light and graceful.” To that, the water replied, “what man? I do not recall seeing a man, when did he come by.” The ground was surprised and said, “every day for many years, what do you mean you did not see him.” The water then suddenly realized the tragedy and replied, “Oh my, every morning I had the opportunity to see something but did not realize that it was a man because I was so focused on looking into the depth of the pools of water that were looking at me (the great man’s eyes) and I was just trying to see my own reflection.”
What I appreciate about this story, and beautifully told, is that while this great man used to come down every morning, the pond was so focused on itself and its own vanity, that it missed a tremendous opportunity to see greatness. It is a reminder that we must be able to understand ourselves but not so much that we forget about what is going on around us. There is a balance to be had. I think that if you are so focused externally, you forget what you hold. Equally, if you are so focused internally, you are never really aware of what exists around you and how it might help you in your journey. I think the best way is to look in the mirror and in the reflection, also look at you in your surroundings.
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