Be like the headland…

Marcus Aurelius has a mediation (4.49) related to Epictetus’ ideas of turning adversity to advantage. Rather than complaining about being subjected to trying circumstances, we should consider our good luck that we (thanks to our stoic training) are able to rise above them:

Be like the headland against which the waves continually break, but it stands firm and tames the fury of the water around it. Unhappy am I because this has happened to me. Not so: happy am I, though this has happened to me, because I continue free from pain, neither crushed by the present nor fearing the future. For such a thing as this might have happened to every man; but every man would not have continued to be free from pain on such an occasion. Why then is that rather a misfortune than this a good fortune? … Remember then on
every occasion which leads to vexation to apply this principle: not that this is a misfortune, but that to bear it nobly is good fortune.

NB: I preferĀ “headland” (the Maxwell Staniforth translation) to “promontory” (the George Long tranlsation) .

Making the most of every situation

In Discourse 3.20, Epictetus makes a powerful case that every situation can be turned to our advantage. As always it is a question of recognising that things external to us are neither good not bad:

No-one gives the name of good to the fact that it is day, nor bad to the fact that it is night…

Rather it is the way we react to circumstances that is good or bad. We can always turn a hindrance into a help:

…if a man helps me practice keeping my temper, does he not do good? … “Is my neighbour bad?” Bad to himself, but good to me: he exercises my good disposition, my moderation.