Everyday Stoicism

Last week, while enjoying The Magic Flute, I found myself sitting behind the most fidgety woman I’ve ever seen. In addition to her hair flipping, bottle fumbling, binocular craning, and boyfriend necking (as well as, finally, sleeping), I suffered ringing cell phones, loud ushers seating patrons during the performance, and many other common distractions.

But I was prepared, because I remembered the insights of Epictetus:

When you are going about any action, remind yourself what nature the action is. If you are going to bathe, picture to yourself the things which usually happen in the bath: some people splash the water, some push, some use abusive language, and others steal. Thus you will more safely go about this action if you say to yourself, “I will now go bathe, and keep my own mind in a state conformable to nature.” And in the same manner with regard to every other action. For thus, if any hindrance arises in bathing, you will have it ready to say, “It was not only to bathe that I desired, but to keep my mind in a state conformable to nature; and I will not keep it if I am bothered at things that happen.”

This advice also works quite well at the movies. I consider this passage with many deep breaths at almost every movie I attend.