Sundays are hard for me. Even though I love my job, I’m seized with panic, dread and worry on most Sundays about 3 p.m. This is amplified today because my luxurious and wonderful two-week break is coming to an end and I will begin the stress and pressure of a new semester tomorrow.
This is what happened after I looked at my lesson plans
Because I’m an English major, I thought about re-reading Bartleby the Scrivener by Herman Melville because it features the famous refrain: “I prefer not to.” Which sounds better than the voice in my head wheedling like a toddler, “I don’t waaaaannnntttt to!”
I don’t care if this hoodie makes me look like a conehead
But Melville, while entertaining, didn’t really help me. So, I turned to another book at the site that I’ve known to work wonders on my resistance and worry: The Enchiridion by Epictetus. If you don’t know this slim masterpiece, you should. The epigrammatic structure of the work makes it perfect for those of us who have shortened attention spans and shudder at long blocks of type.
This wasp has more patience than me
Epictetus was born into slavery around A.D. 55 in Phrygia (modern Turkey), then the easternmost lands of the Roman Empire. Because he was such a curious and intelligent boy, his master, Epaphroditus, sent him to Rome to study. He continued to shine and was eventually freed from slavery and began his own teaching career. However, because philosophers and teachers threatened the emperor Domitian, he banished Epictetus to the northwest coast of Greece. Epictetus, much like the honey badger, didn’t let that slow him down. He established a school of Stoicism where he taught how to be virtuous, effective and happy. In his mind, philosophy was most suited to helping ordinary people face life and its inevitable losses, disappointments and sorrow. (Lebell, 1995)
My typical Sunday posture
He begins his work with advice to understand that some things are within our power and some are not and the quicker we understand that basic fact, the more content we’ll be:
Remove [the habit] of aversion, then, from all things that are not within our power, and apply it to things undesirable which are within our power…Where it is practically necessary for you to pursue or avoid anything, do even this with discretion and gentleness and moderation.
In other words, I tell myself, stop resisting the fact that it’s Sunday and that your weekend is over. Face it, but maybe you might want to listen to some jazz or watch an episode of “Parks & Recreation” to make it “gentle” and “moderate.”
“One time I accidentally drank an entire bottle of vinegar. I thought it was terrible wine.”
The most striking advice, echoed throughout many wisdom texts and religious work is one of Epictetus’ best lessons:
Men are disturbed not by things, but by the views which they take of things…Demand not that events should happen as you wish; but wish them to happen as they do happen, and you will go on well.
Which is to say, when I get all crabby it’s because I’ve put my own ideas and desires on the evening and how it should go. And then projecting forward onto Monday and how I’m positive it will be awful and the kids will demand a new teacher. The more I think this, Epictetus says, the more likely I am to become angry and depressed as well as create a self-fulfilling prophecy. If I’ll just accept this minute and the next as it comes, I’ll be happier. Especially if I’m choosing to laugh or do something I know I enjoy.
There’s so much more, but I’m going to crank up some Horace Silver and roast a chicken because cooking to jazz makes me very happy. What about you? What makes you happy? Do that. Embrace the sunset. Listen to your music. Make yourself something nice.
The song that inspired the post’s title:
Lebell, S. (1995). The art of living: The classical manual on virtue, happiness, and effectiveness. New York: HarperOne.
Un Dimanche Apres-Midi a L’Ile de la Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat
Statue of a sleeping child (Creative Commons/Google Images)
Flickr’s Akos Varadi
Wikimedia Commons’ Ida Waugh