The foremost lesson of philosophy should be the lesson of perspective. When I say perspective, I mean the different interpretation of events that can be given from viewing the matter from different vantage points.
What we think is a product of our relative position to an issue.
You say to me, how oppressed I am with earthly worries and anxieties. I can barely continue in my day-to-day struggle. I feel overwhelmed by the brutality and iniquity of the world.
But imagine yourself in an experience of astral projection. You are outside the earth, among the stars, looking down on the little revolving globe that you call your home. How quaint and puny it now seems. How unimportant, when considered against the vastness of all creation.
What do your worries look like now?
Look at the earth. See how the polar caps on the earth render much of it uninhabitable. See the flicking lights, indicating cities, and see how the majority of the globe’s surface is composed of watery regions that man was never meant to inhabit.
Of what use is your quest for money and fame now? Will your fame even linger for one day beyond your death, when we consider the uncounted millions who will come after you?
Who now can even point to the mausoleum of Alexander the Great, though he once bestrode the world?
Who can now point to the remains of Hannibal, the architect of some of the greatest military feats in history?
Or perhaps it is death you are afraid of? How can you be afraid of death? You have no recollection or memory of events that happened before you were born, so why would you care what happens after you die?
These very questions were discussed in Cicero’s essay The Dream of Scipio. My translation of this work will appear very soon with the publication of Stoic Paradoxes. The Dream is probably the first and most brilliant literary example of astral projection in the Western tradition.
Reading and translating this essay set my imagination soaring.
In a nocturnal dream, the narrator of the essay, Scipio the Younger, is transported among the stars, and taught by his elder namesake the immortality of the soul, and the ultimate futility of all human vanity:
So if you despair of returning to this place, in which all outstanding and accomplished men are found, of what value to these men is your idea of glory, which can hardly last for even a small part of a single year? Therefore, if you wish to look on high and ponder this eternal home and residence, you will neither surrender to the whisperings of the common mob, nor place your hopes in human rewards for your ambitions. By its own allurements, virtue itself ought to carry you to true glory. What others say of you, they may really believe; but they will say it in any case. All of this gossip is confined to this narrow region, which you see here. And never was the glory of any man permanent. It was overwhelmed by oblivion, and extinguished by the indifference of posterity.
Our redemption lies in the knowledge that we are gods, each one of us, and we will live forever through the force of our own souls. The Elder Scipio counsels the Younger in the following way:
Yes, you must exert yourself forward. Know that only your body is mortal, not you yourself. You are not this form taken by your body, but rather, you are the mind contained within it. You are not some random shape that can be pointed at with an index finger. Know, then, that you are a god, if god is a being which feels, is vigorous, remembers, provides, rules, controls, and moves the physical body which it is put in charge of. It is analogous to how God on high is the ruler of the physical world. Just as this same eternal God moves the world, of which some part is mortal, so an imperishable spirit moves this fragile body of ours.
What things are important to us now, here in this world? How can we free ourselves from oppressive cares, passions, and anxieties?
We must learn to focus on other things. We must condition our minds and souls, through unrelenting discipline and correct living, to make certain beliefs a part of our internal programming. Some of these beliefs are:
- We are only one organism among many. Our cares swim in a sea of cares held by others, all of them of equal potency to ours.
- Glimpse the universe that exists inside your mind, wherein lies a limitless expanse of riches.
- Learn to endure adversity with a cheerful disposition, recognizing that Fortune balances out rewards and punishments over time.
- Learn how to make your own game with Fortune, and not just wait for it to play games with you. You are an active participant in the drama of life. You are not a passive spectator.
- Do not allow corrosive or evil thoughts to enter your mind. Learn to divert your attention with other activities that are beneficial and elevating.
- Evil thoughts have a way of fixing themselves in the mind if they are not eradicated quickly. Do not indulge your fears or evil thoughts, as they will grow stronger and infect your conscience.
- Learn to study nature intensely. To learn the workings of the world is to feel the heartbeat of the Divine Mind. The very act of focusing on the concerns of other organisms will act as a relief and comfort to the turbulent mind.
- We must train our minds to disconnect from the mad and frenzied circuitry that is the essence of modern life. Man now is conditioned by the media to be overwhelmed with false cares, hopes, stimulations, worries, and absurdities. We must disconnect this switch that manipulates us on a thousand harmful ways, every day.
If we can internalize these lessons, and act on them with conviction, we can begin to undertake the removal of our slave-chains. These are the chains of anxiety, emotional upheaval, and fear.
Hear them rattle; they criss-cross our limbs, inhibiting our very movement.
Our minds hold the key to their removal. We need only the conviction to unlock its hidden potential.
Read More: Seeking Peace Of Mind: A Letter