We seek freedom as a blind man seeks his keys. Consequently, it is not strange that we end up entangled in a fruitless search, doomed to failure in advance, without realizing that what we seek on the outside is within us. Without realizing that external freedom is neither more nor less than the extent to which we have managed to conquer internal freedom, to paraphrase Gandhi.
The Stoics can give us an incredible lesson in freedom to this one, in particular Epictetus, who for part of his life was a slave in Rome. For the philosopher, true freedom does not only mean getting rid of the shackles of society, its norms and pressures to which we are subjected by others, but freeing ourselves from the shackles that we sometimes self-impose. And this is a concept that now, more than ever, we should internalize.
Apatheia: the freedom that comes from equanimity
Apatheia is, for the Stoics, the mental state we reach when we free ourselves from emotional alterations; that is, when we are able to manage our passions and emotions in such a way that they do not generate the desire for things beyond our control.
It is not a question of assuming an indifferent attitude towards the world or succumbing to apathy, but of reaching a state of equanimity in which we have reached the necessary wisdom to differentiate between what we can and what we cannot change, what is in our own. hands and what eludes us, what is worth fighting for and what we should let go of.
If we are unable to make this differentiation and attach ourselves to things beyond our control, we will end up enslaved by our emotions and desires, condemned to needlessly suffer because we can do little to change the course of events.
Seneca gave us an example that echoes in all of us for its emotional strength: "If you want your children, your wife and the people you love to live forever, you are stupid: because you want what you cannot control to be under your control and that what belongs to others belongs to you ".
In fact, the philosopher thought that if we desire and depend on things that control others, we also run the risk of becoming their slaves. If our self-esteem depends on the acceptance of those around us, we are chained to them. If we let the roulette of destiny mix our emotions, we are also his slaves. The way to achieve true freedom, therefore, would be to get rid of these attachments and desires.
“The owner of one is the one who has the power to grant him or take away from him what he wants or does not want. Those who want to be free should not want anything or avoid anything controlled by others. Otherwise, he will be forced to be their slave ”, thought Epictetus.
The mind as the starting point of freedom
The Stoics thought that the only thing we are sure we can control is our mind. In his Enchiridion, Epitetto states that we have the power to generate our own inner peace and that no one else can give us that tranquility, only we can achieve it. The path is obviously not easy.
But we can start by accepting that there are many things we cannot control. So instead of unnecessarily wasting energy fueling those desires, we can redirect that force to what we can control.
Epictetus explains how our way of approaching things can make us freer or, on the contrary, make us worry and suffer more than necessary: "Illness is an impediment for the body, but not for the power to choose, unless you choose. like this. Being lame is an impediment to the leg, but not to the power to choose. You have to apply this to everything that happens to you, because you will find that anything is an impediment to something else, but not to you ”.
Epictetus knew very well what he was talking about as he himself was lame, apparently from birth. Hence, his words are not theory but practice. He was convinced that external events will only have the power that we give them. If we become attached to something and cannot change it, we will end up suffering, caught in a self-destructive cycle.
If we shift our attention, that miracle occurs in which nothing changes, but everything changes for us. He explains: “Regarding everything that happens to you, remember to focus your attention on yourself and find out what ability will help you cope with it. If you go through hard work, you will encounter resistance. If they scold you, you will meet tolerance. In this way, if you get used to it, appearances will not lead you astray ”.
It is therefore a question of finding the right quality or ability to balance events, even the most negative ones, so that they do not alter our inner peace too much or even become an opportunity to take another step towards true freedom.
“Whenever something disturbs us, upsets us or troubles us, we should not blame others, but ourselves; that is, our own opinions. An immature person reproaches others for the harm that happens to him; a person who has begun to mature scolds himself; but a mature person does not reproach the other or himself ".
When you reach that degree of maturity, you can enjoy the apatheia revered by the Stoics, the one that grants us the most important freedom of all: inner freedom.