Episode One Hundred Forty-One - Proclaiming Epicurus To The World: Diogenes of Oinoanda (Part One)

  • the whole "tranquility problem"

    See, I don't see this as a problem at all. I'm more and more thinking ataraxia is more akin to mindfulness as an adequate translation than "tranquility." Tranquility conjures up mystical mind states (not that mindfulness doesn't nowadays, but bear with me), but mindfulness is a way of interacting with daily life.

  • Instead of tranquility or mindfulness, how about clear-mindedness and ease...lots of other possibilities?


    Mindfulness sometimes could end up being too focused inward or on inner sensations.

  • Mindfulness sometimes could end up being too focused inward or on inner sensations.

    I don't think so. In listening to Siegel's audiobook, I'm seeing mindfulness as a way of interacting with everyday experience, not something that comes and goes or has a singular focus or is something someone "does" but rather how they experience their lives (while practicing the skill to make it more readily available in everyday life). This page from Positive Psychology sort of gets at where I'm beginning to come from:

    What Is Mindfulness? Definition + Benefits (Incl. Psychology)
    What mindfulness is, how it originated & why it has become so popular.
    positivepsychology.com

    Quote

    According to the American Psychological Association (APA.org, 2012), mindfulness is:


    “…a moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience without judgment. In this sense, mindfulness is a state and not a trait. While it might be promoted by certain practices or activities, such as meditation, it is not equivalent to or synonymous with them.”


    As we can see, mindfulness is a state that can be brought on through practice. It’s not static, nor are some people ‘born more mindful’ than others. It involves awareness, and impartiality about what we gain from this awareness. In an age of social media, where opinions, likes, and commentary are more than forthcoming, it’s easy to see how non-judgmental reflection can be a welcome change.

    and later

    Quote

    Cambridge Dictionary


    “[Mindfulness is] the practice of being aware of your body, mind, and feelings in the present moment, thought to create a feeling of calm.” (Emphasis added)

    This idea of a grounded, calm awareness from which to clear-headedly (is that a word?) assess what is happening to you to better decide what to pursue and what to reject seems - to me - to be why Epicurus would lay just emphasis on "that which neither pains the body nor troubles the mind" (Menoikeus, 131) and on "the health of the body and... the tranquility of the mind" (Menoikeus, 128)

  • As I understand it, mindfulness practice begins with building your concentration, typically through sitting quietly and focusing on an object (typically your breath). The thing to figure out before anything else is how you can sit most comfortably, preferably with an upright but relaxed spine. As for what you do once you're settled, everybody uses the word "curiosity", which drives me nuts due to its overuse. What I find happening when I do this meditation is that, in order to keep my mind from wandering and to not go crazy, I need to find something interesting to observe about my breathing while I'm sitting there. For instance what part of my breath am I consciously controlling and what part is unconscious, or maybe what is happening at specific places in my body.


    Further, this practice isn't necessarily tranquil: all sorts of mental and physical stuff can happen while you're sitting there. This is part of the point however, because often this is stuff that needs to be sorted out in order to make positive choices and avoidances for leading your most pleasant life. As your concentration improves and you can focus on what's coming up, you eventually can arrive at useful insights about these things.


    I have found, however, that I do often come away with the pleasures of feeling more relaxed, yet energetic, after I "have a sit" for 20 minutes. Tranquility is a pleasant, potential byproduct of mindfulness but it's not the goal, it's not the process and, depending on the situation it's not always possible. But I'm finding that the practice can be useful for Epicurean living.

  • Thanks for sharing that, Godfrey. It sounds like you've found one way to get at making sound choices and rejections.

    Tranquility is a pleasant, potential byproduct of mindfulness but it's not the goal, it's not the process and, depending on the situation it's not always possible. But I'm finding that the practice can be useful for Epicurean living.

    See, that's where using the word "tranquility" presents issues. I'd like to emphasize that using that word sets up several hurdles to overcome in really integrating ataraxia and aponia in one's life (to even better experience joy and other daily pleasures).

    To me, Epicurus is calling us to be more "mindful" of - to be more aware of, to pay attention to - the pleasure that surrounds us every day all the time. As references, I'd cite:


    **His reminder that "bread and water" can bring as much pleasure as a luxurious meal if we're hungry. Don't miss the pleasure of a simple basic everyday meal.


    **To laugh and administer our household affairs at the same time as we expound our love and practice of wisdom.


    **"Meditate day and night then on this and similar things by yourself as well as together with those like yourself. And never, neither awake nor in sleep, throw yourself into confusion, and you will live as a god among humans; because no person who lives among eternal pleasures is like a mortal being."


    We miss SO many pleasurable experiences if we're distracted, anxious, worried, angry, selfish, friendless, dishonorable, unjust, etc. That's what being mindful means! Pay attention to what's happening to you and stop being distracted. The pathē - the "feelings" - are literally in the Greek "what is happening to you."


    Mindfulness is NOT the *act* of meditating. Mindfulness can grow out of meditation (in various forms) but mindfulness (itself a loaded term these days) is also NOT something special, or something one sets time aside for. It is fully paying attention to our daily lives, to truly experience what is happening without being distracted. Meditation - including working to memorize the Principal Doctrines or deeply studying a particular text or even reliving the details of a pleasant memory - is one way to strengthen that attention, but the *goal* is to carry that ability to pay attention throughout one's day and one's life. We are constantly distracted, tossed about on waves of anxiety, by planning for this or by regretting that or by instantly being angered by some perceived slight and wallowing in our self-righteous indignation. Calming *those* waves is what I interpret ataraxia and aponia to mean. There are studies that show mindfulness can help even with chronic pain management which gets at the aponia of that equation. That's the daily experience of "tranquility" - a pleasure in and of itself - I think that Epicurus is pointing his students toward. That's how we can rival the gods, by paying attention to the pleasure, the joyful experiences, that surround us in everyday life. We don't have to strive and struggle and work *for* pleasure. It surrounds us in our everyday experiences IF we just pay attention and calm the waves that toss our little boat around the sea.

    (Note: I need to admit I'm only recently coming around to this perspective after thinking about Epicurus's philosophy these past several years, but it's the one that resonates with me. And I am NOT in any way shape or form a paragon or epitome of ataraxia, mindfulness, or anything else. But... I can see the value in it for trying to lead a more pleasurable life, so I'm going to try to integrate it into my life a little at a time.)


    Edit: in thinking more about this this morning, I want to add that my understanding of mindfulness is that it is not passivity. It's not being a doormat and passively "taking what comes" in a fatalistic attitude. It's NOT Stoically accepting fate. If someone or something is going to harm you, it's being aware of the danger and acting skillfully to avoid or confront the danger. Not panicking, not "losing it." If something makes you angry, to be aware of the "sting" of anger but not to get carried away by it but to skillfully work with it and not get swept away in rage and do something you'll regret. All that, to me, equates with having a calm mind, allowing one to skillfully and wisely make choices of what to avoid and what to pursue.

  • For the record, I don't *think* I'm being syncretic or building some "cafeteria-style" Epicureanism in having this perspective. Mindfulness is not native to any one culture. It is not some esoteric spiritual thing. Research in secular settings has shown its applicability separated from any one tradition. "Flavors" of it show up in any number of traditions and cultures, both Eastern and Western. And I think it's inherent in human nature, just suppressed, ignored, or not encouraged. And I find evidence for it in the extant texts as I mentioned above as a sample.

    I didn't mean that to sound as defensive as it does btw :) but there you go.

    (Steps off soapbox)

  • The Wikipedia article on ataraxia describes it, in part, as “a lucid state of robust equanimity” – apparently drawing on Adrian Kuzminski’s book on Pyrrhonism.


    This seems closer to Don’s mindfulness than some passive tranquility. I wonder if equanimity could be a better one-word translation? Or just calm mindfulness?

  • This seems closer to Don’s mindfulness than some passive tranquility. I wonder if equanimity could be a better one-word translation? Or just calm mindfulness?

    I agree with the substance of what I am reading in these posts but I am not sure that "mindfulness" is of much help given the noted looseness of that term. And of course I continue to think that using untranslated Greek words also is of little help. For the time being it seems to me to be most clear if we try to describe as precisely as we can what we are saying, even if it takes a number of words to do that. Words like attention and focus and clearheadness such as are being used in the descriptions are much more clear without implying something with a "woo" factor that is desirable to avoid.

  • For the time being it seems to me to be most clear if we try to describe as precisely as we can what we are saying, even if it takes a number of words to do that

    Yep, generally agree with your post. And the excerpt here is exactly what I'm trying to do. :)

  • Episode 141 - The Inscription of Diogenes of Oinoanda (Part One) is now available!


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  • Well done, yet again!


    I particularly enjoyed Joshua 's comments about the inscription being a bit weird, and wondering how his contemporaries reacted to it. It also strikes me as being rather "idiosyncratic": who is the person that took it upon himself to do this, and what did the locals make of it? Regardless, it's a great resource.


    It's also interesting to me that it was constructed as late as it was, I just assumed that by that time it EP had been Latinized. Also interesting that it's in Ionia, the heart of so much materialist thought.

  • I always appreciate your editing Cassius, and this week it was driven home to me when I listened to both the raw audio and, just now, the finished work. The process is transformative, and I thank you for it!

  • You are very welcome Joshua! I put a lot of effort into the editing but I think the result is worth it. These episodes aren't meant just for us or just for now - I am hoping that they will be listened to for years to come as new people get introduced to Epicurus and look for a friendly and supportive presentation of the philosophy.