“Are you not ashamed of being more cowardly…
“…How often did you boast that you could face death at any rate with a quiet mind!”
Will you realize once for all that it is not death that is the source of all man’s evils, and of a mean and cowardly spirit, but rather the fear of death? Against this fear then I would have you discipline yourself; to this let all your reasonings, your lectures, and your trainings be directed; and then you will know that only so do men achieve their freedom. ~Epictetus
The headline and quote, above, are from the opening line of The Discourses of Epictetus, Chapter XXVI To Those Who Fear Want. Epictetus had, as do all philosophers, a lot to teach us.
But I’m not mining for nuggets in his discourse so much as from the mythology surrounding the manner of his death. For Epictetus was also the same philosopher who is said to have leapt into a burning volcano to prove immortality.
Instead of the blazing god who was supposed to emerge as the new, improved (immortal?) Epictetus, the volcano just spit out a pair of sandals. The story goes that, posthumously, Epictetus’ followers dismissed him as a fraud.
On the surface, you could see the moral of the story as correlative to our own times: what if the followers of Epictetus didn’t wait to see if the god would emerge and just followed blindly? Could Epictetus have been a predecessor of the modern cult leader found in all strata of society–religious, political, motivational, entertainment–who takes his own philosophy a little too seriously at the peril of himself and his followers?
Who are your followers, and what do you tell them?
Metaphorically, your followers are your knee-jerk thoughts, feeling, emotions – your ego’s well educated reactions to the news and the edification of that news for you as uncertain and calamitous times. Will you take back the control from those who tell you how you should process the events of our times?
Live fully and fearlessly in the moment, or throw yourself ignobly into the volcano pretending to be fearless. It’s your choice.
So perhaps the real moral here can be as Zen as the idea that life’s ideal purpose is living as if what you have to say or do is what endures, despite your battle with human fears of failure or death. Would this testament be every bit as glorious as the belief that you can escape this life alive? Your life of personal integrity, your values lived boldly are the golden sandals of immortality you leave behind, followers be damned.