“The soul is like a bowl of water, and our impressions are like the ray of light falling upon the water. When the water is troubled, it appears that the light itself is moved too, but it isn’t. So when a person loses their composure it isn’t their skills and virtues that are troubled, but the spirit in which they exist, and when that spirit calms down so do those things.”EPICTETUS, DISCOURSES, 3.3.20-22
When you get upset or fall off the wagon in some way, it might feel like the very foundations are trembling. Perhaps you slip in your daily practice, or make a mistake, or don’t follow what you know to be true and good for a little bit — you might think that the whole system is breaking down. You might think that your ability to do what’s right has withered away. You start believing that everything is screwed up forever.
It’s not, of course, and you know this intuitively but it helps to be reminded. When your soul is troubled, the truth remains steady. Philosophy is not dependent upon individuals’ accurate or faithful interpretation and execution — it’s just true all the time, regardless of whether the bowl of water which is your soul (see Epictetus’ analogy above) is turbulent or calm.
The system hasn’t broken down. The truth is still the truth. Daily practice will still work, and it will still bring you peace — and you’ll learn how to become steady over time.
In this immediate moment, however, you might feel broken down. And that’s okay too. Just hit the restart button and give it another go. You’ll be fine! And keep reading The Daily Stoic 🙂