As I said yesterday, my first real attempt at reading this Letter and putting it into practice was a couple of months ago during my second (but first known to me) gout flare up.
“The reason, however, why the inexperienced are impatient when their bodies suffer is, that they have not accustomed themselves to be contented in spirit. They have been closely associated with the body. Therefore a high-minded and sensible man divorces soul from body, and dwells much with the better or divine part, and only as far as he must with this complaining and frail portion.”
There is a despising of the body present in Epictetus which is not found in earlier Stoic texts. It’s a pretty serious change to my mind. Generally, my understanding, is that the ancient perspective was not really of two things mind-body, but a sort of mixing of the two. Each equally important, but different. In Epictetus we start to see a shift away from that. Maybe that’s just him, or maybe it’s trend towards the modern perspective.
Either way, the idea is clearly easier for we moderns to grok, since our society today is firmly Cartesian, even if some scientists argue the mind is no more than an epiphenomenon of networked cells.
“…to fast, to feel thirst and hunger.” These are indeed serious when one first abstains from them. Later the desire dies down, because the appetites themselves which lead to desire are wearied and forsake us; then the stomach becomes petulant, then the food which we craved before becomes hateful. Our very wants die away. But there is no bitterness in doing without that which you have ceased to desire.”
I’m seeing this myself with the appropriately named Camp Seneca. The first day of one meal a day was mildly difficult, but as the days go on (we’re on Day 5 at the time of this writing), the twinges of the body are less and less as it becomes accustomed to the new regime.
“Pain is slight if opinion has added nothing to it; but if, on the other hand, you begin to encourage yourself and say, “It is nothing, – a trifling matter at most; keep a stout heart and it will soon cease”; then in thinking it slight, you will make it slight. Everything depends on opinion; ambition, luxury, greed, hark back to opinion. It is according to opinion that we suffer.”
This where training and preconceptions come into play. We might have convinced ourselves that we’ve eliminated or changed the way we think about a thing, and then the universe plops into our laps a swelling of the joints so painful the weight of the body itself or a even a sheet seems too much to bear. Then we get the reality check.
“[E]very one adds much to his own ills, and tells lies to himself.”