​An internal dialogue regarding the impressions of anxiety.



Today I find that my prohairesis is presented with impressions of the physical and mental manifestations of anxiety. Two questions then must follow.

The first: is this impression actually what it reports to be? So I must know what the impression tells me it is. An impression which carries with it the symptoms of anxiety, recommends that some current or future apparent evil exists. In a less technical vocabulary, it presents as if there is or will be some serious threat. So I look at the situation and I asked myself, does there appear to be such a threat? Is the apparent evil a real evil? I’​​m forced to admit that the answer is no to both of these questions. So the impression is not in fact what it reports to be, it is not the thing itself merely an impression of it.

The second question is the following: is this a situation which is in my exclusive jurisdiction? I also find that answer to be no. And looking at the training of the stoics I understand that proto-passions exist, impressions are presented to the ruling faculty, and many of them occur before we have a chance to attach a judgment to them and assent. However, these could be proto-passions, or they could be impressions incorrectly assented to. So either way I’m dealing with something that is not as it appears to be.

The judgment is up to me, and the proto-passion is not.

Let us assume then for the sake of argument, that I am experiencing an internal impression which is presented to me without my assent. In this case my internal state is experiencing something which is more like that of the body as it experiences weather, rather than as the moral will experiences the results of a judgment. Some days, the weather is sunny and pleasant. Some days it is wet and dreary. And yet other days, the weather presents itself as frightful, terrible terrible; and even a threat to living beings. Today my internal weather feels somewhat like this latter one.

But it is the case that this is not fully up to me, it is an aprohairetic thing, and therefore I must determine that it is nothing to me. When the weather is bad, that doesn’t imply that we’ve done something wrong, it doesn’t indicate that we are bad, or in some way responsible or guilty. Today these anxious feelings are similar. I’m experiencing some bad weather, and it is not indicate a fault on my part. Yet, I must take care not to fall into a fault merely because of this context.

So what is my role here? It is to handle these impressions rightly, it is to respond to the situation as presented to me in the best way possible. If we’re playing cards, and we are dealt a bad hand, it does not mean that we are a bad player. Even the very best of players sometimes draw bad hands. How we use that bad hand indicates whether we are a good or bad player, or rather how we play despite it. So today I would like to be a good player, to handle the situation as it is presented to me in accordance with the nature of things. That is my goal, and my recommendation. It is not always pleasant to be dealt the bad hand but it is my game to play, and play well. Sometimes, however, we play from a position of disadvantage.

Additional resources on technical points:

Philosophy amidst the panic


“It is likely that some troubles will befall us; but it is not a present fact. How often has the unexpected happened!
How often has the expected never come to pass! And even though it is ordained to be, what does it avail to run out to meet your suffering?
You will suffer soon enough, when it arrives; so, look forward meanwhile to better things.”

— Seneca, Letter 13

I’ve been holding off writing about this topic, but today I decided it was time to set fingers to keyboard.  Not because I have some revelation to share with you, but because I need to work through this linguistically.  I need to think about it, rationally.  I need to frame it appropriately to my nature, and I need the therapeutics which philosophy brings.  Like many folks, I’ve been experiencing some anxiety due to the on-going COVID-19 pandemic.  I have ameliorated that somewhat, and I’ll tell you how.

I realized I was checking in on the stats almost hourly.  That might be a slight exaggeration, but it was at least a handful of times per day.  I’m an analytical sort, and I like and work with data.  So at first, I didn’t notice anything wrong with this behavior.  However, in retrospect, I see it was a sort of compulsive behavior that wasn’t very helpful to me.

So the first thing that I did was reduce my information intake to once daily or less.  I also restricted the amount of public official video I was watching:  all of them for my country and state, to reading a short review of each of one to be generally apprised.  I also (maybe unfairly) outsourced some of my information consumption to others who were not so affected:  I asked them to give me short summaries when something interesting crossed their transom.

I noticed an immediate reduction in stress.

That being said, the situation is materially quite severe.  While I myself am not in the highest-risk demographic, many others are.  I’ve reframed my “social distancing” and “stay at home” behaviors as a function of my social roles, and also a way of extending Hierocles’ circles of affinity.  I have also set plans to re-start my meditation practice, with some limited success, but I’m working on it.

Epictetus is very right when he says:

“When you relax your attention for a little, do not imagine that you will recover it wherever you wish, but bear this well in mind, that your error of to-day must of necessity put you in a worse position for other occasions.”

— Epictetus, Discourses 4:12.

Re-starting a philosophical practice of any sort is difficult.  It is comforting, even if we’ve drifted away from our progress, to remember that the promises of philosophy are always there, and it is never too late to take up the old cloak and bag.