From Epictetus: (Moral Discourses, Bk 3, Chptr 20)
The title of the chapter is everything: “That We Can Derive Advantage from All External Things”
“This is the rod of Hermes: touch it what you please, as the saying is, and it will be of gold…Bring disease, bring death, bring poverty , bring abuse, bring trial on capital charges: all these things through the rod of Hermes shall be made profitable.”
It remains my goal in my best moments. To believe that I have been placed in a moral gym in which I can train in the production of moral gold. I can convert dead weights into moral gold the same way a weight-lifter converts dead weight into bodily muscle.
The rich man (muscular man) is the man of patience, endurance, calm, temperance, courage, prudence, justice, faithfulness. It would be such a despairing thought were such riches out of our reach. But rejoice!
The ordering of all is such that each is presented with a training ground at anytime anywhere. Where am I? In the gym. Will I lift the weight? Or, just stare at myself in the mirror. Will I lift the weight? Or, just wear the clothes of a weight-lifter. Will I lift the weight? Or, just be spatially and temporally near weight-lifting as if its benefits would rub off on me by proximity.
“But it is heavy.” Yes, this is a sign of its value for training.
“But it hurts.” Yes, this is a sign of its value for training.
“But I am exhausted by the labor.” Yes, you have made an investment, and in that sense it feels like spending, and immediately you have less to spend. But you have not spent frivolously. The returns will come. You will see profit. This is the difference between investment and consumption.
“But I am not seeing progress as fast as I want!” Excellent, an opportunity to train patience.
“But I grow weary.” Excellent, an opportunity to train steadfastness and endurance.
“But I grow bored.” Excellent, an opportunity to train focus on the good even under conditions of distraction.
“But voices in my head provide me with many alternative activities that would be much more pleasant uses of my time.” Excellent, an opportunity to train rejecting immediate pleasure for long-term good. Who doesn’t need training in distinguishing pleasure from good. What a weight to lift! Get to it!
“But…” Let me stop you. The above constitutes a proof of all the riches that are available for your taking. It is enough. I leave you with yourself in the gym of life. You decide. Consider yourself, what you have produced, and what you have done with the opportunities for training. And if you find you have not done well, take heart. The world is your oyster! The weights lie all around.
Try lifting rising earlier in the morning, or disciplined retiring in the evening (the latter necessary for any discipline in the former).
Try lifting limited calorie intake.
Try lifting dealing with an annoying neighbor, friend, brother, self (the latter is the most difficult but the most ready for lifting).
Try lifting contentment with material poverty and discontent with spiritual poverty (I do not say material poverty good, I only say dealing with it well is the weight to lift).
Try lifting less time consuming media that satisfies the most immature part of you.
Try lifting restraint in spending in the area where you know you indulge to your detriment financially.
Try lifting regular attendance at a social club to test the possibility of the benefit of regular social relation.
Try lifting living in calm under an authoritarian legal system that over-criminalizes, under-restores justly to victims of legitimate crimes, punishes savers and rewards spenders.
And on and on and on.
These are heavy weights indeed!