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This is a beautiful essay, Massimo. You touch upon so many core concepts of living. Your differing experiences of your parents’ passing, hopefully, hold blessed gifts that have enriched you by gaining wisdom. Naturally, my condolences to you and praise that being Stoic with your mother passing still seems to convey feeling from your heart as you write about it. In other words, your feeling of loss (that is, your emotion and heartfelt feelings) were not forfeited when you acted stoically.

As for the rest of the essay, I recall as a teenager how I wanted to “own” moments with my first love. There was us and the universe--only two entities--and we were the greater as the universe served us. I knew I couldn’t stop time or keep repeating the moment. Not only was that an absurd desire in terms of physics, but if it were possible to capture, or repeat, the moment itself would alter in its essence. When I was fourteen I told my friends (who still quote me today 😊), “You never can recapture magic moments.” All I was saying was to be cognizant of the moments as they happen. The hard part, though, is to feel heightened joy through appreciation of the moments then to be anxious, and melancholy, that they will be end. I had this problem throughout life. Never fully appreciating great moments. Talk about being tightly wound. 🙄

Humans struggle with loss, but Stoic practice and use of our intelligence may be the best method to steer our way and to contentedly cope.

An aside: I had dinner at my friend’s Mom’s house on Long Island last September and she gave me perfectly ripened figs from her backyard tree in Valley Stream. They were so delicious and I wasn’t even aware of their timing. Sometimes we gain wisdom in reverse; and that isn’t a problem as long as we are gaining. 😊

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Thanks Mike, for both the condolences and the kind words. Yes, good moments in life cannot be captured or repeated. But awareness and mindfulness allow us to savor them.

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Dec 3, 2022Liked by Massimo Pigliucci

It's better late than never: As I get older (64) I find myself thinking more and more of my own and my loved ones mortality. In my younger years such things would never cross my mind. I try my best to reflect on the words of Epictetus as often as I can as I know that it is so easy to be complacent and forget my own mortality. I like Seneca's comments about the foolish forgetfulness of mortality. So true..... thankyou

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You mentioned Robin Waterfield's translation of the Discourses as the one you prefer. Unless I was mistaken, didn't you recommend Robin Hard's translation elsewhere? Either way, is there an advantage of one over the other for you?

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David, yes, the Hard translation is very good. But I think the Waterfield one is better, both in terms of how it renders the text and, especially, because of the copious annotations, which really provide the reader with the necessary historical and philosophical background to understand Epictetus.

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Hi Massimo. Thank you for this new newsletter. The fig example is perhaps linked to the biblical episode of the cursing of the fig tree? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cursing_of_the_fig_tree

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Ivo, actually the two episodes are independent, as far as I can tell. I wrote about the comparison here: https://medium.com/stoicism-philosophy-as-a-way-of-life/epictetus-vs-jesus-on-figs-the-difference-between-philosophy-and-religion-3f47939375d1

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Thank you for the link. I vaguely remembered that I had read a comparison, but I wasn't sure ;-)

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Dan, first off, thanks for following me here!

You ask a good question. I think the Stoics are right that we are what we think (and, consequently, how we act). I'm with the Buddhist when they deny that there is any deeper, unchanging essence to being human.

Of course, if we change our minds about major things--say, racism--then in a sense we are significantly different persons. If we change our minds about minor things, like our favorite flavor of gelato, not so much.

It is all a continuum, and all a process of becoming. Most importantly, for Stoics like Epictetus, it is the only thing that is truly up to us.

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I did not mean to imply that the Buddhist and Stoic views are identical, only that there are similarities, particularly when it comes to denying any deeper reality of human existence. No permanent self or soul for the Buddhists, a soul made of matter that perishes with the body for the Stoics.

I disagree, however, that the Stoics think that we are beings who are thoughts. They are perfectly aware of the body and its importance, and they are not dualists. But a limited sub-portion of our thoughts--the conscious, deliberate ones--are the only thing that is truly up to us. Not even our body's health is. Therefore, in an important sense, who we really are coincides with those thoughts. Because other aspects of both our mental and physical lives are not under our control.

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