A Firm Grasp on Reason - The Ruling Centre
Reason is what defines us as humans; it is what makes us
unique and separates us from other sentient life on this planet.
In myths and legends across the world, reason belonged to the
Gods and was bequeathed on humanity often through the
theft of fire.
Fire is an apt metaphor for reason; it banishes the darkness
and allows us to see clearly.
Reason allows us to think through and overcome obstacles,
not be overwhelmed by them. Reason allows to appreciate
what we do have, without dwelling on what we do not. Reason
tells us to hold our tongue. Reason faces up to and examines
situations and circumstances. It gives everything its true worth.
Reason shows us the small mouse behind the large shadow.
Everyday life seeks to rob us of our reason, rob us of who we
are; we cannot allow this to happen.
We are pulled by impulse, blinded by passion, anger, anxiety,
greed and every vice in between seeking to control our mind,
to extinguish that divine fire we call reason.
Keeping a firm grasp on it means to keep a firm grasp on ourselves; if we fail to keep our reason we can end up being overwhelmed by destructive emotions such as anger, jealousyrage, therefore, making mistakes and saying things we will regret. No longer are we focused on what is in our control but complain and grieve over things which we cannot.
Sadly we neglect our reason all too often, and if we do utilise it, we tend to abuse it rather than value its purpose. We act emotionally and illogically, using reason to justify why we did what we did or said what we said.
In Epictetus's handbook we are told: ‘If someone handed over your body to somebody whom you encountered, you’d be furious; but that you hand over your mind to anyone who comes along, so that, if he abuses you, it becomes disturbed and confused, do you feel no shame in that.
Keeping a grasp on reason is no small task, but it is imperative as it is a matter of being sane or mad.
The Stoics also talk of the ruling centre; think of this as the throne of your mind. Who sits on it? Reason and rationality? Or emotion and impulse. Is the ruling centre guarded by virtue or occupied by vice?
There are many techniques and exercises to help cultivate reason and guard over your mind.
Self examination (know thyself) , preparing for evils (premeditatio malorum), allowing death (memento mori), to put life into perspective, the love of fate (amor fati) and accepting your lot or having maxims at the ready to deal with what may come your way. All these exercises work together to help you keep a firm grasp on your reason, to ensure that your ruling centre is one of a rational being.
Reason is the light that will guide you along the path of virtue - protect cultivate it until it becomes a blazing fire.
The first step to grasping reason is seeing clearly, knowing what is and is not in your control.
Suspending judgements and seeing situations for what they truly are.
A short story example:
A mob drags a man before a judge. They demand the man be punished immediately, no trial, no hearing but instant punishment. Each person in the mob calls our what punishment they want the judge to administer. The hapless individual on the floor hasn’t had chance to speak, to explain. The judge doesn’t even know what has happened.
Imagine the judge as your ruling centre, the mob is made up of people called, anger, hatred, irrationality, vengeance and vice.
The person before you is a situation or circumstance. Our base emotions will constantly try to dictate how we react to events in life, often without thinking. The rational judge, however, will not give in to the mob; they will suspend judgement until they know the truth of the situation. They will examine it methodically, strip it back and only decide on an action when confident that the verdict is one in line with reason and the response that is accurate and proportionate to the situation.
In the uproar and calamity of life, you must learn not to yield to the mob, but to become the judge of reason.
Questions and exercises to get you started
What maxims do I have at hand to help me keep a firm grasp on reason? (For times of both hardship and pleasure).
When situations start to overwhelm me,
Do I strip it bare?
Do I see the naked truth underneath the clothes of deceit?
To every impression, emotion and impulse, do I examine and test them for their worth?
Or merely yield to them?
Quotes to inspire
Those whose bodies are in good condition can endure both heat and cold; and so likewise, those whose souls are in fine condition can endure anger, greed and every other emotion - Epictetus.
Doctors keep their instruments at hand for any case. So must we keep our mediations and maxims ready. - Marcus Aurelius.
Can what happens stop me from being just, high minded, self controlled temperate or free? - Marcus Aurelius.
Enough! You have endured countless miseries because you have not allowed your ruling centre to play the part it was meant too. - Marcus Aurelius.
Realise at last that you have something more powerful and more divine within you than the things that give rise to your passions and set you moving like a puppet - Marcus Aurelius.