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When The Obstacle Is The Way

Updated: Aug 21, 2021


There was once a 3rd century BC merchant known as Zeno of Citium who, after being shipwrecked made his way to Athens whereupon he came across a bookshop and began reading the work of Socrates. When Zeno wrote, ‘I made a prosperous voyage when I was shipwrecked’, he showed that he believed that a seemingly catastrophic event had actually helped him to find purpose in his life.

Zeno re-framed the way in which he viewed his situation and despite the fact that he could have lost his life and did lose his possessions and business, Zeno was able to adjust his perspective and forge a new path.

Zeno, (who has a crater on the Moon named after him, such is his influence) subsequently devoted his life to teaching from a porch, or stoa and became the founder of the philosophical school known as Stoicism.

His shipwreck became his opportunity and the point at which his life re-started with meaning. Zeno believed that much of human suffering originates from thoughts and fears about longing for things and worrying about losing the things people already possessed.

He advised against chasing and clinging to people and objects as he thought that we should perceive everything and everyone in our lives as impermanent. Once we have accepted this, we may then be liberated from the self-imposed enslavement to our passions, possessions or emotions.

Zeno influenced the Stoic philosophers, Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, former slave: Epictetus, and playwright: Seneca who all advised that we should focus only on the things that we can control, namely our thoughts.

External events will occur that have the capacity to upset, derail and destroy us…. but only if we allow them to. Marcus Aurelius wrote, ‘You have power over your mind, not outside events – realise this and you will find your strength’.

The gripping idea here is that the power to change the thoughts in your head is in your control.

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