To you all you have appears small; to me all I have appears great. – Epictetus
What does that mean?
This is an interesting quote, as he was born a Roman slave. He learned from an early age that he would not be permitted nice things nor would he have abundance.
Rather than become bitter, he learned to curb his appetite and appreciate what little he had. And that is what he considers the best and most proper course of action.
While others around him, slave and master alike, complained about their lot in live, he filled his world with what he had.
To make his point, the quote continues about a child trying to get a fist full of things out of a narrow necked jar. If the fist is too full, you can’t get any out.
Why is letting go of desire important?
We all know people who will never be happy. No matter what they have, get or are given, they believe they should have more. But like the child with their fist closed around their greatest desire, they cannot get what they want. Not until they let go, until they decide they can do with a little less.
Yet we still shove our hands in the narrow neck of the cookie jar and try to get a handful out. We want, we desire, we covet, we wish for, and yet, the harder we try, the less we get. And to add to the frustration, the person over there who keeps pulling what we want out! How do they do it?
Those who are modest in their desires, they can take one or two out at a time, and quickly they have far more than you do. But that only makes you want it more. But to get what you want, you only have to want it a little less, or a little less right now. You can go back for more later, right?
As we let go of our desire, we find that a few things slip through our fingers. But now our hand is small enough to draw out those few remaining things. Now we can enjoy what we were once unable to have. This can be applied to other parts of our lives, not just the cookie jar, right? You don’t have to have it all, right?
Where can I apply this in my life?
We all have desires which are unfulfilled. The question is what do we do about them? Some obsess about what they cannot have. Stalkers would be one particularly creepy example of such a mindset. They can’t have that person in their lives, so all else that they have appears small to them.
Yet if they could let go of that obsession (yes, I understand that most of them cannot easily let go), they could see what they did have in a different light, and realize they have quite a lot. They might still want more, but (hopefully) they wouldn’t resort to stalking to try to get it.
The same often goes for those who steal or rob to get what they want. Whether they think it will make things more fair, or just because they want one, they are acting on their desire in an a poorly thought through manner. But if they could let go of that desire, even a little bit, their lives could change for the better.
When I was younger, I thought money would be the solution to all my problems. I even worked multiple jobs to try to get more happiness. But somehow, all I ended up with is a pile of junk, a pile of receipts, and no time to play with any of it. I have learned to not grab for so much money, and to enjoy what I already have that much more.
We all have some stuff, and we all have something more that we think would be nice to have. If we can keep some perspective, we could more easily let go of the things of which we are overly desirous, and better enjoy what we do have. It is largely a question of will (or won’t), and changing our focus.
We can focus on what we do not have, or we can focus on what we do have. That is the specific statement of the quote. All you see is what you don’t have, so what is there appears small, and you are unhappy. All I see is what I do have, so what is there appears great, and I am content and perhaps even a little happy.
If we can learn to let go of our desires, or at least relax them somewhat, we can have some of what we want. If that appears too small, perhaps we should rethink our priorities. What we have is usually enough to survive. Yes we want more, but are we going about it the right way, or are we just making ourselves unhappy?
What will you do today to reduce one of your desires, and strive to make do with what you have? What will you do to help yourself let go of the mentality of scarcity and embrace the mindset of abundance?