If you think you’ve got to have something, and you don’t get it, you’re miserable. If you think you’ve got to avoid something, and you wind up in the middle of it anyway, you’re miserable. That’s what happens, sooner or later, when you want something or want to avoid something. If the only things you try to avoid are things that really are under your own control, then you’ll never have to take what you wanted to avoid. But if you try to avoid illness or poverty or death, you’re bound to be miserable, sooner or later. So stop trying to avoid things you have no power to keep out of your life. Avoid instead the undesirable attitudes that are within your power to shun.
For now, put all desires on the shelf. If you pursue what you can’t control, you’ll be disappointed. And you don’t yet understand the things you can control that will be appropriate for you to pursue later.
As daily life requires simple selections and refusals of you, perform these gently and moderately, not desperately; go easy.
Remember that the promise of desire is the attainment of what you desire, that of aversion is not to fall into what is avoided, and that he who fails in his desire is unfortunate, while he who falls into what he would avoid experiences misfortune. If, then, you avoid only what is unnatural among those things which are under your control, you will fall into none of the things which you avoid; but if you try to avoid disease, or death, or poverty, you will experience misfortune. Withdraw, therefore, your aversion from all the matters that are not under our control, and transfer it to what is unnatural among those which are under our control. But for the time being remove utterly your desire; for if you desire some one of the things that are not under our control you are bound to be unfortunate; and, at the same time, not one of the things that are under our control, which it would be excellent for you to desire, is within your grasp. But employ only choice and refusal, and these too but lightly, and with reservations, and without straining.
Remember that the will to get promises attainment of what you will, and the will to avoid promises escape from what you avoid; and he who fails to get what he wills is unfortunate, and he who does not escape what he wills to avoid is miserable. If then you try to avoid only what is unnatural in the region within your control, you will escape from all that you avoid; but if you try to avoid disease or death or poverty you will be miserable.
Therefore let your will to avoid have no concern with what is not in man’s power; direct it only to things in man’s power that are contrary to nature. But for the moment you must utterly remove the will to get; for if you will to get something not in man’s power you are bound to be unfortunate; while none of the things in man’s power that you could honourably will to get is yet within your reach. Impulse to act and not to act, these are your concern; yet exercise them gently and without strain, and provisionally.
Remember that desire contains in it the profession (hope) of obtaining that which you desire; and the profession (hope) in aversion (turning from a thing) is that you will not fall into that which you attempt to avoid: and he who fails in his desire is unfortunate; and he who falls into that which he would avoid, is unhappy. If then you attempt to avoid only the things contrary to nature which are within your power, you will not be involved in any of the things which you would avoid. But if you attempt to avoid disease or death or poverty, you will be unhappy. Take away, then, aversion from all things which are not in our power, and transfer it to the things contrary to nature which are in our power. But destroy desire completely for the present. For if you desire anything which is not in our power, you must be unfortunate: but of the things in our power, and which it would be good to desire, nothing yet is before you. But employ only the power of moving toward an object and retiring from it; and these powers indeed only slightly and with exceptions and with remission.
Remember that desire announces the aim of attaining the thing desired, and aversion that of not falling into the thing shunned; and that to miss what you desire is unfortunate, but it is misfortune to fall into what you shun, But you can never fall into anything that you shun, if you will shun only things contrary to Nature which lie within your power: but if you shun disease, or death, or poverty, you will have misfortune, Withdraw then your aversion from those things that do not depend upon ourselves, and place it upon those things contrary to Nature which do depend upon ourselves,
And let desire, for the present, be utterly effaced; for if you are desiring something of the kind that does not depend upon ourselves, it must needs be that you miscarry,and of the things that do depend upon ourselves, of such as you may fairly desire, none are yet open to you. Use therefore only [tentative] advances and withdrawals, and that but lightly, and with exception, and indifferently.
Remember that desire demands the attainment of that of which you are desirous; and aversion demands the avoidance of that to which you are averse; that he who fails of the object of his desires is disappointed; and he who incurs the object of his aversion is wretched. If, then, you shun only those undesirable things which you can control, you will never incur anything which you shun; but if you shun sickness, or death, or poverty, you will run the risk of wretchedness. Remove [the habit of] aversion, then, from all things that are not within our power, and apply it to things undesirable, which are within our power. But for the present altogether restrain desire; for if you desire any of the things not within our own power, you must necessarily be disappointed; and you are not yet secure of those which are within our power, and so are legitimate objects of desire. Where it is practically necessary for you to pursue or avoid anything, do even this with discretion, and gentleness, and moderation.
Remember that following desire promises the attainment of that of which you are desirous; and aversion promises the avoiding that to which you are averse. However, he who fails to obtain the object of his desire is disappointed, and he who incurs the object of his aversion wretched. If, then, you confine your aversion to those objects only which are contrary to the natural use of your faculties, which you have in your own control, you will never incur anything to which you are averse. But if you are averse to sickness, or death, or poverty, you will be wretched. Remove aversion, then, from all things that are not in our control, and transfer it to things contrary to the nature of what is in our control. But, for the present, totally suppress desire: for, if you desire any of the things which are not in your own control, you must necessarily be disappointed; and of those which are, and which it would be laudable to desire, nothing is yet in your possession. Use only the appropriate actions of pursuit and avoidance; and even these lightly, and with gentleness and reservation.
Μέμνησο, ὅτι ὀρέξεως ἐπαγγελία ἐπιτυχία, οὗ ὀρέγῃ, ἐκκλίσεως ἐπαγγελία τὸ μὴ περιπεσεῖν ἐκείνῳ, ὃ ἐκκλίνεται, καὶ ὁ μὲν ἐν ὀρέξει ἀποτυγχάνων ἀτυχής, ὁ δὲ ἐν ἐκκλίσει περιπίπτων δυστυχής. ἂν μὲν οὖν μόνα ἐκκλίνῃς τὰ παρὰ φύσιν τῶν ἐπὶ σοί, οὐδενί, ὧν ἐκκλίνεις, περιπεσῇ: νόσον δ’ ἂν ἐκκλίνῃς ἢ θάνατον ἢ πενίαν, δυστυχήσεις.
ἆρον οὖν τὴν ἔκκλισιν ἀπὸ πάντων τῶν οὐκ ἐφ’ ἡμῖν καὶ μετάθες ἐπὶ τὰ παρὰ φύσιν τῶν ἐφ’ ἡμῖν. τὴν ὄρεξιν δὲ παντελῶς ἐπὶ τοῦ παρόντος ἄνελε: ἄν τε γὰρ ὀρέγῃ τῶν οὐκ ἐφ’ ἡμῖν τινος, ἀτυχεῖν ἀνάγκη τῶν τε ἐφ’ ἡμῖν, ὅσων ὀρέγεσθαι καλὸν ἄν, οὐδὲν οὐδέπω σοι πάρεστι. μόνῳ δὲ τῷ ὁρμᾶν καὶ ἀφορμᾶν χρῶ, κούφως μέντοι καὶ μεθ’ ὑπεξαιρέσεως καὶ ἀνειμένως.