How to be Free - Epictetus + A.A. Long

How to be Free - Epictetus + A.A. Long

Video Book Summary

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Book Summary Notes

How to Be Free

“How to be free? Is it a question or an exclamation, a political manifesto or a longing to go native, an aspiration for autonomy or the route to emancipation from bondage? This book presents an ancient Greek philosopher’s take on freedom— freedom construed as living in agreement with nature, owning and ruling oneself, becoming a world citizen, desiring always and only what you are assured of getting—and much more. Epictetus (AD 55-135), our author and guide to the Stoic life, was born a slave (his Greek name means ‘acquired’), and entered service as a slave in the household of Epaphroditus, a power broker in Nero’s Rome,and himself a freedman."

"By the time Epictetus publicly delivered his thoughts on freedom, he had enjoyed many years of manumission, but the experience of slavery left its mark on his philosophy through and through. The first lesson of the Encheiridion, his handbook guide to Stoicism, insists that everything that is truly our own doing is naturally free, unimpeded, and unconstrained."

"Freedom, according to this notion, is neither legal status nor opportunity to move around at liberty. It is the mental orientation of persons who are impervious to frustration or disappointment because their wants and decisions depend on themselves and involve nothing that they cannot deliver to themselves.”

First we must know what freedom means..

Epictetus' name literally translates to acquired! 

Growing up as a slave in ancient Rome sure must teach you a thing or two about freedom. 

That's why I think Epictetus (through the lense of A.A. Long) is such a great teacher!

But we're not studying about slavery or that type of freedom today..  

Today we're studying about a type of freedom that we all still desire to this day!

Freedom from frustration and disappointment.

The passage says 'wants and decisions depend on themselves and involve nothing they cannot deliver to themselves' 

That's really what freedom is all about..  Self reliance! 

This book really brings to life Stoic philosophy in a tangible and usable way!  I know you'll love it.


“The chief constraint on personal freedom in ancient Greece and Rome was what Epictetus knew first hand, the social practice and indignity of slavery." 

"It was slavery, the condition of being literally owned and made to serve at another’s behest that gave ancient freedom its intensely positive value and emotional charge. Slaves’ bodily movements during their waking lives were strictly constrained by their masters’ wishes and by the menial functions they were required to perform."

"But slaves, like everyone else, had minds, and minds as well as bodies are subject to freedom and constraint. You can be externally free and internally a slave, controlled by psychological masters in the form of disabling desires and passions and cravings. Conversely, you could be outwardly obstructed or even in literal bondage but internally free from frustration and disharmony, so free in fact that you found yourself in charge of your own well-being, lacking little or nothing that you could not provide for yourself. The latter, in essence, is the freedom that Epictetus, the ancient Stoic philosopher, made the central theme of his teaching.”

Externally free but internally a slave..  That's powerful. 

Most of us know what it's like to be internally a slave..

  • Controlled by desires, passions and cravings! 
  • Perhaps this is the case more now than even when Epictetus walked this earth..  
  • The goal of this text is to take us from internal slavery into internal freedom!

A good place to start is to actually ask in a practical sense is 'what am I a slave too?'

Most of us know..  Things like; sugar, digital media and wealth have a hold on us more than any slave master could. 

But let's take some time and explore yours a little deeper..  Write down three things that have a hold on you that you want freedom from (more on HOW later)!






Sugar has a hold on me that I resolve to work on..  It's not like I'm addicted but I do find myself struggling at times. 

Digital Media is something so ubiquitous it feels like I might just be normal..  But sometimes I check in on emails when I could just enjoy the experience I am currently having. 

Wealth and success are a cruel master..  One that seems so normal in society it's almost blasphemy to say otherwise.  This is an easy trap for me to fall into. 

Can I tell you an interesting phenomenon I've noticed?

Most of the time people join me for coaching sessions for one of the following things..  

  • Getting more productive
  • Starting or growing a business
  • Cultivating their ability to learn

Time after time..  I help them with these things!  But almost without fail we notice something..

When (after we're successful) I ask them what's next they almost never know!  Then I ask well..  Why did we set out to accomplish what we accomplished? 

Almost never can they give me a reason..  So we start to explore internally. 

Time after time we notice that they wanted to accomplish one of these things because it's an ingrained desire..  

What if I ask..  Nothing was wrong in the first place?  That is the journey we're on today.  

Quick note: I after this breakthrough I always play the song 'Nothing is Wrong - Mike Posner' after these sessions.  


“Epictetus can come across as heavy-handed and severe. But his purpose, as a teacher, was to show his students how to make progress towards the Stoic goal and not just settle for being ordinary

"He was well aware that acting consistently on the system of values I have outlined would be a counsel of perfection and even beyond himself. His focus is not on heroic achievement but approximating to it, trying it out on situations that typically trouble people and undermine their performance in every day life.”

Life isn't about perfection it's about progress.. 

None of us watching this video want to settle for being ordinary.. 

  • But what does that cost?  Often people who are looking to achieve something great with their lives can be the hardest on themselves..  
  • Does that sound like freedom?  No.  It sounds like you've changed masters (to yourself). 

This is something I can struggle with at times and I don't think it's uncommon.. 

  • When I set out to do something I often don't accomplish it!  (Some of these things are outside of our control). 
  • Instead of immediately learning and growing form the experience I can easily fall into a funk..  Not allowing myself to see the progress I've made only the perfection I have failed to achieve!

Three Stoic Journalling Questions..

  • These are three Stoic journalling questions that I ask myself every-night to try and combat the perfectionist inside of myself. 
  • First I ask: What went wrong today? (The mind loves to find these and it's easy). 
  • Next I ask: What went right today? (This is often harder because we don't remember these as well). 
  • Finally I ask: How do I plan to have a better tomorrow? (Shifting towards progress vs. perfection). 


“As a book title, encheiridion was not Arrian’s invention. The Greek word cheir is literally a little thing for carrying in the hand."

"The word had been previously used by an Epicurean philosopher to describe a ‘handy’ collection of subject matter. In choosing the word encheiridion for his compendium of Epictetus, Arrian’s meaning can be largely conveyed by ‘handbook’ or ‘manual,’ but I prefer to keep the Greek word.

"In its earliest usage encheiridion refers to a hand-knife or dagger. Arrian may have wished to suggest that connotation of the work’s defensive or protective function. It fits his admonition at the beginning and end of the text to keep Epictetus’s message ‘to hand’ (procheiron). In obvious imitation, Erasmus in 1501 published a work in Latin with the title Encheiridion militas Christiani (A Christian Soldier’s Manual).”

This book isn't meant to be studied it's meant to be used!

This is one of the reasons I am so in love with the Stoic Philosophy.. 

  • Instead of non-practical or theoretical texts full of studies or experiments they are full of real world actions!
  • This book was literally meant to be a handbook for people attempting to live up to the Stoic ideal!

Does that mean we should print it out and have it with us at all times?  No..  

  • But I don't think it's a bad ideal to use it as a manual..  
  • Maybe you're dealing with something difficult at work: dive into the Stoic texts and ask 'how might Epictetus have dealt with this?'

Actually I think this is a very good exercise for us to get into..  Building our own handbooks!  

  • I believe that most of the things we struggle with in life are a repetition of something that has likely happened multiple times in the past..  
  • What if you wrote yourself a guide in dealing with those things (through a journalling practice)?

Try something like this:

  • Today I felt __________________ and when I felt that I tried __________________ that was very helpful (or that sucked).  
  • Then write that as a model on a separate piece of paper or in a note somewhere that you can check back in on!

Some Things

“Some things in the world are up to us, while others are not."  

"Up to us are our faculties of judgment, motivation, desire, and aversion—in short, everything that is our own doing.

"Not up to us are our body and property, our reputations, and our official positions—in short, everything that is not our own doing."

"Moreover, the things up to us are naturally free, unimpeded, and unconstrained, while the things not up to us are powerless, servile, impeded, and not our own." 

"Keep this in mind then: if you think things naturally servile are free and that things not our own are ours, you will be frustrated, pained, and troubled, and you will find fault with gods and men. But if you think you own only what is yours, and that you do not own what is not yours, as you really don’t, no one will ever put pressure on you, no one will impede you, you will not reproach anyone, you will not blame anyone, you will not do a single thing reluctantly, and no one will harm you, you will have no enemy, because nothing harmful will happen to you.”

This is really the first rule of Stoicism..

The Stoics believe that we should only pay attention to that which is inside our control!

  • Thoughts
  • Actions

The Stoics believe just as strongly that we shouldn't give attention to that which isn't in our control..

  • Thoughts of others
  • Actions of others
  • Basically everything!

Think back to a time when you were angry or frustrated..  What did you focus on?  Or what were you focusing on?

  • Almost certainly you were focused on a hardship put on your by someone or something outside of yourself..  
  • Leaving you taking no responsibility for your thoughts, actions or response..  
  • How does this serve you?  Answer is: it doesn't if you want to live a life of freedom

First Decide

“Do you want to win at the Olympics? I do too, of course, because it’s a splendid thing." 

"But examine the project from start to finish, and only go in for it after that. You must train, keep a strict diet, stay off pastries, submit to a regular exercise regime each day, summer or winter, drink no cold water and no wine except at appropriate times; in other words, you have to surrender yourself to the trainer just as you would to your doctor."

"When you have thought about this, go and compete if you still want to. But if you don’t think first, you will be acting like children who play at wrestling for a while, then at being gladiators, then trumpeters, and then stage performers. That’s what you are like too, now an athlete, next a gladiator, then an orator, now a philosopher but nothing in your self as a whole."

"You are like a monkey mimicking whatever you see, as one thing after another takes your fancy. You haven’t pursued anything with due consideration or after thorough review; you mess about and don’t put your heart into things.”

Do you 'never stick to anything' and beat yourself up for it?  Welcome to the club..  Epictetus shows us why!

When we set out to do something why do we do it? 

  • Often it's because we see someone else in a position we might like to be in..  One of success, wealth or accolade. 
  • We think that it would be nice to be where they are!  (And of course it would).  

But here is what we don't think about! 

  • All the work it takes to get to that spot.. 
  • Plus all the work it takes just to stay there..  
  • This causes us to recoil (and choose a different path) when we find out that whatever we've chosen takes work! 

This exact process 'ruined' my life until I learned this lessons..  

  • I would skip from one thing to another each time with a little bit of success..  But never achieving my full potential!
  • Why?  Because I didn't think the whole situation through. 

Note: At the time I thought it was because I wasn't good enough and this is a very common thought.  Although not true. 

  • Now I ask myself this before I set out to do something. 
  • Given that I am going to commit myself fully to this..  Given then I am going to have to endure hardships because of it..  Is this goal worthy of me?


“Study the powers that you have, and then say: ‘Bring on now, O Zeus, whatever circumstance you like; for I have the equipment and resources, bestowed on me by yourself, to distinguish myself by means of the things that come to pass.’ No! You sit trembling for fear of what may happen, weeping, wailing, and groaning over what actually is happening, and then you put the blame on the gods; for the feebleness that you display amounts to nothing short of impiety."

"Yet God has not only given us these powers as the means for us to bear everything that happens without being humiliated and crushed by them, he has also, like a good king and a true father, given them without impediment or constraint or hindrance. He has made them entirely up to us, without reserving even for himself any power to impede or hinder. Since you have these powers free and entirely your own, why don’t you put them to use and take cognizance of what gifts you have received and from what donor you have received them instead of sitting grief-stricken and groaning?”


Instead of worrying about what fate might become of us..  Why not invite the challenges god sets in front of us?

  • We only get one chance at this life..  Why not spend our time overcoming all that god has to offer?
  • Things are going to be hard..  But were you sent here just to stay in your warm bed? 

How do we deal with obstacles? 

  • Note them and name them
  • Then 'shout' BRING IT ON (Zeus)
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