Simple Stoic Advice

On Impediments and Wills

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

The beautiful thing about Stoic philosophy is the advice contained within it is just as applicable today as it was when it was first written all those many years ago. We can learn a great deal from interpreting the advice provided and using it to our advantage as we go throughout our own lives.

Today’s quote comes to us courtesy of Epictetus in his Enchiridion, entry nine (translation from How to be Free):


“Sickness is an impediment to the body, but not to the will unless the will wants to be impeded. Lameness is an impediment to the leg, but not to the will. If you tell yourself this at every occurrence, you will find the impediment is to something else but not to yourself.”


There is a story found in the writings of Origen that is meant to show how Epictetus became lame. It has been documented that at some point in his life, Epictetus had a problem with his leg and could no longer walk normally. Origen narrates a harrowing story of how Epictetus’ master (Epictetus was a slave for almost half of his life) sought to torture Epictetus through the twisting of his leg.

Origen recounts that Epictetus’ master, grabbing him by the leg, began twisting in an effort to cause Epictetus pain:

“If you keep twisting,” Epictetus is said to have spoken to his master, “you will break my leg.” Upon hearing this, the master twisted more until the leg broke. Epictetus is said to have remained calm and stated to his master: “Did I not tell you so?”

The idea that we cannot allow our bodies to dictate our mind is a theme amongst Stoicism. What Epictetus is attempting to teach his students in the above passage is that we have the ability to choose what we do. There will always be things in our way attempting to prevent us from reaching our goals. We do not have full control of our fates, but we do have the ability to hold ourselves accountable to the actions we take in the circumstances we are faced with.

Marcus Aurelius wrote to himself in Meditations:

“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

We choose how we proceed in life. We choose if we allow our bodies to dictate what we can do. We choose whether the obstacle before us is a setback or a time to learn and grow.

To see a current day version of using your mind over your body’s limitations, see Kyle Maynard and his assent of Mount Kilimanjaro.

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