the captain of my soul

the captain of my soul

“So what Epictetus was telling his students was that there can be no such thing as being the ‘victim’ of another. You can only be a ‘victim of yourself.’ It’s all in how you discipline your mind.”

― James B. Stockdale, Courage Under Fire

James Bond Stockdale, one of the American prisoners of war in Vietnam, endured unimaginable torture and brutality. He lived for years enduring intense pain, both physical and emotional. His only solace were the teachings of Epictetus that stopped him from being broken and envision a life of sanity again. In those dark years, in spite of the various attempts of the interrogators to generate shame, fear and guilt, Stockdale had only one focus: to control his emotions and not give in to them.

Our emotions are our own and we have absolute voluntary control over them. And if we face situations where we don’t have any control, we have to adapt. We cannot take responsibility for what happens around us, but we can cast around us an invisible shield so that we protect our emotions. If we give up control over our emotions, we become powerless and that’s when we experience a true defeat. Stockdale made a valid point that the notions of good and evil only exist within our hearts and what gives them meaning is within our will and our power. As the last verse of Ernest Henley’s poem Invictus goes:

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishment the scroll,

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.