4 min read

Trust The Cosmic Perspective

Enchiridion Chapter 31/53: In this lesson from Epictetus, we explore the utility of having the cosmic perspective of life over the egoic perspective.
Trust The Cosmic Perspective
Philosophy in antiquity was an exercise practiced at each instant. It invites us to concentrate on each instant of life, to become aware of the infinite value of each present moment, once we have replaced it within the perspective of the cosmos. The exercise of wisdom entails a cosmic dimension. Whereas the average person has lost touch with the world, and does not see the world qua world, but rather treats the world as a means of satisfying his desires, the sage never ceases to have the whole constantly present to mind. He thinks and acts within a cosmic perspective. He has the feeling of a whole which goes beyond the limits of his individuality.

— Pierre Hadot

You are a byproduct of nature. The fact that you can read these words, think for yourself, and make decisions is truly mind-blowing.

As human beings, we can try and understand how nature works, and we can put labels on its functions and systems, but we must also accept that we are a creation of nature. And in that sense, nature is a higher power, a force that supersedes us as individuals. Nature was here before us and will be here after us.

From the cosmic perspective, it makes no sense for us—the very creations of nature—to criticize and complain about the thing that gave birth to us and gave us the ability to think and reason in the first place.

The unfolding of nature is the very thing that brought you here and gave you every ability you have.

If anything had been even slightly different over the billions of years before your conception, you would not have made it into existence.

The wise person trusts in the mysterious unfolding of nature because to do anything else would be to fight against what could be no other way than what is.

Stop Labelling Externals "Good" And "Bad"

Why do many of us lose trust in the cosmic perspective and blame nature for our troubles?  

If we label external outcomes as being "good" or "bad" and then we fail to get what we want or get what we don't want, we develop a mistrust of nature. It's like we are personifying the external world as a parent who is not delivering us the things we want, then throwing a tantrum when our needs are not met. We can think of this as the "egoic perspective."

When we recognize the key insight that the externals are not within our control, it stops making sense to label them as good or bad.

Are the laws of physics "good" or "bad"? How about photosynthesis? Or gravity? These are just aspects of nature, not within our control. We know that they have no inherent human goodness or badness from a cosmic perspective, yet we ascribe these adjectives to worldly affairs (local nature).

Instead, what we should label "good" or "bad" are the things that are within our control such as our conscious judgments, intentions, and values. The rest is not our concern.

The Way Things Are

Being mature means you understand the way things are instead of fighting and complaining that they are not the way you wish them to be.

It is natural for biological creatures to run from pain and seek out joy. Like all animals, if we are faced with a fall from a great height or an ambush by a predator, we do what is necessary to survive.

But as human beings, we have been gifted with something no other animal has: reason. And we can use this reasoning ability to find the correct perspective to live from as well as sort through what is truly good, bad, or indifferent with reason.

So when we don't get what we want from our parents, or we don't make the money we want in our jobs, or we lose the things that we enjoy, we don't have to blame nature for these things because we don't consider these outcomes to be truly good or bad.

In some sense, labeling these things "good" or "bad" is bad because our opinions are under our control and that is an incorrect view. Instead, we can live from the cosmic perspective where we trust nature, of which we are an integral part, and seek to play our role as well as possible, focusing on what is within our control.

If you start adopting this view and begin to live from the cosmic perspective, realize that not everyone will think in the same way as you. Don't admonish people who label the externals as good or bad or spend their energy lamenting over things outside of their control. Instead, be sympathetic to their worldview (not trying to change them which is outside of your control) and focus on your part.

In Summary

Most of the things that most of us call "good" or "bad" are just indifferent. Neither intrinsically good nor bad but indifferent. And they are outside of our control, which means that to lament over them is a waste of our precious resources.

Instead, what is good is a virtue (justice, courage, discipline, wisdom). And what is bad is vice (irrationality, anger, impatience, incorrect thinking, etc.), and for the most part, our virtue is within our control because it stems from our considered opinions and judgments.

When we label externals as good or bad and complain about them like a child who doesn't get their toy, we cast blame on nature itself, not seeing that nature is so far beyond us, far too complex to cast value judgments on, and most importantly the very thing that we are part of and all other life too.

It's within our power to switch to the cosmic perspective and see our lives and externals from a place of trust in nature, rather than as a competitor to it. When we do this, we will see things closer to what they are, and reduce our suffering.