Enchiridion by Epictetus, chapter 3 – Your favorite cup may break


With regard to whatever objects give you delight, are useful, or are deeply loved, remember to tell yourself of what general nature they are, beginning from the most insignificant things. If, for example, you are fond of a specific ceramic cup, remind yourself that it is only ceramic cups in general of which you are fond. Then, if it breaks, you will not be disturbed. If you kiss your child, or your wife, say that you only kiss things which are human, and thus you will not be disturbed if either of them dies.

So far, this one has been the hardest for me in Enchiridion.  I accept it as being true and necessary to understand, yet would like to reject it.

Apply this idea to your favourite coffee-mug, or your car, or even your house, and you will find that “nah, it’s not hard at all, I can be philosophical about this”.

Apply it to the most important people in your life, and you may find that you’d like to negotiate with the Fate. Yet, this is how it is.

The nature of coffee-mugs is that they sometimes go to pieces when the take a hard contact with another item. The error may happen and when it does, the mug might break. Give it enough time and enough service-hours, and it is likely to happen.

The nature of fortune is that “shit happens”. Give it enough time and opportunities, some shit will happen. To expect anything else is foolish. Prepare yourself, the best you can.

The third chapter of Enchiridion is short, but short does not mean easy!

Here is where it gets difficult.

The nature of humans is that they die; sickness, old age and death.

  • The first one may come to anyone anytime,
  • The second is reserved for those who are lucky enough to make it so far
  • The last one is for everyone.

That means also the ones you love the most. That means eventually you too. Every relationship you have, must come to an end, in one way or another.

The teaching here is not that you shouldn’t love or have a favourite mug or that you shouldn’t have “objects that give you delight”,  but it does include a serious warning. Do not set yourself up for an extra catastrophe by expecting the reality to be different than it is.

Take your chances and enjoy what you have and do not take anyone or anything for granted. Do not waste time. Prioritise, put love, people and service first, the administrative busy-work far behind those. When the time comes to part ways, understand that it must be and it is not personal or unfair, no matter how you feel about it.

Remember what is the nature of each thing. Remember how the nature works.

Thinking about this teaching is not very pleasant, but after you have done so, you probably feel the urge to run to your loved ones and embrace them and the moments you have together. It will make you feel increased sense of urgency in your relationships and in your life. It also brings new level of gratitude and puts little worries pretty neatly at their correct perspective.

The practice hurts a bit when you do it: that is how you know it works.

Don’t beat yourself up too hard if you don’t master this one right away.

PS: Do this visualisation to the max only if you feel ready for it. Practice with coffee-mugs, lost car-keys and noisy neighbours first.


Epictetus, the Enchiridion – Commentary chapter 3 – by Dr. Sadler

Enchiridion by Epictetus

Enchiridion by Epictetus


  1. This thought came to me today–“The Sun in Morning”—I thought about it for a while and it triggered in my mind, the son in mourning–Perhaps I had been secretly depressed about losing my Father to Alzheimer’s five years ago.
    He was a Vietnam Veteran who I was blessed enough to see through until his death.
    Epictetus’s Analogy of the Cup came to my mind. It is a strong Metaphor for Love, Loss, and Healing.
    This is why I admire Epictetus as a Teacher and a Human Being
    Thanks for your fine article


    1. Thank you for your comment. Epictetus’ chapter 3 is a tough teaching, but a necessary one for each of us, sooner or later! What a great Teacher he was! We are blessed to have his words still with us.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s