Face adversity with unperturbed mind – the state of Ataraxia

Life is tough and many a times painful and even cruel. Unless we live our life in a balanced and harmonious
way, we are more prone to encounter pain and suffering, failures and adversities. Even otherwise, there is fair
amount of uncertainty and vulnerability in life. Though we might be extremely rich and powerful, life can take
unexpected turn. Anything can happen with anyone during our life journey. Life can slap anyone badly at any
juncture of life. There is no guarantee that wealth, power and status in society will make us secure and
protected from troubling times. At the same time, we find poor people leading their lives with greater happiness
and satisfaction compared to rich ones. Daily we come across, through media news, examples of varied
nature, showing life’s unpredictability and often ruthlessness.
As long as we are happily living in our comfort zone with occasional incidents of suffering and setbacks, it
really doesn’t matter. In fact, this is an integral part of life as life can never be presented to us in perfect
conditions. However, the real test in life comes when we come across severe adversities and traumatic
incidents. It’s the time when the people either break or come out bravely. These are the great learning
experiences of life. When we learn from those adversities, we become our own ‘better version’. Now the
question that comes in mind, what kind of people come out successfully from those challenging times. What
kind of philosophy one should adopt when we encounter adversity?
Each one of you, I am sure, must have heard the names of many great philosophers such as Plato, Confucius,
Aristotle, Immanuel Kant, Fredrich Nietzsche, Karl Marx, David Hume and so on. They have all interpreted and
analysed life in many different ways and guided the humanity about the life they live. However, the general
perception is that their philosophy is too complex to understand. Moreover, the language of their writings about
what the philosopher wants to convey is very difficult to understand and perhaps it’s one of the few reasons
why people often try to avoid reading books and articles written originally by the philosophers.
The philosophy that’s being taken here is altogether different. The branch of philosophy which is known as
Stoicism is unique in many aspects. This philosophy touches many aspects of our real life, the life we lead. It’s
not theoretical, it’s highly practical and can be followed by common men. It’s a philosophy designed to make us
virtuous, happier, more contended and resilient. More importantly, this is the philosophy, that’s specially
prescribed for handling adversities we come across during our life journey. It can help us in overcoming difficult
and bad times. The philosophy of Stoicism teaches us about self-control, mental toughness and fortitude, and
unperturbed mind as a means of overcoming destructive emotions like anger, hatred, fear etc.
Stoicism flourished throughout the Roman and Greek world until the 3rd century AD, and among its ardent
follower and adherents was Emperor Marcus Aurelius himself. Many philosophers contributed significantly to
this particular school of philosophy. They were called as Stoic philosophers. Stoic is the one who follows this
philosophy. The ancient Stoic philosophers came from varied backgrounds. Right from Greece emperor,
Senator and rich wealthy merchants to soldier and slave. They had one thing in common and that is, they all
advocated and practiced the same philosophy of Stoicism. Among all of those philosophers, the most
prominent were Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus and Seneca.  
No one will doubt that to overcome any adversity, first and the foremost thing which is required will be the
peace and serenity of mind. Unless our mind is unperturbed and in relaxed state, we can’t properly face life’s
challenges. Often, we mess up things badly when we are in deep trouble due to our inability to manage the
mind.
Stoic philosophy advocated the practice of mindfulness and tranquillity during times of chaos. They recognised
the need of mind’s unperturbed state, necessary to handle any adversity. The ancient Greek philosopher
Pyrrho of Elis (around 365/360 to 275/270 BCE) gave the concept of – a state of ataraxia i.e. the state free
from mental perturbation. In this mental state, the mind is calm and serene even in great danger.
There is a story told by Diogenes Laertius, historian and the biographer of the Greek philosophers. According

to him, the philosopher Pyrrho was once travelling on a ship when a storm struck. His fellow passengers were
terrified that the ship might wreck in the storm due to massive waves. Pyrrho, however, remained calm and
serene and, pointing to a little pig on the ship that was eating away, said that the wise man ought to repose in
just such a state of freedom from disturbance. The story further says that the pig was in just as much danger as
its fellow passengers, but ate in blissful ignorance. Pyrrho thought that people would be wise to be as serene as
the pig was, since everybody on the ship had no more control over the situation than the pig had. The state of
mind the philosopher is referring to is “ataraxia”.
Ataraxia is an inherent state of mind. The mind is neither in the positive state like joy and happiness nor in
negative state like sadness or anger. It’s a resting state. When we are at peace and undisturbed then we have
this state of mind. Stoic philosopher believed that we all possess this desirable state of mind but we have a
tendency to easily lose it.
According to Buddhism, our mind promptly comes to the state of ‘satisfactoriness’ unless it’s in relaxing state.
Stoic philosopher, Epicurus also believed ataraxia to be a natural state, a homeostasis of the mind. The never-
ending desires for wealth, pleasure, comforts, reputation etc lead us away from the natural state. To
achieve ataraxia, we need to keep our desires in check, and simply satisfy our basic needs. Stoicism has few
central doctrines, one of them is that we should learn that dissatisfaction lies in our incapability to control our
urges, desires, and not knowing how to react properly in adverse and difficult situations.
We suffer more when our mind is not stable and we are not able to focus on the task at hand. Studies have
established that we are more unhappy when our mind wanders in different directions. As mind’s wandering
increases, so is the unhappiness and satisfactoriness. During challenging and troubling times, our mind
becomes highly fragile and restless. We tend to overthink, keep on repeating the same set of thoughts. We are
not mindful on those moments. On the event of adversity, our suffering increases because of distressing mind.
We become desperate to control our thoughts on those moments. Hence, to manage any adversity, we need
to control our mind too.

Face adversity with unperturbed mind – the state of Ataraxia

Life is tough and many a times painful and even cruel. Unless we live our life in a balanced and harmonious
way, we are more prone to encounter pain and suffering, failures and adversities. Even otherwise, there is fair
amount of uncertainty and vulnerability in life. Even if we are extremely rich and powerful, life can take
unexpected turn. Anything can happen with anyone during our life journey. Life can slap anyone badly at any
juncture of life. There is no guarantee that wealth, power and status in society will make us secure and
protected from troubling times. At the same time, we find poor people leading their lives with greater happiness
and satisfaction compared to rich ones. Daily we come across, through media news, examples of varied
nature, showing life’s unpredictability and often ruthlessness.
As long as we are living in our comfort zone happily with occasional incidents of suffering and setbacks, it
doesn’t matter much. In fact, this is an integral part of life as life can never be presented to us in perfect
conditions. However, the real test in life comes when we come across severe adversities such as loss of
partner, financial bankruptcy, getting involved in some criminal investigation, serious accident involving family
members and terminal illness like cancer. It’s the time when the people either break or come out bravely.
These are the great learning experiences of life. When we learn from those adversities, we become our own
‘better version’. Now the question that comes in mind, what kind of people come out successfully from those
‘testing period’ of lifetime. What kind of philosophy one should adopt when we encounter adversity?

Each one of you, I am sure, must have heard the names of many great philosophers such as Plato, Confucius,
Aristotle, Immanuel Kant, Fredrich Nietzsche, Karl Marx, David Hume and so on. They have all interpreted and
analysed life in many different ways and guided the humanity about the life they live. However, the general
perception is that their philosophy is too complex to understand. Moreover, the language of their writings is
very difficult to understand, what the philosopher wants to convey and perhaps one of the few reasons why
people often try to avoid reading books and articles written originally by the philosophers.
The philosophy that’s being taken here is altogether different. The branch of philosophy which is known as
Stoicism is unique in many respects. This philosophy touches many aspects of our real life, the life we lead. It’s
not theoretical, it’s highly practical and can be followed by common men. It’s a philosophy designed to make us
virtuous, happier, more contended and resilient. More importantly, this is the philosophy, that’s specially
prescribed for handling adversities we come across during our life journey. It can help us in overcoming difficult
and bad times. The philosophy of Stoicism teaches us about self-control, mental toughness and fortitude, and
unperturbed mind as a means of overcoming destructive emotions like anger, hatred, fear etc.
Stoicism flourished throughout the Roman and Greek world until the 3rd century AD, and among its ardent
follower and adherents was Emperor Marcus Aurelius himself. Many philosophers contributed significantly to
this particular school of philosophy. They were called as Stoic philosophers Stoic is the one who follows this
philosophy. The ancient Stoic philosophers came from varied backgrounds. Right from Greece emperor,
Senator and rich wealthy merchants to soldier and slave. They had one thing in common and that is, they all
advocated and practiced the same philosophy of Stoicism. Among all of those philosophers, the most
prominent were Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus and Seneca.  
No one will doubt that to overcome any adversity, first and the foremost thing which’s required is the peace
and serenity of mind. Unless our mind is unperturbed and in relaxed state, we can’t properly face life’s
challenges. Often, we mess up things badly when we are in deep trouble due to our inability to manage the
mind.
Stoic philosophy advocated the practice of mindfulness and tranquillity during times of chaos. They recognised
the need of mind’s unperturbed state, necessary to handle any adversity. The ancient Greek philosopher
Pyrrho of Elis (around 365/360 to 275/270 BCE) gave the concept of – a state of ataraxia i.e. the state free
from mental perturbation. In this mental state, the mind is calm and serene even in great danger.
There is a story told by Diogenes Laertius, historian and the biographer of the Greek philosophers. According
to him, the philosopher Pyrrho was once travelling on a ship when a storm struck. His fellow passengers were
terrified that the ship might wreck in the storm due to massive waves. Pyrrho, however, remained “calm and
serene and, pointing to a little pig on the ship that was eating away, said that the wise man ought to repose in
just such a state of freedom from disturbance. The story further says that the pig was in just as much danger as
its fellow passengers, but ate in blissful ignorance. Pyrrho thought that people would be wise to be as serene as
the pig was, since everybody on the ship had no more control over the situation than the pig had. The state of
mind the philosopher is referring to is “ataraxia”.
Ataraxia is an inherent state of mind. The mind is neither in the positive state like joy and happiness nor in
negative state like sadness or anger. It’s a resting state. When we are at peace and undisturbed then we have
this state of mind. Stoic philosopher believed that we all possess this desirable state of mind but we have a
tendency to easily lose it.
According to Buddhism, our mind promptly comes to the state of ‘satisfactoriness’ unless it’s in relaxing state.
Stoic philosopher, Epicurus also believed ataraxia to be a natural state, a homeostasis of the mind. The never-
ending desires for wealth, pleasure, comforts, reputation etc lead us away from the natural state. To
achieve ataraxia, we need to keep our desires in check, and simply satisfy our basic needs. Stoicism has few
central doctrines, one of them is that we should learn that dissatisfaction lies in our incapability to control our
urges, desires, and not knowing how to react properly in adverse and difficult situations.

We suffer more when our mind is not stable and focus on the task at hand. Studies have established that we
are more unhappy when our mind wanders in different possible directions. As mind wandering increases, so is
the unhappiness and satisfactoriness. During challenging and troubling times, our mind becomes highly fragile
and restless. We tend to overthink, keep on repeating the same set of thoughts. We are not mindful on those
moments. On the event of adversity, our suffering increases because of distressing mind. We become
desperate to control our thoughts on those moments. Hence, to manage any adversity, we need to control our
mind too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *