Sunday morning Stoic: Perspective

Meditations 9.32:

“You can discard most of the junk that clutters your mind—things that exist only there—and clear out space for yourself:
… by comprehending the scale of the world
… by contemplating infinite time
… by thinking of the speed with which things change—each part of every thing; the narrow space between our birth and death; the infinite time before; the equally unbounded time that follows.”

I remember even years ago walking into work, feeling burdened and stressed by whatever seemed pressing at the time, and visualizing a view from above. Like in a dramatic scene in a movie, the picture in my mind would zoom out from wherever I was and let me see just how small I was until I was the size of an ant scurrying across this grand landscape. And then I couldn’t help but smile at the foolishness of my little worries.

When you fly and look out the plane window you can get the same sense of the smallness and insignificance of whatever petty concerns are tugging at you.

Seeing the really big picture – from the vast scale of the universe to the fleeting nature of our experience of it – can restore perspective and shine a light on the insanity of our daily worries.

If it freaks you out a bit to be reminded how small we are, how brief our time here is, welcome to reality. But it’s important, also, to appreciate how special it is that we can even think at all and ponder and marvel at our place in this perplexing, magnificent universe.

Sunday night Stoic: Calm, purposeful, authentic

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A new week to practice the traits you want to characterize your life.

Keep calm and rise above the frenzy. Breathe and observe. Choose to respond with poise.

Be intentional in your actions. Don’t worry about appearing to be busy, but know that purposeful action is powerful. Don’t wait and waste what little time you’ve been afforded. Just begin.

And be real, be authentic. Don’t try to be. Just be. Don’t overthink how you are perceived. Speak and act and think as best you know how right now.

Just keep going

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ht Jason Silva

Times are tough for you? Patience. This will pass.

All is well? Life seems good? This, too, shall pass.

Anxiety, elation, frustration, satisfaction, boredom… No feeling is permanent.

It doesn’t matter how you feel. Just keep going. It’s what you do and how you respond that matters most.

Can you simply observe your emotions and your thoughts without getting lost in them? Me, neither.

But those who are masters of mindfulness have described a state where you can watch your thoughts and feelings flow by as if you were in that empty space behind a waterfall. Sign me up for a comfortable chair in that blissful spot.

Observe and inhabit all you think and feel knowing it’s all impermanent. Don’t get down on yourself for being unable to control the torrent. Learn to observe and be curious. And just keep going.

Toughen yourself

Looking back through my highlights in Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle is the Way, I found this:

You’ll have far better luck toughening yourself up than you ever will trying to take the teeth out of a world that is—at best—indifferent to your existence.

It’s the same sentiment as this from Ramana Maharshi:

WANTING TO REFORM THE WORLD WITHOUT DISCOVERING ONE’S TRUE SELF IS LIKE TRYING TO COVER THE WORLD WITH LEATHER TO AVOID THE PAIN OF WALKING ON STONES AND THORNS. IT IS MUCH SIMPLER TO WEAR SHOES.

Setting out to change the world seems noble, but the direct path to epic transformation is as simple as changing yourself, steeling yourself against the blows that are bound to come in this world. And helping others do the same would surely change their world.

Epictetus on choices and living artfully

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My wife put a lamp by the deeply cushioned chair in our bedroom last night to make a new reading spot in our house, and I gave it a go. I sat down to read from an actual book, made from paper. It was my hardcover copy of The Art of Living, Sharon Lebell’s collection of the best of the wisdom of the first and second century Stoic teacher Epictetus.

Epictetus had been a slave who earned his freedom through his excellence as a student and, eventually, a teacher of Stoic philosophy. Nothing he may have written survives, but his students collected and saved his teachings, which went on to influence everyone’s favorite philosopher king, Marcus Aurelius. (Marcus was an emperor, not a king, of course. Philosopher emperor was beyond even Plato’s imagination.)

The single sentence on the opening page above is as good an exhortation as anyone could need. But it’s followed on the next page by this jewel of simple yet often neglected common sense:

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We always have a choice about the contents and character of our inner lives.

We don’t have much control over what happens around us and to us, but we do get to choose our response. Easy to understand. Hard, though, to own that choice standing in the often very small, poorly lit gap between stimulus and response.

I’ve got to at least be more aware that I am making these choices. I am responsible – able to choose my response – and not made to do or be anything not in my choosing. No one or no thing can make me angry, for example. I may choose to be angry in response, but it’s my choice, whether I own up to it or not.

I need these reminders regularly. Searching to share something insightful every day has been a great way to live a more adventurous inner life and to remind myself to do better, to grow and improve. These notes to self that I share publicly have become a daily discipline that I hope will keep me sharp and curious. I recommend this to anyone looking to make better sense of their own thinking and their place in the universe. Oh, that’s everyone. Of course, everyone should write.

We all are artists creating a unique life, a life that’s never been before and never will be again. Choose to craft yours as though you’re sculpting a masterpiece.

Life is asking us a question

From Ryan Holiday’s excellent book The Obstacle is the Way:

The great psychologist Viktor Frankl, survivor of three concentration camps, found presumptuousness in the age-old question: “What is the meaning of life?” As though it is someone else’s responsibility to tell you. Instead, he said, the world is asking you that question. And it’s your job to answer with your actions.
In every situation, life is asking us a question, and our actions are the answer. Our job is simply to answer well.

Dig deep

Meditations 7.59:
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Digging is hard. It’s easy to just stay on the surface. But the good stuff often is buried down deep and will require some effort to get to. But the good stuff is worth the effort.

That hard conversation? That creative project? The vision you have for the kind of person you truly want to be? Dig deep and conquer the resistance keeping you from the goodness buried below.

The infinity of past and future gapes before us

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Meditations 5.23-24:

23. Keep in mind how fast things pass by and are gone—those that are now, and those to come. Existence flows past us like a river: the “what” is in constant flux, the “why” has a thousand variations. Nothing is stable, not even what’s right here. The infinity of past and future gapes before us—a chasm whose depths we cannot see.
So it would take an idiot to feel self-importance or distress. Or any indignation, either. As if the things that irritate us lasted.
24. Remember:
Matter. How tiny your share of it.
Time. How brief and fleeting your allotment of it.
Fate. How small a role you play in it.

Get back up

Meditations 5.9:

Not to feel exasperated, or defeated, or despondent because your days aren’t packed with wise and moral actions. But to get back up when you fail, to celebrate behaving like a human—however imperfectly—and fully embrace the pursuit that you’ve embarked on.

No need to be down on yourself for failing to be perfect. Accept that you are imperfect. Embrace it, even. But get up and keep aiming for the ideal you have for yourself. Be a human and stand up and try again. This could be the best day of your life.

Maddux and heartbreak and writing with movement

This long feature on SB Nation by Jeremy Collins – Thirteen Ways of Looking at Greg Maddux – is beautifully written and heartbreaking.

Yes, it’s about Greg Maddux, my favorite baseball player and one of the most enigmatic, masterful athletes of our generation. But it’s mostly about the author coming to terms with the tragic loss of his childhood friend, a friend who was obsessed with and inspired by Greg Maddux.

Maddux was not some physical freak who overpowered batters with strength. He just out-thought and out-executed those he faced. He was a mere mortal who through his own will and savvy and plodding discipline became the best in the game. And he approached the game with an apparent detachment that belied the ferocity with which he performed so fully in the present. When he misfired, a loud profanity punctuated the moment. And then an immediate reset. Back to the moment at hand, calm, calculating. His approach was a Stoic one, dealing with only what he could control and shaking off anything out of his hands.

The story Jeremy Collins tells ties this ideal that Maddux represented, control and mastery, to the tragedy of his friend who reached for that ideal as he grasped for hope in reorienting his young, ill-fated life.

Collins’s piece is well worth the time to read it. You know when you’ve read something that was written with both heart and mastery. This bit of writing is Maddux-like in its artistry. It’s a fitting tribute to a lost friend and to an iconic, inspiring hero. Like a pitch from Maddux, it knicks the edges and moves unpredictably and so effectively.

Do everything as if it were the last thing you were doing in your life

Meditations 2.5:

Concentrate every minute like a Roman—like a man—on doing what’s in front of you with precise and genuine seriousness, tenderly, willingly, with justice. And on freeing yourself from all other distractions. Yes, you can—if you do everything as if it were the last thing you were doing in your life, and stop being aimless, stop letting your emotions override what your mind tells you, stop being hypocritical, self-centered, irritable. You see how few things you have to do to live a satisfying and reverent life? –Marcus Aurelius

Coach Wooden: Make the best of the way things work out

“Things work out best for those who make the best of the way things work out.” –John Wooden

Coach Wooden would have made a good Stoic. He focused his attention and his team’s on what was in their control. He didn’t focus on the opponent. He didn’t focus on winning. He focused on maximizing his team’s potential, on bringing out their best.

No matter the circumstances, you can still control how you respond. There’s no use in resisting what is. Put up a fight, sure. But fight to make the best of whatever circumstances you’re facing.

Accept whatever happens

Meditations 4.33:

Everything fades so quickly, turns into legend, and soon oblivion covers it.
And those are the ones who shone. The rest—“unknown, unasked-for” a minute after death. What is “eternal” fame? Emptiness.

Then what should we work for?

Only this: proper understanding; unselfish action; truthful speech. A resolve to accept whatever happens as necessary and familiar, flowing like water from that same source and spring.

What if you embraced whatever happens as if you chose it? Even – especially! – if it is something that seems like a setback.

You have so little control over almost everything external to you. But you always have control over how you respond. If you choose to be curious, intrigued, or fascinated instead of perturbed, discouraged, or angry, imagine how everything changes.

Get out of bed and go to work

At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: “I have to go to work—as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for—the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?”
—But it’s nicer here.…
So you were born to feel “nice”? Instead of doing things and experiencing them? Don’t you see the plants, the birds, the ants and spiders and bees going about their individual tasks, putting the world in order, as best they can? And you’re not willing to do your job as a human being? Why aren’t you running to do what your nature demands?
—But we have to sleep sometime.…
Agreed. But nature set a limit on that—as it did on eating and drinking. And you’re over the limit. You’ve had more than enough of that. But not of working. There you’re still below your quota.

From Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

Tomorrow

​​Think of all the years passed by in which you said to yourself “I’ll do it tomorrow,” and how the gods have again and again granted you periods of grace of which you have not availed yourself. It is time to realize that you are a member of the Universe, that you are born of Nature itself, and to know that a limit has been set to your time. —Marcus Aurelius

The day has come. When you wake up it will be tomorrow, the day you’ve promised to take action, to be the person you’ve dreamed you could be.

If not now, when? Be awesome while you can.

Via Farnam Street

Turning obstacles into fuel

From Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations:

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“The obstacle is the way” is such encouragement when facing adversity. And when aren’t we? Your nature calls for you to embrace difficulty and failure, to turn “obstacles into fuel” to propel yourself further.

Things not going as planned? Unforeseen problems appearing? Failure seems certain? Excellent! Use those obstacles to grow stronger, to reorient, to see previously unimagined possibilities. Seek out a path you know will be difficult if you want to grow and improve and live a life that burns brightly, that shines with the fire of your resolve.