Source: Ep.23 – Sweatin’ With The Oldies
Episode 23 runs and runs and runs and stops and throws up and runs and runs and falls down and cries and gets up and runs and runs and has a stroke. Oh yeah, we also talk about Disappointment Panda, Rick Steves, and a little indie film called Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
“Keep constant guard over your perceptions, for it is no small thing you are protecting, but your respect, trustworthiness and steadiness, peace of mind, freedom from pain and fear, in a word your freedom. For what would you sell these things?” – Epictetus, Discourses, 4.3.6b-8
Acadia National Park is one of the great protected natural resources America has to offer. One of its draws is a 1.6-mile hike along the famous Precipice Trail. With narrow ledges, and many iron rungs and handholds, this 850 ft ascent is more about mental confidence than physical endurance. When I was in Acadia a few years ago the trail was closed due to the nesting of the Peregrine Falcons in the area, but it was a trail that was recommended to my friend and me.
Today I watched four YouTube videos of hikers that made the trek. Having already experienced Katahdin’s Knife Edge I was surprised that while watching the videos my hands began to sweat. Those on the video could assure me the rungs are stable, but when that camera looks down and we get to see the straight drop below the fear of falling was well translated. There is no future I can see where I would ever hike that trail. As much as I love to hike, why would I subject myself to such fear? I can experience views above tree line from much more stable locations.
Where do we spend our time? Work, sporting events, church, athletic teams or other social settings occupy our lives by choice. We are not bound by some natural, or man-made law, to social institutions, yet how often will we remain somewhere that serves to wear us down?
In The Magician’s Nephew, C. S. Lewis wrote:
“What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are.”
Epictetus is reminding us that our very character is something we must protect. The meditation is asking us to consider those environments that we allow ourselves to be in, and whether they are more provoking us rather than inspiring us. Are we constantly on that emotional edge, and in doing so is it distracting you from the life you want, and the person you want to be? Sometimes the hard decision is to change jobs, move to a different location, admit a friendship is pernicious or adjust to a different social group, but isn’t that a small price for the freedom Epictetus speaks of?
“Don’t return to philosophy as a task-master, but as patients seek out relief in a treatment of sore eyes, or a dressing for a burn, or from an ointment. Regarding it this way, you’ll obey reason without putting it on display and rest easy in its care.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 5.9
January comes to a close. Hopefully, these meditations on clarity have, at some point, helped you refocus your attention away from the distractions. I have benefitted greatly from the self-reflection that comes with evaluating past and present experiences to help illuminate the words of these meditations.
A final thought on clarity before we enter into February; the month of Passions and Emotions. Again I will consider the word of Confucius as is written in the Analects. There is an interesting observation on self-governance through shame against other-governance through laws.
“Guide the people by law, subdue them by punishment; they may shun crime, but will be void of shame. Guide them by example, subdue them by courtesy; they will learn shame, and come to be good.”
When we think of forces outside of our control pushing us into action, we may feel a degree of coercion. Is our concern the punishment for our transgressions? Do we act for the good in the manner the law demands because of the goodness, or is it because of the fear of punishment? In turn, when we internalize punishment, and by that I mean when the only person imposing their will upon us is us, is it the case that we perform in a way that is good for the sake of the good?
Marcus does not want us to see philosophy as a law we follow. That we “return to” as a means of judging us as an Other. Instead, philosophy is something that serves to aid us when we become wounded. A compass to point us back towards our peak.
So we must ask: Why must we return? Simply put, we get lost.
When I think of returning, in this context, it’s inherently from something bad. Work is stressful, I’m behind on my reading for graduate school or I’m not honoring my commitments to maintain my home. But this is far too one-sided. We can also get lost when things are going well. My work projects are flowing, my workouts are becoming more efficient and, generally speaking, my suffering is limited.
Order calms. Fluidity can be deceptive. It’s easy to see our need for Stoic philosophy when we’re stressing. It helps alleviate. When things are going well, if we fail to give attention to those habits that facilitated the fluidity, we may find ourselves lacking the clarity we once had.
The word I would use in this instance is accountability. When we practice maintaining the Stoic mind we are asking a friend to remind us of the way of clarity. It is an example that allows us to govern our own thoughts and actions. Think of Stoic philosophy this way:
“The antidote for fifty enemies is one friend.” – Aristotle
Mindfulness – the shortcut to a happy and fulfilled life?
“A podium and a prison is each a place, one high and the other low, but in either place your freedom of choice can be maintained if you wish.” – Epictetus, Discourses, 2.6.25
I held off on writing about Thursday and Friday’s meditations on their respective days. Why? The inauguration of Donald Trump. For some, this is a watershed moment in transitioning from politics as usual. They have good reason to want this. For others, it symbolizes the empowering of uncivil leadership. The have good reasons to believe this.
Let me first invoke the words of two artists I admire, for different reasons.
“This is not a love song.” – John Lyndon (Johnny Rotten)
“This is not a rebel song.” – Bono
The next three observations on my Daily Stoic readings…these are not political posts. They exist in a political frame, but they are simply observations on where we go within said frame.
We do not know the future. We do not know if Trump’s policies will adversely impact the environment, the rights of women/LGBTQ or our relations with foreign countries. Isn’t it interesting how they have, thus far, both inspired and dissuaded? Those who see their way of life, including their jobs, disappear perceive a future over which the have no control. Equally, those who hear Trump’s hostility see a world where anger and “might makes right” reigns supreme.
Those on both sides of the debate have been in positions in which they’ve felt empowered and victimized. Yet today’s meditation reminds us that our position is not static. We have the choice of mind to go to a better place. Will there be a struggle? Probably. But remaining mired in your present position will yield no movement.
We have the choice to gloat. We have the choice to riot. We have the choice to perpetuate false binaries. We have the choice to marginalize our opposition. We have the choice to be the change. We have the choice to inspire others.
What will your choice be? What place will you go to? We all put our shoes on one at a time. Whether president or teacher, we have the freedom choice to inspire those around us to be better. In doing so we will receive equal inspiration.