March 4, 2017 -Awareness Is Freedom

“The person is free who lives as they wish, neither compelled, nor hindered, nor limited – whose choices aren’t hampered, whose desires succeed, and who don’t fall into what repels them. Who wished to live in deception – tripped up, mistaken, undisciplined, complaining, in a rut? No one. These are base people who don’t live as they wish; and so, no base person is free.” – Epictetus, Discourses, 4.1.1-3a

Epictetus frames good and bad persons in a very specific context. Not by virtue, but rather based on those who do and do not live freely. Surely you’ve heard the old saying which refers to anger as allowing someone to have control over you. How many of us want to live angrily? When we do this we are, in fact, living by the words and actions of others. Do you recall times in which you’ve actually been angry because someone else isn’t angry at the very situation that angered you?

I’m going to my music well, to one of my favorite bands: The Avett Brothers. From the True Sadness album, this is a lyric from “Ain’t No Man”.

You got to go somewhere, ain’t that true?
Not a whole lotta time for me or you
Got a whole lotta reasons to be mad, let’s not pick one
I live in a room at the top of the stairs
I got my windows wide open and nobody cares
And I got no choice but to get right up when the song comes through

Yes, there are many reasons to be mad, but why pick any? Here lies truth for me. I set out to post observations on these meditations daily, and yet I’ll go from consistent to inconsistent. Why? If I had awareness of why I could correct it. Envoke discipline. Succeed. Be a good person. It’s a simple goal, but the awareness of the simple will lead to habits for the complex.

February 26, 2017 – To Each His Own

“Another has done me wrong? Let him see to it. He has his own tendencies, and his own affairs. What I have now is what common nature has willed, and what I endeavor to accomplish now is what my nature wills.” –  Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 5.25

Venting. Oh, the beauty of venting. To get something off our chest. To let someone else know just how we feel about what they did. Justice for the soul!!!

Shelly DuBois writes in Fortune:

You can get a kind of warped satisfaction from talking about being angry without necessarily wanting to change the circumstances that trigger that emotion. But research suggests that venting anger doesn’t get rid of it. Instead, it amplifies those negative feelings.

Family events. Work. School. Any social setting can find one thinking that venting is the best way to release the frustration when someone “does me wrong”. But does it? Kristin Behfar, a professor of business administration at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business notes:

Most papers on venting find that it’s negative, but they stop there. They don’t find what the listener does.

Brad Bushman, an anger expert at Ohio State University’s School of Communication adds:

Listeners who agree are just keeping angry feelings alive when the key is to let them die.

So this adds layers to our situation. If we’re around others we may find their agreement does nothing to improve our state. If we’re alone we may find that voice in our head continues to validate our feelings and actions. But, there is also the situation in which we are the other. We are the one in the presence of the person “blowing off steam”.

The Stoic approach allows us to change our own thinking, as well as the thoughts of others. Why someone does something has its own reasons. I have mine. You have yours. Of what is your nature? Focused on letting the other control your thoughts, or focused on one’s own will?

Just today I had a conversation with my manager who listened to my venting, well maybe it was more honest dialogue (a matter of perspective), and then shared with me more detail around the situation. The disclosure created a better understanding of the why. It reminded me I don’t have all the information.

Let’s all work at not keeping angry feelings alive.

February 10, 2017 – Anger is a Bad Fuel

“There is no more stupefying thing than anger, nothing more bent on it’s own strength. If successful, none more arrogant, if foiled, none more insance – since it’s not driven back by weariness even in defeat, when fortune removes its adversary it turns its teeth on itself.” – Seneca, On Anger, 3.1.5

Some people think as Johnny “Rotten” Lydon sang, “anger is an energy”. It can be used to motivate us to greatness. It can inspire us to improve our condition or the condition of others. I admit I can be one of those people. This assumes there is no possible way to achieve the same outcome without anger. When Seneca claims “it turns its teeth on itself” he’s telling us that this fuel does not burn without damaging the very system within which it runs.

“Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.” –MLK, Jr, Strength to Love

As a bad fuel, anger damages the vessel that holds it.

“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” – Buddha

An article from the “Better Health” website details the physical damage of anger.

  • headache
  • digestion problems, such as abdominal pain
  • insomnia
  • increased anxiety
  • depression
  • high blood pressure
  • skin problems, such as eczema
  • heart attack
  • stroke

Anger will eventually burn itself out. What embers are left? What damage has been done that must be repaired? Does being angry foster love, or hatred? The book uses a great example of how being called fat might motivate someone to lose weight. But at what cost? How does the person who lost the weight feel about those who used the unkind words?

Be ever aware of what is fueling you.