March 20, 2017 – Ready and At Home


“I may wish to be free from torture, but if the time comes for me to endure it, I’ll wish to bear it courageously with bravery and honor. Wouldn’t I prefer not to fall into war? But if war does befall me, I’ll wish to carry nobly the wounds, starvation, and other necessities of war. Neither am I so crazy as to desire illness, but if I must suffer illness, I’ll wish to do nothing rash or dishonorable. The point is not to wish for these adversities, but for the virtue that makes adversities bearable.” – Seneca, Moral Letters, 67.4

We’ve discussed how Stoic thought, specifically Epictetus, tells us how we should approach death and illness.

24. If someone dies young, he finds fault with the gods [because he is having to leave the world before his time, but if he remains alive when old, he finds fault with them too] because he is continuing to live when it was high time that he was at rest; but all the same, when death approaches, he wants to stay alive, and sends for the doctor, telling him to spare no trouble or effort. How extraordinary people are, he said, to be unwilling either to live or to die. Discourses, Fragments

[14] ‘And illness, what will you make of that?’ I’ll show its nature, I’ll excel in it, I’ll remain steadfast and serene, I won’t flatter my doctor, I won’t pray for death. [15] What more do you seek? Whatever you present to me I’ll turn it into something blessed and a source of happiness, into something venerable and enviable. Discourses, 3.20

The question posed is how we approach the inevitable. We will get sick at some time. Eventually, we will die.

Misty Diaz is an “adaptive athlete”. An adaptive athlete is anyone who must adapt to circumstances in order to compete. Some consider all of us “adaptive” in some way, but the central focus is on those with disabilities. Misty, as an example, was born with Spina Bifida but decided at a young age to not be defined by her physical limitations. No doubt she wishes she had an easier road to life, but she embraced her circumstances, suffering her disease with admirable character. (source)

For me, my mental state is so important. I’ve had more than 28 operations since birth and have even woken up in the intensive care unit not being able to speak. The only thing keeping me alive was the fact that I was mentally talking to myself about how I could overcome this and how I wouldn’t fail.

Don’t view your adaptive disability as a limitation. Use it as a training tool to help you become stronger and faster. Being an adaptive athlete, I’ve encountered many obstacles that have made me more resilient.

Misty’s situation is different. She was given a circumstance at birth, but she has progressively prepared herself for future opportunities. It’s no different for those who live without such conditions. How will we approach the inevitables of life? Misty’s example, of seeing such challenges as training tools sets the bar. Her awareness of what these situations bring, opportunities to be a better person, encompasses the virtues Stoicism teaches us.

Such virtues make life “bearable” for us, but it also allows us to be examples for others. Like Misty.

 

March 19, 2017 – Timeless Wisdom


“For there are two rules to keep at the ready – that there is nothing good or bad outside my own reasoned choice, and that we shouldn’t try to lead events but to follow them.” – Epictetus, Discourses, 3.10.18

This meditation uses the example of Anthony de Mello. He was a very cultured man, spreading across both Eastern and Western perspectives. His quote is shared, and it’s one which greatly mirrors Epictetus.

“The cause of my irritation is not in this person but in me.”

Why reference de Mello? He started his spiritual life in the Catholic church, and would eventually become a Jesuit Priest. His initial approach was very rigid and dogmatic. As he experienced the world, he found Buddhist meditation. It challenged his prevailing spiritual views. After his passing, documents were discovered that showed his belief system deviated from that of the Catholic church, specifically noting that Jesus should be understood as a teacher and not as the son of God. (source)

Father de Mello demonstrates an appreciation for Jesus, of whom he declares himself to be a “disciple.” But he considers Jesus as a master alongside others. The only difference from other men is that Jesus is “awake” and fully free, while others are not. Jesus is not recognized as the Son of God, but simply as the one who teaches us that all people are children of God.

While a challenge to direct orthodoxy it represents how one can be led by reason (internal) as opposed to doctrine (external). We can appreciate the consequences of a choice (damnation for example), but outside of the system, any choice is either bad nor good on its own merit. Otherwise, it assumes an external judging our choice which is something, again, outside of our control. What is good or bad is the why of our choice.

The Stoic sees no need to have circumstances fit a predefined frame. Rather, as events manifest themselves we should always be aware that our reasoned choices will serve us well as we follow the path being laid out before us. We must not be afraid to change. This is timeless wisdom.

March 18, 2017 – Impossible Without Your Consent


“Today I escaped from the crush of circumstances, or better put, I threw them out, for the crush wasn’t from outside me but in my own assumptions.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 9.13

If I had a dime for every conversation I have ever had with my wife that contained “I can’t make you…” my savings account would be more comfortable. It’s an easier said than done position to hold when you are the person invoking a Stoic disposition. But that doesn’t make it any less true. Whether I was being difficult, or simply holding a position that wasn’t being met with agreement, my ability to maintain my ground in the realm of controlling how I approached the discussion, as opposed to letting the frustration of communication overwhelm me, brought peace and clarity.

No need to address the many times I’ve had to apologize for losing my temper.

What assumptions do we have about our jobs, relationships, or any future plans that we’ve made? Are we embracing deviation as nothing more than nature following its own logic? The meditation leverages the word hypolêpsis, which is a Greek word for how our mind judges situations. In his blog Stoicism and the Art of Happiness, Donald Robertson talks about hypolêpsis by leveraging Pierre Hadot’s book on Marcus Aurelius called The Inner Citadel. Hadot wrote about three Stoic Disciplines: desire, action, and assent. Judgment can be found under assent and Robertson has this to say: (source)

According to Hadot’s analysis, although the Stoics refer to “judgement” in general (hypolêpsis), they’re primarily interested in monitoring and evaluating their own implicit value-judgements.  These form the basis of our actions, desires, and emotions, especially the irrational passions and vices which the Stoics sought to overcome.  By continually monitoring their judgements, Stoics are to notice the early-warning signs of upsetting or unhealthy impressions and take a step back from them, withholding their “assent” or agreement, rather than being “carried away” into irrational and unhealthy passions and the vices.  The Stoics call this prosochê or “attention” to the ruling faculty of the mind, to our judgements and actions.   I’ve described this as “Stoic Mindfulness”, a term that can be taken to translate prosochê.

None of us are sages, well maybe a few of you are, but the beauty of how Epictetus approached Stoic thought was that one wasn’t required to be a sage to have the capacity to be Stoic. These meditations are our reminder that for us to get angry requires our consent to put our thoughts secondary to the thing itself. If we are aware of the fact that we’re getting upset then we can make strides to change how we’ll react to the circumstance. Neither Aurelius nor Epictetus, for that matter, require perfection. The very fact that they speak to the problem of vices and passions indicates it’s something we all contend with. Don’t get frustrated if you find yourself losing your mindful footing, remember you can always get it back.