February 8, 2017 – Did That Make You Feel Better?


“You cry, I’m suffering severe pain! Are you then relieved from feeling it, if you bear it in an unmanly way?” – Seneca, Moral Letters, 78.17

Men don’t cry. Crying is a weakness. I remember believing that so many years ago. I know better now. A study from the University of Minnesota found that:

…crying improves the mood of 88.8% of people and it can also help with healing, boosting immunity and reducing levels of anger and stress.

The argument that crying is a sign of weakness is understood to be a sexist position considering it’s women who tend to cry more than men and mean being “tough” cannot happen when showing emotional weakness.

Emotional tears also ­contain a hormone called prolactin, which helps ­reduce stressful feelings and boosts the immune system.

Women have more prolactin than men and levels rise during ­pregnancy, which may be one reason why women cry more than men – especially when they’re expecting a baby.

So let’s not look at “unmanly” as not expressing emotion. To do so would be inconsistent with Stoic thinking. Remember, being Stoic is not about suppressing emotions, instead it’s about not letting them control us.

To be fair, Seneca isn’t speaking about the act of crying. He’s asking us whether the act of crying out “I’m suffering” does anything to alleviate the suffering. No, it does not. So how should one bear it? What is the “manly” way to deal with it? If you understand that crying is a healthy way to deal with the pain why would you turn away from it because of a false gender stereotype?

Seneca wants us to not get wrapped up in the emotion, the passion. How do we stop the suffering? You won’t feel better by constant complaining. Remember, how you deal with situations says much about your character. Let your suffering be something you embrace as an opportunity.

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” – Helen Keller

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February 7, 2017 – Fear is a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy


“Many are harmed by fear itself, and many have come to their fate while dreading fate.” – Seneca, Oedipus, 992

Have you ever been paralyzed by fear? I have. Two summers ago I traveled to Maine with my friend Chris. Our hope was to get the perfect weather day that would allow us a hike up Mt. Katahdin, and a traverse of its knife edge. The rub…I have a very serious fear of falling. Chris left our campsite at the Roaring Brook Campground in Baxter State Park as the sun was finding its place above the ridge. I’d never seen him with so much energy to spare. Per the trailhead check-in sheet, I was 30 minutes behind him, but he somehow managed to separate by another hour as we hiked.

We both took the Saddle Trail, spent time at Chimney Pond, soaking in the beauty of a day beyond expectations. I was fine until the last .2 miles of Saddle. The Slide lacked solid footing and presented itself as close to an 180-degree ascent as I ever experienced. I shook with every movement, fearing any loss of balance would find me cascading backward with no hope of avoiding injury.

But I continued on.

Pulling myself up to Tableland (the flat area at trails end) I felt an incredible sense of relief, and I knew full well I would not be hiking down the way I came. On my way up I was passed by a 20-something hiker moving across the very same Slide like a well-traveled mountain goat. I envied that confidence.

By the time I found myself at the sign marking my success in reaching Katahdin’s peak I was shaking. My options of getting down the mountain were all terrifying. The Saddle Trail is the least demanding of those which I could take with the time left in the day. The Knife Edge Trail to the Helon Taylor Trail was the goal. Chris had waited an hour and a half for me to complete our first task. A new friend I met along the way up, Larry, (who I would hike the Presidential Traverse with the following summer) and Chris patiently waited as I worked through this crisis. For 30 minutes I sat at 5,267 feet, waiting for my mind to settle, while my two friends assured me I could this. The hike from Katahdin to Pamola Peak (where the Helon Taylor Trail meets) is only 1.1 miles long, but there are sections where you’re free climbing with nothing below you but a 4,000-foot drop. There are blind climbs to find the blazes.

It was the most focused I had ever been in my entire life. The only time fear made itself felt was when we stopped to rest. For a brief moment I could take in the majesty of my surroundings, but my mind would inevitably focus on my elevation and task still before me.

When I finally pulled myself up to Pamola Peak the joy I experienced at completing this dream made every bit of fear I experienced meaningless. Hiking the Southeast cannot prepare you for the challenges of Maines rugged terrain. But I was more ready than I realized. Instead of letting fear make me an unstable hiker, I allowed it to make me a more focused one. True, I could not have done it alone, and that’s what makes the experience even more inspirational. It will always remind me how important it is to prepare. That it’s important to accept that you may need help.

Fear is not something that should stop you. Instead, understand how you can use it gain your footing.

pamola

February 6, 2017 – Don’t Seek Out Strife


“I don’t agree with those who plunge headlong into the middle of the flood and who, accepting a turbulent life, struggle daily in great spirit with difficult circumstances. The wise person will endure that, but won’t choose it – choosing to be at peace, rather than at war.” – Seneca, Moral Letters, 28.7

Strife. Conflict. Friction.

My thought on this meditation will be short, and personal.

I am the administrator of a private Facebook group called TBP. I created it to be a safe space for critical thinking. Many of my friends wanted to share opinions on matters that, if open to public feeds, would be unwelcomed by family and friends. I want to think my intentions in sharing material is reasoned, but at times I’m seeking out turbulence for the sake of turbulence.

Early in my marriage, after years of observing my behavior, my wife asked me if I would rather be happy or correct? It was an interesting question, one I answered quickly: I’d rather be correct. How did she come to asking this question? Simple. She saw that I would listen to conversations, read articles, and find things to debate. Rather than find some means of commonality I would instead seek to win. Everything was a battle that was critical to the war.

But what war was I fighting? A self-created one that had no end, or purpose, other than self-validation. As I’ve gotten older, and wiser, I’ve realized the turbulent life of constant debate is tiring. At times I will poke the bear, but more often my academic pursuits are more directed at finding where positions bleed into the gray.

At some point, our convictions may lead us into a flooded arena where we must struggle. Better to choose a peaceful existence as our standard.

 

January 23, 2017 – The Truth About Money


“Let’s pass over to the really rich – how often the occassions they look just like the poor! When they travel abroad they must restrict their baggage, and when haste is necessary, they dismiss their entourage. And those who are in the army, how few of their possessions they get to keep…” – Seneca, On Consolation to Helvia, 12, 1.b-2

How often do you look at someone driving an expensive car, wearing a nice suit or sitting in first class and consider them as successful? As much as I try to focus on the intrinsic qualities of a person, I find myself, at times, making judgements based on material representations. Our Western ideals such as owning property and work as a measuring stick of success create a world view where material success is a goal.

Is there something wrong with wanting nice things, or taking pride in achieving occupational success? Absolutely not. Seneca was one of the richest men in Rome, and he struggled to mirror the Stoic life he wrote about. One example is his banishment to Corsica as a punishment for sleeping with Caligula’s sister. It was during this banishment that he wrote On Consolation to Helvia, which were letters to his mother Helvia.

What it must have been like for someone with Seneca’s wealth and political power to receive such a punishment? If we look at the above quote we can understand the reality of what happens to the rich can happen to any of us. Yes, money and power can get you privilege, but these trappings cannot absolve you being treated even like someone who is poor. Also, as rich as one might be there is usually someone with more money who, if crossed, can invoke some degree of justice greater than the lesser rich person can.

The philosopher Albert Camus wrote:

“At any street corner the feeling of absurdity can strike any man in the face.”

Camus was referring to the existential problem of “why”. All material things and achievements cannot absolve us of our internal problems and questions. Rich or poor, we are all in search of something to value that is lasting.

January 22, 2017 – The Day in Review


“I will keep constant watch over myself and-most usefully-will put each day up for review. For this is what makes us evil-that none of us looks back upon our own lives. we reflect upon only that which we are about to do. And yet our plans for the future descend from the past.” – Seneca, Moral Letters, 83.2

When I read forward to “The Day in Review” I knew I had to use it more as a “Three Days in Review”, focused on America’s peaceful transition of power from Obama to Trump. It stood out as the meditation of closure. From choice of where you’re going to reigniting thoughts, to morning ritual, and finally to review, these past meditations are ones I wish the whole country had read. How did we, as a country, treat each other?

Yesterday’s meditation disclosed a seed of today’s. Epictetus’ list can be your way to start the day or your way to end it. Today’s meditation takes it one step further by reminding us that our self is predicated on our ability to recall what we’ve done. Did I do something that improved me? Did I do something that needs improvement? If we’re not thinking about what we’ve done we cannot expect clarity of what contributed to our happiness, or sorrow.

In a nutshell, over the course of time, we are building a self. Consider building a self like building a house. A plan is created, and construction begins. Do they simply move forward, or do they continually refer back to the blueprints? Things can cause deviations from the plan, and if the blueprints are not consulted the house may never get built, or it will do so at grave risk. Our self is like building a house. We have a plan of who we want to be, but if we move through life without reflection we may find ourselves not progressing, or left with a person we don’t recognize.

What if we were all keeping a journal of the things we said to others throughout our day? Are we missing opportunities to be a better self? Soren Kierkegaard writes:

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

As I review how I handled the election season I see times in which I angered friends and possibly ruined friendships. Hopefully not the latter. Is it not evil for me to not consider how I acted and work to not be that person in the future? If someone refers to a Liberal as a “libtard” or a Conservative as  “nazi”, is that really the best way to act as a person and a citizen?

Treat every day as an opportunity to be better. Start the day with that thought in mind. End every day with a review of your progress.