Tag: Stoicism

Dr. Strange’s Keyhole: Opening The Doors Of Perception

Freedom IS a constant struggle not against the external but against the INTERNAL. I can’t recall the correct attribution, since I ran across the quote in some link-rabbit hole surf day. Even so, the idea resonates with me, especially as one just beginning to practice Stoic philosophy.

After all, one of the big keys of Stoicism I’ve found so far is the idea that it is impossible to free ourselves from our circumstances. However, we CAN free ourselves from the influence of those circumstances.

We do this by freeing ourselves internally. By disallowing ourselves to get sucked into just how terrible others might believe our circumstances are. See, more than we like to admit, life cuffs us upside the head, body slams us into a wall, and laughs in our face. Or in my case kicks you in the teeth as your down, and keeps laughing anyway.

Does it ever stop?

No, not completely.

Reminds me of a movie. Mild Dr. Strange spoilers ahead.

Dr. Stephen Strange, best and brightest surgeon of his age. Until all hell broke loose, and his life got upended. Guess what? He allowed himself to crumble into an obsession.

He needed a cure.

Out of money, out of options, he wandered into a foreign country seeking a cure.

Enter the Ancient One.

In their meeting, he’s shown in a quite powerful way just how limiting his beliefs have been in his search for healing. If you want to see how, go watch the movie.

That scene illustrates just how much BELIEF can show us. Such belief takes many forms. Polytheism, monotheism, Christianity, paganism, Islam, Judaism, non-religious philosophies such as Stoicism or Buddhism. I don’t have the space to list them all.

Beliefs vary as much as the individuals who hold them.

In the scene I’m referring to, the Ancient One explains that Strange is like a man looking through a keyhole, trying to understand what’s on the other side. I’d argue that makes him just like the rest of us. We’ve all got our version of…

Dr. Strange’s Keyhole

Back in the day, 1800s or so, when skeleton keys were all the rage, you could see through a keyhole. You may not see much though. Perhaps a blur of color here or there. A hint of shape. The whisper of reality beyond the door.

Once you open the door, you can actually see what’s going on.
Despite our external circumstances, our inner physical and mental realities are a lot like that glimpse through the keyhole. We think we know what we’re looking at. We’re certain we understand what’s happening!

I don’t know about you, but I keep learning enough to show me that I don’t. Not really. Reality and my perception of reality often disagree. Vehemently.

It’s like the old tale of the three blind men and the elephant. One claimed the elephant was like a tree. Another spoke of how like a serpent it was. The third man spoke of its hairy hide. They all had pieces, the leg, the trunk, and the end of the tail. All were right…and not.

So I can stare at that door all I want, but until I turn the key and open it…Well, I won’t have a clue.

Opening The Door

First, it helps to understand all your mental doors are made the same stuff. Perceptions. Opening the door means challenging that perception.

That’s the scary part.

The master key to these doors is curiosity. Curiosity about yourself and the world you live and move in.
Trouble comes when the key rusts, because we decide the answer we have is already enough. To polish the key, we choose to learn more, even when it hurts. Or the door itself is rusted shut.

My question to you: are you willing to polish that key? Open those doors? Accept what’s behind them?

I promise, your pride may take a beating, but it’s worth it. Last time my key turned up rusted, I believed that doctors would know what to do to help my pain levels and daily chronic migraines.

No luck. Instead, I’ve done my own research, and spent the last several months, with more ahead, testing a variety of other methods to gain relief. Some work, some were discarded.

All have been lessons.

I don’t know just how many doors exist in my mind. I do a little every day to keep the master key polished. I want to see more than just the piece of the room behind the keyhole.

What about you? What perception door have you been staring down, afraid to open? Tell me about it in the comments.

And go on. Turn that key. Set yourself free.

Belief, Instinct, Social Norms, And The Mess Of Personal Psychology

Go with your gut. Trust your instincts. Both wonderful lessons. Often, though, I believe we confuse belief or cultural understanding with instinct. Don’t believe me?

Name five differences between men and women off the top of your head. Feel free to write them down.
Now…how many of them involve learned behavior? 😉 I bet you won’t be able to figure it out, and that’s okay. None of us know everything. Most of us know, in fact, very little.

What I do know, from a good deal of study and personal experience, is that so often what we call instinct is actually—to use a term I generally dislike—social programming. And no, it doesn’t matter what society you come from or choose to embrace, you have social programming so deeply ingrained we act as though it is instinct and never stop to think if it truly is.

So what’s the difference?

Instinct is basically an innate, typically fixed pattern of behavior in animals in response to certain stimuli. At least if you Google the definition.

Instinctive belief is a pattern of behavior, usually reactionary, built around a subconscious belief.

As an example, for many years, I believed if people didn’t talk to me, they hated me or I had done something wrong. I didn’t see these beliefs initially, but they shaped my behavior. I spent my life trying to be all things to all people, just so no one would hate me and I wouldn’t do anything wrong.

I ran by what I perceived to be instinct.

Except it was hijacked instinct, the need to survive bent to a specific set of reactions by long exposure to less than ideal circumstances. Fortunately, I have a mind, and the ability to keep from acting on such beliefs, or to change them entirely.

The trick is to find them.

I’ve found two routes. One typically involves a therapist and cognitive behavioral therapy.

The other, and far less expensive, is the study of the ancient philosophy of Stoicism. I’ve written about this philosophy in the past, and I’ll write more as the mood strikes me. Suffice it to say, this was the founding philosophy of cognitive behavioral therapy in most of its forms.focus for both is not to study so much the specific causes of behavior in the psychoanalytic sense, but to find those thoughts that aren’t useful to us and replace them with thoughts that are useful. Let’s go back to my example a moment.

My core belief driving the other two: If people don’t talk to me, they think I’m bad.

Not a fun way to live, and I anxiety inducing to a mad degree. So, once I discovered that belief, I replaced it. The mind dislikes empty spaces, so a void must be filled. Better to be filled by a conscious choice than random chance.

Replacement belief: If a person doesn’t talk to me, their reason matters not to me.

Yes, that one was a good deal tougher to ingrain in myself. The old belief still raises its head now and then. Such is the way with rewiring the mind. It takes time, patience, and effort. Essentially a good deal of will.

No, I’m not saying willpower fixes everything. However, it can help change a core belief. The key is to find the belief first. So this week, beliefs, instincts, and social norms are the focus of my blog. If you’re looking forward to it, raise your hand! Or, you know, comment because I can’t actually see you raising your hand. 😀

Stoic Musings: Acceptance vs. Passivity. What’s The Difference?

So, Wednesday, and we’ve got two out of five pieces to the puzzle I’m trying to work into my thought process.

Control what you can.  Ignore the rest.

Events don’t upset you.  Beliefs do.

Now we come to number three, which is where things really started coming together for me.  Because while the two pieces help, without this third piece, well, I spent years spinning my wheels on a variety of beliefs that wasted a lot of energy, a lot of pain, and just didn’t work.

Accept everything.  But don’t be passive.

So what does it mean to…

Accept Everything

All of this will come to you in life. What you do with it? That is choice.

“Denial is just a river in Egypt.”  Ever heard that one?  Most of us have.  And if you haven’t the idiom presents the idea that to deny something that has affected us is both unwise and unhealthy.  Yet to embrace acceptance is to be seen as weak, for a pervasive, subconscious idea exists that to accept a thing has occurred must mean that we agree, condone, or in some other way approve of that thing occurring.

To divert momentarily into politics, take the numerous individuals who stated, “I will not accept it if X candidate is elected to the presidency!”  As if to say that by accepting such an event, they would be admitting some character flaw or agreement with that candidate or what have you.

Yet every four years someone is elected president in the United States that several million people don’t want as president.

So how does this relate to acceptance?  Well, it’s a simple example.  Once the candidate is elected, we have two choices.  Accept that the candidate is now President Elect, or deny it.

This is the same with any event in our lives.  We may either accept that the event has transpired, or we may attempt to deny it.  A major diagnosis, a death in the family, a horrific car accident.  If we accept that these things have occurred, does this truly mean we wanted them?  I doubt it.  I didn’t want a lot of the events in my life.  Some events I wanted have never transpired.

I WANTED a troubling result on my thyroid blood work, because then I’d have a physical reason for the depression that at times has turned my ability to function on its head.  Blood work came back normal.  I can deny that, though the consequences would undoubtedly be less than ideal.

You see, acceptance in terms of Stoic thought is nothing more than recognizing the inevitable.  Events are, in fact, inevitable.  Triumph and tragedy both are inevitable.  Your actions harming others and the actions of others harming you are inevitable.  By the same measure, your actions and the actions of others aiding you are inevitable as well.

Why are you looking at me like I’ve suddenly become a nihilist?  Think about it.  Have you ever been able to prevent a bully from being a bully?  Have you ever had someone help you just because they could?

My point is, we cannot stop events from occurring, and we can’t choose the nature of events that occur because of forces outside of our actions.  That doesn’t mean we must resign ourselves to being doormats, either.

But Don’t Be Passive

Our beliefs are the door mat to our mind and emotions.  We covered this a bit yesterday.  Crafting our beliefs is part of our actions.  Those actions are vital to this piece of the puzzle.  That wreck left you unable to work the same job?  Accept.  Now ACT.

What will you DO now?

Often in the movies, this question is asked in an almost pitying tone, yet it doesn’t need to be.  I didn’t get the job I wanted?  That was the choice of the hiring manager.  What will my actions be now?

Certainly I could come home and wallow in self pity, waiting for another depressive episode to overwhelm me.  Or I could take a shower, turn on some music, and start writing.  The first is a reaction, embracing passivity.  The second is an acceptance that no, I didn’t get that job.  That means only as much as I allow it to mean to me.

Beginning To Put The Pieces Together

So this is the big one I’m working on right now, because a big part of it is learning to accept one of the truths that we so often shy away from.  That my thinking and beliefs may be flawed in one way or another.  Because my beliefs drive both my reactions to events and my actions in an attempt to influence or control events.

Most of us like to believe we’re capable of seeing things from a logical perspective, and drawing conclusions from there, and yet, speaking from my own experience especially, we find ourselves unwilling to examine the possibility that some of our deepest pains might come from flawed beliefs.

Is it because the belief is too hard to find?  Too painful to confront?  For me, it was because I just couldn’t imagine that I might need a different belief altogether.  I’d like to hear your ideas in the comments.

Stoic Musings: Why What We Believe About Events Upsets Us More Than The Event.

Remember the last time someone upset you?  Did something that really hurt?  Did you stop to ask yourself, Why?  What do I believe about this event that caused the pain?

I don’t know if it’s a rare person or not that will ask such a question of themselves.  I only know I began asking myself at least a year before I encountered Stoicism, because I was sick and tired of having a few very specific messages regarding various aspects of my identity bombard me constantly.  This post is not about those messages, though, it’s about the broader context, about the ability to ask oneself that pivotal question.

What do I believe about X event that caused me pain/discomfort/fear/etc?

And so we move on to the next two part concept in my Stoic Musings:

Events don’t upset you.  Beliefs do.

I know.  I know.  Again with the Eyebrow of Incredulity.  But let us examine further.

In the GIF above we have a beautiful flower blooming from a rather spiky cactus.  Without an observer, the flower blooms, the cactus continues to live, and no more need be said of the matter.  Yet what if…you stepped on the cactus?  Somehow?

(I’ve done this, trust me, it does not feel pleasant.)

I’ve seen a range of reactions to a stubbed toe, even in a single person over the course of years.  The event never changed.  It was always a stubbed toe, usually on the leg of the same table, in the same kitchen.  Yet the reaction varied so much.

I see the same concept in broader society.  Three people with similar backgrounds encounter the same person, hear the same set of words, and have three totally different reactions.  Some of this has to do with personality, absolutely.  A large portion of it, though, has to do with beliefs.

First, the stubbed toe.  If I believe the world is out to get me – even the table – well, when I stub my toe on that table, I’m probably going to lash out at the table, hit it, push it, do something to express that this event has angered me.  Not only am I feeling the physical pain from stubbing my toe, I’m also feeling the rage and anger at having the world lash out at me through the table being in my way and thus my toe getting stubbed.

Yet if I believe that the table is nothing more than an object, incapable of action, and that the human body is a fallible machine which occasionally perceives objects inaccurately in relation to myself, then stubbing my toe is, at some point, inevitable, as is the pain that accompanies it.  This belief in no way stops the physical pain from hitting when my toe hits the table.  What it does do is allow me to simply grimace, acknowledge that my toe is in momentary pain, and move on.

Belief and Emotional Response

One of the purposes of Stoic philosophy is to learn to transcend over-emotionalism by understanding what is within our control and ignoring the rest.  In order to do this, we must learn to examine every belief we hold, both about the physical world, as evidenced in the stubbed toe example, and about our internal emotional world.  In modern U.S. society, we cling to a hold-over from rationalism – the idea that opinions and actions should be based on reason and knowledge rather than on religious belief or emotional response – while at the same time encouraging ideas such as the need to always and unequivocally medicate mental disorders – specifically anxiety and depression – in order for the brain to function in a rational manner.

While I, myself, have found medication useful, more useful by far has been finding the tools to challenge the beliefs these disorders encourage in me.  Stoicism has been one of those tools, especially because of this idea that it is not the event that upsets me, it is the belief.

During my depressive episodes, for example, my mind has a habit of informing me that I am a horrendous failure because I – slightly – burned dinner.  Thus I’m incapable of ever finishing anything, should never start a project, and the list goes on ad infinitum.  Event?  Dinner slightly burned.  Belief?  I am useless as a person because I never finish anything and if I do, it’s horrible.

With the cognitive behavioral therapists I’ve worked with, the idea is to find evidence to the contrary to counter this belief.  With Stoicism, the idea is to look at the belief itself and ask myself whether holding this belief promotes a virtuous, productive life, or causes me undue discomfort.  Well, believing I’m useless – in my estimation – most certainly counts as the latter.

Additionally challenging the belief head on allows me to both develop the critical thinking skills to FIND that belief, and then to ask whether it serves me.  If it does not, I can then replace it with a new belief that better serves me.  Back to burning dinner, let us replace the belief that I am useless with the belief that I am a fallible human and occasionally make mistakes.  Thus, burning dinner becomes one of those occasional mistakes, I make something else, and I move on.

“But That Won’t Work For Me”

I know, it sounds implausible.  Especially when plenty of parts of society would have us believe that there’s absolutely NOTHING we can do for our mental disorders, and they will always be exactly as miserable as they are or worse.  Yet that too is a belief that we may choose to accept or discard.

It is true that we do not control our body, and in the event of a genuine chemical imbalance, medication can be essential.  I’m on two right now, and I’m under no illusions that adopting a Stoic mindset will indefinitely cure my disorders.  On the other hand, in just the few short weeks I’ve explored the subject, I’ve experienced a significant improvement in my quality of life by adopting the five core principles I’m discussing this week.

I’ve even curbed a few minor anxiety attacks with it.

Will it help you?  Perhaps.  If you believe it will.

Stoic Musings: Control What You Can. Ignore The Rest.

Ever get the feeling life is spiraling totally out of control, and not only is there nothing you can do about it, but it’s completely disrupting your peace of mind?  Or maybe you read that one comment on the internet that just got your blood boiling?  (I’ve done that a few times in the last month.  We’ve all been there.))

Well, fret no more, the Stoics have an answer for you!  It’s quite simple, and for just $19.99 a month… 😉

In all seriousness, though, it is simple, and completely free.  And really, REALLY hard sometimes.  This answer comes in two parts.

1. Control what you can.

2. Ignore the rest.

Stop staring.  I see your mind balking.  What about world hunger?  What about the rights of oppressed groups or marginalized people or this cause or that cause or etc?

I get it!  I do.  Each of us has values.  However, in Stoic thought there is literally only one thing we have any control over at all.  Perhaps it would help to know that another way to say this is: Worrying never fixed anything.

Our Own Actions

Try telling that to good old Rumple, though, right?  We’ve all got a Dark One inside that would LOVE to remake the world and put it under our control, if only to stop those things that we consider wrong, bad, or just inconvenient.  (Admit it, you do it to.  You know, that one person that keeps popping up on your news-feed with THOSE posts?  Hint: That’s what Unfollow or Hide buttons are for.  Moving on.)

At the end of the day, all we control is how we act.  Why?  Well, quite simply, because we DON’T control anything else.  At all.

We’d like to think we do.  We’d love to believe we can control our kids’ behavior or other peoples’ reactions to our behavior, or even our own health.  Come to think of it, in the United States, we’re rather obsessed with control of the external, but we’ll cover that a bit further down.  The key to Control What You Can is to remember that you control Your Own Actions.  Master that part, and then we move on to Part 2.

IGNORE the Rest

So, wait, Raidon, you’re saying we should just embrace apathy and never bother with anything?

Not at all.  However this is only one of five core concepts from the Stoics.  There’s another entirely devoted to acceptance without passivity.  They work together.  Essentially this is an admonition to not allow those events, circumstances, and people over which you have no control to disturb the peace of your life.

This is the hard part of the admonition.  After all, I’m not a cat.  I’d love to be capable of looking at someone who’s probably annoying me, and walking away genuinely unperturbed in the long run, but I’m human.  My response is usually much closer to, “Stop bugging me, and fix your neurosis before I can be part of your life!”  Talk about a mini-abandonment complex.  (ADHD moment: Surprising what one can learn from their own characters, but that’s neither here nor there at the moment.)

Anyway, my usual response is based in the belief that another’s actions are capable of long-term, detrimental effects on me – my well-being, my emotional stability – and while this may have been true when I was a young child, it need not be true in my adult years.  This is not to say I will never have an emotional reaction to something someone says or does, but I need not allow that reaction to swell past reasonable means, nor scar me for good.

Yet the society I am part of purely by birth seems obsessed with the almost paradoxical ideas that our emotions hold near-absolute sway over our lives, but we hold near-absolute sway over our external realities.  Welcome to the American Dream.

External Control, Safe Spaces and The American Dream

Nailed it! I think… Maybe?

So what do I mean when I talk about this paradox of emotions controlling us but us controlling our realities?  Allow me a phrase here that carries a good deal of risk.  Safe Space.  Whatever you personally think of the idea of safe spaces, good idea, bad idea, what have you, here’s how they fit into the paradox I see.  It is the idea that external reality CAN be brought under enough control that it will not harm vulnerable individuals.

Friends, this is, sadly, an impossibility.  If there is a safe space in existence, we must, through our own actions, make our own minds that safe space, for there are times when even our homes are not a safe space.  It’s a tragedy, but it’s true.  Thus the concept of an external safe space, in my experience, is a paradox.  In large part because a space that is safe for some will never be safe for others.

Now where does this leave us with the American Dream?  Well, the idea that external safe spaces could be created seems to stem from the concept wrapped in the American Dream that we, as individuals, control our own destiny.  Except we have no control over the future.  Our actions may inform and persuade the path of our future, certainly.  It’s unlikely someone who goes to medical school will get a job as a welder upon graduation.  On the other hand, it’s possible that a welding student may sustain an injury outside of their training that leaves them unable to pursue their chosen craft.

A car crash or a hiking accident, for example, that leaves them physically incapable of sustaining the demands of a welding profession.

Perhaps the stress of medical school triggered an autoimmune disorder that leaves the medical student disabled and only able to sustain two to four hours of work a day.  They can no longer be a doctor.

Let us suppose that these individuals make it into their respective careers?  Well, then they must contend with all the external, uncontrolled variables of a changing job market, changing regulations, employers, co-workers that may or may not approve of them, etc.  All they can control is their own actions.

Safety in Self Control

Yoda may be talking about questions, but think of this.  If we can clear our mind of the expectation that we MUST react to everything, and instead we can begin to see that we are interdependent agents of action, perhaps we may begin to see the course of the world itself changing.  I don’t know.  That is a thing outside my control.  🙂

Yet if we can begin to see that we control our actions, and simply move through the world without overt concern for those things we cannot control, I believe we will be more at peace with both ourselves and the world.  And yes, there are four more pieces to the Stoic puzzle I’m just starting to work out.  These are core concepts and my musings on them.  The next one we’ll look at is this.  Events don’t upset you.  Beliefs do.

Stoicism: What The Stoics Knew About Realistic Thinking And Gratitude

Fascinating what we find when we dig into the history of a concept.  Stoicism isn’t even an idea I found particularly interesting or appealing until two days ago, when Tim Ferris shared a blog post from Aeon about the concept.  Aeon’s post Indifference Is A Power discusses why stoicism is “one of the best mind hacks ever devised.”  Which is ridiculous according to the current understanding of the philosophy.  Ask most Americans, and they’ll tell you that if someone can endure without complaining, well that person is stoic.  Many of us have even forgotten this is, in fact, a school of philosophy dating back to Ancient Greece.  I certainly didn’t know that.

Really I didn’t even know being stoic was anything more than white-knuckling through a problem.  And if you’ve ever stared longingly at that last piece of cake at the birthday party when you weren’t the one throwing the party, you know just how tough white-knuckling is.  In fact, most of the time, it doesn’t work.

It's okay. It wasn't my cake. Don't be upset. DON'T BE UPSET!
It’s okay. It wasn’t my cake. Don’t be upset. DON’T BE UPSET!

No, it wasn’t, but Jessi the Birthday Girl didn’t get that last piece either.  Chris got it, the dirty rat, and that was their third piece!

So What Is Stoicism, Anyway?

I’ll be the first to admit, this post is a form of catharsis.  Life hasn’t been particularly gentle to me in the past year or three, as those who follow this blog well know, and I’ve been searching for a way to cope through bouts of Major Depressive Disorder – you know, the version of depression that causes the ending of one’s own life to look like the only option.  In fact, yesterday and this morning, I had a very personal experience that, in the past, may have triggered a severe episode.

So I’m going to try a new approach this time.  That new approach involves a heavy dose of Stoicism, because what it ISN’T is white-knuckling through until the problem goes away.  It isn’t simply enduring a problem until it’s not a problem.

In Aeon author Larry Wallace’s words, Stoicism offers “lasting transcendence and imperturbable tranquility.”

For someone with both Social Anxiety and Major Depression, that sounds pretty darn good!  Except I’ve heard such promises before, from things like yoga, Eastern spiritual practices like Buddhism and Taoism, and other esoteric cultures.  Don’t get me wrong, those work for some people.  Ever the skeptic, I kept reading.  And found that Stoicism, at its core, involves a kind of gratitude so lasting, so durable that it was the source of the tranquility that allowed such seeming indifference towards the turbulence of life.  In fact, if you take a glance at Urban Dictionary, it describes the Stoic thus (objectionable content redacted 😉 ):

stoic

Someone who does not give a *** about the stupid things in this world that most people care so much about. Stoics do have emotions, but only for the things in this world that really matter. They are the most real people alive.

Group of kids are sitting on a porch. Stoic walks by.

Kid – “Hey man, yur a [REDACTED] an you [REDACTED]!”

Stoic – “Good for you.”

Keeps going.

IF ONLY!  How many times have I seen a stranger’s comment on the internet, or a political post, or some other manner of tomfoolery or skulduggery, and felt the need to become a web Avenger, slaying idiocy with the stroke of the Post button!  How many times has that foolishness sunk into my being and percolated there in the deep recesses that fester and later become episodes of depression?

Do I think this will be a cure?  Not at all.  It’s simply a piece of the puzzle.  It is, however, a philosophy I have, in some ways, already put into practice.

The Power of Gratitude

Most of us were taught as kids that Please and Thank You go a long way.  Yet I don’t know how many of us were ever taught that gratitude is a lifestyle.  It’s even in the definition, “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.”  I also had another thought.  In its own way, it’s a form of sacrifice.  And it brings power.  Not the obvious kind of power that rules worlds, but the quiet, simple power that shapes them through individual lives and choices.

Why are you looking at me like that?  I see your eyebrow.  Put it down and hear me out a second.

I’ve seen my mother go through two divorces.  I’ve seen my family fall apart.  When I was a teenager, I decided I’d do everything in my power to keep that from happening to any relationship I wound up in.  One significant pattern I noticed was a lack of genuine gratitude, and so I promised myself that in my future romantic relationships, I would ensure that my partner knew what I was grateful for in them, and knew it often.  I don’t just do things to show my husband I love him and appreciate him.  I tell him, quite specifically, the qualities in him that I am grateful for.  And I do so frequently.

However, until just now, I hadn’t decided to attempt to expand this practice to my friends, my family, or life in a general sense, though somewhere in my pile of notebooks, I have one that is simply a list of things I’m grateful for.

So how, you may be asking, is gratitude a sacrifice?  It is, in my eyes, a cultural thing.  You see, we aren’t really encouraged to see what we have and recognize it as good or great.  We are encouraged – always – to strive for more, better.  Yet how can we know where we’re going, if we’re not truly aware of what we are?  Gratitude is the sacrificing of falsely positive thinking.  Of “if only I had, did, was, then I could have, do, be.”  Gratitude is the choice to look at what IS, and look at it AS IT IS, not as it could be or as it “should” be, or as you would like it to be.

The Value of Realistic Thinking

I wanted to find the image, but I can’t off hand.  I’ve seen a quote floating around about trees, and the concept is this.  Often, we go out into nature and we see trees or plants or rock formations, and we simply accept what they are.  We have no need to change them, because they simply are.  Yet often we do not apply the same thinking to people, others or ourselves.

In doing so, we begin to create expectations, often without having the full story, and when those expectations aren’t met, we find ourselves trying to change the person in question.

Now, the original quote is dealing with the idea of judgement, however I see this applying to Stoic thinking as well.  After all, is it truly realistic to expect anyone to live up to any expectations but their own?  Especially if we often fall short of our own expectations?  Not really.  Much more realistic to do what Marcus Aurelius is said to have done every morning.  He was a follower of Stoic thought.

Every morning, he’d tell himself, “I shall meet with meddling, ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, and unsociable people.”

He’s not wrong.  Plenty of people exist like that in the world.  Yes, plenty of kind, loving caring people exist as well, but if we only tell ourselves we’ll encounter the latter, the former have the power to ruin our whole day.  Prepare for the former, and be infinitely grateful for the latter.

I’m only beginning to study the concepts of Stoicism, and I’ll keep you updated on how it turns out.  I’m hoping it helps, and it seems like it might.  If you’ve made it this far, leave your thoughts in the comments.  I’d love to hear your ideas about the Aeon article, Stoicism, and what you knew about it before this post.