In your preparation for taking on life, there are three facets of your training that are key. You’ve heard them before, as they are nothing new. They are Body, Mind, and Spirit. A Stoic Hero, of course has his own spin on these three aspects. I know these seem kind of cliche. I tried to be more original but there really is no other way to break it down. To be ready, to be virtuous (which means to be happy), I have to work on all three. They are not independent of each other…no way! Your physical health is affected by your mind and spirit, your mind is connected to your body is connected to your emotional well being, and on and on. Interestingly, each of these aspects fit quite nicely with the buoys on my philosophical raft. Continue reading
I was planning to visit my son at college. He knew I was going to see him Thursday. My wife had sent him a text on Monday, telling him that we would be making the 3-hour drive to have lunch with him. He responded with his typical concise “ok.” We were very busy until Wednesday night, but my wife sent a text around 6 pm, “We are coming for lunch tomorrow.” He did not respond. No big deal, this is typical of my atypical son who does not check texts very often, and seems to reply even less. At 10:30 pm the night before our trip, I sent a text to him…no response. Again, this is typical, he was probably working and couldn’t check it. As we departed for his college Thursday morning, I sent a new text, “We are coming for lunch today.” I did not receive a reply. Continue reading
Like the traveler on an aircraft, you are vulnerable. At any time, the cabin may lose pressurization and you would not have enough oxygen to breathe. If there were to be a rapid decompression, vapor would fill the room, the pressure would drop, and your lungs would deflate. Your lungs would be unable to provide you the required oxygen, because there is simply not enough pressure. Of course, if everything worked as expected, the oxygen masks would drop providing you with enough pure oxygen to survive until the situation was under control.
(In the video: The Masks Drop at 1:28)
But did you remember what the flight attendant said? “Always put your own mask on first.” Why? Because if you tried to put your child’s mask on first you would pass out before you might help either her or you. You must put your own mask on FIRST. Once you do, you can help others. So make, sure you are taken care of, then move on to helping those closest to you.
Notice that you don’t have to be safely on the ground or 100% secure to help others, but you do have to at least have the tools to function as a servant.
“If one were to measure what is agreeable by the standard of pleasure, nothing would be pleasanter than self-control; and if one were to measure what is to be avoided by pain, nothing would be more painful than lack of self-control.” Musonius Rufus
How do I live? Isn’t that the whole point of having a philosophy? It is good to have a philosophy, to be whole and virtuous, to have tranquility, but is it a mistake to spend the bulk of my time and thought on “me”? In the end, we are looking for our own contentment. I am not going to lie to myself; in the end, how I live my life is determined by how it makes “me” feel. Will my actions and thoughts bring me tranquility?
I close my eyes for a moment. What do I sense? Where is the center of this sensation? For some, it will be in our heads, for others it will be somewhere near the center of mass of our body, maybe the navel, maybe near the heart. What is my perspective when I open my eyes? The perspective comes from the center of my head. When I listen where does the sound go? Inside me somewhere, yes? When I feel pleasant, where do I feel it…somewhere within the boundaries of my body, no? Everything starts somewhere within the confines of “me.” For you, it is the same.
My point here is that I cannot avoid the fact that everything in my life starts with an egocentric motive, it starts with me. All things in my life start with me. All the things that I can control are inside of me. My mood, my thoughts, parts of my health. This is not to say that everything in me is in my control. I will maintain that cancer may destroy my body regardless of how much I do not want it to. My brain does not fire on all cylinders all the time despite how much I want it to. The examples abound of things I cannot control within me. But here is my point: if it is something we can control, it is within us. Nothing outside of us is completely in our control.
Moreover, too many times we attempt to “fix” the world around us before we have made ourselves ready for the task. Before setting sail, shouldn’t we make sure our ship is seaworthy? Absolutely! Keep in mind, that you could spend 100% of your time on yourself, and of course there will still be imperfection. For a ship, being seaworthy does not mean that there aren’t maintenance issues to be dealt with constantly. Eventually, you have to sail with what you have, and you deal with the minor issues on the ship as they appear. So, I hope you see my point: tending to your own mind and body is first and will take the bulk of your time, but that is so you can well and faithfully serve where necessary…but only if and when you have readied yourself.
I think that is why the Stoic philosophy is so “me-oriented,” since that is the locus of control that we truly have. That is why me is always first. Wholeness begins with yourself. You can serve others better when you are whole.
Entropy is the measure of energy in a closed system. When something has more energy, there is more disorder. Think of the molecules in a an ice cube versus that in water vapor. The molecules in the ice cube have less energy and they are all arranged nicely in a solid. Water vapor’s molecules, on the other hand, are warmer and are all over the place…disordered. So, scientifically (and in engineering, of course), the concept of entropy is used to measure the amount of disorder and energy in a system. In a closed system, entropy NEVER decreases. This is called the Second Law of Thermodynamics: “entropy of an isolated system never decreases, because isolated systems spontaneously evolve towards thermodynamic equilibrium — the state of maximum entropy [disorder].” (Thanks Wikipedia)
This is a scientific law, but it necessarily has had philosophical implications. Many, regardless of whether or not they have a scientific background, have referred to entropy to explain why things are the way they are. Everything naturally flows towards more disorder; if left alone, things will become disorderly. So accordingly, something must tidy it up. At the worldly level, it must be man. At the cosmic level, it must be the divine. For some, it proves the existence of God.
But I am straying from my original intent. I do think that the Second Law of Thermodynamics can have philosophical implications. That is, it can give us some perspective on life in general. At this point however, I would like to turn my thoughts away from what determines order or disorder, and limit the discussion to the fact that there simply is disorder in our system. In other words, since the tendency in a system is toward disorder, then there will definitely be disorder in your life.
This flows nicely into the Stoic triad of control, fate, and impermanence. If my life is orderly and just so right now, then I better enjoy it while it lasts. Something will upset this order, because it is the natural way of things. I cannot control most of it; it will happen as it is fate; and things that are so now, will not be so later…they are impermanent.
If your life is in disarray now, if it is messy, then maybe you should consider yourself lucky: it is the natural way of things and you are in harmony with nature. I know, that may be a sick joke, but in humor there is truth, no? Seriously though, you can take heart in the fact that this is just the way things are. Hopefully, you have already prepared for this state with your reflections on reality.
Which brings me to our place in a world of disorder. If there is much I cannot control, this means that there ARE things I can. I need to concentrate on those things I can control: my mental outlook, reactions to the insults, tragedies and attacks that come my way, not to mention my ability to reduce the chaos as much as possible for those around me. I can reduce the entropy in my world. I would definitely concentrate on the “world” inside my head, then limit my efforts to anything around me within a stone’s throw (or soccer ball’s kick, if you will), but that’s just me.
Remember, that entropy/disorder increases in a completely closed system. Since our own “system” is nothing even close to being closed, and we are surrounded by “systems” that are not closed, we can add order to each in our own way.
Just be mindful that the march toward disorder will continue, no matter what you do.
OK now, how about a quote from a Stoic giant. I think this one applies from Epictetus. Think of the onion and shellfish as the order in your life, and the ship as the reality of disorder: “Consider when, on a voyage, your ship is anchored; if you go on shore to get water you may along the way amuse yourself with picking up a shellfish, or an onion. However, your thoughts and continual attention ought to be bent towards the ship, waiting for the captain to call on board; you must then immediately leave all these things, otherwise you will be thrown into the ship, bound neck and feet like a sheep. So it is with life. If, instead of an onion or a shellfish, you are given a wife or child, that is fine. But if the captain calls, you must run to the ship, leaving them, and regarding none of them. But if you are old, never go far from the ship: lest, when you are called, you should be unable to come in time.”