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
(Note: This is a foreshadowing of my next post…stay tuned.)
From Epictetus Discourses Book 3, Chapter 8:
As we train ourselves to deal with sophistical questions, so we ought to train ourselves day by day to deal with impressions: for these too propound questions to us.
I recently had an opportunity to meet up with some old friends from the military at a retirement for a friend. This friend was doing what he loved, the Air Force was his dream job. I was envious. I retired from the military precisely because it was not what I loved. It was not my “dream job.” My friend will be moving on to a high-powered corporate management gig, and I started to wonder how he will do outside of his “dream job.” But then I realized something about my friend. It wasn’t that he was doing what he loved, it’s because he loves what he’s doing. My friend is going to love his new gig because he simply has a great attitude about things wherever he goes. More specifically, he loves making “good things happen to people” (his words). Fortunately for him, in management (a field used in every industry and calling) it always involves people.
This retirement event was a soul-searching one for me, Continue reading
I have read several studies that have stated that once you are beyond a certain level of subsistence, more wealth does not bring you more happiness (see here, here, and here). If you are reading this, you are probably one of those people with enough to live on. So the question is what are you after? Certainly not power; that too, is ephemeral and it just brings more desire.
Happiness…that is what you are after. How do you obtain it? The third article above states that we tend to have a “set point” of happiness, regardless of our life condition. This may very well be true.
As I have mentioned many times, I think our happiness is derived from our perspective on how things really are. Our perspective can be widened by understanding the three Stoic concepts of control, fate, and impermanence. Understanding these concepts takes work. That’s the theme of my entry today, that you can read my interpretation of the Stoic philosophy, you can reach the end and say, “Ah-hah!” and you are not even close to finding happiness through virtue. This pursuit has to be done through constant tending of your mind. Wouldn’t it be great if we could throw some seeds down, and a garden would just grow itself? Unfortunately, this is not the case. We have to nurture those seeds constantly, water them, feed them with fertilizer, look out for pests, pull the weeds, and THEN we have to know when is the right time to harvest. Wow! All that for a garden!
So imagine how much work it takes to nurture your own virtue. I maintain that this endeavor is far more tedious than growing a garden. Maybe a simple meditation based on a Stoic viewpoint, performed daily or whenever needed, could help. Maybe right before bed and also before you place your feet on the floor when you wake up, you can simply remind yourself:
- Control – There will be much I cannot control, but I can control my attitude
- Fate – Many things will happen to me, much will be unexpected
- Impermanence – Someday I will be gone, someday it will all be gone
- So (Telling yourself in the day): Live as if today were your last, but serve as best you know how, and be mindful and pleasant
- So (Telling yourself before bed): Sleep deeply, leave it behind for now. If you awake tomorrow, you will be ready.
Searching for the truth is hard work. Particularly in this era, we are surrounded by conflicting theories. They are available to us at the click of a mouse, or the selection of an app. It is very difficult to ascertain what is true and what is propaganda or delusion (this includes the self-delusion of the provider of the information). Speaking of delusion and propaganda, we have our own biases to deal with as well. Delusion is all around us, but we can still seek truth, no?
We want to believe in something…something magical, or mystical even. When someone tells us “it will all be OK,” we want to believe them. For this reason, we may accept what they have to say. If someone tells us that, “all we have to do is visualize our future and it will become reality,” then we certainly want to believe that as well. The success of self-appointed and celebrity-endorsed gurus is an indication that we all want to believe something, especially if it is something positive; especially if it means that we can have more control over our destiny. I think most people choose this route…to believe. It feels better to “feel” like we are in control, even if it is only in our mind. Furthermore, we want the biggest payback with the least amount of work, toil and suffering. I think we are just wired that way.
The problem is that most of these guru-issued assurances are lies. They are pretty, they are comforting, they are delicious (like a dessert), but they are lies nonetheless.
Eventually, the sugar-high wears off and we are stuck with more hunger, and we feel lousy as well. Throughout my life, I have read a wide assortment of New-Age gurus, religious apologetics, spiritual advisors, and self-anointed prophets (maybe I should have spelled it “profits”). The most successful of these seem to be saying things like this
- Your future is yours.
- Trust in the Lord, and it will turn out all right.
- All of us have a destiny, when you are aware of yours, you can’t fail.
- Just believe and it will happen.
This advice may help us cope, but I don’t think it changes the reality around us: You win some, you lose some and sometimes you just keep losing.
This is not to say that having a positive mental attitude is not helpful. Certainly if we envision something, like a goal for instance, this can help us obtain it. It can direct our energies toward accomplishing our own betterment. But that is only the beginning, and it’s a long haul indeed. What the gurus won’t tell you is the following:
- Accomplishment requires hard work. Certainly our desires and passions drive us to work harder, but desire and wishing will not get us to where we want to be.
- Your success is not guaranteed. People fail all the time, over and over again. Some will die in poverty, depressed, alone. Some will be ill their entire lives, some will lose their life too soon, possibly the moment they think they have figured it all out. This is not their fault, it is just fate.
- You will suffer, as long as you are on Earth. It is all around us. You will face disease, death, and destruction. You cannot wish this away.
To know these truths is to be armed and ready. Ready for what we will be challenged with, and ready for when things don’t go our way. The simple fact of the matter is that a large majority of our lives are out of our control, and much of life will pummel us. This does not mean that we shouldn’t have goals, or try to make things better. Knowing these truths, while maybe brutal at first, should motivate us to do our part to serve, to excel, to care. In my view, this is what calls us to try, to accomplish, to wrestle with existence.
But you can’t be a wrestling champ if you don’t train.