Foresight

“Can anything be sillier than the point of view of certain people- I mean those who boast of their foresight?  They keep themselves very busily engaged in order that they may be able to live better; they spend life in making ready to live!
“They form their purpose with a view of the distant future; yet postponement is the greatest waste of life; it deprives them of each day as it comes, it snatches from them the present by promising something hereafter.”
“The greatest hinderance to living is expectancy, which depends on the morrow and wastes today.”   
Seneca

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Nothing is more sad to me than the fact that I spent the first 30 years of my life living in a space where I constantly looked to what the future might bring without ever once considering where I was at the present.  I would constantly cycle through these following phrases to assure myself that while the present all might not be what I want, someday I would have what I wanted.

  • “Someday I will make enough money to prove to others that I am a man worthy of their praise.”
  • “Someday I will be able to afford the things in life I want.”
  • “Someday life will not be so turbulent.”
  • Someday I will be in good enough shape to go to the beach and not feel self conscious about how I look.”
  • “Someday I will be able to provide something that a woman would want in a partner.”
  • “Someday I will not be such a hopelessly lost human.”
  • “Someday life will be comfortable.”

I lived my life thinking that the better part of my life always remained in the future.  The present was never enough. No matter what I obtained, what I thought I needed to obtain outweighed the successes I had.  “Okay so I bought a car. Big deal it wasn’t a Porsche.  But when I can buy the Porsche then I will have made it! Then I will be able to lift my head with pride as I conduct my business around town.”  That was until I actually bought the Porsche and realized it did nothing except drain my bank account.

There was always something more, always something that, if I was able to obtain it, would fill the gap in myself.  So I would run around in circles chasing the tail of desires that had no end. And that gap in myself never went away.

The same went for work.  If I started a business, then I would be in a position to make loads of money while not having to listen to others tell me what to do.  I would get respect because I was a businessman! I would have purpose in life through my business. Well I did exactly that, and never found it to be enough.  I lost my time and freedom attending to my affairs and trying to keep the business afloat. I looked to the future for solace, and when the future turned into the present, I cursed it for not delivering what I dreamed of.

It was Seneca more than any other who drove home the insanity of this way of living.  Remaining present is a central focus of all spiritual and philosophical teachings. Out of all of the different teachings and teachers, Seneca presented it in a way that I could appreciate and understand the lesson.  His letter to Paulinus on the length of a human life and what we do with it was transformative. “You squander time as if you draw it from a full and abundant supply,” he said, “Though all the while that day which you bestow on that person or thing is perhaps your last.”  

Though death might not be waiting for us around each and every corner, old age is. What you are hearing when someone bemoans how “Time just flies by! One day I woke up and I was 50. Where has my life gone?” Is not that time flies, but that the actual part of life a person was actively aware of was very small.  

Life moves by us at a constant pace, never telling us where it is going or expecting us to observe it. As I have become more present and aware of this day, this minute, this second, I notice each moment as the moment of a lifetime. In doing this my life appears to be longer. Time has not shifted, things have not slowed down, the universe continues on exactly as it did before I was born, and exactly as it will after I am gone.  The difference being I am more aware of my life and I am able to live more of it as each day passes.

The beauty of this is while I still look towards the future at times, for example my upcoming move to another state, I can still sit and appreciate the Christmas Tree that sits in the corner of the space in which I am writing.  Yes, the promise of different, not better or worse, but different situations and lifestyle lay before me, but none of that is as important as the promise of joy and wonder I get from looking at a Christmas Tree. The future does not take me out of the present. The future is there and it will come as it will.  I have discovered freedom in this understanding. I am beginning to become aware that life is long, much longer in fact than I can have ever dreamed.

Now I can lift my head and look upon the world with pride.  I face life as a free man, secure in knowing that the present is what is important, the future will come and I will be ready for it, but the present is all that matters.  Time is not mine to waste, time is mine to experience and live. Thanks to Seneca and the wisdom he shared all those years ago, I can find the great joy in knowing that whatever comes does not matter until it does.

World Press Freedom Day

Know Your Role

Our true roles in this world are not going to be found on the surface level.  They are not found through accepting positions or stations in life that are less than what we are capable of or that lay outside our true integrity as a person.  They are not found by trying to achieve things that are outside of our scope or talents. They are found through ceaselessly and honestly examining who we are as a person and what we are capable of.  The great thing about that is who we are and what we are capable of is directly under our control and can change as we live life

“We are like actors.  We have been assigned our roles in life without being consulted first.  Some of us will act in short dramas, others in a longer one. We might be given the role of a poor person, a disabled person, a celebrity or public leader, or an ordinary person.”

“While we can’t control the role we are given, it must be our business to act our given role as best we can.  Wherever you find yourself and in whatever performance, give an impeccable performance.”

“If you are supposed to be a reader, read; if you are supposed to be a writer, write.”

-Epictetus

Accepting anything less than our true roles in life creates friction that will continue to build until it turns into a raging fire that threatens to burn down everything you have created in the world.  If you don’t believe me, look at suburbia or the corporate work world. You won’t have to look hard to find people who are dealing with the fallout of not looking for their deeper roles in life. The friction in their lives manifest through addictions, obesity, poor relationships, sickness, and early death.  Cardiac disease kills more people than anything else. It is as if people are literally dying of broken hearts. Broken hearts brought on by not finding their true roles in the world and the peace and contentment that comes with them.

Unlike Rome 2,000 years ago where a person was born with their role set in stone, the roles we are given now are fluid and adaptable.  We might be born poor, with low socioeconomic or personal status, but with hard work and searching for our role in the world, there is a chance, even if it is small, to become wealthy and have an abundance of resources.  Resources that go far beyond just monetary means, but include the quality of our relationships, the joy we find in life, and the wealth of our own contentment and the community we live in. No matter what our path is currently, each of us has the opportunity to change directions at any time and find another path to pursue.  We aren’t born into slavery nor are we born into a class system that has no overlap or communication. In short, our excuses for not reaching our potential are much less than they have ever been before.

It is easier to find a role in the world by attaching ourselves to an identity and place others have found success with than it is to sit in the uncertainty of finding our own unique role and the great joy that comes with it.  The reward of facing this uncertainty and finding our own unique role allows us to bring meaning to everything we do in the world. We are no longer burdened by the incessant feeling that we aren’t living up to our full potential.  Instead we are filled with the joy and wonder that comes with exploring our roles in life! The uncertainty and self-doubt is erased. We are able to let go and fully inhabit the role we are in with a clear mind and open heart. We no longer feel the need to do drugs, drink, or numb ourselves in other ways to try and forget what we aren’t doing.  How we aren’t living.

I asked myself a few questions when the nagging in the back of mind started again a few months back. I looked actively and tirelessly for my own answers.  Here are a few of the questions I asked myself:

  • What are my talents and passions?
  • What do I believe about myself?
  • What do I believe about the world?
  • What brings me joy and excitement in life?
  • What am I inexplicably attracted to in the world?  For work? For play? For purpose?
  • What do I want my life to look like?  
  • What kind of person do I want to be?  
  • What character traits would I like to have?  
  • What am I doing right now that does not support me or the type of person I want to be?
  • Are there other places I could go in the world that would support what I want to become?

I would work on one or two questions a day, or maybe a week before moving on.  I think everytime I asked myself one of these questions I was filled with a feeling of unknowing.  At first this was disconcerting, but as I actively worked on find some answers I was able to see that what I needed was time.  Time to let the questions sit in my mind and time to let the world open up and start to provide me answers.

So moving forward, I now understand my role. It is to write the story of my life and help others do the same.  It does not matter how many different roles I need to take on or places I need to go to do this. Stoicism helped me to see this and the control over where I was and what I was doing in my life was entirely up to me.  Exploring the roles I have available to me has shown me that as much as I love sitting back and reading a great story about someone achieving their full potential, my assigned role is to go out and write the story..  I really hope you can find your role in this lesson in Stoicism and apply it into your life however best serves you.

“If you are supposed to be a reader, read; if you are supposed to be a writer, write.”expand your horizons

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Moving Into Courage

Philosophy calls us to move into courage.  It calls on us to actively and consciously analyze the faulty reasoning we build our lives and identities on and then change it.  Philosophy points us to the things we are doing well, shines a light on the things we can improve and gives us the tools and a map to act.  It provides us with a way to create our life as we see fit.

It is easy to talk about philosophy.  Anyone can jabber on about the existence of God or freewill at Starbucks using their pseudo-intellectual powers to sound like they have life figured out.  Anyone can throw out quotes.  Anyone can act like they understand what the quotes mean.  It’s difficult to live philosophy.  It’s difficult to change the focus from others to yourself.  It’s difficult to admit what you are not doing as well as you could because it takes courage to look at yourself and say “I am not the person I want to be”.  It takes even more courage to say “I am not the person I want to be and I am going to change”.

I do not just talk philosophy, I live it. I live it with each struggle I encounter. And sometimes I fail to learn the lesson which life is giving. But, more often than not, I succeed. I succeed because of the lessons taught by the philosophers which came before me.

The philosophers wanted their students to succeed and their lessons are built to help all of us, not just certain “special” people or academics.

When I got out of the military I thought I knew everything about the world I wanted to inhabit and the life I wanted to build.  Within days of shedding that identity I faced the crushing fact that I was wrong. I had tried with all my might to create a perfect transition trip from the military into the “real world” and failed.  I came face to face with the faulty reasoning I had built my life on in the mirror of a hostile bathroom. I was not the person I wanted to be and it filled me with shame. Who the hell was I? What was I doing?  Why was I living like this? I had traveled to Maui to find paradise but instead I found the same hell I left behind on the mainland ( I did get a better tan which was a bonus).

What I understand now, which I did not understand then, is what I was doing was running away from the fire or the “Hell” I told myself life was back home. This instead of running towards what filled me.  There is a strange law of life; No matter where “Hell” is for you, unless you move towards what you love with integrity, you will find the same “Hell” wherever you go.  Running away doesn’t put out the fire, it allows it to grow unchecked.  Running towards it does. It is the only surefire way to put that fire out and get out of “Hell.”  Stoicism gave me this ability.

Actively working towards understanding what is in my control, what isn’t, and disregarding that which is not in my control is the first step. Letting go of aggravation and frustration toward other drivers on the road or the people I work with (still working on this one) is the second step. This gives me space and energy to focus on other, more important aspects of life. The third step: Accepting events as they happen, understanding they are impersonal and indifferent, creates further space for me to look at myself and address issues as they arise. This allowes me to discover who I am as a man and human, begin to explore the world and what it has to offer.

www.TheAnonymousStoic.com

The Only Way is Through

Stoic View of Moving Through An Event

  • Nothing truly stops you.  Nothing truly holds you back.  For your will is always within your control.  Your will needn’t be affected by an incident unless you let it.  Remember this with everything that happens to you.
  • Every difficulty in life presents us with an opportunity to turn inward and to invoke our own submerged inner resources.  The trials we endure can and should introduce us to our strengths.
  • Prudent people look beyond the trial itself and seek to form the habit of putting it to good use.

Easy to say, difficult to do.  Not once in my time on this planet have I been able to put any of these aforementioned lessons into action to level that the mere words suggest. Nothing truly stops you? Show me one person who has not been stopped by something that has happened in their outer world. Yes on paper nothing should stop you because everything that happens to you is a way to grow, but try telling that to someone who is thrashing around facing something they never could have imagined.  

Maybe there is a better way to approach looking at the events taking place in your life and construct a way to move forward.  If you are diligent in your work, you will get through it. So in a sense it didn’t stop you, and yet it did for a time, but you moved through it.  

Instead of getting frustrated because you couldn’t move through the event immediately, Could you change your thinking from the thought “eventually I moved past this obstacle and now it is no longer stopping me”?  This is the single biggest recurring struggle I face when analyzing how I handle the events that come up in life. This is because I have read the word, studied the literature and I should magically be able to put it into action.  I can put it into action but often it takes weeks or months to do so. Letting go of the expectation to do everything instantaneously has given me a huge measure of peace in life.

It’s the same with every difficulty life presents us.  Very few of us have the ability to truly detach ourselves from something as it is happening and to think that we “should” be able to detach is doing ourselves an injustice.  Yes, I can detach myself from something I have experienced before much faster than a completely new experience, but there still is a period of time where I am to involved in the event to look at anything else.  This is the time where the rolling seas and the howling wind of whatever is happening are pounding me with everything they have. All I can do is hold on tightly and get through the event as best I can with the tools I have.  When the storm settles, which it always does, then I can go back and survey the damage.

How did this stop me?  What did it bring up? How can I build my character to help me see the storm sooner the next time it comes and protect myself a little more from the damage it can do?  If, like I do more often than I would like to admit, I am stuck seeing everything which was wrong in the way I handled the event or finding the faults in the tools I had, I miss the opportunity to learn what I can from the storm.  I miss the ability to see my strengths.

Then comes the best part: Putting what happened and what I learned from the event into something that I can use to help myself and others in the future.  This is something I do a day, a week, or a month after the event. It takes time to find perspective, to separate the emotions and see the event in an unbiased way.  Often the answers for what I need to do are right in front of me and the perspective and distance allows me to see them. Were the answers there when I was going through the event?  Probably. But sometimes I just can’t separate myself from it. I keep this easy part easy. What did I do right? What did I do that wasn’t so right? What can I do to change or reinforce these answers in the future?  I make a list, I think about it, then I put it away knowing that something similar will happen again and If I can remember just one thing and improve on it the next time I am ahead of the curve.

Talking about philosophy is easy.  Living philosophy is not so easy. But a life well lived was never meant to be easy, no matter how much I want it to be.

The Pursuit of Happiness

Happiness and freedom come from a clear understanding of one thing: Some things in life are within our control and some things are not.

It is only after you have faced this fundamental rule and learned what you can and can’t control that inner tranquility and outer harmony are possible. Opinions, values, beliefs, desires, and dislikes, are rightly our concerns because they directly concern us. We always have a choice about the content and character of our inner lives.

Identifying and accepting the things that are outside our control is just as important unless you want to spend untold amounts of energy and time worrying over things you have no influence over.  What kind of body you have, whether you were born wealthy or poor, what others think of you, and the status you have in society.  None of these things are directly in your control and should be identified as such before being let go slowly as your understanding of worrying about them has on your overall health.  Trying to control or change what we have no power to change only results in torment.

Next, keep your attention focused entirely on what is your own concern and be CLEAR that what belongs to others is their business and none of yours.  In knowing and focusing only on what actually concerns you, you cannot be made to do anything against your will, such as becoming unhappy.

Circumstances do not rise to meet our expectations or dreams.  They happen exactly as they do.  People behave as they are.  Embrace what you actually get and spare yourself the frustration of arguing with reality.  Remember that nothing can be gained from a long and protracted fight against reality.  Embrace what you actually get.  Open your eyes and see the joy and wonder in life as it unfolds on its own terms.  See things for what they really are and spare yourself the suffering of false attachments to a reality that isn’t real.

When something happens, the goal we need to work towards is a complete understanding that the only thing that is within your power is your attitude towards it; you can either accept it or resent it, either way it still happened.  Your reaction to it will change the course of history or events.  What frightens or disturbs us is not the event itself, but the way we think about it.

Things and people are not what we wish they would be nor are they what they appear to be.

They Are What They Are.

Don’t try to make your own rules.  Conduct yourself in all matters, both great and small, in accordance with the laws of nature.  Harmonizing your will with nature should be your utmost ideal.

Things in and of themselves do not hurt or hinder us.  Likewise, nor do other people.  How we view these things is a different matter though.  Our perceptions, attitude, and reactions to things, events, and people can hurt us though.

It is a difficult fact to accept, but for the most part we cannot chose or control our external circumstances, but we can always choose how we react to them.