4 min read
The reflection for this day is from Meditations, 4.49 from Marcus Aurelius:
Be like the headland, on which the waves break constantly, which still stands firm, while the foaming waters are put to rest around it. ‘It is my bad luck that this has happened to me.’ On the contrary, say, ‘It is my good luck that, although this has happened to me, I can bear it without getting upset, neither crushed by the present nor afraid of the future.’
In this piece, I believe that Marcus Aurelius is reminding us that we can be prepared for the future, while not remaining consumed by what "might" happen.
To achieve this, I think it is helpful to focus on two things. First, I strive to keep an objective accounting of events and goals in life. Second, I work to make a decision not to suffer in dealing with these events.
First, developing an objective, as opposed to subjective description of events in our lives. This means that we strive to describe and understand events in our lives in a "neutral" fashion without adding an emotional charges to circumstances.
In Meditations, Book 6, Marcus Aurelius explains the need to examine and simplify events in our lives without injecting emotion into the anaylsis:
When we have meat before us and such eatables we receive the impression, that this is the dead body of a fish, and this is the dead body of a bird or of a pig; and again, that this Falernian (wine) is only a little grape juice, and this purple robe some sheep's wool dyed with the blood of a shell-fish: such then are these impressions, and they reach the things themselves and penetrate them, and so we see what kind of things they are. Just in the same way ought we to act all through life, and where there are things which appear most worthy of our approbation, we ought to lay them bare and look at their worthlessness and strip them of all the words by which they are exalted.
Epictetus explains how this over-analysis and subjective description of daily events usually leads to troubles (Enchiridion 5):
Men are disturbed, not by things, but by the principles and notions which they form concerning things.
The second thing that I focus on when thinking about the future and preparing for adversity is that the world is full of positive and negative emotions and energy. We can choose whether or not we add these values and judgements to our lives. We can also decide whether we want to suffer.
The external circumstances of the world present us with opportunities to think about, and in most cases worry about things in the past and future. These thoughts about events which may have happened, or are yet to be cause us to suffer. As always, our thoughts are up to us to control.
Marcus Aurelius indicates in Meditations, Book 11:
Anger and frustration hurt us more than the things we are annoyed about hurt us.
Marcus Aurelius (Meditations, Book 11) furthers this thinking by indicating that it is often times our viewpointor perspecitve about an issue that causes us to feel pain and suffer when we think about it. Just by believing that an event or action is "insulting" we add value judgements to the event and decide to suffer.
Make a decision to quit thinking of things as unsluting, and your anger immediately disappears.
In this we can decide whether or not to add value judgements to events in the past or future. We often cannot choose what the world throws at us, but we can make decisions about how to respond to it.
2 min read
In my previous post, I discussed guidance from Epictetus on what we can effectively "control" in our own lives and actions.
I find it relatively easy, and a bit simplistic, to follow the gudiance from Epictetus in our daily actions. It's a good reminder that we can only control your own controllables throughout the day.
The challenge in this is sometimes life gets in the way, and we hope to extend this locus of control. For these situations, Marcus Aurelius provides a bit of guidance, that I believe acts as a corollary to the guidance from Epictetus.
In Meditations, Marcus Aurelius presents the following:
The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.
In this, Marcus is indicating that in every action and situation, there is an opporunity to practice a virtue. When we have a problem, we know exactly what to work on. When we are stuck and have no idea where to start, we begin working on the obstacle in our path.
Paired with the earlier gudiance from Epictetus, this indicates an opportunity to focus on elements that are solely within your control.
Specifically, you might ask yourself these two questions when you encounter problems, choices, or obstacles:
If the answer is no, then this is outside of your locus of control. It is nothing to you.
3 min read
Thank you to friends Doug Belshaw and Eylan Ezekiel for pointing me to the events for Stoic Week 2016. This year's theme is on "stoicism and love." You can review the handbook for the week's materials here.
The website is full of materials if you're interested in exporing stoicism and possible impacts on your life. I was most intrigued by the self-assessment they provide as you begin this journey. I'll share more on this later.
I start my day with a period of meditation, exercise, and then some reading and journaling. The events of stoic week 2016 will consist of a daily meditation and some written reflections throughout the day.
The iniitial prompt for today is the following:
From Maximus [I have learnt the importance of these things]: to be master of oneself and not carried this way and that; to be cheerful under all circumstances, including illness; a character with a harmonious blend of gentleness and dignity; readiness to tackle the task in hand without complaint; the confidence everyone had that whatever he said he meant and whatever he did was not done with bad intent; never to be astonished or panic-stricken, and never to be hurried or to hang back or be at a loss or downcast or cringing or on the other hand angry or suspicious; to be ready to help or forgive, and to be truthful; to give the impression of someone whose character is naturally upright rather than having undergone correction; the fact that no-one could have thought that Maximus looked down on him, or could have presumed to suppose that he was better than Maximus; and to have great personal charm. – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 1.14
The intent of this prompt from the organizers of Stoic Week is to have us consider our life as an ongoing project, and the journey of ethical self-development.
For me this is an important element of my life as I try to understand, or at least make room for the thoughts and habits that make me who I am. Meditation has helped me to quiet (at times) much of the noise of self-doubt and anxiety. By resetting each morning through meditation and reflection, I try to learn more about myself and who I would like to be.
Learning is a fundamental part of my philosophy and action. Through the aquistion of new knowledge I believe that we can understand and hopefully "change" most anything in our lives.
2 min read
In the development of new ideas, innovation and other acts of entreprenuership, our days are often filled with a glut of ideas. This includes interacting and mingling with others that bring ideas to our attention.
In many spaces, these ideas are incredible and lead to new ideas and opportunties. Most times these ideas lead to a time suck that takes us away from our true goals and aspirations.
In my own work, I'm typically an ideas person. I come up with (possibly) too many ideas. My brain is always churning and trying to find new ways to hack the system and make it operate better.
I also try to execute on these ideas. Without execution, I think there is no value in identifying and thinking up ideas. It's all talk and blather.
My challenge is that I like to follow through on ideas as well. My reputation is important to me, and I want to be viewed as someone that thinks up ideas, innovate, executes, and follows through. I don't want to drop the ball on anything.
The challenge in this desire to follow through is that you need to identify objectives and goals on a granular scale. You also need to focus on being an ideas leader and not tied in to being a manager. Finally, there is a need to know when and how to kill things off and move on.
The first step is making sure that you allow your ideas to gel, and execute on these when they become actionable.
2 min read
“Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.” - Bill Gates
This quote is but one variant of this philosophy and it's by Bill Gates in this iteration. The basic thinking behind this is that we're woefully inadequate and need to re-calibrate our thinking as we plan. I'm having this challenge as I thinking through my own framing of goals, and what are my assumptions as I plan and make new goals.
In planning and goal setting, we/I often think in terms of "what do I need to do today?" In this thinking, I need to address the things that get me excited today. I also daily come across things that excite me, and I want to spend time looking at, or complete. The problem is that at the beginning of the day I'm excited...but at the end of the day I'm either taxed by having 400 new things on my list that I want to attend to. Or, the other direction is that I'm depressed because I feel like I did nothing.
The best course of action may be to first think of my life in chunks. These chunks may be years, months, etc. I think I'll identify projects or experiments that I'll focus on for clusters of months, or a year. I don't include longer term goals or "things I'm supposed to do" like tenure and promotion. I'm also not including (at this point) health and wellness items....but I'm beginning to think that may be a mistake...or it might be something that I "just do." We'll see.
After I identify the quarterly, or year goals, I identify what I need to work on in the next week or two to get me to that monthly/quarterly goal.
From there I identify the 1 to 3 things I NEED to do today.
These elements might change daily...they also might adapt and flow with daily/weekly items I need to attend to.