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Ian O'Byrne

We look not at the things which are what you would call seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporal. But the things that are not seen are eternal. Madeleine L'Engle In issue of TL;DR, available at #honesty


Ian O'Byrne

Resilience and preparation for adversity

4 min read

On the sixth day of Stoic Week 2016, we are asked to consider our relationships with others and society in general. The handbook and daily prompts for the week are available here.

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.

An objective focus on life

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.

Suffering is a choice

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.


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Ian O'Byrne

Negotiating the positive & negative as a citizen of the world

3 min read

On the fifth day of Stoic Week 2016, we are asked to consider our relationships with others and society in general. The handbook and daily prompts for the week are available here.

Today's reflection comes from Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 2.1:

Say to yourself first thing in the morning: I shall meet with people who are meddling, ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, and unsociable. They are subject to these faults because of their ignorance of what is good and bad. But I have recognized the nature of the good and seen that it is the right, and the nature of the bad and seen that it is the wrong, and the nature of the wrongdoer himself, and seen that he is related to me, not because he has the same blood or seed, but because he shares in the same mind and portion of divinity. So I cannot be harmed by any of them, as no one will involve me in what is wrong. Nor can I be angry with my relative or hate him. We were born for cooperation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of upper and lower teeth. So to work against each other is contrary to nature; and resentment and rejection count as working against someone. 

I take this to mean that we should remain linked to others and their actions, while at the same time remaining true to our own compass and directives. It is possible to focus on the two aspects in our daily interaction. We may also learn about oursleves as we interact and learn from others.

Marcus Aurelius details the opportunities to learn from these experiences in Meditations, 6:48:

Whenever you want to cheer yourself up, consider the good qualities of your companions, for example, the energy of one, the modesty of another, the generosity of yet another, and some other quality of another; for nothing cheers the heart as much as the images of excellence reflected in the character of our companions, all brought before us as fully as possible. Therefore, keep these images ready at hand.

Of course there are times when we do not agree with, or can learn from our colleague or neighbor. Within these interactions, we may find a common thread that binds us together. Marcus Aurelius expands on this in Meditations, 4.4: 

If intellect is common to us all, then so is the reason which makes us rational beings; and if that be so, then also common is the reason which prescribes what we should do or not do. If that be so, there is a common law also; if that be so, we are fellow citizens; and if that be so, the world is a kind of state. For in what other common political community can we claim that the whole human race participates? 

This points to the idea of "citizens of world" in which we all generally feel affection for others in a deep and natural way. We may be citizens of a specific country or region, but we also carry dual-citizenship and in the end are all fellow citizens in a global community.

In closing, Seneca expands on this notion of cosmopolitanism or our dual citizenship:

Let us take hold of the fact that there are two communities — the one, which is great and truly common, embracing gods and humans, in which we look neither to this corner nor to that, but measure the boundaries of our citizenship by the sun; the other, the one to which we have been assigned by the accident of our birth.


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Ian O'Byrne

January 20, 2016

2 min read

Work like a maker, not a manager.

I shared this link out earlier in my newsletter, but it's been something that I want to fold into my system. The gist of this is that a Googler (Jeremiah Dillon, head of product marketing at Google Apps for Work) sent out an email to colleagues indicating that they were scheduling themselves all wrong. They didn't have time in their schedule...and it was their fault for this lack of focus that they scheduled in.

Of course a video was made detailing the original email. 

Granted, the rhythm of my week is often framed by my schedule of classes...and when I need to get things done. Still...I'll work to embed many of these philosophies into my own schedule to see what happens.

The plan is to stop looking at our schedules as a way to manage our time...and instead carve out blocks to allow us to make. By focusing on an agenda of implementation intention (a goal setting behavior) we buidl in times for creation and making things that aligh to our goals. 

We also need to stop overscheduling ourselves and protect this make time on the calendar. Note: I want to come back this link in later five minute writes here and unpack this link. :)   

Coming back to the email from Jeremiah, he gives the following guidance. I will start embedding this into my calendar.

Aim to do the following:

Monday: Energy ramps out of the weekend — schedule low-demand tasks like setting goals, organizing, and planning.

Tuesday, Wednesday: Peak of energy — tackle the most difficult problems, write, brainstorm, schedule your Make Time.

Thursday: Energy begins to ebb — schedule meetings, especially when consensus is needed.

Friday: Lowest energy level — do open-ended work, long-term planning, and relationship building.

Always bias your Make Time toward the morning, before you hit a cycle of afternoon decision fatigue. Hold the late afternoon for more mechanical tasks.

My new challenge to you: create and protect your Make Time, and before you "steal someone’s chair," consider whether it’ll be disruptive to their Make Time.

I have Make Time on my calendar. Please don’t schedule over it, and I promise to do my best not to schedule over yours. 

Ian O'Byrne

January 14, 2016

2 min read

Unless it comes unasked out of your heart and your mind and your mouth and your gut, don't do it. - Charles Bukowski

This quote comes from So you want to be a writer by Bukowski and it identifies some of thinking and feeling...and self-doubt I'm having as I start up projects this new year.

As new opportunities present themselves, sometimes you come into contact with other options that don't entirely fit your goals. I need to start to be able to say no to opportunities and identify more value in my own time, experience, and work. 

This sentiment echoes the "Hell yeah or no" philosophy that I encountered recently from Derek Sivers. 

I do need, and want these new opportunities. I also recognize that saying no to certain pieces, and knowing how to focus my time and energy is a primary concern. Over the past two to three weeks I've been wrapped in some stupid things that are of no concern, or significance. My energy and focus needs to stay committed on my pririoties and goals. The other silliness and drama is of no concern and value as I progress.

My best response to these pieces is to automatically think about whether or not I really want to do it..and I feel that love in my gut. If not, I need to say no. For the episodes that pop up and try to demand my attention, I need to stop trying to figure it out, and stop wasting time and mental capital. I need to just accept it/them and move on.

Acceptance is the absence of resistance. 

Ian O'Byrne

January 11, 2016

2 min read

This past weekend we were woken up Friday night/Saturday morning by Briddy with a fever and throwing up. Most of Saturday was spent cleaning the house and monitoring her fever and food consumption after breakfast didn't go well.

Sunday was a bit better. We had breakfast in the morning and then went for a hike. After we got back from the hike I played with Briddy and Jax while Katie showered. Jax kept wanting to wrestle and "rough house." I tried to get him to stop, to calm down, etc. No luck at all. 

Within the last three months his energy level has gone through the roof. I sometimes feel like I'm my father now as he's wanting to wrestle, play, goof off. Yesterday I just wanted to lay on the couch, relax, and watch the football playoffs.

After some time, we told him to just go outside and jump on the trampoline to get some energy out. I felt bad as he'd be outside by himself. Actually, I was sitting in the kitchen right next to the screen door while he was outside...but it still made me feel a bit bad.

I need to identify more times to get outside, and play with him. I need to spend more time with my son playing and "rough housing."