I had a nice dinner conversation the other day wherein someone asked me to send them more information about Stoicism. I went looking for the perfect blog post to share, and couldn’t find one. So this is now it. ;)
There’s like a thousand things I could share. Don’t get snowed under by this stuff; Don’t try to read/do all of this…
The book I suggest starting with is The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday. This is a good book to just pick up each morning, spend 2 minutes reading, and move on.
There’s a good podcast interview with Irvine on a podcast called Philosophy Bites. It’s short episodes (~half hour) where the host and a guest talk about one topic in Philosophy. (There are ~500 episodes.) Irvine’s episode is a great introduction to what is Stoicism.
If you want to read blog posts, my site has a tag for Stoicism. The posts are going to be widely varied, and have lots of links to other things, (as well as all my posts being tagged to lead to other things within my blog.)
You can also dive into some people who sometimes write explicitly about Stoicism but whose work is just generally good to read. Here are links to the corresponding tags on my web site. You can skim/scroll/page through my blog posts to find an interesting place to jump into these other spaces…
I’m great at focusing, but am weaker at intentionally choosing what I’m focusing on. I’ve no idea when I realized I was weaker at the latter point. While it’s clear I have a lot of habits and behaviors which work well to help me deal with the weakness, I cannot recall if those developed simply by trial and error.
One habit which works well to avoid disaster is dump it out of my brain into an outline. An emergency spillway prevents complete failure of a dam, but if water ever goes over the emergency spillway, something is terribly wrong. That’s me and brain-dump outlining. I flip my 40-minute sand timer and start a fresh outline, saving it to my computer desktop. (Aside: There is never anything on my computer desktop.) As I’m outlining, panic often nips at my heels. Eventually, I get most everything down. I find long strings of knock-down-doable domino tasks. And I usually find at least one Big Question buried in there.
And then I close the document. It’s cathartic. It’s as if, having written it down, it’s in some sense done.
This is the training. Relax the narrative, loosen your view, and drop into the openness of the present moment. Breathe deeply, and relax your body. Relax the jaw, relax the muscles in your torso. Feel the openness in this moment.
It took me a long time to understand that the only source of stress in my life is myself.
I’ve been in two car crashes where I’ve instantly gone from automobile operator to roller-coaster rider. I’ve been absolutely wiped out, in countless variations, in martial arts context. I’ve discovered mid-air that I’ve been launched off my mountain bike. I’ve been obliterated while skiing. I’ve had too many—I’m refusing to count—nearly serious automobile accidents where my driving skills, applied consciously with to-the-inch and to-the-split-second accuracy saved the day. I’ve had bones broken. I’ve been fallen upon, by a poor fellow who was saved from an 8-foot, head first, fall onto concrete… by the flex of my rib cage. I’ve been hit in the face with a max-power, line-drive, point-blank soccer ball penalty kick. I’ve been flattened by a skull-to-skull running-speed impact. Sucker-punched in the gut. T-boned into the sticker-bushes at high speed on a bicycle. Beaned by a 2×6 board. I once fell 12 feet from a tree with my head being the first thing to land… on a tree root. I’ve been clipped by a truck, and blown a bicycle tire at high speed, ending up happy to reach the ditch rather than the asphalt. I rear-ended a car at speed (on my bicycle.) I’ve been banged up, flipped over, slammed into, … but also yelled at, and put upon. I had someone angrily invoke the name of my dead father in an attempt to shame my actions. I’ve been laughed at, and picked last in gym class. I’ve run out of money and bummed rides to work. I’ve been chewed out by a boss. I’ve had my credit card declined while in public. I’ve been scammed by street hustlers, lied to by various people, and pre-judged in various dimensions.
…and I can now truthfuly say: The only source of stress in my life is myself.
Tom Petty’s lyrics not withstanding, I agree with Leo. Starting is definitely the hardest part. Unfortunately, I don’t understand why it is so difficult for me.
Take this blog post. It’s 9pm. I go to sleep at 9:30. (Why, is an entirely different story, see, Sleep.) I’ve a long drive tomorrow, and I’ve a few things left to stuff in my overnight bag. I’ve waited all day to do this small task. Writing these blog posts is straightforward; I have a well-oiled process for dropping into the right mindset and dipping into a fertile sea of cached ideas to find one to inspire. Invariably, a few minutes into the process, I’ve found an interesting thread to pull on. This is so much fun, I could—quite literally—do this all day. So why then do I wait until 9pm?
Because you see, it’s not just writing this blog post. I feel all the things on my to-do lists—both literal and in my head—are like writing this blog post: Straightforward, self-chosen, in line with my priorities and goals, inherently interesting, generally worth doing, immediately rewarding in most cases. And yet, the proverbial 9pm rolls around before I feel enough pressure to start.
The only thing I can think of is that some part of my mind just knows that the list will never be done. No matter how many times the “let’s get stuff done” part of my brain were to rise to the occasion, there’s some other part of my brain that will roll Sisyphus’s rock back to the bottom. Maybe this is all there is to it? Is the problem, not the “doer” side, but the “setter upper of things to do” side? Is the problem that I don’t know how to simply be?
Have I, perhaps, only learned instead how to be a human doing?
I am by far my own worst enemy. Go go go. Do do do. In the past year this is the area where I’ve made the most progress. I’ve gotten much better at setting out a sane plan for my days. And when a day doesn’t go exactly as planned—so, basically every day—I’m now able to roll with it.
Also, I’ve long been good at “active” days off. I can spend a day biking or climbing or at some event. It doesn’t need to be gonzo-level physical either. I think the feeling of physical activity convinces my mind that something meaningful has been accomplished.
But what I cannot do is simply idle. Sit on a beach… not drinking nor reading nor writing nor thinking. Or relax on my patio. “Just be,” is definitely still beyond my grasp.
I owe a large debt to Leo Babauta of Zen Habits for the tremendous number of tremendously useful posts I’ve had the pleasure of noodling over. One way I try to pay back people who’ve been kind enough to create positive things sprinkled around the Internet is simply to point as many people as I can towards said things. If you’d like to try a large dose of—what I lovingly refer to as—Leo-zen, try his free ebook, The One Skill.
Imagine that you were to sign up for a retreat this month … you put aside your daily life, all your busywork, all your projects and errands and emails and messages … and you travel to another place. In this place, you remove yourself from the busy world and find space for quiet. For reflection. For contemplation, setting intentions, reviewing how things have gone. For gratitude and appreciation for life.
Not only does hyper-connection alter our social relationships, it also makes us dumber, as pointed out as early as 2005. It threatens our health too. Twenty-first-century afflictions include digital fatigue, social media burnout or compulsive internet use. Cures for these rising internet-related disorders include such radical solutions as rehab centers, or disconnection.
Babauta’s take is from the Zen perspective of simply—as in: this is the only thing you have to do, and don’t overcomplicate it in the doing—creating space in your life. Lefeuvre’s is from a nuts-and-bolts perspective of facts and tactics.
I feel called quite often to take more time to reflect. I was going to write, “sit and reflect,” but it’s not quite always sitting. I believe this is also true for everyone else; some people are early on in their journeys and their need for reflection is small in total, but it is more than they are currently doing. With precious few exceptions, we could all use more time for reflection.
Do you have time for reflection built into your life?
I try to walk as much as I can. Usually I make it out to walk every day for about an hour. For years I was simply walking in nature with myself and my thoughts. A few years ago, when I got really into podcasts as a listener, I started listening while walking.
But about a year ago—after noticing I’d stopped writing things down about my walks—I realized that I had lost something valuable: My time alone with my thoughts. So I cut back to listening to podcasts for about half the walk.
I’m often asked if I meditate. Yes, particularly in the past year, and it looks a lot like walking.