SW2013 Day 3: Wednesday

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Today is about the Stoic Reserve Clause and action.  The Stoic position of acceptance or fatalism holds a seeming paradox in that we might expect the Stoic philosopher to be passive,  a mere victim to the whim of the world.  However both recorded history and the writings of these men prove the opposite.

Since our main chore is differentiating between those things which are under our control and those which are not, what we do after is sometimes not as focused upon.

It’s better to say we accept those things which we cannot control, and we try for more perfect control of those things which we may.

We should still for our very best, but this is merely a preference,  the outcome is usually an indifferent.

A timely anecdote:  today I have off work, and it’s my habit to take a long and relaxing bath in my free time.  Unfortunately,  I don’t have a bathtub at my apartment,  so I often make use of the one at my parents’ house.

Today, I had just arrived to take my bath when a friend called me with a problem at his house.  I experienced a momentary disappointment at havgin my plans twarted, but quickly set to thinking on it instead.

The absolute worst that could happen is that it could become an all day affair, and I wouldn’t get a bath today.  I have backpacked often, and at times went a whole week without a proper bath or shower.  One day wouldn’t kill me.  But what was more likely was that I would help my friend, and merely take a bath later in the day.

I also experienced then a momentary cheering up feeling, for getting to practice acceptance, as well as getting to help out my friend.

All in all, I did eventually get my bath, accepted the change in my schedule preference,  and was able to help a friend.

Additionally,  my mood is often turned for the worse by such changes, and the exercise today helped to keep that from happening.

SW2013 Day 2: Tuesday

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Today’s exercises are about Self-Discipline & Stoic Simplicity.

In the summers of my early teenage years, I would often stay at a rather ascetic monastery.  One where most of the day was spent in silent contemplation.  I enjoyed the environment quite a bit.

It’s funny, how we drift away sometime from the foundations of youth, yet often find ourselves pulled back there.  I have been trying off and on with some success to make healthier choices.  Today’s passage discussed the sort of regimes that the Stoics would sometimes adopt.

I think I’ll use this opportunity to get back onto my eating and exercise routines.  If you’re interested, follow this link to learn about Tim Ferriss and the Slow Carb diet.

I’ll use some time this evening to cook foods in advance for the coming days, I find this is a good use of time, and allows for easier food-choices when things are already prepared.

SW2013 Day 1: Monday

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Today’s mindfulness activity is about a situation which occurred, and divining what is in our control and what is not.  I’m going to go through that process now with the help of the Handbook.  It begins by answering a few questions.

1.   What’s the situation?
A semi-annual qualification was sort of sprung on us at work early, with less than a week to alter the schedule to accommodate all the workers’ participation and duty schedules.  A supervisor at work denied my schedule change, I then had  to do on which my job hinged after a 12-hr shift, having had a turn-around shift the night before (only 8 hours between shifts, 45 min commute each way).  When it came time for the qual, I only did the bare minimum to pass.  I had only had 5 hours of sleep in the previous 40 due to the duty schedule.  I was angry at myself for doing poorly, I was angry at my supervisor for “screwing me.”  The supervisor could have switched my coworker’s schedule with any of the other 18 employees, but it was easiest for him to deny my schedule change, which I had organized myself, and give it to the coworker who did not have one yet.
2.   How much control do you have over the situation as a whole (0-100%)?
10%
3.  Why isn’t it 100%? What aspects don’t you have direct control over?
  Over whether the change was accepted I had no control.  I could have quit as a result, but that would have been unreasonable.
4.  Why isn’t it 0%? What aspects do you have direct control over?
I had very little control over the situation.  I exercised almost all of my control by trying to get a schedule change, filling out the proper paperwork, and submitting it a week in advance.
5.  What would happen if you made a conscious effort to adopt a more Stoic attitude towards this situation by completely accepting things beyond your control, and taking full responsibility for things under your control?
I would have likely been less angry, I might have been able to focus better on my quals since I wouldn’t have had these thoughts on mind, and thereby done better.  I would likely have been happier at work the previous and following day, since I wouldn’t have been nursing hurt feelings.

 

Remember: thou must die.

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momentoI was given this chapter selection to read from the International Stoic Forum yahoo-group, and I found it quite interesting.  So much so, that I just ordered the whole book and I quite look forward to reading it when it arrives.

 

The email and book ask this of us before we begin:

 

Self-assessment: Stoic attitudes toward death
Before reading this chapter, rate how strongly you agree with the following statements, using the five-point (1-5) scale below, and then re-rate your attitudes once you’ve read and digested the contents.

1. Strongly disagree, 2. Disagree, 3. Neither agree nor disagree, 4. Agree, 5. Strongly agree

1. “Dying doesn’t frighten me very much.” (2.)
2. “It’s more important to have lived a good life than a long life.” (4.)
3. “Life and death are not intrinsically good or bad; it depends how we use them.” (3.)

The question at hand is death.  Not “if” death, but moreso our fear of it.  The ancient Stoics had many exercises and thoughts on death, and it has been suggested that to live virtuously and die well is the whole aim of philosophy in general, and Stoicism in specific.

The first argument for why we should unburden ourselves of the fear of death is teleological.  Every one of us has seen and experienced death.  From that of those close to us, to strangers in foreign lands, and insects, animals, food, etc.  It seems unreasonable to state that man mustn’t die, for everything in our experience points otherwise.  If we then accept, at least intellectually if not yet at the core of our understanding, that man is mortal, and I being man must die, we can begin to handle the fear.

I fear death.  It scares me.  It’s unknown, it’s forever, and I may have very little control over it.  The Stoics would argue that these are the exact reasons one should not fret over them.  There are two spheres of influence in the world, those things which we can control, and those which we cannot.  Wisdom lies, in part, in divining which is which.  The Stoics argue that those things only which we can control are our reactions, thoughts, emotions, and actions in this world, and literally everything else is outside of our realm of influence.

Since we know that death is natural, it follows that things which are natural are neither good nor evil.  The sun, trees, ants, cosmos, man.  The actions of rational beings might be good and evil, however.  Our reactions might also.  So if death is merely an indifferent thing, it behooves us to choose our reaction to it appropriately.

The chapter selection above also makes note that many other men have faced death with equanimity, with courage, acceptance, and honor.  Is it that these are so much greater than I; or is it merely that their thinking is better?  If it is the former, than so be it.  But if it is the later, then there should be something I can do about it.

“Our fears tend to be irrationally selective and when confronted with the stark logic of ‘If you worry about that you might as well worry about everything’, people are often forced to concede that becoming preoccupied with hypothetical catastrophes in general is a waste of time and energy. To be everywhere is to be nowhere, and to fear everything is to fear nothing”.

The purpose of momento mori is not a morbid fascination with death (pun intended), but that we might in fact more appreciate life.  It is only by looking at relative positions and values that we can determine value.  A focus on death gives us an unflinching barometer with which to test life.  It’s purpose is liberty.  If a man always fears death, he might not live.  Death is assured, no question.  So the fear of it is the real enemy!  To shirk that fear, to drop those heavy chains of lassitude and immobility, to wake from its paralyzing effects: that is the goal!

The phrase “live every day as if it were your last” has become so cliche as to lose all meaning for most folks.  Often it is interpreted to be a sort of hedonistic anthem, #yolo !  But in fact, and reading this chapter finally drove it home to me, if one were to wake up and think “Today I will die, or if not today, then surely tomorrow.”  How would that change how I lived?  At least right now, sitting here in the afterglow of these thoughts, I don’t see myself playing on my cellphone while I could be sitting with my family and friends, despite my high score of 41 in Flappy Bird.

If as we lie down to sleep, we think “I may not wake” would we be pleased with how we had conducted ourselves throughout the day?  Most days, for me, this is not so.  I would like to change that.

I very much enjoyed this chapter selection, it is thought-provoking and interesting.  I look forward to reading the rest when it arrives.

And the closing exercise:

Self-assessment: Stoic attitudes toward death (redux)
Before reading this chapter, rate how strongly you agree with the following statements, using the five-point (1-5) scale below, and then re-rate your attitudes once you’ve read and digested the contents.

1. Strongly disagree, 2. Disagree, 3. Neither agree nor disagree, 4. Agree, 5. Strongly agree

1. “Dying doesn’t frighten me very much.” (3.)
2. “It’s more important to have lived a good life than a long life.” (4.)
3. “Life and death are not intrinsically good or bad; it depends how we use them.” (4.)