Composite: The Guardian/Getty Images
Recently I read a very inspiring, helpful and timeless article, which greatly resonated with me, my own experiences, good or bad, and my own life journey.
I felt a sense of kinship and indigeneity with the story and the storyteller. It has helped me to better understand and cope with my own struggles in this world of chaos, anxiety, fear, and self-doubt.
I invite and encourage you to read it also. I am sure it will help you too, should you need it. Please see below for more.
‘Six ways to make your life easier and more peaceful – by using stoic principles’
By Brigid Delaney Via The Guardian
‘Working as a journalist for more than two decades, I often felt overwhelmed by the sheer amount of news – much of it daunting – that I created and consumed each day.
Switching off wasn’t an option. Anyway, I believed that, journalists or not, citizens had a duty to be informed.
But the news seemed to be getting grimmer. There were climate catastrophes, geopolitical conflicts, humanitarian crises and, to top it off, a growing inability to extend grace to one another.
I wondered: how could I still be informed while staying sane? Could I feel at peace when there seemed to be an increasing amount of global instability?
Then, I discovered the ancient Greek and Roman philosophy of stoicism.
Two years in a row, I took part in the online course “stoic week”, organised by various academics interested in ancient philosophy. I found it to be helpful, and started reading everything I could get my hands on, and eventually wrote a book about it.
For a period dating from 300 BC to third-century AD, stoicism was a popular philosophy that helped many in the ancient world deal with plagues, political instability, wars, high infant mortality, famine and exile. It fell out of favour with the rise of Christianity, but recently it has been enjoying a resurgence.
Yes, “productivity bros” love it – but luckily for us, stoicism has a wide application beyond Silicon Valley. For me, it wasn’t just helpful with articulating how to live a virtuous life (practice courage, wisdom, temperance and justice); it also helped me handle peculiarly modern problems – say, social media pile-ons, Fomo, even hangovers.
As the years progressed, and as the world felt increasingly chaotic, I wondered which stoic principles I could apply that would make me feel less stressed. It turns out there were many, including the stoic foundational principle of the control test.
The control test
The control test is a simple but incredibly effective strategy I use whenever I start worrying about something. It can be applied not just to the news cycle but absolutely everything in life, from not getting a pay raise to facing death.
The formula, or test, is found in the Handbook, or Enchiridion, a book of lectures by the Roman stoic Epictetus. Epictetus – whose handbook was published in 125AD – wrote:
Within our power are opinion, motivation, desire, aversion and, in a word, whatever is of our own doing; not within our power are our body, our property, reputation, office and, in a word, whatever is not of our own doing.
Essentially, our realm of control consists of our own actions and reactions, our desires, our character and how we treat others.
The rest – including our bodies, the actions of others, our reputations and our fortunes (personal and financial) – are out of our control.
Although in my book, I debate whether desire really is in our control (I mean, c’mon – what about hormones?), the control test is remarkably effective at assessing what we should and shouldn’t expect to be able to control in life. This knowledge is liberating.
Want someone you’re crushing on to fall in love with you? Out of your control.
Want that job? You can apply – but ultimately selection is out of your hands.
Falling hard for an apartment? You can bid for it – but others might want it too.
Got diagnosed with cancer? You can try everything in your power to get better – but you can’t necessarily control the spread of a disease, even with the best medical care.
I use the control test every day to make an assessment of what I should worry about, and consequently where I can best direct my energy. If I read distressing news of war or conflict, I ask whether it’s in my field of control to stop or influence the conflict. The answer has always been no.
Protest and other forms of speaking up may influence outcomes – but ultimately, they do not directly control the outcome. According to stoicism – energy should be put into areas where we have direct control. Otherwise, we suffer unnecessarily.
The stoics believed that one thing that separated humans from animals was our ability to think rationally.
Part of thinking rationally is acting on good information and contemplating the situation fully, rather than consuming or acting on misinformation or dodgy sources.
So, if you do decide to read the news, or follow conflicts happening around the world, a stoic would only get information from strong sources, rationally assess it, and not rush to judgement without being fully informed.
Violence that has taken place as a result of misinformation or faulty information has always been a scourge (just ask the philosophers like Socrates who were put to death by mobs), but this has intensified in recent times with the proliferation of disinformation on the internet.
It is within your control to seek out high-quality information and act rationally.
Don’t get infected by the fear or outrage of others
Be careful not to be excited into a panic or a gloom spiral by the emotions of others, say the stoics.
Counselled Epictetus: “Other people’s views and troubles can be contagious. Don’t sabotage yourself by unwittingly adopting negative, unproductive attitudes through your associations with others.”
The stoics were aware that mobs could whip up fury and high emotion and that the target of a frenzied group had little chance of using reason to change hearts and minds. They advised to stay away from them – and make up your own mind on matters, untainted by the high emotions of others.
Seneca said that to “consort with the crowd is harmful; there is no person who does not make some vice attractive to us, or stamp it upon us, or taint us unconsciously therewith. Certainly, the greater the mob with which we mingle, the greater the danger.”
Instead, a stoic would advise to be guided by the four virtues (courage, temperance, justice and wisdom) and your own rational thinking.
The Greeks had a word for the state of mind we need to cultivate to remain calm: ataraxia.
Ataraxia is a state where you are free from distress and worry. Ancient philosophers believed achieving ataraxia created an emotional homeostasis, where the effect wouldn’t just be a more stable base-level mood, but one that would hopefully flow out to the people around you.
If you are more tranquil, you will be less likely to react or combust if something doesn’t go your way.
Imagine that your flight is delayed because of bad weather. You could react and take out your anger and frustration on the airline staff (who have no power to change the weather) or you could accept that the situation is out of your control – and remain calm and chilled.
With ataraxia, not only do you not ruin your own day, you avoid ruining other people’s too. In a tranquil state you may even make better decisions.
Ideally, someone in a state of ataraxia is not gripped by high emotions – such as lust, envy or fear. Rather, they have used the control test to understand what they can control, and what they can’t.
Aim to be peaceful in your own life and with others
You may not have control over conflicts in a distant land (or your own) – but you can be peaceful with all those you encounter – even the people who annoy you.
Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor and stoic philosopher, had this problem. He wrote in his diary as a reminder: “When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: the people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil.”
But he reminded himself of the humanity of even people who annoyed or frustrated him: “We were born to work together like feet, hands and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and lower. To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on him: these are unnatural.”
That is, you can accept that other people are annoying or horrible. At the same time, you can accept they are human, just like you are, and will contain good along with the bad.
You cannot control these people, only your reaction to them. In this reaction, you can be peaceful and compassionate, or – if they are really annoying you – you can remove yourself from the situation.
The worst thing for a stoic was to react angrily to people who annoy you. That only escalates the situation and causes conflict that it’s hard to back down from.
Don’t act from a place of anxiety or fear
The stoics also accepted that life was full of change: just when you are comfortable with one set of circumstances, life gives you another twist. If you are relaxed and expect change, then you can deal with it better.
Marcus Aurelius coped in troubled times by not allowing his thoughts to be overrun by negativity. “The universe is change; our life is what our thoughts make of it,” he wrote in his diary.
Use the control test to calm anxiety. If you can’t do anything about it – if it is out of your control – then is it worth worrying about?
“There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond our power or our will,” wrote Epictetus.
See and read the original article HERE
Reasons Not to Worry:A Must-read Book
By Brigid Delaney, who is a journalist for The Guardian, and writes the popular weekly column Brigid Delaney's Diary, that's widely read in Australia, the US and the UK. She is the author of three books: This Restless Life, Wild Things and Wellmania, which is currently in production for Netflix. She is a co-founder of the Mercy Campaign, which advocates for the abolition of the death penalty in south-east Asia.
Photo via amazon
‘We're all searching for answers to the biggest questions. How to be good? How to find calm? How to properly grieve? How to beat FOMO? How to work out what truly matters? Well, good news is that the wisest minds in history asked the exact same questions - and they found answers. Their ancient philosophy of Stoicism can show us that we today are in fact already in possession of the very tools we need to excavate this much-needed wisdom for ourselves.
So into the past we go with Brigid Delaney, to a time not unlike our own: one full of pandemonium, war, plagues, pestilence, treachery, corruption, anxiety, overindulgence and, even then, the fear of a climate apocalypse. By learning and living the teachings of three ancient guides, Epictetus, Seneca and Marcus Aurelius, Brigid shows us how we can apply these lessons to our modern lives in a way that allows us to regain a sense of agency and tranquillity.
Stoicism can be tough medicine to swallow, but not here-this book is awash with insight, humour and compassion. Timely and so very useful, and filled to the brim with ways you can wrest back control, here are all the reasons not to worry.’
Purchase this book HERE
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