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The Long Way Around

 Sometimes life teaches me what I need to know without me being aware there was a school of philosophy that’s been around for over 2000 years that could have taught me all those lessons in one go, and saved a bunch of painful life lessons.

When I was in high school I was a devout Christian. By the time I was 22 I had become an equally devout atheist. But there were lessons I learned as a Christian that stuck with me even after I quit believing in gods. 

Matthew 6:34, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble”. In secular language we might say, “Take one day at a time”. This resonated with me. I knew the past and future only exist in the present moment. You can remember the past and you can imagine the future, but you’re remembering and imagining in the present moment. Everything that exists, exists now. 

That leads to the realization that today could be my last day on Earth. The next moment might be my last. I should live every moment with that stark reality in mind. I should make every moment count. It’s easy to slip into thinking we’ve got plenty of time to do this or say that. But reality shows that may not be the case. My father died of a heart attack driving his mobile home from his Summer house in Arizona back to his home in Idaho. I’m sure he didn’t expect to die that day or else he wouldn’t have gotten behind the wheel. He was a retired Navy deep sea diver. Even in his 70s he was fit. His health wouldn’t have made him think he might die that day. But he did.

When I entered the Army in 1975 I doubted I would survive basic training. But I had a really decent DI, a rarity then, who encouraged me by saying that I had the ability to get through anything if I separated what I could change from what I could. I had no control over the courses and regimes, but I could control myself. I could push myself beyond the limitations I imagined. I could ignore the pain and frustration and instead focus on my muscles and health. Eating good food and exercise let me get through the toughest obstacles. The obstacles didn’t change, I did. Later, in school where we studied electronics and telecommunications, two things I knew nothing about, I applied the lessons basic taught me and graduated second in my class.

I’ve never married. I haven’t always been single but we never married. So I’ve had a lot of time to learn about myself. I don’t know that you can make any change in your life without getting to know yourself. There were moments in my life that I was proud of and some that I wasn’t, times when I acted out of character to appear to be someone I really wasn’t. Eventually I reached a compromise with myself that I wouldn’t become boastful and I wouldn’t despair. I reached equilibrium. It was then I could work on those parts of myself I wanted to improve and disregard those parts that didn’t benefit me. I learned to embrace my fate, accept what was happening in life and only being concerned with those things I could control. If someone said something to provoke me, I could choose to be provoked or ignore them. If I lost a job I focused on what I needed to do now. I took control of myself and surrendered to those things I could not control. 

Recently I encountered the philosophy that incorporated everything I’ve learned and provided me with encouragement to carry on. 

Stoicism embodies nearly all the lessons I’ve learned in my life.

Two Latin phrases express the basic tenets of Stoicism, momento mori and amor fati. 

The first means remember you will die. Death is something we do every day. The moment we were born we began to die. Every moment brings us closer to the final moment. Our lives will be far richer if we live each moment with that in mind.

The second means love your fate. It challenges us to embrace whatever life brings our way and survive it by calling upon our inner strengths. Stoicism says be strict with yourself but be tolerant with others. Control your emotions and know your capabilities.

The Stoics defined the goal in life as living in agreement with nature. Humans, unlike all other animals, are constituted by nature to develop reason as adults, which transforms their understanding of themselves and their own true good.

If Stoicism interests you, there are good introductory videos on YouTube, but a better understanding will come from the books written on the topic. 


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