philosophy

philosophy

The Only Decision


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“Freedom is the only worthy goal in life. It is won by disregarding things that lie beyond our control.”
― Epictetus

Have you ever felt that life takes over?

Work, exercise, kids, relationships, projects, health, taxes, and so on and so on. Epictetus argues that the happy and the free life lies in the understanding, and I would say implementation, of disregarding the things that are not under your control and focusing merely on the things that do are and then expanding them. The realm of your respond-ability.

I’ve discussed responsibility several times now. It is essential in the Stoic practice. Active responsibility, to choose to respond to your circumstances as best as you see fit, is the core teaching of Stoicism.

There’s a cool allegory in the Discourses of Epictetus that describes this perfectly.

It goes like this, picture yourself playing soccer with your friends or maybe in a match, maybe even in the world cup!

Now picture the ball in the game.

The ball, which is hard to get and hard to keep, does not really care about you winning or the other team, it will go wherever it has to go, just so is with life. Now, you can either get mad and tell the referee that you don’t like the game and that the ball never comes back to you, or you can choose to play. That’s the decision between taking responsibility or not taking any. It really boils down to that simple decision, one and only decision. To play or not to play.

Responsibility/Taking Charge

Focus on the things that are under your control, good advice not doubt, you can’t really do anything else. But yesterday I got an email from The Daily Stoic saying that there is a linguistic difference that changes our perception of Stoicism when we you think in terms of taking charge or taking control.

It just feels different, doesn’t it? One thing is to take control, another to take charge. Taking charge feels definite, no questions or hesitance.

“Don’t let your mind control you. Control your mind.”
― Jocko Willink

Back to the ballgame. You may not be assured that you are going to win the game, but of what you can be sure of is of your capacity to say “I’m going to play the best match, I’ll ever play.

Take Charge of your game, take charge of your life.

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Conquering Fears, philosophy

Why And How To Focus On The Present Moment


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“I don’t know who my grandfather was; I am much more concerned to know what his grandson will be.” ― Abraham Lincoln

If you want to focus on the present moment, first you have to understand why you want to do it and what’s in it for you. Once you understand why you want to do it, you’ll be able to do it easily and without the hassle of having to force yourself to do it by using maybe your breath as an anchor or forced concentration to the point that it becomes a struggle, it needs to be easy and effortless for it to be sustainable in the long term. 

Let’s talk about why. 

Suppose I invite you to climb Kilimanjaro. We begin to plan the trip with 6-month anticipation. You haven’t been to the gym for a while, but you’re going to need it so you run and swim every day for 6 months, man you are ripped and ready to go. You need to buy gear as well, so you buy a badass rain-jacket, boots, trekking poles, ice-ax, satellite watch, and lots of packaged food. It’s going to be exciting, the thrill of our lives. 6-month preparation, awesome. 

We get on the plane and land on Tanzania, hot air on our faces and we get to see the mighty mountain in the distance, challenging us, saying: “come and try if you dare”. The next day we arrive with the guides we booked and they tell us that they are not doing hiking anymore because the helicopter can get us to the top, and plus that, it’s cheaper, so it’s not necessary. WE ARE PISSED. Why the hell won’t they want to hike it?! 

What’s the bloody point of this then? 

Luckily we find another company that guides us hiking it. We suffer from the altitude, you eat something bad on the way up and you have to push yourself harder because you are puking every 100 meters. I lost my water so I had to go for the last couple of miles without water. We make it to the top, we take our glory picture and we get back. IT WAS AWESOME. 

Now, what was the fun part of the trip? Wasn’t it everything? Absolutely. From the 6-months training to the puking in the mountain, that’s a story we will never forget. 

Now, why do you want to live in the present moment? 

Because your life is that mountain. Sure, I lost my water and you puked like crazy, we suffered a lot, but we had a great time, I wouldn’t change it for anything. 

Can you imagine if we had gotten to the helicopter and flown to the top just like that? BORING. It was everything, the training, the hike, the top, the trip, each moment was the end of why we did it. 

Today, when we think about life, we think a lot about ‘goals’. That’s not a bad thing obviously, it is perfectly fine to have goals. But when our life becomes a constant “preparation”, that’s the problem. And almost everyone lives this way, “When I become a doctor or more successful and I get my house and I get married or when I get to know my children, then I’ll be super happy” (just like getting to the top with the helicopter). And then, before you know it, you are in point B(death), wondering why you lived your whole life like that. Yes, it’s stupid.

Dance, walk, smile, wrestle, write, suffer, enjoy

Life is like a journey, sure, you want to get somewhere, that could be the mountain top or getting a Master’s degree, but why would you want to get there are soon as possible? 

Ok, we’ve got the why, what about the how? 

Better illustrated, life is like dancing. When you are dancing, there is no wondering where you are going, you are just dancing. Dancing is its own end. It’s the same with everything else. Dance your way into the present moment, whether you are writing or working, dance the dance of life. 

What about when life really sucks? 

That’s a good question. 

“The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing, in so far as it stands ready against the accidental and the unforeseen, and is not apt to fall.”― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Life is not always shiny and beautiful, there’s no doubt about it. In those times, when all is not as rosy, there is no need not to be at the present moment either, running away is never good. 

Those times are good for wrestling. In wrestling, you have to be attentive, focused. And bear in mind that wrestling is fun as well in a different way. There’s a world of difference whether you see setbacks as calamities or challenges to be overcome. 

Focusing on the present moment requires you to realize that life is like dancing, a journey, or wrestling. It’s not about getting from birth to death as soon as you can, but to enjoy, to suffer, to be happy, to be sad and to look back at the end and smile, knowing that you really lived. 

a great complement to this read: The Hard to Get, at First, Good Life

Subscribe and receive the Askesis ebook to further develop your practice of stoicism.

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Visit our Patreon page for more stoic, Patreon only content. Thanks.

I’m Ricardo Guaderrama by the way and I’m always open to suggestions and happy to answer any questions. stoicanswers@gmail.com