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Mama warned me about roaming around dodgy neighborhoods, but I didn’t heed her advice. Old enough to prefer seeking most of my knowledge from physical books and other print sources, I decided to enlarge my world by poking around the internet to read some discussions in assorted self-described Stoic forums around the world.
Practice self-sufficiency. Don’t remain a dependent malleable patient: Become your own soul’s doctor. These lines, inspired by Epictetus, are from my book The Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness.
Be a citizen of the world (Epictetus, Discourses, 1.9) is an oft-quoted phrase. Other translations express this teaching as “citizen of the universe,” or “citizen of God.” However stated, there is a lot packed into this short assertion.
In Northern California, where I live, we can’t go outdoors because the air is fouled with noxious smoke from nearby wildfires and the countless other fires ravaging California, Oregon, and Washington State. A few days ago, the temperature outside was 115 degrees.
When things seem to fall apart
“Everything just feels like it’s falling apart, like we’re spinning out of control,” lamented an otherwise typically cheerful friend as we stared at each other over Zoom. “I’m tired of trying to fight the good fight. It used to seem like if I tried to be good and do good, it would make a difference. Now, I’m just tired.”
I write to you as a mere person. Neither as sage, prophet, saint, nor leader, I nevertheless have learned invaluable lessons for a life well-lived. I humbly offer them as an abbreviated ethical will.
The art of showing up - I practice yoga everyday, and probably do it wrong, but I show up and do it anyway, no matter what. It makes me better. Same with Stoicism.
A search for what’s true
Since the COVID-19 pandemic stunningly upended life as we knew it, we are pointedly challenged to reconsider what is true and enduring, what is worthy and what isn’t, and the daily questions of “Who will I be today?” and “How shall I act?” Our templates for facing each day have been jiggled at best.
The meaning of life
“What is the meaning of life?” I asked my friend Jan.
“Oh, that’s easy,” she shot back. “We’re here to love God, love each other, and eat pie.”
Getting stuck on Channel C
Has your mind ever gotten stuck on Channel C (the Crazy Channel)?
Have you had the good fortune to read the innovative polymath Edward DeBono? One of his key ideas he called “Po.”
I play an instrument I call “The Thing.” It is an imposing trapezoidal five octave one-of-a-kind fusion of a hammered dulcimer and cymbalom a gifted luthier designed and built for me years ago.
How do you practice Stoicism?
Here’s one way I daily practice Stoicism. First thing in the morning before the day gets away from me, I sit at my desk and open my special drawer. Inside are my favorite pens, some decent stationery, and postage stamps with appealing images I’ve carefully chosen at the post office. I have preprinted return address stickers at the ready and, if I want to take a walk on the wild side, some artsy markers, charcoal, paint brushes, and envelope sealing wax with an engraved stamp for fun and nostalgia.
Let’s get back to basics.
Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle: Some things are within our control, and some things are not. It is only after you have faced up to this fundamental rule and learned to distinguish between what you can and can’t control that inner tranquility and outer effectiveness become possible.
Sittting vigil at the bedside of a dying woman is where I’ve spent the past several months. I held her hand as she desperately cried out for “mama.” I did my clumsy best to soothe with reassuring whispers or a cool cloth a once gregarious matriarch now mute, writhing, and coiled inside herself.