Stoic Lesson On Growing Old

Well, we should cherish old age and enjoy it. It is full of pleasure if you know how to use it. Fruit tastes most delicious just when its season is ending.

It is quite telling that Seneca dedicated an entire letter to aging. It shows how little we, as people, have changed or evolved from our ancestors. For the most part, the same daily concerns that circulated in the minds of Romans are the same ones that trouble us now. One of these concerns being the natural aspect of life: Aging.

In our current age perhaps this concern is more prevalent than before or at least it seems that way with social media. There are so many different surgeries that attempt to give you a youthful appearance, so many companies that sell products to keep you young and beautiful, or so they claim, and so many people who actively seek remedies to aging.

However, the Stoic advice on this matter is similar to their advice on many topics: Acceptance, emotional/attitudinal control and a change of perspective.

Aging is a natural part of life so by accepting it, it can change your perspective from viewing aging as negative to view it as positive. Another Stoic principle is to control one’s attitude. We always have a choice in how we react. Our attitude is one of the few things we control in this life. Once more it is a matter of perspective. We can either see aging as something terrible and sad or we can view it is a new experience, a chance to see the world from a different manner, a chance to transition into a different phase of our life and even live differently. With this perspective change, you can then see the benefits of aging.

As Seneca says:

In my opinion, even the age that stands on the brink has pleasures of its own.

Not only is there a need to accept the natural aging process but also to accept our lack of control over it. It’s easy to see the self harm some people cause through plastic surgeries as they attempt to stop what is natural. Aging can be used to practice a virtue like grace. To age gracefully instead of fighting and manipulating yourself to cling on to what is long past.

Of course, the biggest concern associated with aging is death. The fear of death whether consciously or unconsciously is at the root of a lot of people’s attitudes and actions. However, the Stoics don’t see death as something terrible. Just as with aging, death is also natural.

If God adds the morrow we should accept it joyfully. The man who looks for the morrow without worrying over it knows a peaceful independence and a happiness beyond all others. Whoever has said ‘I have lived’ receives a windfall every day he gets up in the morning.

The Stoics almost recommend a daily reminder of death in order to lessen its impact if it does appear. The reminder is also there in order for you to live the present moment to its fullest extent. In this way, as one ages and death becomes more of a concern, the Stoics could see that as a blessing. By confronting that possibility we can then prepare our attitude and action towards it and in the meantime, enjoy the time we have left for when you truly acknowledge death, then each moment becomes more precious. We soon come to see what matters, what we truly desire, what makes us happy and fulfilled and on what things and with whom we would like to spend our time. So, aging can be viewed as a blessing to clear away all that doesn’t matter so we can focus on what does.

For the Stoics, any hardship is an opportunity to exercise our wisdom and the strength of our character. For some, aging is a hardship and so, for those people, aging can be viewed as an opportunity to practice the right attitude, practice our control over our attitude and to practice the right mindset.

Book Referenced: Letters From A Stoic By Seneca

 

 

 

Bruce Lee On The Importance Of Being A Quality Human Being

You know how I like to think of myself? As a human being.

For Bruce Lee, it was important to identify himself as a human first before any race, gender or ethnicity. By emphasizing his humanity over anything else, it helped him transcend social and cultural barriers and at the same time, it allowed him to think broadly and to have his philosophy be attainable to any individual.

However, Bruce Lee’s goal wasn’t simply to be human. Rather, it was to be a human of “quality”.

The function and duty of a human being, a “quality” human being, that is, is the sincere and honest development of potential and self-actualization.

Self-actualization means to achieve one’s full potential through creativity, independence, spontaneity, and a grasp of the real world. Simply put, to become the best version of yourself.

In order to fulfill one’s own potential, it is important to hone the ability to self-reflect. Self-reflection can allow us to detach momentarily. To see our own flaws and limitations so we know the areas we need to improve or strengthen.

We can ask ourselves: What habits do we need to break? What habits do we need to start? Where do we lack knowledge? Are we too passive? What part of our life requires immediate action?

For Bruce Lee, his goal was to actualize himself and he believed that should be the goal of all humans.

To promote the growth process and develop human potential:

To get through social role playing

To fill in the holes in the personality to make [one] whole and complete again.

The social role-playing part is important as well. We are social creatures and we have to do well by our community. It’s not a selfish attitude that Bruce Lee advocated but rather he believed in actualizing ourselves by performing our social duties to the best of our ability while improving upon our flaws. Both can go hand in hand. If we become the best version of ourselves then the ripple effects of that are felt by our friends, families and the community we live in. At the same time, by dedicating ourselves to being a productive member of society, it can help move us closer to our ideal state.

What the hell; you are what you are, and self-honesty occupies a definite and vital part in the ever-growing process to become a “real” human being and not a plastic one. Somehow, one day, you will hear “hey, now that’s quality; here is someone REAL.” I’d like that.

The key to being a quality human being is self-honesty. If we lie to ourselves and run away from who we currently are then there can be no improvement. Other people can point out our flaws but it’s easy to rationalize that truth and act as if other people are wrong. It’s also important to understand that who we currently are isn’t what we have to be. Bruce Lee also advocated constant change and this change has to come from within. We can only improve and grow if we wish to and in order to do this, we need to be honest with ourselves. Brutally honest about somethings. It can be uncomfortable to pick at our own flaws but there really is no other way to inch towards self-actualization. There needs to be constant ownership and accountability of our own actions. Perhaps in this manner, one day, someone can look at us and say “here is someone real,” just as Bruce Lee was.

Book referenced: Bruce Lee Striking Thoughts: Bruce Lee’s Wisdom for Daily Living 

Montaigne On How To Be A Well-Rounded Thinker

It seems that it is, rather, the property of Man’s wit to act readily and quickly, while the property of the judgment is to be slow and poised. But there is the same measure of oddness in the man who is struck dumb if he has no time to prepare his speech and the man who cannot take advantage and speak better when he does have time. (Montaigne)

These are the two spectrums of thinking. On one side is a person who is quick on their feet and can improvise. On the other end is a person who requires time to think and organize their thoughts before acting. There are benefits to both sides as certain circumstances require quick wit and others poised judgment. But this can only be achieved if you have the ability to act both ways. People often handicap themselves by only practicing one way of thinking. They either think themselves quick-witted or not. Or they only reap the rewards of one approach and not the other.

Montaigne urges people to be both a preacher and a barrister. Someone who is well thought out but is also able to improvise on the spot. For myself, I know I lean heavily towards the organization side of the spectrum. Ad-libbing isn’t something I’m comfortable with. Perhaps overthinking is the reason for the lack of wit.

In addition, a soul worrying about doing well, straining and tensely drawn towards its purpose, is held at bay — like water which cannot find its way through the narrow neck of an open gutter because of the violent pressure of its overflowing abundance.

The desire to perform well, to not fail, to not embarrass ourselves can lead us away from exercising our wit. It can stop us from exploring this other side of ourselves, the more unconscious, unstructured and free-flowing aspect of our personality.

The occasion, the company, the very act of using my voice, draw from my mind more than what I can find there when I exercise it and try it out all by myself.

Montaigne exercised this part of himself through speech. By just talking and letting the words come out and then following this spontaneous line of thought and seeing where it takes him. He also exercised his wit through writing. Often going with the flow of his thoughts without forcing judgment on what he’s writing.

Where I seek myself I cannot find myself: I discover myself more by accident than by inquiring into my judgment.

This did lead to writing that didn’t make sense. But it also lead to unpacking what he truly believed in, what he thought to be important and what he cared about. Because the actions committed without judgment speak volumes of your true form. In this way, embracing the flow aspect of your thoughts can shine a light on what you really want to say. Once that is out there, on paper or in a conversation, then you can add organization and structure to the argument and present it as a complete package.

You don’t want to be limited by your own perceptions. Montaigne suggests that we can be both, quick-witted and have good judgment. He also suggests that this needs to be practiced. The practice may involve sitting down and writing an essay on a topic just to exercise your judgment. It may also involve a stream of consciousness type journaling where you’re not bogged down by the desire to present a concise argument. By practicing both sides we move towards the middle of the spectrum where we can then pick and choose how to act and be ready depending on external situations.


Montaigne On The Displacement Of Anger

Montaigne on The Importance of Emotional Moderation

Montaigne On How To Judge Someone’s Actions

Bad Memory Has Its Benefits

Reflections: Get Out Of Your Head


Youtube: Learned Living

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/learned_living/

Poem: Electric Self-Help

Article: Stoic Lesson: Aim For Internal Growth

Short Story: Everything Work’s Itself Out

Reflection: The Importance of Internal Dialogue

I have often wondered how it is that everyone loves himself more than anyone else, but rates his own judgment of himself below that of others. Anyway, if a god or some wise tutor appeared at his side and told him to entertain no internal thought or intention which he won’t immediately broadcast outside, he would not tolerate this regime for a single day. So it is that we have more respect for what our neighbors will think of us than we have for ourselves. (Marcus Aurelius – Meditations)

The only person that can ever know you completely is yourself, your own mind. Your mind knows all that you wish to be, all that you want from life and all that you are afraid of. In doing so, it becomes both, your greatest ally and your greatest enemy. A negative mindset will keep you cemented at the start line. It will fill your head with thoughts of anxiety, fear, failure, humiliation, embarrassment and stop you from attempting anything.

But that’s not all. When you don’t have control of your mind it will reign free which often means that it’s lead by the ego. It’s concerned about how we are perceived by others. What our image is like. In this manner, our mind is free but we aren’t because we get shackled and chained by the thoughts of other people. How would so-so think of us if we act on this feeling? How would so-so react if we were to follow this thought?

If we were to broadcast our thoughts they would be conformed to the group, to the mob, to other people. All because of the mind which doesn’t want to stand out. It wants to blend in and shield itself from judgment. Or because we believe that our own thoughts aren’t important, intelligent or worthwhile.

This conformist way of living then creates a paradox like the one Marcus Aurelius mentions where we love ourself but we rate the judgment of others more highly than our own.

What requires an alignment is the mind. In order to align the love you have for yourself and to respect our own decisions/feelings/thoughts more than of our neighbors, we need to change the mindset from a negative one to a more positive one.

The reason for this is because a positive mindset can keep you going, it can help you overcome obstacles and hardships and it can make you grow into the person that you wish to be.

With positivity comes respect, patience, and forgiveness. We come to respect ourselves and show patience towards our slow progress and growth and forgive ourselves when we do make mistakes.

This requires practice. This requires reigning in the mind and setting boundaries for what kind of thoughts it’s allowed to follow and unpack. The negative ones push you down and raise the stranger up while the positive thoughts put you and the stranger on equal plains. So, the practice needs to be one of where you recognize when negativity arises in your mind and either change it or let it fuel you towards a positive direction.

In this manner, not only is your self-love expanded but also the respect you have for yourself.

Reflections: Get Out Of Your Head

If we do not keep them (our minds) busy with some particular subject which can serve as a bridle to reign them in, they charge ungovernably about, ranging to and fro over the wastelands of our thoughts. (Michel de Montaigne)

A lot of our issues are self-manifested. It’s because when we are inactive when our bodies or minds aren’t involved in a task then the mind is free to roam different possibilities and concerns, many of which lie in the uncertain future. If we don’t tame this impulse, we are wrought with stress and anxiety.

Many times self-doubt only creeps up when we are still, when the world is silent, that moment before you go to bed or right before you are about to take a risk, the plunge, that one second, that’s where doubt comes because for that moment you think about the possible failures and the mind becomes untamed.

An easier way might be to say that when we don’t concentrate on the present then our mind becomes untamed. But concentrating on the present moment seems impossible if we aren’t actively doing something so, that’s a difficult thing to practice. Be present is a nice phrase but impractical much of the time.

But as quickly as doubt, stress or anxiety arises, with equal ease, they can be erased if we simply act. Take action, get out of the head and get in your body: Go for a run, see how many burpees you can do in 30 minutes, go meet up with friends and play a sport, play an instrument, talk to someone you love, pick up a book, start writing, whatever it is, whenever we get out of the mind we also leave behind the “wasteland of our thoughts”.

Montaigne understood the side effects of an idle mind very well, he said an idle mind “gives birth to so many chimeras and fantastic monstrosities” because for some strange reason idleness loves to spend its time thinking about what isn’t going right in our life. Constantly jumping from one thing to the next and it feels so real because your heart might begin to race, thinking about these monstrosities and it’s in time like these when one almost has to smack themselves, tell ourselves “it’s going to be okay”, verbalize it, make the mind focus on the positive words, on the task of saying “everything will work out” and you see in that instance these monstrosities disappear.

When the soul is without a definite aim she gets lost, as they say, if you are everywhere you are nowhere. (Michel de Montainge)

Keep an aim in mind. I think this is why people love to journal in the morning or mid-afternoon. If you are able to write down what you want to do that day every morning then for the next few hours your mind is occupied and as the occupation wanes in the afternoon, one simply has to remind it of the aim and it’ll kick right back up and keep helping you instead of hurting you.

The biggest thing is to approach idleness with caution for you understand what comes with such comfort and at least, if those “chimeras” do come, we have a plan of action on how to fight them.

Bad Memory Has Its Benefits

We would all love if our memory was better. We could recollect more clearly, remember the exact detail of some past moment, in a way, we could relive our past. If my memory was better I could recall the exact feelings, thoughts, and emotions which I’ve felt and that would make writing about such things so simple. Better yet, we would love to recall anything we read one time. All that information which seems to flow in and then out, only the smallest traces of it sticking with us, could become permanent.

No more losing our keys or forgetting directions or spending the day trying to recall that one song we heard on the radio that one time.

So, clearly, the benefits of good memory are immense. You may think who would ever want a bad memory? Or be happy that their memory is bad? 

The answer to that is Michel De Montaigne. Montaigne was a French philosopher who is best known for his collection of thoughts which he mixed with real-life anecdotes, which are promptly called Essays. It is the way Montaigne thinks that has attracted people to him for centuries after his passing. An example of this unique perspective can be seen in the essay titled “On Liars” in which he lists a few benefits of having a bad memory.

One benefit is that you have to use your own reasoning ability, your own logic, instead of relying on the works of others because you are unable to recollect the arguments others have made in a cohesive manner.

If, thanks to memory, other people’s discoveries and opinions had been kept ever before me, I would readily have reached a settled mind and judgment by following other men’s footsteps, failing as most people do to exercise my own power.

Another benefit that you may not have realized of having a bad memory is that you talk less when your memory is poor.

I talk less; it is always easier to draw on the storehouse of memory than to find something original to say.

Furthermore, bad memory means to relive experiences and moments.

Books and places which I look at again always welcome me with a fresh smile.

Lastly, your mind is at ease when your memory is poor for you cannot recall information that would bring you discomfort.

I remember less any insults received. I would need an Official Reminder like Darius: in order not to forget an insult suffered at the hands of the Athenians he made a page intone three times in his ear as he sat at table: ‘Remember the Athenians, sire.’

If nothing more, this is a good exercise to practice. Whatever you deem to be bad, think of two or three things that demonstrate how that bad thing has benefits of its own. What I take away from this essay is simple: be mindful of your perspective. There are very few things in life which are black or white, good or bad, most things fall somewhere in the middle, the gray area, where one’s perspective matters more than anything else.


Youtube: Learned Living

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Poem: The Old Rebel

Article: Montaigne On How To Be A Well-Rounded Thinker

Short Story: The Bus

 

Montaigne On How To Judge Someone’s Actions

Montaigne was a 16th-century French philosopher. Although we remember Montaigne for his literary works, in particular, for the Essays he wrote, but in his own time, he was better know for his statesmanship. He served time as a mayor and was also respected enough by the King to seek him out for advice on different subject matters.

His essays cover many different topics and it’s the practical nature of Montaigne’s writing which attracts readership to this date. One of the topics he covered was how to judge other people’s actions. For Montaigne, it comes down to two things which are related to one another: What was in that person’s control and what was not.

So, for example, if someone owes you money and they promised to pay you by a certain date and that date comes and goes and yet, you have not received your payment. The natural reaction would be to get angry, to get aggressive because you feel cheated. However, Montaigne would advise you to take a deep breath and step back from the situation and think the following:

We cannot be held to promises beyond our power or our means. That is why – since actions and performances are not wholly in our power and since nothing is really in our power but our will – it is on the will that all the rules and duties of Man are based and established.

What Montaigne advises is to judge whether or not that individual intended to honor the payment by the specified date. If the answer is yes but external situations got in the way of that individual and his intention then what use is it to get angry and hurt this individual who is incapable of acting beyond his means.

If you judge the individual to be a cheat and that they had no intention of paying you back then yes, you have the right to be aggressive but at the same time, you must look at yourself. Take ownership of the situation and ask yourself why did you lend the money? What were your intentions? How did you get cheated? Why didn’t you see this lie coming?

Because after all there are only a few things in this life we have control over. One of them is our ability to reason and the other is our attitude. If there was a fault in our reasoning then we have to make sure to correct it so in the future we don’t make the same mistake. While our attitude serves to detach us from the situation at hand and react in a logical manner.

Furthermore, sticking with the example of lending money, let’s say that you lent a person money without putting a strict date of when the payment is to be repaid. This individual then benefits from your loan and is capable of paying you the money and yet, keeps it for himself for a long period of time, perhaps even till his deathbed and on that day, he returns the favor and gives you your money.

In this case, the person would consider himself even with you. You gave him money and then he paid it back. Equal transaction.

However, Montaigne would argue that this individual has committed a wrong. The reason being that he had the means of paying you back but did not intend to do so until he could no longer benefit from your loan. The intention is the key when judging another person’s actions. So, although you have been paid what you were owed, you still may have a gripe with this person because you could have put that money to good use or at least, alleviated some financial burdens. While, in the other scenario, the person intended to pay you back but had no means to do so, which means harboring a grudge with this individual would be useless.

One of the core philosophy of Stoicism is understanding what you can control and what you cannot. Montaigne was a student of Stoic philosophy and you can see its influence throughout his Essays. Particularly, on this topic of correctly judging another person’s actions.

So, before you judge someone’s actions just think what was their intentions, their will, what was in their control and what was not. This will make it easier for you to properly react to the situation at hand and to keep your emotions in check.