CULTIVATE GOOD EMOTIONAL REACTIONS
Life is full of jolts and tosses and sudden happening we did not want or expect. Expletives are made for such events and express well our upset and disappointment when things do not seem to go our way, or a reasonable way, or a convenient way or not a dangerous or destructive or even deadly way. These wrong turns and upsets can never be fully avoided or escaped from, though many build entire life projects towards this aim. Indeed, a whole lifetime may be spent engineering our own and the circumstance of others to prevent upset, or the fruition of what we do not want. Some success may even be had…for a time. And some peace then may be found…for a time. But then how much greater the upset and consequence when the universe at last veers left when we wanted and engineered and begged and dreamed and connived it should go right. Such upset and disappointment. A great fall from such a well-intentioned height. Pain then. Sadness for a while. Life appears then such a grind.
The Stoics teach us to recognize and mind the scope of our control, for this then sets up parameters of reasonable control. Our expectations must be trained to extend no further than our own self-control in the face of a complex world which may not behave as we want or expect. I cannot control fortune. Though I can control how I respond to fortune’s whims. My own self-control in responding well to every event and circumstance—favorable or not—is not only my best utility in dealing well with life as it is; buy is my only truly effective response to the things to which I could never prepare.
So, cultivate self-control. Become the master of your response. Take charge of what you think, say, and do in every circumstance—good or bad; knowing sometimes you will fail at this worthy effort, and flail and fight and yell and cry for fear and sadness sake. But sometimes you will prevail. Periodically you'll remain in control while Rome seemingly burns; and you will stand watching, thinking, controlling emotions, preparing a suitable and reasonable response and then acting with swift and prudent motion, judicious intent, and honorable motive. Cultivate this way of being. Become someone in control of themselves.
Notes from my muse
Anxiety strikes nearly every time I’m very far into the wild, and in territory I’ve never visited. It rarely meets me where I’ve been before, even when situations go bad, and real danger is present and looming. Perhaps it’s the fact of familiarity—even with fearful circumstances—which holds our fears at bay, allowing us to foil our well-being despite our own better judgement and disposition. Deep wilderness rarely tolerates such reckless disregard or ignorance, and will warn and punish us at once with a gut-gnawing apprehension, and something resembling a dry terror—dryness, as in a parched and gaping mouth—which can shrivel our resolve and will, and send us into a backward panic of retreat from whatever natural vision or understanding brought forth the fear. This happens to me nearly every time I’m alone and pushing the limits of exploration into deep and seemingly uncharted wilderness. This video captures the minutes leading up to this moment, which I could sense was coming. You can’t gauge from the video the depth and sincerity of the fear I felt—which caused a spontaneous gulp just now as I type these words—and the only reason I appear so calm is because I saw the terror (that’s truly not too strong a word) coming from a half mile off. I knew what was about to happen; and when it did, I put on a pretty good show for the camera of not being afraid; though I was. I was very afraid. What we fear in the dark can just as easily find us during the day.
There's a tipping point in every adventure alone in wild places, a moment when our irrational fears are behind us, and the necessity of confronting the hard facts of what's truly real is before our feet. There's great need to step carefully from this point forward, when the voice of caution becomes mute, and the adolescent confidence of overcoming our fears may lead us over the edge of a cliff.
After overcoming an initial wave of anxiety, there’s often a few minutes of euphoria fueled by the excitement of meeting what we fear in the wild, coupled with the adrenaline rush of facing it down. It’s these few tens of minutes of energy and resolve that are probably the most dangerous moments in any hike alone in deep wilderness; as this is the time when we are more inclined to take foolish risks, make mistakes and really get hurt. My routine at such times is to always stop just when the first wave of anxiety strikes, perhaps for an impromptu lunch, or maybe just to sit on the ground, take off my boots and let my emotions settle and congeal into something more firm and tangible, less ephemeral and phantom. When my mind is settled, and my reason restored, I’ll clean up my sudden camp, lace up my boots, hoist the pack, and resume my march into someplace unknown. It’s a good and helpful routine, and an essential precaution when alone within a place where help and solace are as remote and alien as the love of kin and kind.