Recognizing the scope of our control
“It takes a tranquil and untroubled mind
to roam freely across all parts of life.”
I owe much to ancient Greek and Roman Stoic thinkers and the influence they have had on Western culture and society. I suspect my hero, Henry David Thoreau, was influenced directly, or indirectly, by Stoic writing, as he often refers to values proposed and supported by Stoic thinkers, such as Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, and Seneca. If I could have my youth to do over again, I would include in my late teens the writings of these men, which I did not otherwise discover until midlife. So influenced, I suspect I could have avoided much of the struggle and hardship of life reconciliation during the decades of my twenties, thirties and forties; which otherwise required many hard knocks to liberate some sense into my living. This section of my book is dedicated to words which I knowingly wrote with the Stoics in mind. This section is my homage to the Stoic perspective and way of life, which has done much to refine my sensibilities, and without which I could not have composed my Good Life plan of living at this late stage of my life. Or perhaps ever.
Notes from my muse
I told a man my mind and he asked me “What efforts have you made to destroy this idea? And how may I help to bring it down?” What a worthy friend. So caring of my best interest. Let us war together upon my claims to truth.
Create a garden within your mind. A place hemmed in by reason. Where you can nurture virtue in true soil. A quiet and simple sanctuary, ever present, always home.
Virtue is independent of possessions. Though what we have or want may distract us from virtue.
What is it you can truly touch? Even your raised voice will only carry so far. Distinguish these things. Measure your reach. Attend to practical ends.
What small routines, mindful actions, and discerning ways reveal the wilderness passage.
Shout your musings down the corridors of time
They echo and return
Lost at last
Virtue rests in tempered self-reflection. Not much. Just enough to gather the facts. Just enough to gain accurate perspective for the application of reason. Let it go then. And think not of events other than your rational conclusions and the resolutions they entail. And never gawk or dwell upon the circumstance of others, which is an intemperate indulgence, and a distraction from your own true labor. Attend the mending of your own folly, which you alone can repair. And burden not your neighbor with any prying misattentions.
The routines and vain actions of life are but a bluff and distraction from living. Bright and shiny. New and interesting. Our lives given over to awe and wonder. Our better purpose is ignored. The considered life. The principled life. A life of discipline and temperance. A life spent enacting and enforcing the laws we must ourselves discover and ratify. Police, barrister, judge and perhaps executioner. Engaged in the messy business of applying reason to our base animal thoughts, in the hope of forming something true from instinct, emotion and gasping higher thought. Gasping like a man drowning in the sea of evolved conclusions. And when that higher mind sputters some words of good sense above the waves, how then to remember and live in accord with what we’ve found? When all the sea rages, and none may hear our voice over the froth and din. Still we go on. Swimming towards something better. Straining muscle with willful, disciplined strokes. Until we at last drown, and sink again below the mad waves. Attaining nothing more than the best life we knew how. That’s the thing we seemingly seek to avoid.
Let every act of virtue be self-contained
At once thought, action and reward
Seeking nothing more
And asking no notice or remembrance
Do I die now in equanimity?
Then I’ve indeed reached a good end.
This balanced and tuned apparatus
So frail and fleeting
Upon which my everything is carried
Through places and years
So near nevermore
Be responsible for what is within your control. Let others own their own thoughts and flesh.
My first thought at every challenge: What opportunity this moment virtue?
Humbly acquiesce to sound principle
How might I bear well this worthy burden
Carry this necessary weight
Tolerate painful right action
Rather than flee to easy salvation
When challenge arrives
And panic rises in the heart
Still then the mind
Still more the tongue
These few square meters of flesh are far more than I can maintain or cultivate. Ruin progresses despite plan and action. My only real estate is my will. A moment by moment application of hard earned best practice. Applied to the ends revealed of reason.
I’d rather take less, or give up my portion, than suffer the loss of nourishing restraint.
My response is all I really own. The rest are like leaves blown in an autumn wind.
It’s easy to become a monster
When you know you should lead
Your spirit will die
And something hollow…
Will fill the empty space
Man and womanhood are sufficient ends
To a stout and earnest mind
Dismissive of distraction
Heedless of precedent
Careless of legacy…
Fearless of death
Consumed of resolve
To speak one true thing
To fill the empty space
Peace is easy
When expectation is reduced
To the level of reality
To give more
And want less
Let not a single thought escape my mind which has not suffered the scrutiny of reason.
The sober subject of our lives’ decline arrives so often late to the feast, and long before the diner has enjoyed their fill.
Would you detain or lament Death’s rightful trespass; throw up protest and complain perceived misfortune; cry like a child denied sovereignty over all they see and know? To what end…that your gravity and equanimity might go first before the gallows?