Would you Like More Tranquility?

Would you like more peace and tranquility in your life? Would you like to gain contentment and step away from the endless cycle of desire? Would you like to get a  handle on your negative emotions? I for one want all of these things and I am willing to make a bet that you would also. The word “tranquil,” is an oxymoron in our crazy world of nonstop meetings, errands, social media updates, and version 2.0 technology purchases. How can we obtain the “good” life? Philosophers and religious leaders have been searching for this answer for millennia. I picked up a book that focused on this question through the ancient practice of Stoicism – A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William Irvine. This is an excellent book that introduces the main principles of a frequently misunderstood way of life. Before reading this book, I always viewed a “stoical” person as someone who had no emotion – like a robotic-British-guard who can’t respond to pestering tourists. This view was completely off track…

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Stoicism began in Greece and was an amalgamation of several philosophical schools. The three main principles of Stoicism are as follows:

  1. A Stoic’s highest values are virtue and tranquility.
  2. A Stoic desires contentment with what they have – not what they would like to have
  3. A Stoic accepts what is outside of their control and accepts whatever their external environment throws at them.

Virtue in a Stoic sense means living a life that’s aligned with the ultimate purpose of a human – that is to be rational. This rationality leads ultimately to the pillars of virtue: temperance, courage, wisdom, goodness, honesty, righteousness, dignity, integrity, trustworthiness, decency and merit. To be entirely rational, one must be in a tranquil state. A tranquil state is one in which no negative emotions exist. To be completely tranquil, one must not let their external environment control their feelings. For example, a Stoic person in an argument would not become angry from insults and would maintain their tranquility – leading to preservation of their rational base of virtues.

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A significant enemy of tranquility is desire. This is especially true when the desire leads to discontentment. Stoics aim to rid themselves of this “desire loop” by appreciating what they already have. This goal is obtained by the practice of “negative visualization.”  To practice negative visualization, just imagine the people and things you love as suddenly vanishing. For example, imagine if you woke up today and there was no roof over your head; rain was pouring on your head, and you were shivering with cold from the dampness of the room. Thinking this makes you immediately appreciate your warm blanket and strong roof – two things that you normally take for granted. Another example is imagining that your wife or husband has died. This thought is deliberate but temporary – it doesn’t make you depressed – but instead makes you joyous with your current possessions. This practice is commonly performed among religious individuals who regularly pray – thanking God for His blessings because those blessings are very transitory.

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Finally, to achieve complete tranquility, we must understand what things are outside of our control. This is a challenging concept to practice, but it is a life-changing concept when implemented. We cannot control what other people say or do. We cannot control what is going on in the news. We cannot control the millions of variables which bombard us on a daily basis. When things upset us that are outside our control, we must push it out of our mind immediately. This doesn’t mean that we give up helping people but rather it requires us to make better goals. We can only go about our day doing our “best” to help make the world a better place. That is much different than the goal of “making the world a better place.” Trying your best is in your control. Changing the world for the better, unfortunately, is not in your control. This subtle change in mindset leads to considerable changes in anxiety, depression, and discontentment. Stoicism complements well with Christianity, and I feel that these two philosophies combined make for the best possible life. I know a lot of religious people who are very anxious and discontented with their day-to-day existence. Ancient philosophy doesn’t have to be relegated to the dusty shelves of a library – there is wisdom all around us.

Stoicism is so important that I am going to make it the next installment in The Tackle the Library Series. Release date June 2019.

Chihuahua Super Powers

Max, our pea-brain chihuahua, has been a member of our family for almost two months now. I wrote about Max in a earlier post and since then our friendship has grown significantly. Initially, I saw our friendship as one sided-being that I fed and loved the dog on a regularly basis. But over time, Max has returned the favor by teaching me a key life lesson-contentment. It is hard to be content in this world that always tells us we need “more.”  Max has a very simple life and for all intents and purposes seems quite happy. He is either in a complete state of relaxation on the couch or in a complete state of ecstasy while eating-especially when its tortilla chips. From my observations he never thinks about anything except what is happening right in the present moment. If he is on the couch, he owns that couch. If he is on a walk, he doesn’t even know the couch exists. Max is a master at being present. Now, this may be because his tiny brain can’t handle too much thought but nevertheless it is a skill that I am learning from my new friend. At any given moment I am trying to get somewhere, do something, or thinking about the future. It is rare that I am actually a witness of the present and fully taking in my surroundings.

When Max eats a tortilla chip, his one neuron must be overwhelmed by all its intricate details-the saltiness, the crunchiness, the deliciousness, the sheer heaven that is fried corn. When I eat a tortilla chip I usually am not thinking about the chip but rather how fat I will feel after eating the whole bag and whether it is weird to be eating them while taking a shower. When Max goes on walks it is like he is running through a field filled with magical grass and hypnotic trees. When I take a walk, I am thinking about tomorrow’s schedule and questioning whether or not I had pooped that day. My point being, Max is content and I am not. If I were content I would take in each moment and not feel the need to have “more.” I wouldn’t be constantly worrying about the future or trying to upgrade my material possessions. I would be happier and more at peace because all I would need would be the present moment. The next time you eat a tortilla chip, try not to think about anything else, use your “Chihuahua Super Powers” of thoughtlessness. Take a bite and see how much better it tastes. It may be the first time that you have ever consciously tasted something. Who would have thought that my dog, who I thought would never teach me anything, is now helping me see the world in a better way? Thanks Max for your limited mental capabilities, they are helping me to find greater contentment.

The Unlucky Irish

Michiganders are some of the worst people when it comes to complaining about the weather. Every winter in Michigan is like being trapped in a dark refrigerator for 6 months. Winter sucks and I definitely contribute my fair share of whining: “I haven’t seen the sun for a week, I’m moving to Hawaii!,” “If I have to scrape ice off my car one more time I’m going to just drive with my head out the window!,” “I’m sick of soup but its the only thing that keeps me from hypothermia!,” etc. Even sex sucks because it takes a half hour to remove all the layers of clothing; nothing gets me turned on more than seeing my wife strip off her seasonal-big-fluffy-bright-pink socks. Most people would agree that Michigan winters are worthy of complaints but Michiganders take weather misgivings to whole other level. Once the snow begins to thaw, the pink-socks get retired, and the sun begins to shine, Michigan becomes the most beautiful place in the summer. Here’s the thing though, Michigan fricks still complain about the heat, humidity, stickiness, brightness, and bugs. I mention all of this complaining because I just read a book that makes Michigan seem like a paradise no matter what season it is. Hungry for Home: A Journey from the Edge of Ireland by Cole Moreton tells the story of the people who once lived on the inhospitable Blasket Islands off the coast of Ireland.

The Blasket Islands are a collection of six islands that are situated off the west coast of Ireland (click here for map). The original settlers of these islands were monks seeking solitude in the medieval ages; eventually more inhabitants would make their way in pursuit of safety from threatening land owners on the mainland. The population of the Blaskets at its peak was 160 people. The islands were very hard to live on because there was little natural shelter, few trees, insignificant arable land, and extremely harsh weather. During the winter, the Blasket Islands were pounded by unrelenting rain storms which made it impossible to cross the channel to the main land. Because the island was such a harsh environment, the community was isolated from the changing politics of Ireland and hence preserved their original Gaelic customs. Irish was the spoken language on the island and it was one of the last places on earth where Gaelic was used in its ancient form. For this reason, in the early 20th century many language scholars visited the island to document the islanders dialect and customs to preserve the culture. Beginning in the mid 1800’s, as a result of the potato famine, a large portion of Irishmen began to immigrate to the United States. The inhabitants of the Blasket Islands followed suit and by the 1940’s the island only had half of its peak population.

The dwindled population was primarily made up of older men and women who were too poor or too stubborn to leave their inhospitable lifestyle. Few youth remained and without their strength it was almost impossible to do the daily work required to survive on the harsh landscape. In the 40’s, extremely-severe winters forced the inhabitants to send out emergency messages for food and many died because of malnutrition. The last remaining islanders were removed by the government in 1953 to a nearby settlement on the mainland; close enough to still see the Blasket Islands but safe from future threats of starvation. There were only 22 inhabitants left in 1953 during the evacuation and almost all of them were extremely relieved to be getting off the cursed island. Today, the Blasket Islands are a popular tourist destination during the short summer season. I thought this story was amazing because it made me appreciate where I live. Compared to the Blaskets, Michigan is a paradise. I have food, shelter, health-care, security, and a great community. As the winter approaches we should realize that there are places much colder, darker, and inhospitable. Think of these places and find contentment-I guess those fluffy-pink socks aren’t all that bad 🙂