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.

I’m in a Funk

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Ever since my Japan trip my brain has been in a funk. Reading and writing seem like a burden, and I was stumped on what to write about this week for the blog. I blame this slump on jet lag and the month of September. Experts say that for every time-zone crossed, it takes the body a day to recover from travel; Christina and I crossed 14 time zones which may explain why I am not motivated to read my current book – a 1000 pager on the history of Christianity. Jet lag is sneaky because you can get back to a normal sleep schedule in a couple of days, but feeling “functional” is a far cry from feeling “optimal.” My jet lag is worsened by the fact that it is September. I never liked September because it is the little brother of New Years; it is that transition time of the year when the leaves change, school starts, and people make arbitrary goals. Unlike New Years, Labor Day goals have zero chance because of the upcoming holiday season

Labor DayI’m going to lose some pounds before Halloween.”
1st of October “I love the fall decorations…how can I enjoy this season without candy and cinnamon donuts?”
Halloween “I feel gross…I’m going to try really hard up until Thanksgiving.”
One week later “I didn’t know my work was going to have an early Thanksgiving feast…I’ll just do portion control.”
ThanksgivingI feel like a Beluga Whale…this is already my third Thanksgiving…screw it!…I’m using the big plate at the dessert table.”
Christmas “Honey I’m having heart palpitations after that third glass of eggnog…I am starting that diet for real after New Years.”

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So hence, I feel the September blues quite a bit; I have one foot in summer and one foot in fall with a jet-lagged brain that keeps nagging at me like a wife who finds pee on the toilet seat. So what am I to do? What motivation can I offer to prevent us from playing “Wake Me Up When September Ends” on repeat? The best way to get out of a funk is to be both realistic and tangible. For example, I am going to start the reading and research for my next book in the coming weeks. I know that this will be difficult with the many social engagements of the season, so my timeline is significantly extended. This is applicable for any goal you make right now – whatever you have in mind, lower your expectations by 50 percent. If you want to lose 10 pounds, go for 5 pounds. If you want to save 500 dollars go for 250 dollars. If you want to read 3,000 pages on Plato …. just go stick your head under a frozen-yogurt machine.

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The other half of September success is to make your goal tangible. I have all the books I need to read stacked on my countertop so that I am reminded each day of my progress. The holidays make it easy to forget everyday routines so having a tangible reminder is paramount. Mark a calendar or have something on your desk that makes you think of your successes- just make it visible. After writing just these two paragraphs, I feel less foggy and more motivated to get back into my reading. Make a realistic goal this season and try your best; even if you improve by only 50%, it is still better than backsliding to those egg-nog induced palpitations.

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How to be a Supersurvivor

Everyone has heard of people overcoming adversity and becoming stronger because of their hardships. Some of these people are known as “Supersurvivors”-essentially someone who had life crap on them but then went on to do ridiculously awesome things. One example of a super survivor would be Alan Lock, who became the first blind person to row 3,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean (taking 86 days to complete). Alan was not born blind but was born with macular degeneration which took his sight at the age of 25. Could you imagine going blind after 25 years of beautiful sight? I would be extremely depressed and probably would commence a slow suicide through constant ice cream consumption.  Lock’s feats and countless other examples of Supersurvivors are hard to comprehend. It takes unique skills and resources to not just overcome tragedy but come out better than before. So what is the secret? There are three things that I learned from Supersurvivors: The Surprising Like Between Suffering and Success by David Feldman.

  1. Have a grounded hope-be optimistic but realistic. Have confidence in your future but base that on what factors you can best control. For example, Lock knew he would never get his eyesight back (realistic) but he knew that he could use other skills to accomplish great feats in the future (row 3,000 miles).
  2. How you feel in the moment is not how you will feel in the future. The news of having cancer is awful but most people will tell you that soon afterwards they regained their pre-cancer levels of happiness. Humans are resilient and the more we are conscious of this resilience the more we can plan to do great things.
  3. Surround yourself with people who don’t enable you. Don’t gravitate towards complainers who will make your crappy condition worse. People who truly love you will encourage and push you to be a better version of your self. Iron sharpens iron, everyone needs a great team to be a Supersurvivor.

Of course we do not all need to be Supersurvivors  but it is nice to know that we all have the potential to do great things no matter the situation. I need to always remind myself that I am not above the statistics. I am just as likely to get cancer, die in a car accident, or be faced with an adversity as everyone else. Knowing this makes me feel more vulnerable but it also helps me appreciate my blessings. It is easy to assume that we will all live to 95 and die in our sleep but that assumption is actually a bad one. If we are unrealistic about our fragility then we are more likely to delay life goals, be absent minded, and hold off that phone call to a loved one. Live your life in the now because we are all delicate beings in a unknown world. Don’t be sad about your fragility, use it as a catalyst to be a Supersurvivor and dominate whatever comes your way.