Sunday, October 30, 2016

No Control

A couple of trees near my local bike path.  Photo by J. Berta.

Greetings All:

Today is October 30, 2016.  For many, the world is less than perfect.  We, in America, find ourselves in the middle of a miserable general election.  Unless you are the most partisan-political animal, you have to be worn down by this campaign, at least a little.  I know I am.

If you're a Clinton supporter, you cannot be happy with the news that came out Friday that the ghost of emails past is again rattling its chains.  If you're a Trump supporter, you have to still be frustrated that your candidate is under attack by the perceived establishment.  

Then, there is baseball.  As I write this, the Chicago Cubs have their backs against the Ivy-covered wall, down three games.  Math is not my strong suit, yet even I can do this simple equation:  The Cubs gotta win all three remaining games.  

I suppose the one bit of comfort Cubs fans can take from this situation is this: The same city where the Indians call home is shared with the Cleveland Cavilers.  That team earlier this year rallied from the same 3-1 deficit against the vaunted Golden State Warriors.

So, to my Cubs fan friends, keep the faith.  Perhaps this photo below might help sooth your troubled self.  I know the walk a recently took with my dog where I snapped these pictures did wonders for me.

A photo of Duck Creek by my local bike path.  Photo by J. Berta

It can be easy to feel overwhelmed, frustrated, angry, despondent, fill-in-the-blank over things beyond our control.  Add into the mix the sheer injustice of certain (any) situations and we can feel our blood pressure rise.  We curse to ourselves, or perhaps outloud, "Dammit, it's not FAIR!"

So it is.  Such is life.

So how to combat such a situation?  I assure you, I have not the answer.  What I do have is a small suggestion.  Here goes:

I have been spending a bit of time in an informal and highly un-organized study of Stoicism.  Stoicism, as defined by our friends at Google, is this:

noun: stoicism; noun: Stoicism
  1. 1.
    the endurance of pain or hardship without a display of feelings and without complaint.
      synonyms:patience, forbearance, resignation, fortitude, endurance, acceptance, tolerance, phlegm
    "she accepted her sufferings with remarkable stoicism"
  2. 2.
    an ancient Greek school of philosophy founded at Athens by Zeno of Citium. The school taught that virtue, the highest good, is based on knowledge, and that the wise live in harmony with the divine Reason (also identified with Fate and Providence) that governs nature, and are indifferent to the vicissitudes of fortune and to pleasure and pain.

Ryan Holiday is an author I have followed and read for some time.  He is someone whose lived an interesting life and on his own terms.  I admire him for his willingness to lay bare his life and experiences for all of us to learn from.  I have just read (listened to, actually) two of his recent books:  Ego is The Enemy and The Obstacle is The Way.  I recommend both of these books and you can find the Amazon links to purchase them here and here.  (If you would like a recommendation for which one to start with first, it's a close call.  For recovering narcissists like myself, go with
Ego is The Enemy.)

In his writings and talks with Tim Ferriss, he has mused on the virtue of Stoicism.  He's also taken this to another level with his site, The Daily Stoic.  Here's the site:

He has also released a book by the same title.  I will not recommend it as I have not read it yet.  However, as soon as I finish the "Booker Award" winning novel, The Sellout by Paul Beatty, I plan on listening to it as well.  I suspect it will be as terrific as the other works Holiday has published.  In the meantime, I unconditionally endorse Mr. Holiday's work and encourage you to check out his site here.

My wife, Dawn mused yesterday at lunch that to her, Stoicism seems like a form of anger management.  I think she's onto something.  

One of the things Holiday talks about with Stoicism is both understanding and accepting just how little in life we have control over.  He also offers cautionary tales from history (General and President U.S. Grant) who let their ego get the better of them in vain attempts to impress others.  Again, trying to control things simply out of our grasp.

What's my take on Stoicism?  Well, I think it is great, it is beautiful.  And not unlike many other things great and beautiful, it is extremely difficult to understand, let alone master.  

So where to start?  Here's a suggestion.  It comes from the quote my friend, the Rev. Jay Wolin, shared this on Facebook this morning by John O'Donohue:

"May you experience each day as a sacred gift woven around the heart of wonder."

I like this quote.  I think it ties in nicely with, for me, what is the root of Stoicism- control what you can and appreciate whatever beauty may come your way in a day.  

Take this photo below, for example.  On the day I snapped it, water was barely flowing, a trickle.  Did it diminish its beauty?  Not for me.  True, in the winter, it is far more striking to see it frozen solid.  Or in the spring, when the rains have come and made its trickle a robust flood it is more "impressive."  Yet those days are far removed.  I can no more make that a reality than I can cause time to rewind and help the Cubs have a better second or seventh inning of last night's game.

But what I can do is appreciate what I see and feel around me.  And I think it is OK to only experience the "in the moment" feeling for a short while before being pulled back into the other external stuff.  
What mattered is you had that experience, however brief.

A tiny waterfall off my bike path.  Photo by J. Berta.

Oh, and lest anyone think I am some proficient practitioner of Stoicism, I'm not.  Truth be told I acted pretty damn un-Stoic this weekend on several occasions.  I even had a couple mirco-bouts of mini-depression/anger.  I'd like to tell you I re-read Meditations and all was well.  Nope.  I just went to bed, counting on the next day being better.

And it was.

I'll close with a reference back to the opening photo.  Here are two trees.  One stands majestic, wrapped in a royal red robe of crimson leaves.  The other, standing subordinate and behind it is bare.  But for the image saved on my iPhone, I would never be able to see these trees this way again.  Should I mourn for having missed seeing the second tree's fall folage?  Of course not.  That would be both stupid and silly.  It's a damn tree after all.  

Yet I can look at this image and recall seeing it in person and know that was able to see it, experience it, enjoy it.  I had no control over the leaves changing, or falling, or the wind blowing or any of that stuff.  I had no control over the sun shining or the temperature being a glorious 70+ degrees.  No control, no control at all.

Except over my appreciation of the experience.  

I'll take it.

Be well my friends,

p.s., here's a link to order Meditations via Amazon.


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