“It’s unfortunate that this happened. No. It’s fortunate that this has happened and I’ve remained unharmed.” – Marcus Aurelius
Think of the last time when you failed at something—major or minor. A business deal fell through. A grade didn’t come back the way you had hoped. How much pain did it cause in the moment? But more important, now that years have passed, how much pain does it cause now?
Very little, right?
It’s important to remind ourselves how much of our pain is self-inflicted. How important and real it may feel in the moment, but how quickly it will fade and become irrelevant. Are you really as harmed as you think here? Or maybe better, remember: I am exactly as harmed here as I think.
This is why our perceptions matter so much. If we can realize that this ain’t so bad, it won’t be. We’re going to move on and forget about it in the future, so why not start that now?
We need to remember, as Marcus did, that the permanent thing is impermanence. Money, power, fame, influence—these are ephemeral. As is our very existences on this planet. That there’s real wisdom to be found in the notion that you’re a speck in the universe’s broad history, and that your time is limited. Accept that it is, and you’ll open yourself up to a clarity—and possibly even a contentment—that you didn’t know.
“We’re here to laugh at the odds,” Bukowski said, “and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us.”
‘For we are made for co-operation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of the upper and lower teeth.’ (Marcus Aurelius)
The world is full of nice people. If you can’t find one, be one.
That’s the whole point of stoicism: to restore the power over your mind to the only person who ought to have it—you.
Seneca reminds us: “The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately.”
“I like all the Roman Stoics, but for different reasons. When I am dealing on an ongoing basis with annoying people, I turn to Marcus Aurelius. As Roman emperor, he had lots of experience dealing with annoying people. When I have an important decision to make, I turn to Epictetus and remind myself that there are things I can control and things I can’t. When I find myself lusting for consumer goods, I turn to Musonius Rufus, who managed quite well on being banished to the desolate island of Gyaros. And when I am feeling sorry for myself, I turn to Seneca. He reminds us that no matter how bad things are, they could be much worse.”
“Two words,” Epictetus says, “should be committed to memory and obeyed by alternatively exhorting and restraining ourselves, words that will ensure we lead a mainly blameless and untroubled life.” Those two words were ‘persist and resist.’
Today, we persist in our efforts—despite any obstacles we might face—and we resist naysayers, discouragement and distractions. We know that today is another day to face what we need to do—but without feeling rushed or worried. We know we are in it for the long haul. Others in our shoes might give up but we are in it for the long haul. Reminding ourselves of this makes it easier to resist all the noise. And to let us continue with our work.
“Demand not that events should happen as you wish; but wish them to happen as they do happen, and your life will be serene.”
“To make the best of what is in our power, and take the rest as it occurs.”
“Sickness is an impediment to the body, but not to the will, unless itself pleases. Lameness is an impediment to the leg, but not to the will; and say this to yourself with regard to everything that happens. For you will find it to be an impediment to something else, but not truly to yourself.”
“I cannot escape death; but cannot I escape the dread of it? Must I die trembling and lamenting?”
“No thing great is created suddenly, any more than a bunch of grapes or a fig. If you tell me that you desire a fig, I answer you that there must be time. Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen.”
“Let death and exile, and all other things which appear terrible, be daily before your eyes, but death chiefly; and you will never entertain any abject thought, nor too eagerly covet anything.”