The Path to Stoicism, part III

I read Marcus Aurelius’ “Meditations” and didn’t get much out of it. Reading it did make me curious about it so I decided to do some more research into the topic. I found some interesting podcast episodes but what really got me started was the r/Stoicism FAQ on Reddit.

Reading the Enchiridion was a great experience, it really helped me understand the basics and take off from there. Ryan Holiday’s “The Obstacle is the Way” was also a good read I have returned to a few times. Although I didn’t find any new insights that I had not encountered in Epictetus, Holiday’s conversational style and more modern language makes it a good reminder of the ideas.

Stoic Week 2016 – Wednesday

The morning reflection for today reminds me of the idea in Zen Buddhism that you don’t need robes and a mountain monastery to have a retreat. Paying attention to your thoughts, your emotions and your body can take you out of the noise of daily life.

Mindfulness was particularly helpful today, I caught a pretty strong flu and re-centering myself on my breathing kept me from stressing over all the disruption to my normal activities.

For more information on the Stoic Week, visit Modern Stoicism.

Stoic Week 2016 – Tuesday

The text of the morning reflection is a passage that always resonates with me, especially the mentioning of bees. I have always admired bees in how they go about their tasks tirelessly, producing enough for themselves and more, while living in perfect balance with their environment.

Back in August I began a weightlifting program and I have been trying to stick to it as much as I can. Inevitably, things get in the way of the scheduled training and it does produce some self-scolding. Using the “reserve clause” was eye-opening, as today I have the flu and will not be able to train. I intended to train but it was not entirely in my control.

This approach is very effective to setting goals in an uncertain world.

For more information on Stoic Week 2016, visit Modern Stoicism

Stoic Week 2016 – Monday

I am following the Stoic Week for the first time and will be recording my thoughts here. The exercise for the morning is to think about virtues I admire on others.

From my mom I admire that not once did she stay in bed or complained despite her debilitating migraines and back pain, she always did what needed to be done for the family. From my wife I admire her deep connection the the world around her and the strong empathy she possesses. From my dad I admire that he has never given up on his business despite all the forces out of his control that have impacted. From my dog I admire his ability to meet every day with fresh eyes, to find the interesting and beautiful things in his everyday routine.

The evening passage was very interesting, I have always looked back at my day to evaluate the decisions made and the work completed. I think developing the habit of lifelong improvement would be a great victory.

The path to Stoicism, part II

Last week I began the story of how I came to find Stoicism, with part I of this series. To recap quickly, I was trying to deal with managing multiple projects and while working to organize myself I came across the next logical question: to what end?

I found Steve Chandler’s “Time Warrior” book, and it provided an interesting bridge between the traditional understanding of time management and something deeper about leading your life. It made me very curious about mindfulness and thus led me into the next stage of the journey.

I began reading about Zen Buddhism and was soon attending one of the local Zen centers. I found most of the ideas about Buddhism align very closely with my personal views, I discovered meditation and began practicing. Having grown up in a mostly Roman Catholic country, I was technically raised as a Catholic even though my parents were never practicing Catholics. I found Zen’s positions and approach very refreshing, particularly because the Minnesota Zen Center strives to make itself very accessible for people. The introspection practices really resonated with me, although I always struggled with a couple of topics. (Disclaimer: I am not claiming that Zen is wrong, and it’s likely that my dissatisfaction with some areas of it is based on a misunderstanding of Zen ideas. My point is that my interpretation of the Zen ideas I was presented with did not cover the gap between the Zen master meditating in hermitage and me trying to get the servers to ship on time). This anecdote humorously highlights my disconnect within Zen:

He awoke to find that God is everywhere. And as he wandered the streets, he smiled as he saw his beloved in all things. Before he knew it, he was walking right in the path of an elephant being driven by a man who had lost control. The elephant was running right toward the student! “No fear,” he thought. “God is in me, God is in the elephant.”

The driver of the elephant was now screaming at the top of his lungs: “Wild elephant! Get out of the way!” The student kept telling himself, “God is in me, God is in the ele”-BAM! Before he could finish thinking the word elephant, he was struck down by the uncontrollable beast. The student awoke in the hospital days later, saying he didn’t understand: If God was everywhere, how could this have happened? And his friend said, “God was also in the elephant driver, telling you to get out of the way”.

– Daniel Levin, “The Zen Book”

After almost two years of practicing Zen, I was reading Theodore Roosevelt’s biography and found that one of the books he would take with him on his travels was Marcus Aurelius’ “Meditations”. Curious, I obtained a copy and tried reading it but I didn’t get much out of it at the time.

The next part of this series will have more direct Stoic influences.

The path to Stoicism, part I

Recently, I have begun studying Stoicism. I often tend to reflect on the series of events that lead me to a particular point in my life, and the convoluted path that I followed to get to Stoic thinking is coming up close to six years. This is the first part of this story, I will update the posts with links as the following parts are posted.

As a mechanical engineer, I ignored and sometimes mocked philosophy studies throughout most of my academic career. Science and numbers were where the truth was. As soon as I finished school and entered the workforce, I found that most of what I needed to know to solve the problems in front of me was not at all related with engineering (I may expand on this and my thoughts on education on a separate post).

I have always believed that if I don’t know how to do something, I can always look for information and learn enough on my own to keep moving forward. In this case it was trying to manage multiple projects, I did some research and found the book “Getting Things Done” by David Allen. I will not go into much detail on the GTD methodology, there are plenty of resources available online discussing it. Part of the planning process proposed by Allen includes more high-level, long-term goal setting once the day-to-day tasks are under control. This was the first time I had directly though about what I want to do, and there was a sense of overwhelm just as described in this post from Art of Manliness that I found much later.

I stumbled on a book called “Time Warrior” by Steve Chandler, which took me into the next step of the journey.

The meaning of words

As I was drafting a larger post, I wrote the word “Catholic” and for some reason I wondered what it actually means. It turns out it means broad or wide ranging, having sympathies with all. I thought it was interesting that even growing up as a Catholic, I never wondered what it meant before.