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.

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