The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself with are externals, not under my control, and which have to do with the choice I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own.Epictetus
It’s been a while since I’ve simply meditated on a subject and blogged about it in a very stream-of-consciousness sort of way, but I would like to get back to that sort of writing more often. Not only is it a great way for me to write but it can also help me to practice the art of philosophizing and examining the world around me. There is so much to write about in this world, and so much to think about, but often times it is my focus (or lack thereof) which distracts me. So, since I am someone who is very familiar with stress and anxiety, I thought it to be most natural that I start here first.
To start, my life has been stressful lately. For anyone who has followed my blog over the past few years, you might know that I have a daughter who is now almost 3 years old. She is absolutely not the stressful part of my life, but there is an uneasy legal dispute that I’m engaged in with her mother for equal rights and time share. It’s ugly and unpleasant and it didn’t need to be this way. There have been nights where I’ve not wanted to eat or sleep and it has distracted me from being the absolute best that I can be. However, I’ve been learning to be okay with this, because worrying about anything which is outside of our control is a wasted effort and never really helps anything at all. My time is much better spent focusing on being a good Dad, a decent human being, and on taking the steps necessary to settle these issues quickly and effectively.
In the end, we are much better off simply focusing on what we can control, like our actions and how we plan to tackle our challenges for maximum effect. We can also turn our attention towards our own judgments and challenge our own opinions in order to ensure that we are taking a somewhat objective perspective of everything that is happening. Because when we are burdened by strong emotions they can lead us down a path of poor decisions and then even greater difficulties. It is in our own best interests to focus on what is productive and cut the fat. Emotions are useful for many things in life, but when our well-being is dependent on our ability to focus and make sound decisions, then overly strong emotions can really cause a crisis.
Personally, the best way I’ve found to deal with strong emotions, stress, or anxiety, has been through regular journaling and meditation. I also like to work on building a virtuous character, as recommended by the Stoics and this requires a daily reflection. I don’t do this every day, and not even for a long time when I do, but a few sentences in the morning about which character trait I will work on and a reflection at night can help a lot. Some days, for example, I will focus on fostering greater patience in my daily life, or courage, or sociability, etc. At the end of the night I will often flip this on its head and record the progress that I’ve made toward this goal (what I’ve done well, and what I could do better). All of this is extremely important to foster healthier habits and strengthen your virtues while diminishing your vices – if that’s important to you.
When my emotions begin to catch me off guard in the short-term and I’m feeling more reactive than normal, I will try to find a quiet spot to just hang out in for 5 to 10 minutes, focus on my breathing and quiet my mind. I’m an overthinker and diagnosed ADHD, so in these moments I will just focus on my breath and forbid myself from any other train of thought. When I catch my mind wandering, I will simply bring it back to my breath in an effort to maintain tranquility. It really does work in a pinch and the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Meditation or meditative activities (painting, journaling, stretching etc.) can bring so much value to an individuals life in the form of increased productivity and wellbeing that they are well-worth adopting. If you don’t think you have the time, just think of all the time you’ve wasted being stressed out and unproductive because of it. The time can be found, if you want to find it.
There are also those, like the Stoics, who believed that exposing ourselves to stress is kind of like inoculating ourselves against a contagious virus. We ought to build our tolerance to stress for when it really matters in our lives It doesn’t mean that we need to be make our lives miserable when it could be comfortable, but we can challenge ourselves regularly to do without luxuries when we otherwise could have them. This is also known as character building.
That’s my rant for today. Perhaps you’ve found it helpful or insightful, and perhaps not. But either way, I’m wishing you well, much love and courage when it comes to facing your own obstacles in this life.
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