Examining Epictetus #20: More than an Athlete

Over the last few weeks, Alec has been going to bed early so that he can spend about thirty minutes reading before going to sleep. As this is what I do every night, it is a super-proud moment for me.

What he can do physically, I can only dream about. I’m almost jealous. I mean honestly, that kid has more muscle definition and a legit six-pack crammed into his little body. But for all his physical prowess, he has taken the initiative to build his brain. I can almost feel the tears of joy running down my cheek.

My goal in life has always been to achieve balance. I want to be in peak condition in all three facets of my life (body, soul, and mind). Too often we see the meathead with no brains or the genius with no heart. But nobody wants to emulate a character from the Wizard of Oz. What good is a one or two-legged stool? Too much in one direction, and you will find yourself toppling over.

Have I achieved it? Of course not, but I am getting a little closer every day. Sometimes I lean more in one direction. Maybe this is a natural state. But after some time and a bit of introspection, I realize I am getting little wobbly. It is in these times that I must recalibrate and make the adjustments towards the right direction. It truly is all about the balance.

It takes more than a good-looking body. You've got to have the heart and soul to go with it. -Epictetus

Alec is starting to mature and make grown-up decisions. He is becoming more than just an athlete. He is realizing the value of having a strong mind and heart. He is starting to find his own balance in life.

Constant State of Learning

To be successful, the hunter must be able to learn. His whole existence is an education of what works and what does not. He must be able to observe and read the signs presented to him. He must train his senses and cultivate his awareness.

Like the hunter, the prey’s existence is based on education. There is safety in numbers. Anything that dumbs the senses could result in death (i.e., deer in the headlights). Success for the prey is a long life. And to be successful, the prey must be trained by those that went before him.

Life itself is your teacher, and you are in a constant state of learning.

Bruce Lee

Should we not all be in a constant state of learning? If life is our teacher, then we should be living life to the fullest. This is the way we get experience, the greatest of teachers. The mistakes we make along the way are signposts pointing us in the direction we need to go. Like the hunter, we should observe the signs and consider what is preventing us from achieving our target. And like the prey, we cannot let anything (or substance) interfere with our senses lest we be caught by our adversaries. To learn from life, we must live life.


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How Do You Live a Perfect Day?

The question in the title is the question I have been considering lately. How do you live a perfect day? What does that even look like? Is it possible? Honestly, I do not know. However, I do know it is worth trying find out.

What would make a day perfect? To define this, we must go back to the philosophy of stoicism. The stoics believe we are responsible for everything within our control. Therefore, a perfect day can still involve rain, snow, personal loss, and other “less than ideal” situations. A perfect day is not a cosmic alignment of the stars. Instead, it is what you did to make the day perfect. Were you able to control the things that were in your control?

If we go back to the question of what a perfect day involves within the parameters of what is in our control, what are some of the things you can do to make it perfect?

Wake up refreshed and energized.

This begins with executing a routine the night before. If the unexpected happens the night before, which could very well happen, then it is out of your control. Either way, we must play the hand we are dealt to the best of our abilities. Just remember, the better you prepare the night before, the better your odds of success on the following morning.

Eat and drink right.

A perfect day doesn’t involve putting something in my mouth that I will regret a few hours later or will destroy my chances of a perfect day on the morrow. Remember, we are what we eat (and drink).

Get the things you need/want done.

Plan it out, create the list, and check off the boxes. But what if your idea of a perfect day is to take one off and do nothing? Then make the arrangements beforehand so that you have no misgivings while you are enjoying your day. And if your day is about super-productivity, then go into attack-mode and get after it. Of course, outside influences might slow or halt your progress. Don’t worry, they are outside your control. Deal with them and move on. What is not outside of your control is the wasted time. If you can identify and eliminate it, then you will be able to crush your “to-do” list.

These three things could put you well on your way to achieving that ever-elusive perfect day. But those three do not seem to be enough. Something seems to be missing:

You can’t live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you.

John Wooden

Oh, the icing on the perfect day cake. It is an act of unconditional love for someone other than yourself. This is giving the cup of water to the one who thirsts. It is the essence of godliness. If you want to make a good day divine, then be on the lookout for these opportunities that have the power to change the lives of those you encounter. It is the final and most important ingredient to make your day perfect.


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Only Doing What They Think Is Right

One Take from the Week #10: Only Doing What They Think Is Right

A note came from Alec’s teacher this week. She wanted to let us know that he was having a hard time with a few of the students. Some of them were bothering him and his attitude was going from pleasant to unpleasant extremely fast. He was not telling the teacher when there was a problem, and he was not dealing with the situation in a proper way. Unable to use his reasoning skills, he was resorting to the use of force to resolve the conflict. At his age, using force is easier than using wisdom to solve the problem. But easy is not the solution and often results in unintended consequences.

My counsel to him was to identify the problem. I asked him, “Is this you or is it them? If it is them, then you need to respond accordingly which is to let the teacher know. If it is you, then you must determine if you need to change. Ideally, these students will be who you are hanging out with for the next nine years of your life. You will be working together in class, playing together in sports, and engaging with each other socially. What can you do to be in harmony with the group?” After our conversation, I joked with Bethany on where he could have gotten these behaviors from. Surely, he must have gotten it from her.

The next day, I was a little mentally bothered at work. One person was getting under my skin. There was a breakdown of communication with another. One of my team members asked me what was wrong. I responded with “nothing.” She knew right away that I wasn’t being truthful. Apparently, I have not yet mastered the ability to mask my facial expressions. The stress I was holding on the inside was manifesting itself outwardly. I told her, “My problems are with my perception. The others are doing what is in their nature. They are doing what they think is right. I need to adjust my emotions accordingly.” It was almost in line with something the philosopher Epictetus would say. As I said it, I had a moment of clarity. How are my problems any different than that of Alec’s?

It turns out he is more like me than I thought. These behaviors didn’t get genetically passed down from his mother. No. Those were the apples he picked up from me. I was quick to give him counsel him on a response that I continue to struggle with. Of course, I will not use force to resolve petty annoyances. But I can do better. I can use more wisdom and less emotion. I can remember these words from Epictetus earlier rather than later:

Whenever anyone criticizes or wrongs you, remember that they are only doing or saying what they think is right. They cannot be guided by your views, but their own…Say to yourself each time, “He did what he believed was right.”

Feature photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Writing for Me

My message is for all, but especially for my son. As true as this may be, the reality is that I write for myself. When I was young, I often put myself into seemingly inescapable predicaments. I didn’t always know who to talk to. The solutions I was looking for were not found easily. In these times of great distress, pen and paper acted as magnets and drew me toward them. It was in the words that I found my therapy. It was a haven to freely express what was in my mind.

Although writing was instrumental in the dark times, it took years for me to realize its value when things didn’t appear so bleak. Through this medium, I found both a greater sense of direction and purpose. Words on paper was a means to prevent the lethargy that comes with comfort.

Write to please just one person.

Kurt Vonnegut

Of course, my words are intended as a message for all who would read them. But I cannot do this when I am at odds within. The writing gives me pleasure because it brings me into alignment with my soul. It brings me closer to harmony with the universe. Yes, it is a message for all. But in the end, it is ultimately for me.

Mistakes Along the Road to Truth

We can blindly accept things as true. Whether it be the news, gossip, or something heard in the grapevine, we can take a path of least resistance. That way, no effort is involved, and we gladly follow along with the crowd.

Or we can take a half-measure. We can hear the news, conduct an online search, and be done with it. Our suspicions were unwarranted as confirmed by the first article listed in the search results.

The Buddha said, “There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth: not going all the way and not starting.”

Your body is a temple. Why would you put anything in your body without knowing the truth of what it is? Do you know what is in the food or medicine you consume? Did you do the research or just go along with what you were told? You only get one body.

Your mind is the Holy of Holies in your temple. This too should be protected. You do your best to prevent viruses onto your computer. Viruses carry information with the power to corrupt the operating system. Likewise, what you consume mentally can corrupt the most sacred parts of who you are. Beware and protect. Consume information but validate it. Understand what it is before you implement or spread it. Is it truth? For it is the truth we should seek. It is the truth that gives us the freedom to be our own masters.


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Quit Reading Books

Books can be expensive. Not just the cover price, but in the time it takes to read it. Let’s pretend you buy a 300-page book for $25, and you earn $15 per hour. That book will take about five hours to read which equates to $75 of potential income. Your investment into that book is $100. When was the last time you spent $100 on a book? Now, consider the last time a book cost you a $100.

Again, let us pretend that you purchased the book and have read half of it. You have come to the realization that this book is not doing what you wanted it too. Maybe it:

  • Has become boring,
  • Is no longer interesting,
  • Failed to educate you, or
  • Is not relevant to where you are at in life.

What are you going to do? Will you keep reading it because of that $25 cover price and investment in time? If this were an underperforming stock would you continue to invest in it? Absolutely not! So, what must you do?

Give yourself permission to

Quit the book!

What is a $25 waste compared to a $100 waste? Quit the book. Put it away and find another one that will give you what you are looking for. But how do you find the right book? That is an excellent question. Come back tomorrow for the eighth installment of One Take from the Week, and we will discuss a book reading process that is changing my life and could change yours. You don’t want to miss it, and you won’t if you subscribe below.

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A Tyrant to Yourself

A tyrant would tell you how to live. He would expect you to serve at his pleasure. To him, you do not have the capability to live life on your own terms. Therefore, he would take that opportunity from you. He believes your life belongs to him.

This does beg the questions. Can you live life on your own terms? Can you make the best decisions for you do you have to be led by a parental hand?

I trained myself in the school of self-control and self-denial. It was hard on me, but I would rather be my own tyrant than have someone else tyrannize me.

Henry Flagler

A person lacking discipline must be guided. Without discipline and/or guidance, you incur upon yourself unnecessary suffering manifested in the form of poor health, financial hardships, and unrewarding relationships. At the worst, your inability to control yourself could result in a stay at a local penitentiary.

Marcus Aurelius said, “Be tolerant with others and strict with yourself.” Through discipline and temperance, you can become your own tyrant. This is a key to getting where you want to go rather than have someone lead you to where they want you to go. If you want to be your own master, then you must learn to rule yourself.


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The Rules of Fools

We have entered a stage in world history where we are governed by the most ridiculous rules. Most of these rules are implemented for our own “good” by the government. But that is not all, we are also governed on the standards of what is socially acceptable.

In the old days, this determination was established by your community. Today, it is determined by corporations, i.e., tech companies. What you say and do, if it is not deemed appropriate or in accordance with the ideals of the mob, will result in your silence. Your voice could be cancelled. At the worst, depending on how inappropriate you are considered, much more could be cancelled. And it is not just what you did today or yesterday, it could go as far back as your childhood.

Any fool can make a rule -and every fool will mind it.

Henry David Thoreau

New rules come out every day. Will you blindly go along with the masses and acquiesce? Or will you use the discernment and understanding God has given you to question the validity of the rule?


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Like but Different

An old friend that you haven’t seen in years. That is not the same person you knew from before. And you? You are not the same either. You may be like your old self, but you are different. Experience has changed you, and it has changed her. Maybe for the worst, but hopefully for the best.

You are excited to see that friend. You want to know what she has done and how she has grown over the years. You want to witness her evolution. Likewise, you want to demonstrate your own evolution and let her know that you are also doing well. The tragedy would be if either one of you were to seem stagnant, the same as you were years ago.

No man steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.

Heraclitus

We grow, learn, and evolve. Daily, we are adding new layers to our lives. Just as the water molecules in the river are not the same water molecules that were in it previously, you are not the same person you were previously. Even if you feel you haven’t grown, you still have changed. But by how much? What have you done to grow, learn, and evolve? We are never too old to move forward, never too old to be a different person entering the river again.


Feature photo by Katherine Hanlon on Unsplash