Training the Will

What are the things that require willpower?

  • Not sleeping too much
  • Not eating junk food
  • Abstaining from drugs/alcohol
  • Exercising
  • Putting down your phone

For many, these things are difficult. Each one on this list is a battle I struggle with today. I saw the damage these behaviors can cause if left unchecked. I am constantly training to overcome these obstacles. I am far from perfect (obviously). Often my guard slips and so does my feet from the path I know I should be on.

If I can’t do what I know is right, I will not be able to improve. Therefore, the training of the will is indeed important. Important not just for me but for all of us.

Training of the will must be an element of moral education. A weak willpower can result in the inability to do what you know is right, or the inability to prevent what you know is wrong.

Jigaro Kano

Feature photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Proverbs 13:7 Faking It vs. Making It

Meet Bob. Bob has a good job that pays a big salary. He has a big house, a fancy car, and amazing purchasing power. He has all the latest gadgets, goes on exotic vacations, and will gladly display all of his wealth.

On the surface, it appears Bob has it all. However, appearances are deceiving. He has a mortgage on his big house. A lease on his fancy car, and his purchasing power is due to his large lines of credit. If he were to lose his job, how would he pay all his bills? In fact, he can never leave his job as it provides the only means for his lifestyle. Bob has made himself a slave to his possessions.

There is one who makes himself rich, yet has nothing; and one who makes himself poor, yet has great riches.

Proverbs 13:7

Bob’s life is full of stress. He and his family are used to the good life. Anything below it is unacceptable. He might look rich, but he has nothing.

What kind of stress does the rich man have when he lives below his means? What kind of stress does any of us have if we live below our means? Of course, we may not have the big, fancy, and newest possessions, but how important is all that stuff anyway.

Proverbs 12:25 Worry and Good Words

I close the book, turn off the lamp, and shut my eyes. It has a been a long day and sleep is what I want most in this moment. One minute in and then two minutes. I am almost there, so close to falling asleep. A stray thought crosses my mind. The gym I am building is behind schedule. I know, I know, but I can’t do anything about it right now. Yet, I still think about it. How soon before it is ready? I try my best to dismiss it and go to sleep. Okay, it is gone, but then…

  • I have two blog posts I want to write in the morning,
  • I am behind on the fitness course I am taking,
  • I have yet to begin round two of the book edits,
  • Autumn is coming, there is still a lot to do to prepare for it,
  • If I don’t get to sleep soon, my morning workout will suffer,
  • What kind of bathroom am I going to install in the new gym? Yes, back to the gym. Like a hamster on a wheel, so turns my mind. Thoughts come; thoughts go. Around and around.

Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression, but a good word makes it glad.

Proverbs 12:25

Anxiety. Stress about the future. If I can’t get out of the future and focus on the task at hand (sleep), then I am doomed. Depression is only another few hamster-wheel revolutions away.

The present moment is all I have. I did what I could during the day. That should be enough. I cannot worry about tomorrow. No anxiety, only sleep.

There is a second part to this verse. A good word makes the heart glad. The philosophers of the past that speak to me today through their writings suggest I am on the right path. Friends and family tell me the same thing. I would have cause for worry if I spent my days doing nothing. I don’t, and therefore, most of my anxiety is unwarranted. My heart is glad.

And here is the good word for you, my friend. So long as you stay on the path and do what you know in your heart as the right thing to do, then you have no need of worry. Take each day as is comes and save the future for when it gets here.

Emperor’s Log #16: Love Your Nature

At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: “I have to go to work -as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for -the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?

The alarm goes off at 4 a.m. If I am lucky, I got over six hours of sleep. The quality of the sleep is directly related to how well I spent the previous day. This morning, as is with every morning, is begun with a choice: I could get up, or I could sleep another hour. Granted, that hour would be fitful, and at best, would result in only a few minutes of light sleep. Even with the realization of these minimal benefits, I must consider how soft the bed is, how warm it is under the covers, and how good it feels to remain horizontal. To lie in bed for another hour does have its consequences. I set my alarm for a reason. Not getting out of bed would mean I miss my morning workout, skip my meditation and reading, and negatively impact the quality of my writing. Is it worth it?

-But it’s nicer here….

So you were born to feel “nice”? Instead of doing things and experiencing them? Don’t you see the plants, the birds, the ants and spiders and bees going about their individual tasks, putting the world in order, as best they can? And you’re not willing to do your job as a human being? Why aren’t you running to do what your nature demands?

What is my nature? I love how Aurelius tells us to look at the other creatures on this planet and observe how they go about their natural business.

The ant starts the day early. She has a mission to find food and bring it back to the colony. This happens in the warmer months so that the colony can survive during the winter. The ant is always busy. Being busy for the sake of being busy is nothing to brag about. But the ant, she is busy with a purpose. She is doing what is in her nature. I’m reminded of these words from Solomon: “Go to the ant, you sluggard! Consider her ways and be wise, which having no captain, overseer or ruler, provides her supplies in the summer, and gathers her food in the harvest.” -Proverbs 6:6-8

I used to be that sluggard. Oh, I wanted to be more active, but it was “nice” being lazy. I didn’t have a mission, and I didn’t even know where to go to find one. There was no purpose to my life. How much did I miss out on due to this lifestyle? Who knows! I thought I had an infinite amount of time, and I could always be more productive the next day.

Agreed. But nature set a limit on that -as it did on eating and drinking. And you’re over the limit. You’ve had more than enough of that. But not of working. There you’re still below your quota.

Nature set a limit on how long to stay in bed, on how long to wait around before getting to work as a human being. We produce melatonin at night to help us sleep. Our cortisol levels are elevated in the morning signaling us to get moving. We are governed by our biology which has been optimized through the ages thanks to our ancestors. We are highly evolved, functioning machines. The only thing that can override these natural processes is our minds.

The alarm that tells me to get up in the morning was created by intelligent beings. And though they had the best intentions, the alarm has a built-in flaw. There is a little button on it called the snooze, which can be pressed as many times as the one in bed wants to press it.

When I went to bed the night before, I gave myself a limit on how long to sleep. I set my wake-up time based on that limit. Going over the limit puts my plans for the day in jeopardy. These plans are important to me. It is my work, what I was called to do as a human.

You don’t love yourself enough. Or you’d love your nature too, and what it demands of you. People who love what they do wear themselves down doing it, they even forget to wash or eat. Do you have less respect for your own nature than the engraver does for engraving, the dancer for the dance, the miser for money or the social climber for status? When they’re really possessed by what they do, they’d rather stop eating and sleeping than give up practicing their arts.

This is about love! Once you have found your calling in life, then you have no choice but to follow it. Pablo Picasso created over 140,000 works of art in his lifetime. Mozart composed over 600 pieces. Isaac Asimov, not even the most prolific writer, wrote over 500 novels. They loved what they did. They were fueled by their passion. They lived according to their nature.

I know I squandered much of my early years. The past cannot be changed, yet the future still holds untold possibilities. If I don’t want to repeat the errors of my youth, then I must see to the business of the day. No snooze, only purpose. It is time to get up and practice my art.


Italicized words by Marcus Aurelius, Mediations 5:1

Feature photo by Maria Ziegler on Unsplash

Proverbs 10:14 Listening and Traps

When you read a book, the conversation is one-way. You cannot influence what the author is going to say on the next page. If there was such a thing as listening with the eyes, this would be it.

If I can keep my comments to myself, actively listen, and ask the right questions, I can learn from the one I am conversing with. If I really want to know what it is they have to say, this is my key to finding out.

When you talk, you are repeating something you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.

Dalai Lama

To acquire knowledge, one must learn how to listen, with and without the ears. The mouth cannot listen. Calling it the “trap” is an excellent metaphor. Not only can it trap us into a bad situation, but it can trap us from gaining knowledge.

Wise people store up knowledge, but the mouth of the foolish is near destruction.

Proverbs 10:14

Today Is What Matters Most

What if there was a 70% chance you were going to die sometime at the end of the day? How would you go about your day? Would you approach it any differently?

Obviously, with a 70% chance, you couldn’t just throw it all in the wind, burn all your bridges, and go out with a bang. After all, there is still a 30% chance you would get to see the next day. But if you were given those odds, would you:

  • Spend a little more time the things that matter,
  • Hold your loved ones a little closer, or
  • Reflect a little more on the beautiful?

Each morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most.

Buddha

This morning I am born again. I may still hear the echo of yesterday, but I can no longer change the sound. It is buried in the past. Tomorrow has not yet arrived. As a matter of fact, tomorrow may never come at all. With yesterday gone and tomorrow not guaranteed, all I have is today. All I have is this moment right now. I can affect this. I can do all the things I should have done yesterday. I can do all the things I hoped to leave for tomorrow. I can do this now as if my next breath were to be my last.


Feature photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Proverbs 8:13 Hate Evil

We know the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom [Proverbs 1:7]. Yet the question remains: How do you fear the Lord? Are we supposed to walk on eggshells throughout our existence hoping we don’t get struck down at any moment? That kind of life is no life at all. Thankfully, Solomon gave us a clue as to what this means.

The fear of the Lord is to hate evil; pride and arrogance and the evil way and the perverse mouth I hate.

Proverbs 8:13

Hate evil! Such a simple thing to say, but do we take it to heart? If we did, would it change the songs we listen to on the radio where perversity and evil ways are celebrated? How about the things we see on film where the villain is often portrayed as cool and enviable? If we hated evil would not these things be despised rather than embraced?

Unsolicited Advice

It is the advice unasked for that bothers me the most. And when I get it, which seems to be daily, I try not to be rude and do my best to listen to the speaker. But while listening, my mind tends to wander. Who is this person telling me what is in my best interest? What have they done to be a credible speaker? The worst is when it is from an absolute stranger. Who are you to be telling me how to live my life?

Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own.

Paulo Coelho

We live in a world full of people who know what is best for us. This is the way it has always been and most likely will always be. We can’t prevent it, but we don’t have to be a part of the problem. We don’t have to be the ones giving unsolicited advice. Rather, we can spend more time figuring out how to best lead our own lives.


Feature photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

Proverbs 5:21 God Is Watching

For the ways of man are before the eyes of the Lord, and He ponders all his path.

Proverbs 5:21

This is my belief: God is watching me. Maybe at times, He even nudges me here or there, but ultimately, He is observing. Is this flawed human able to make good choices? It could even be that God reads my life like a novel. I wonder if the story of my life can make the bestseller’s list in heaven.

I don’t actually know if He watches me. In fact, He may not, yet I still believe it. And based on my belief, I try to live my life in a way as if I am being watched. This is why I have shame when I make a poor choice when no one is watching. This is why I try to put a limit on my ego. If there is no hiding from His sight, then I must do my best to keep the book of my life as pleasurable to read as possible.

Proverbs 6:16-19 Seven Abominations

It is not a beautiful list. In fact, six of them God hates. And as for those who don’t believe in God, this list still must be considered because if you are on it you will be at odds with anybody you encounter.

Hopefully, you are not on this list. Some might check a box or two. If this is you, all is not lost. You can still make some changes. You might even be able to remove the ink mark from the box which also stains your soul.

There are six things the Lord hates, yes, seven are an abomination to him:

  1. A proud look,
  2. A lying tongue,
  3. Hands that shed innocent blood,
  4. A heart that devised wicked plans,
  5. Feet that are swift in running to evil,
  6. A false witness who speaks lies, and
  7. One who sows discord among brethren.

-Proverbs 6:16-19