Reactions > Thoughts > Actions

I walk through life facing backwards, buffeted by events that I can and cannot anticipate. My belief, in thinking I can control the future, is an illusion – fate dictates my destiny regardless of my intentions.

My actions are the equivalent of throwing seeds over my shoulder, hoping that they will grow as I want. In the end, my efforts to bring balance to my life are best spent on managing my reaction to life’s anticipated and unanticipated buffets, and only then on ordering my thoughts and actions.

I am constantly being influenced by the external environment. It is those inputs, mediated by my instinctual/emotional response that unconsciously drives my thoughts and eventual actions. In order to truly gain control of my life, I need to manage my reactions, recognizing the emotional triggers that influence my thoughts and eventual actions.

The external environment is constantly peppering me with inputs, that my monkey mind perceives as threats or immediately desirable events. Recognizing and separating actual physical threats, immediate or deferred, from threats to my self image is the key to controlling my eventual thoughts and actions. In this regard, the Cynics were on to something, though I would not agree with their disregard of the need to fit into society.

In other words, focusing on properly recognizing and reacting to life’s inputs, is more important and productive than trying to manage the outputs. I will work to recognize and not let the seeds of undesirable thoughts and actions gain root in my mind, so I will have less weeding to do in the future.

The Game of Life

“If thou shouldst live three thousand years, or as many myriads, yet remember this, that no man loses any other life than that he now lives; and that he now lives no other life than what he is parting with, every instant. The longest life, and the shortest, come to one effect: since the present time is equal to all, what is lost or parted with is equal to all. And for the same reason, what is parted with, is only a moment. No man at death parts with, or, is deprived of, what is either past or future. For how can one take from a man what he hath not? We should also remember these things, first, That all things which have happened in the continued revolutions from eternity, are of the same kind with what we behold: And ’tis of little con- sequence, whether a man beholds the same things for an hundred years, or an infinite duration. Again that the longest and the shortest lives have an equal loss at Death. The present moment is all which either is deprived of, since that is all he has. A man cannot part with what he has not. “
– Meditations, Marcus Aurelius

“Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.
Of all the wonders that I yet have heard,
It seems to me most strange that men should fear;
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.”

– Julius Caesar, Shakespeare

I lie awake, thinking of the past and different choices I could have made, or fantasizing about the future and the alternatives I can choose, when I remember that the only moment that exists is the one my mind occupies in this instant.

Every moment of my life is my opportunity to make my values and goals a reality through my decisions. In other words, play the cards I hold now, not the ones I held in the past or the ones I wish I could hold in the future.

My decisions and actions dictate my reality, based on where I am in the moment. Being envious of others ignores the reality that I have no knowledge of their inner pain and problems. To look at others and think I would be happy if I had their possessions or position is to forget that surface appearances are often deceiving. I need only recall the constant turmoil and early deaths of the “rich and famous” to realize that wealth or fame are not synonymous with contentment or happiness.

Likewise, rehashing past decisions wastes my most precious resource, time. I have no way of knowing the consequences of alternative choices, which could have lead to bad outcomes I couldn’t anticipate. I know where I am today, and I am thankful for playing as long, learning as much and experiencing all that I have. Envy and regret are my emotional mind speaking.

I have all the control I need, in every moment of my life, to be content. Simply pick up my cards and play the game the best I can. If I don’t like my position, I will make a plan and work to change it. Some hands I will win, others I will lose, but I will never be stalled by wanting to replay a past hand or wishing I had someone else’s cards. Every hand is an opportunity to learn, improve my game, and work toward my goals, and I can only gain these learnings by playing. Waiting, through reminiscing or fantasying, wastes my most precious resource, time. The only loser in the game of life is the person who is afraid to play.

In the game of life, possessions, experiences and relationships are just stops and other players along the way, not the prizes or the goals. The end of the game is the same for everyone, but  playing by the wrong set of rules, or playing by another’s rules, is the biggest waste possible. I will play the game of life according to my rules.

Stoic Virtues

“Your letter roamed, over several little problems, but finally dwelt upon this alone, asking for explanation: “How do we acquire a knowledge of that which is good and that which is honourable?” In the opinion of other schools, these two qualities are distinct; among our followers, however, they are merely divided. This is what I mean: Some believe the Good to be that which is useful; they accordingly bestow this title upon riches, horses, wine, and shoes; so cheaply do they view the Good, and to such base uses do they let it descend. They regard as honourable that which agrees with the principle of right conduct – such as taking dutiful care of an old father, relieving a friend’s poverty, showing bravery on a campaign, and uttering prudent and well-balanced opinions. We, however, do make the Good and the honourable two things, but we make them out of one: only the honourable can be good; also, the honourable is necessarily good. I hold it superfluous to add the distinction between these two qualities, inasmuch as I have mentioned it so many times. But I shall say this one thing – that we regard nothing as good which can be put to wrong use by any person. And you see for yourself to what wrong uses many men put their riches, their high position, or their physical powers. …

These deeds and others of the same sort have revealed to us a picture of virtue. I will add something which may perhaps astonish you: evil things have sometimes offered the appearance of what is honourable, and that which is best has been manifested through, its opposite. For there are, as you know, vices which are next-door to virtues; and even that which is lost and debased can resemble that which is upright. So the spendthrift falsely imitates the liberal man – although it matters a great deal whether a man knows how to give, or does not know how to save, his money. I assure you, my dear Lucilius, there are many who do not give, but simply throw away and I do not call a man liberal who is out of temper with his money. Carelessness looks like ease, and rashness like bravery. …

We have separated this perfect virtue into its several parts. The desires had to be reined in, fear to be suppressed, proper actions to be arranged, debts to be paid; we therefore included self-restraint, bravery, prudence, and justice – assigning to each quality its special function. How then have we formed the conception of virtue? Virtue has been manifested to us by this man’s order, propriety, steadfastness, absolute harmony of action, and a greatness of soul that rises superior to everything. Thence has been derived our conception of the happy life, which flows along with steady course, completely under its own control.”
– Seneca, Moral letters to Lucilius

“Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.
– Proverbs 16:32

“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”
― Socrates

“The nature of law is to maintain justice. This is so much the case that, in the minds of the people, law and justice are one and the same thing. There is in all of us a strong disposition to believe that anything lawful is also legitimate. This belief is so widespread that many persons have erroneously held that things are “just” because law makes them so. Thus, in order to make plunder appear just and sacred to many consciences, it is only necessary for the law to decree and sanction it. Slavery, restrictions, and monopoly find defenders not only among those who profit from them but also among those who suffer from them.”
– The Law, Frédéric Bastiat

Virtues are the attributes that I seek to cultivate in myself through habit, both for the betterment of myself and the world I live in. Living a life of virtue can be a challenge, while live a life of vice is easy – that alone is a signal to me of what is proper behavior. When I find myself tempted to take the easy path, I need to examine both the path and my motivation to ensure that I am making a virtuous choice.

I will live the virtue of self-restraint by reminding myself that my desires will lead me astray if I let them, by remembering the words of Seneca that vices can masquerade as virtues – especially pride, and to the extent that I do indulge my emotions, to always remember the maxim of “restraint in all things”.

I will live the virtue of bravery by acting when action is called for, and restraining myself when it Is not. It is not bravery to take foolish risks, act without thought, take risks for the purpose of reward or recognition, or to do my duty. Bravery comes from overcoming my fear of harm to my physical or emotional self, and to take the actions that I believe are correct regardless of whether anyone is ever aware of them. Also, I will remember that what is called bravery today is in latin “fortitudo”, and that true bravery is endurance and fortitude against adversity without complaint.

I will live the virtue of prudence by thinking before I act, considering not only the immediate results of my actions but also their derivatives. I will remember that wisdom comes from acknowledging that what I don’t know is even more important than what I think I do know, and that all knowledge is at best a poor language for describing reality – it is not reality itself.

I will live the virtue of justice by remembering that the core meaning of justice is fairness and the settlement of debts, not a blind adherence to rules or laws. Stoic justice at its heart about fairness and the golden rule, thus I will seek just solutions in all my interactions with others, and will remember that justice has and continues to be perverted into a means of enslaving others.

I believe that happiness comes from living a virtuous life – not from health, prosperity, fortune or any other external condition, in other words, my happiness comes from what I do, not from what I have.