This is question # 3 on my list related to stoicism.
A good amount of my study in stoicism recently has revolved around this very question- mainly because i believe absorbing it as a precursor to any stressful reaction i might have will be very helpful.
The stoics really emphasize the idea that much of life, probably 90%, is beyond our control. But that other 10% is. We can control our own thoughts, behaviors, words and actions. Rather than give a lengthy “lecture” post, i will give some personal examples from my own life. Often i find reading particular examples more helpful than parroting rhetoric, so here goes:
- about 2 years ago, i went through a very traumatic event in which someone i thought was a good friend, someone i had helped out on many occasions and even worried about betrayed the friendship. In fact, that person went so far as to publicly accuse and humiliate me which led to ruining my reputation and a venue that my roommate and i had worked so hard to establish for 3 years. I was devastated. Additionally an ex boyfriend of mine became involved in the situation. We had recently broken up and i can only assume it was his personal pain that contributed to his words and actions.To be honest i still suffer from this incident and have withdrawn from a community i loved and cherished out of fear and anxiety.
- Recently i went through a break up as well. This initially stemmed from my anger and fear of abandonment. I felt and perceived the persons sudden distancing as a direct assault and reacted with haste and unkind words. While i realize i am allowed to “feel” emotions and embrace those feelings- i did not initially understand the reasons behind his actions and behaviors. I am beginning to process those things. Again, i am still being affected by the ending of our relationship, and probably will be for awhile.
- For much of my life, i have been affected by a certain family member’s passive-aggressive behaviors. At several points in time it became so bad i had to block and ignore them completely for long periods.They are still this way and it takes everything in my power to keep enough distance while still maintaining the love and care i want to have for this person.
In all of these cases, i reacted in a certain pattern. Anger, lashing out, blocking them out and feeling resentful. While i felt i was “processing” the feelings, in reality, i was , in fact holding onto my own perception of the events, and inwardly and/or outwardly defending my own beliefs. It’s a very tough thing to realize, admit to oneself and work on the humility and self awareness of the truth. Even tougher is doing the work on ones self to fix it.
In all of these cases, too, the underlying issue was allowing myself to believe i could somehow control the other persons thoughts, behaviors and actions in some way.If i just nagged enough, defended my position enough, or showed enough proof that they were “wrong”- eventually they would see things my way ( read “the right way”) . I would be justified and validated and life would go on- me, being comforted in the knowledge that i was correct. It is a trap many many of us fall into- in relationships, online, at our jobs, – even with our own children or parents. Realizing that my perceptions are likely one sided and flawed in many ways, as well as acknowledging another persons right to have those feelings has been eye opening.
But- again- what is and isn’t in our control?
Thats right- our own thoughts, behaviors , words and actions. What IS NOT in our control are other peoples thoughts, behaviors, words and actions. This sounds very logical on paper..or in memes..or in casual conversation, etc. Applying it to situations that are much closer to our hearts and minds, or ones that create intense feelings in ourselves, is much harder.
As i move through the process of healing and re learning self love, this is a key component of my meditations and daily thoughts. I am finding much inspiration from the stoics , as well as buddhism and other philosophies. One person i have recently been listening to is Alan Watts. Many of his lectures are free on youtube. Years ago, i would have blown him off as too complicated and boring. But now i find myself more easily able to absorb his perspectives, as well as being able to apply them to my own experiences, even as a Christian. In this regard, i have also been taking in many other perspectives- including various spiritual speakers/practitioners, secular speakers , and actually listening to the words of people around me instead of tuning them out when they don’t agree with my own experiences. It is definitely humbling and a process that will take a very long time.But i am encouraged by the moments of peace and inspiration i have been experiencing, as well as becoming more aware of patterns i have engaged in that no longer serve me ( if they ever did!).
Commentary and suggestions are welcome. Thanks for reading and Namaste!