A book about the mastery of your mind
Recently, I watched the social media documentary, The Social Dilemma, with my family. It’s been hard in the last few years to explain the behavior of human beings to my kids who are just in the process of engaging with this chaos. In the film, we saw how computer algorithms can predict our preferences and actions even better than we can for ourselves. (It still spooks me when I get in my car and my phone knows where I’m going.) The algorithm knows how to trigger us and distract us with shiny objects so that our awareness and attention are co-opted.
I’m not at a point where I’m deleting my social media profiles, but I am much more aware that I need to keep a closer watch on my mind. For a number of years now, I meditate in the mornings and reflect on things for which I am grateful. I find that this practice helps to ground me for the rest of the day and to prime my awareness in ways that serve and benefit myself and others. In the last year, I’ve also added a new routine, to read a passage from the stoic philosophers, which reminds me of how to conduct myself towards living a good life.
What It’s About. It’s a daily reader consisting of one short passage from a stoic philosopher (Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, Seneca) and the author’s (Ryan Holiday) own commentary. There are 366 passages, one of each day of the year, including leap years. Each passage and commentary takes about three to five minutes to read and process.
I would like to offer three passages from the book with brief reflections:
You have power over your mind — not outside events. The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts. ~Marcus Aurelius
What we are ultimately responsible in our lives is the way that we respond to life. We are not responsible for external outcomes or what other people choose to do. We are responsible for our own thoughts and conduct. When we focus our attention inwards, we find that we can handle anything that emerges in our lives, be caring to others, and find joy and meaning.
Don’t seek for everything to happen as you wish it would, but rather wish that everything happens as it actually will — then your life will flow well. ~ Epictetus
We do not have enough perspective to judge events. We are a part of something bigger and that larger system is progressing according to its own agenda. When we try too hard to control things to make things happen as we want it, we resist life. We must learn to ‘dance’ with reality as it unfolds and be gracefully in tune with its own rhythm.
Of all people, only those are at leisure who make time for philosophy, only they truly live. ~ Seneca
We need time and space to have perspective on the life we live. Busyness and activity must be balanced with inactivity. The ‘default’ pace of life is too fast to be properly enjoyed. Slow down a bit and savor this gift of life that you have.
Who Might Benefit From Reading? Philosophy seems like an esoteric luxury for those who are deep into fixing or succeeding in the outer world. At a certain point in your life, you may discern the idea that what you wanted all along wasn’t ‘out there’, it was within you. Doing the inner work is the path of wisdom and freedom. To whom the path beckons, this book provides some nice guide posts.
For those of your who are interested in a deeper understanding of stoic philosophy, I would recommend this site by Ryan Holiday.