Day two of trying to live like a Stoic has, so far, been a bit of a challenge. My day started with being stomped on mid-meditation by a happy goofball of a terrier and has remained chaotic. I have had to work very hard today to remember that what the blessed dogs do is not what’s upsetting to me (even as more and more of my socks, gloves, curtains, and assorted other home features are systematically destroyed), but rather my own judgements about those canine activities. Because it is Stoic Week, I must deny myself the odd pleasure of shaking my fist at the heavens and hollering: “DAMN it, Buddy!”
Today’s theme — mindfulness — seems to be just the sort of thing I need to work on at the moment. Recent events (both in my own life and in the world around me) are pushing me into one of my old bad habits: obsessively working out responses to arguments in the context of imaginary conversations about events. While I am usually pretty good at figuring out how to let go of external events beyond my control, I am significantly less adept at managing my own thoughts without going a bit overboard. In some contexts, my tendency to laser-focus on details and problems and work them out is an advantage, but not in all. It can lead to a kind of illusion of control over one’s mental states and experiences that I simply do not and cannot have.
So, yeah. Gotta work on that. The dogs get a little worried when I stomp around the house picking fights with myself. Not worried enough to stop eating unsecured shoes, mind you, but a bit worried just the same.
Today’s morning text for reflection comes from Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 3.4:
You must train yourself only to think the kind of thoughts about which, if someone suddenly asked you, ‘what are you thinking about now?’, you would at once answer frankly, “this” or “that.” So from your reply it would be immediately clear that all your thoughts are straightforward and kind and express the character of a social being who has no concern with images of pleasure, or self-indulgence in general, or any kind of rivalry, malice, or suspicion, or anything else that you would blush to admit you were thinking about.
I think it’s worth adding a line to the beginning of that quotation (taken here from the Classics Library version of Meditations, mostly a revised version of George Long’s translation): “We ought to check in the course of our thoughts everything that is without a purpose and useless, but most of all meddling and maliciousness.” The Emperor isn’t just addressing the need to confine oneself to thoughts one is willing to have known to others — he’s also advising a kind of careful pruning away of distractions and trivia. This seems like a pretty reasonable thing to try to do, although I say from experience it is incredibly difficult. One cannot simply will away the nonsense. The ol’ brain-dj is always spinning the hits.
There is also another interesting obstacle to good practice here: some people blush at nothing, while others take shame as a way of life. Proper mindfulness, it seems to me, must also somehow include careful consideration of the question of what exactly one wants to keep concealed, and why. If I blush to share a thought when asked, I really ought to ask myself why I am reluctant to share it. Contemplation of the answer should then be my meditation for the day.
Meanwhile, I need either to put my shoes in a safe place or to resign myself to seeing them happily destroyed by an enthusiastic canine.