The Art of Being Calm
Starting from birth, we are running, if not sprinting through life. Racing out of every moment, unsatisfied with what life is and constantly looking to the future for what life could be if we just obtain something more. We are born into this world hungry, vulnerable, and confused. As we go through life, we attempt to eliminate these feelings by trying to control the conditions of the world around us. We seek to accomplish and obtain things, achieve higher status, acquire wealth or fame, develop power, and so on. This hopeful vision of the future might sound reasonable, but perhaps it is what keeps us contained in our problems. To help us better understand and deal with our seeming unquenchable hunger for ultimate control and happiness outside ourselves, we will look to the ancient philosophy of Stoicism.
The principles of stoicism can help us find calmness, presence, and resilience in a world of chaos, anxiety, and desire for more. We exist in a reality that does not care about our personal opinion. We cannot just remove the chaos, suffering, hardship, and uncertainty. However, stoicism suggests that does not mean we should not help the victims of the world. Rather, stoicism proclaims that there are two domains of life; our external, which we cannot control, and the internal, interpretations of the external which we can control.
When we believe that things outside ourselves or things in the future will provide us with ultimate happiness, we exchange every moment of our life for a moment that does not exist. We become dependent on things outside of ourselves that we cannot control and we endlessly run on a treadmill of needing more. No matter what task we undertake, we will do it wastefully, if we assume that any of what comes beyond the task itself will provide anything better than the experience of focus and presence in the task itself.
There is nothing wrong with working towards achieving wealth, fame, or power. But in the stoics' mind, these things are mere to be enjoyed if they do work out, but not to be depended on for one’s happiness. For if one is dependent on them, their happiness and peace in life are especially susceptible to being never achieved at all. Stoicism suggests that the sign of a truly successful person is someone who can be okay without the things he desires or depends on for comfort. For no wealth, fame, or power has any value to a happy life, if the person who possesses them has not yet learned to live properly without them.
It is in our constant expectation that something outside ourselves or in the future is needed for a worthy experience in life. This causes our inability to ever find worthy experience in life in the first place. It is now that we must find the time and it is now that we must find happiness. If we do not focus the lens through which we view life right now, everything we see from this moment forward will remain out of focus.
For the stoic, the ability to find happiness despite what occurs around us is developed through character and perspective. We must realize that nothing is good or bad inherently, but only our judgments and interpretations of things can be good or bad. In other words, we must try to form our perspective to best serve our ability to remain with happiness and wonder regardless of the ups and downs of life.
Stoicism suggests that we are but a tiny feature of the entire body of nature and everything that happens to us is a matter of relevance and necessity to everything beyond us. In this, we must strive towards acceptance and indifference towards everything that happens and instead, focus our attention on controlling our reactions to the things that happen. With this, we can begin to free ourselves from the chaos of the world and find some form of happiness and presence within ourselves.
Where cultural pressures to live certain ways and achieve certain things overwhelm us 24/7. Where we spend a huge amount of time comparing ourselves to and wanting the approval of others. Our sense of happiness and peace is increasingly on the line, and it is perhaps through stoicism that we can attempt to hold on to it.
Our cultures convince us that we have to achieve, own, and live perfect lives. This however gives us anxiety. Then we are told by the culture that we can rid ourselves of it if we just achieve a few more things, make a little more money, be a little more popular, and buy a little more stuff. Creating an endless feedback loop of unsatisfied hunger. If we cave in to this, we surrender our life. We give up ourselves.
We don’t have much if any, control on what happens to us, how people see and treat us, nor what happens because of what we do, and in the big picture none of it really matters all that much. And so, we must define our happiness not by what we own or achieve, not by how others see us, not by some bigger picture of life, but by how we think and see ourselves and live our own life.
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