“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own . . .” Epictetus
Somewhere along the journey of life, I adopted the philosophy of the Stoics – understand what I can control and what I cannot control in this world. Perhaps, in childhood naivete, I simpily felt happier when I focused on the moment, choosing to respond to life by redirecting myself to experience moments of joy. As an adult, I have spent the last several years intentionally thinking about who I am, the events in my life (catastrophic and insignificant) that have led me to this point – in this space – in this moment.
Like so many others across this planet, I am drawn to the philosophy of the Stoics – a philosophy nearly 2,000 years old – because it acknowledges suffering, heartache, and pain; it also offers concrete ways to lean into living – to be present in the moment. Those of us who practice this philosophy rely on its four virtues: courage, temperance, justice, and wisdom. After all, have we “found anything better than being brave, than moderation and sobriety, than doing what is right, than truth and understanding?” (“What is Stoicism?)
As I have written before, this is not an easy mindset to adopt, but I believe it is an important one for it develops resiliency, positivity, and authenticsim. It allows us to face the reality of life in the scariest of moments, and it forces us to understand that we can only control our responses to situations and to others.
For example, when neither of my parents showed up at my senior band concert to for the recognition ceremony, I turned to my sister in the flute section, hugged her, and gifted her the rose the band director had handed me. In the moment, I couldn’t understand why my best friends and their families were emotional- many feeling sorry for me. In that moment, subconciously, I chose not to focus on what appeared to be a traumatic experience to others. Instead, I turned to someone I love dearly – someone I have protected and encouraged her entire life.
I share the senior band moment, because it reflects a mindset many of us hold but don’t fully understand until our feet have kissed the earth for many years – until we gain wisdom. Life has been filled with those moments, and I am realizing that I have nurtured in my own children and others I mentor. When life doesn’t pan out like we had hoped or we are in the moment of crisis, we can “adjust our sails.” When we realize that we can only control our emotions – our words – our actions, we can face whatever challenges we experience. We can get one step closer to authentic living.