Posted by: Edward | September 4, 2014

What I can do

I am tired and in a shitty mood. I don’t want to think of anything to write. I don’t want to go to work or see friends. I just want to stay in bed and sulk. But I don’t. I get myself together and go to the coffeeshop to write. And when it’s time I’ll go to work and I’ll smile and do my job.

Some days are going to suck. Sometimes you aren’t going to feel good. The truth is, you don’t have to let that stop you. You can look the shitty right in the face and say, “yup that sucks,” and then go do what you choose to do.

I wasn’t always able to do this. Or maybe I just didn’t know that I could. I’ve spent a few years making myself into a different sort of person. I’ve collected tools that help me. Some are ideas from Stoic philosophy and another is simple mindfulness meditation.

The two ideas from Stoicism I use the most are: that somethings are under our control, while most things aren’t and what disturbs us are not our experiences but rather our thinking about those experiences.

That last one is not always true. I was physically assaulted last night. There was pain and a heightened response from adrenalin. I would argue this disturbance came straight from the experience.

However, when I got up this morning, I was still upset. Here it was not the experience but my thinking upsetting me, because if I was paying attention, I would notice I was no longer being assaulted and that all the extra adrenalin had already left my system.

Here I make use of that other idea from Stoicism. Some things are up to us and some things aren’t. I can’t go back in time and make that person not attack me but I can choose what I do now. And what I chose to do was to meditate.

I practice a deceptively simple form of meditation. I sit with my spine straight, my eyes open, and everything else relaxed. Then I pay attention to how it feels to be breathing now. I don’t try to stop or fight my thoughts. But if I notice some thought carrying my attention away so that I forget the feeling of my breathing then I give it a little mental tap, label it thinking, and return my attention to the experience of breathing.

It’s very important that you understand letting a thought carry your attention away isn’t failing at mediation, rather noticing that this has happened is success. As you let go of each of those sticky thoughts you are letting go of what disturbs you. The more you pay attention to what you are presently experiencing, the less you will find that disturbs.

And maybe I can’t shake the bad mood entirely but I can focus on what I can do. Maybe I can’t feel like writing but I can put my shoes on. I can’t change the past but I can go to the coffeeshop. I can’t make a violent person into a nice guy but I can move my pen.

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