Don’t explain your philosophy. Embody it.
Events in life mean nothing if you do not reflect on them in a deep way, and ideas from books are pointless if they have no application to life as you live it.
— Robert Greene
The hardest thing about any philosophy is being able to apply what you learn in real life. We can read all the books, watch all the videos, follow all the gurus, but until we actually apply what we've learned, all of that learning is worthless.
Developing a practice of reflection and thinking deep about your life experiences and philosophy is a challenging endeavor, because it is often difficult to actually apply what we know. We know what we should and shouldn’t eat, but we struggle to eat a diet that is healthy for us. We know we should work out and keep ourselves in shape, but getting out of bed for the early morning run is not easy when you want that extra bit of of sleep.
So how do we live our philosophy? How do we move past just book learning, and into application of what we have learned? This is something that has been a real challenge for me, so I’m guessing that it’s a challenge for others.
Learning to reflect on what life brings our way, what we can learn from it, and how we can grow from it is something that take effort and thoughtfulness. Connecting what we learn to how we act is always an ongoing process, but unless we figure out how to do that, then our knowledge is wasted, and we continue on as before.
To be honest, I don’t have some perfect way to apply philosophy, but it’s something that I think about every day. Every time I fail to keep an even keel when things are challenging, it’s always a struggle to slow down, breathe, and let go of the feelings that were so strong and overwhelming just moments before. But lately, I’ve been practicing a few ideas to help keep me in a mindset that has been more helpful and more aware.
Peace must be found in the imperfect present.
— The Stoic Emperor
One of the most important things that I’ve been working on is acceptance. Life is never going to be exactly the way that we want. Ever. There will always be something to complain about. There will always be wars, natural disasters, turmoil and chaos somewhere in the world. There will always be something "wrong".
Often, I have found myself feeling irritated or annoyed because things aren't the way that I want them. When we spend time wishing for things to be otherwise, we are refusing to accept reality as it is. Getting into a mindset of accepting things are they are and not as I wish is always a challenge.
The more I practice acceptance of what is, the easier it is to work with what is. Acceptance is not the same as resignation. We don't despair, but we don't also don't see the world through Pollyanna eyes. It's not that we give up trying to find positive elements in our situation, but find peace in the imperfectness of life.
Failure and deprivation are the best educators and purifiers.
If everything is life was easy, there would be little incentive to improve and grow. Facing up to, and overcoming challenges is what brings the greatest pleasure in life. When we are simply given something with no effort on our own, we are robbed of the chance to learn and grow. I know for me, the things that I earned through hard work and persistence always feel more rewarding than things that I was just given.
When we face a great challenge, we get the opportunity to bring all our skills, wits, and wisdom to bear, as well as acquire new strengths and skills. If we are never tested, never challenged, then we stagnate or even atrophy. Muscles and skills that go unused are pretty much worthless unless we actually use and develop them.
Learning to view challenges as the key to growth is hard! We want things to be easy and go our way. I propose that we work on getting better at the meta-skill of seeing challenges as the path to growth not the obstacle. Then we can face any challenge with the right perspective.
The wise man is neither raised up by prosperity nor cast down by adversity; for always he has striven to rely predominantly on himself, and to derive all joy from himself.
Life is always going to be throwing you curveballs. Sometimes you're ready for them and knock it out of the park. Other times you can be as prepared as possible and you still falter. Still other times, you're caught completely off guard. There's no such thing as getting what you deserve (or not), because the universe doesn't really care. Life happens not as we want, but as it will, and we’re just along for the ride.
If we are wise, we recognize this truth and understand that our happiness should not be dependent on external things. If we attach our happiness to our careers or possessions, what happens when we lose those? You could get fired tomorrow. Your house could burn down. If your self worth, your pride, are wrapped up in those things, you are handing over your control to things outside of yourself.
When we recognize that we have control of our happiness by appreciating the good AND the bad, and recognize that this is just how life is, we are better able to take what happens in stride.
To be calm is the highest achievement of the self.
The more we learn about the brain, the we learn that we are constantly bombarded by stimulus, and everything that enters our conscious awareness impacts us, no matter how small. Add in the noise of the modern world and finding some peace of mind is becoming more and more of a challenge. Being calm is not just a matter of will, it's a matter of practice. The more we practice, the stronger our ability to call upon our ability to be calm.
And why is developing the skill of calmness so important? If we are constantly being buffeted about by every stimulus, sensation, or emotion, we are never really in control of ourselves. We are also easily manipulated by those who can arose our anger or fear.
Calmness for me does not necessarily mean quiet. One can practice mindfulness in the middle of chaos, which is one of the most important places to be calm. Equanimity is about the internal calmness, not about what is happening outside of ourselves. We need to be that calm in storm. The quest for equanimity is always an ongoing practice, and one of the most important skills we can develop.
I think the best way to live your philosophy is to cultivate a mindset or calmness . It’s taking that time each morning to set the mood for your day. Meditation, journal writing, exercise – these are all things that help us to get in the mindset that works to find that equanimity, that balance, that helps us in our daily lives. And when we practice meditating in the morning, it makes it just a little easier to be mindful throughout the day. That mindfulness can be that bit of awareness that we need that buys us those moments between stimulus and response that allows us to choose for ourselves and make wise choices, rather than just reacting.
Developing a useful mindset of equanimity is not something that just happens. It’s something that you have to cultivate and work on each day. It’s something that takes effort and constant reminders. You may remember to be mindful and aware of your thinking and what’s going on around you, only to forget again a few minds later, and have to bring your focus back to being mindful. But each and every time you fail, and remember, and bring your focus back to being mindful, then you have strengthened that mental muscle just a little more. And it’s the thoughts that count.
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