Tranquillity – peace of mind the ultimate goal in life

Dear friends welcome back to the PO>CAST it’s been a while!  Just a few natural disasters between posts! Hope everyone is keeping well.  So I have hayfever, not Coronavirus so apologies if I sniffle at any point. Anyway, I thought I would share some of the topics I have been thinking about recently in short blog form. I have given myself 48hrs to research and publish.  I don’t profess to be an expert in any of the topics I am going to cover but I am curious and think I will have a better understanding by going through the process. So treat me as a white belt as I roll through the subjects. If my school essays were anything to go by, I apologise in advance but hopefully, you get the gest and it might spark a conversation. At the time of recording, the world is on lockdown and we have plenty of time to ponder.  

For the first topic, I want to dive into the Roman Stoic’s and in particular why the believed tranquillity or peace of mind should be an ultimate goal.

First, we need an introduction into the Roman Stoics, second why the goal of tranquillity or peace of mind was deemed so important and finally, I think more importantly I want to share some of the techniques that the stoics practised for peace of mind.  Hopefully given the wild times that we are living in at the moment these tried and tested ancient techniques might be helpful to just one person out there.  

So what is the philosophy of Stoicism?  If I asked you what comes to mind when I said the word Stoicism, chances are you would think of a dour, grumpy type of character who did not experience anything.  Most people according to William B Irvine who has written an awesome introduction to Stoicism called A guide to the good life, (I am paraphrasing) “get confused with the dictionary definition of the word stoic, someone who does not show joy or feel emotion. Compared with the philosophy of life Stoicism which is very much a glass half full philosophy, focused on seeing the positive in a scenario and joy in life.”   Stoicism appeals to me therefore as an entrepreneur as it is an incredibly practical framework for living a life of action, not just an ascetic experience removed from society.

So who are we referring to when we talk about the Roman Stoics?  The big three which we mostly read about today are; Seneca a playwright who was an investment banker, Epictetus a teacher who also started life as a slave, Marcus Aurelius’ the most powerful ruler in the world.  What is attractive about the blend of the three is that all had very different daily challenges but all used the stoic framework in search of tranquillity and to act in accord with what they believed set humans apart in the animal kingdom –  that is the ability to act rationally. To have peace of mind then would allow us to be more human.

So what do they mean by tranquillity?  I am not an ancient scholar but my understanding of what the Roman Stoics (opposed to the original greek Stoics, which is a different story) were looking for was a state of ataraxia which Wikipedia says is an “untroubled and tranquil condition of the soul”.  Anyone who has spent time looking into Buddhism would draw parallels with the search for Nirvana or the end of suffering. This was clearly deemed very important to the Stoics. The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius’, yes the philosopher King at the start of the Gladiator movie, believed that it was self-evident that  peace of mind or tranquillity was worth pursuing and suggested that if someone could find something greater, then they should move towards the thing in question “with your whole soul and rejoice in the thing that you have found.”   

So what can we do today to find tranquillity as across the planet a wave of uncertainty is breaking upon us?  What are the techniques that a stoic thinker can use? 

So here are a few concepts that we can use as training wheels for our quest for tranquillity.  There are definitely more but I have tried to focus on the ones that I believe to be actionable immediately today and the ones that I need to stay on top of us.  They have a common theme around them which is control.

  1.  Trichotomy of control – this is a really cool way to understand where I should direct my effort/concern.  

Make a list of what I CAN CONTROL, What I CAN PARTIALLY CONTROL and what I CAN NOT CONTROL.  An example of this is – I CAN NOT control if you will find this blog useful, so I should not set that as a goal.  What I CAN CONTROL is the effort and time I put into creating it. So I should focus on that. Side note if anyone has read Mindset by Dr Carol Dweck that would identify this as a “Growth Mindset”.  Control the process/learn and let go of the outcome.

A quick aside regarding paying no attention to what others think of you.  Until I properly started tracking this I think I was unaware by quite how obsessed I am personally with the opinions of others.  Without digressing too much, there was probably some advantage to the human group in the past but it has well and truly been hijacked in today’s culture.  For example my reaction to having to post a video of myself, quickly stating I was planning on writing these blogs, turned into a one-minute recording and nine minutes of wondering if I should post it or not because I was considering how it may be judged.  In hindsight, it’s laughable how pathetic it is but what others think consumes me all of the time if I don’t watch for it.

Or in the words of Epictetus “If anyone is unhappy, remember that his unhappiness is his own fault… Nothing else is the cause of anxiety or loss of tranquillity except our own opinion.

  1. Practice non-attachment – As a follow on from the first point, the Stoics believe that things like wealth, health, pleasure etc were not directly controllable by you.  So, in that case, you should practice non-attachment to things like material possessions (in the same way Buddhists would). For example, a goal having $10m in assets is not actually in your control.  It’s not that the number is too big, it is the fact that material things the Stoics believed are not under your control. For example, the pandemic that has disrupted stock markets today, could in fact for all we know this may be the new normal and so creating that amount of wealth in our lifetime might just not be possible.  The Stoics did not believe that material possessions were bad, but they believed that you should be indifferent to whether you had them or not. Furthermore, modern psychology suggests that after a period of time people return to previous states of happiness after acquiring material possessions a concept referred to as hedonic adaptation.  Lottery winners (or people who sell their companies!) once the initial euphoria of the win is subsidised, fall back into the same level of happiness that we were at before the event, the fancy name for this is hedonic adaptation. So be indifferent to material possessions and focus again on controlling your own response.
  1. Amor Fati – Love of one’s fate – Ryan Holiday loves this one, I think actually has it tattooed on him.   This is probably a very easy concept for people to grasp in the current climate.  Chances are you are stuck at home, potentially you are out of a job for a while, double tick for me so far! You have a decision at this point to control how you view and react to the situation.  You can see the uniqueness of the situation and the opportunity to take the time to learn something new or you can curl up in a ball and say the world is out to get me. Either way, you get to control how you react.  My business partner, friend, teacher Gary Gorrow nailed it in one of the videos we did for SOMA that the reality is that whatever you are going through now is like a work out that is making you stronger. Put more eloquently by Seneca: 

 “No tree becomes rooted and sturdy unless many a wind assails it. For by its very tossing it tightens its grip and plants its roots more securely; the fragile trees are those that have grown in a sunny valley.”

  1. Negative visualisation – If this was the last time…  I love this one.  It might initially sound depressing but bare with me.  Imagine you were seeing your family for the last time. When you next saw them would it change the way you acted? Would you saviour and enjoy every moment?  I think for the majority of people the answer is yes. You would take the time to appreciate the moment a little more. Again Buddhist’s meditate on their own death with the rationale that they will saviour each living moment.

So there you go, as I mentioned these are ones that I am focused on at the moment.  Notice how the techniques look very much just like common sense. I think that is the strength, the simplicity of the techniques that you can employ in daily life to keep you on track. I personally feel that if you added a daily breathing meditation of some description you would not go too far wrong.  If your interest has been piqued then I would recommend starting with some of Ryan Holiday’s books such as The Obstacle is the Way and if you are still interested to move onto William B Irvine A guide to the good life. If you are still keen to go to the source and have a crack at Marcus, Seneca or Epictetus which you can now get in hardback or audio.  As Seneca liked to do I will sign off with a quote from Epictetus: 

Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle: Some things are within our control, and some things are not. It is only after you have faced up to this fundamental rule and learned to distinguish between what you can and can’t control that inner tranquillity and outer effectiveness become possible.

If you have any thoughts on the content or more specifically if you have anything that would help deepen my understanding of this area please either message on Instagram @ peterostick or email @peterostick@gmail.com.

Much love and good luck controlling the controllables!  Peter

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