Saturday, August 31, 2019

Notes and What I Learned from "How to Think Like a Roman Emperor" PART 3

Get the book: How to Think Like a Roman Emperor by Donald Robertson

Pain is Inevitable and Stoicism Can Help
  • Marcus went to war when he was almost 50 years old; he was already a frail person
  • "He'd been preparing himself to face this inner battle for most of his life ... gradually [learning] to endure pain and illness by utilizing the psychological strategies of ancient Stoicism." p. 156
  • regarding pain, "the wise man neither strikes a tragic attitude nor whines about what befalls him." p. 160
  • he reflected on how Antoninus died ... he "was always contented, always cheerful.  It's said that even as he lay dying, with his last breath he whispered the word equanimity to his guard." p. 161
  • Epicurus was also a model philosopher regarding suffering well; he "didn't complain or dwell on his symptoms.  In fact, he used his illness as an opportunity to converse in a dispassionate manner about how the mind can remain contented while the body suffers terrible pain and discomfort." p. 163
  • Meditations 7.64 is an excellent quote about Marcus reminding himself: mind over body
  • use your opportunities of pain to learn to cope ... examples include, running, lifting weights, playing sports such as basketball, enduring long hours (being drowsy).  "everyday tolerance of minor physical discomforts can help us build lasting psychological resilience" p. 165
  • Learn to "withdraw" or "separate" your mind from your body
  • Epictetus' leg!  his leg was "cruelly twisted" by his master; "Epictetus didn't react but remained completely composed.  He merely warned his master that the body was about to snap.  Epaphroditus continued twisting it" until it did snap.  "Rather than complain, Epictetus responded matter-of-factly: 'There, did I not tell you that it would break?'" p. 166
Stoically Learning From Pain
  1. Cognitive Distancing
    • "it's not events/things that upset us, it's our judgments of those events/things"; therefore, suspend judgement when it comes to pain and pleasure
    • be indifferent to indifferent things
    • it's not a matter of suppressing the pain (or pleasure), but rather to "not assign judgments to them as good or bad" p. 171
    • "neither to suppress or worry about unpleasant feelings ... accept them while remaining detached" p. 172
    • "The Stoics want us to go through a radical upheaval in our underlying values so that our supreme goal is to live with wisdom and its accompanying virtues." p. 172
    • "When your conscious mind, your ruling faculty, invests too much importance in bodily sensations, it becomes 'fused and blended' with them and it is pulled around by the body like a puppet on strings." p. 174
    • I didn't notice if Robertson mentioned or quoted this in his book, but I find Encheiridion 41 to be very important in this regard: "It is the mark of a crude disposition to spend most of one's time on bodily functions such as exercise, eating, drinking, defecating, and copulating.  These are things to be done just incidentally.  All your attention should be on your mind."
  2. Functional Analysis
    • After some cognitive distancing, you can now perform some functional analysis, or in other words, evaluating the consequences of your thinking - your opinion of judgments
    • "the fear of pain does us far more harm than pain itself because it injures our very character." p. 174
    • "to live life fully, you have to get out of your comfort zone, as we say today.  Fear of pain makes cowards of us all and limits our sphere of life." p. 174 ... in other words, show some courage in the face of pain.
  3. Objective Representation
    • look at pain objectively "as if [you] were describing the problems of another person" p. 175 ... don't say "My leg is really hurting" but perhaps call yourself in the 3rd person when describing the pain (in plain language)
  4. Depreciation by Analysis
    • again, use the discipline of assent to break things down into parts that don't have as big an impact as the whole; divide time into the present moment
    • view the pain in the context of "the view from above"
  5. Contemplating Finitude and Impermanence
    • "physicalizing" pain; "by attributing an arbitrary shape or color to" the pain p. 177
    • similar to the view from above, you can limit the pain in both time and space
    • "this too shall pass"
    • Either you can endure this pain now, or you won't and you will die, in which case you won't feel anything
  6. Stoic Acceptance
    • "actively accept" the pain
    • the dog and the cart ... be the dog walking with the cart, instead of the dog being pulled by the cart
    • "pain becomes more painful when we struggle against it" ... instead we should "accept the sensation and relax into it or even welcome it." p. 178
    • this is where hugging cold statues, taking cold showers and such comes into play.  by doing these hard exercises, we expose ourselves to discomfort and therefore we become more accepting of pain when it comes our way
    • tackle pain head on; like stamping out a fire or "grasping the nettle"
    • "struggling against things we can't control does us more harm than good" p. 181
  7. Contemplating Virtue
    • get into the habit of asking yourself, 'what virtue or capacity do I have, that I can exercise in this circumstance?' ... in the context of pain, you might ask, "what resources do [I] have that might help [me] cope better with pain?" p. 182
    • we can look at others who might be in the same situation and are facing it with equanimity and see how they endure it ... then we can emulate them
    • What we face in life can be bearable; when we have a reason to bear the pain, it become easier.  Nietzsche said, "He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how." p. 183
The Large Black Spot
a large black spot is drawn on a piece of paper.  this represents pain, a toothache, sciatica, melancholy, etc.  if you acknowledge it, then you draw a circle around the spot.  subsequent affirmations of the the spot, draw subsequent lines around it ... thus it actually grows!  if you continue to fear it, worry about it and looking for ways to avoid it, more is added on.

"One exaggerates, imagines, anticipates affliction," wrote Seneca.

"Do not let us build a second story to our sorrow by being sorry for our sorrow." p. 185

"he who knows how to suffer suffers less" p. 185

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Notes and What I Learned from "How to Think Like a Roman Emperor" PART 2

Get the book: How to Think Like a Roman Emperor by Donald Robertson

The Fork, Lucius vs Marcus and the Choice of Heracles

Marcus' brother Lucius partied hard and was not a virtuous man.  However, Marcus still learned from him.  "Marcus says only that he's grateful for having had a brother 'who by his character was able to stimulate me to cultivate my own nature.'" Marcus "became more determined to strengthen his own character after observing his brother's vices spiraling out of control." p. 116

We see many in life who chase after pleasures, whether to avoid emotional pain, or to distract "themselves from or [suppress] unpleasant feelings or as a way to escape" p. 117.  Stoics know that "chasing empty, transient pleasures can never lead to true happiness in the long run" p. 117.  Instead, Stoics choose to seek a life that enjoys "authentic happiness or fulfillment" which they called eudaimonia.

This fork in our road, whether to choose a life of ease and pleasure, or to choose a life of true, enduring happiness, is what many of us face.  The Stoics and Robertson portray this fork as "The Choice of Heracles"

Donald Robertson has done a nice video of this allegory:

And so you too face this same choice.  Do you pursue a life of ease and pleasure to achieve happiness or is it "more rewarding to face hardship voluntarily and cultivate strength of character"? p. 121

Heracles is a Stoic hero, as he cheerfully faced challenges and hardships and was able to achieve "a profound sense of inner satisfaction knowing that he was fulfilling his destiny and expressing his true nature.  His life had something far more satisfying than pleasure: it had purpose." p. 121

Marcus decided to choose the same path, as Heracles, when he was faced with that fork; "the goal of his life [was] not pleasure but action" p. 123

On Friends

Marcus "picked his friends carefully, based on the character traits he most admired rather than what seem congenial to those of his social class.  His friends' company wasn't always fun - sometimes they spoke plainly and criticized him - but he embraced them because they shared his values and helped to improve him as a person." p. 124

The Stoics Side with Heracles and the Country (Hill) Mouse

If you haven't figured it out by now, the Stoics argue a life of challenges, hardships and action is what is best.  This is why the Stoics repeatedly say "virtue is the sole good."

Aesop's fable of the country mouse and city mouse underscore this key point.  "The country mouse says he would rather dine like a peasant than risk being eaten alive by ravenous dogs."  Marcus makes the same observation in Meditations Book 11.22 when he wrote, "The hill mouse and the house mouse - and the frightened scurrying of the house mouse."

Greed, pleasures and the like won't lead to sustained happiness.  It is a false hope.  On the other hand, a life of virtue and equanimity and facing adversity with cheerfulness will lead to genuine fulfillment.  This is wisdom.

"The wise man's sense of delight comes from one thing alone: acting consistently in accord with virtue."  Marcus also notes that two other sources of joy which come from contemplating virtue in others and welcoming your fate. p. 132-133

Stoic Practices for Changing Desires p. 135-150

  1. Evaluate the consequences of your habits / desires in order to select the ones you want to change
    • it's not just identifying the ones you want to drop, but it's also identifying ones you want to introduce in their place
    • learn self control; other virtues ... especially courage and moderation
    • look at the habits in the long run
    • write down the pros and cons of the bad and good habits
    • picture the positive consequences of dropping the bad and replacing them with the good
  2. Spot early warning signs so that you can nip the problem in the bud
    • self-monitoring is key ... use Stoic mindfulness
    • keep a journal of emerging desires (date/time/place, early warnings, scale of the urge, scale of the pleasure, other thoughts)
    • "study yourself" and know your triggers and high-risk situations, looking for "signs that typically precede the desire"
  3. Gain cognitive distance by separating impressions from external reality
    • simply notice the delineation between your perspective/impression and the external reality of the situation ... this leads to separating our values from external events.  Personally, I call this "minding the gap."
    • Whatever this impression of your's is, you need to "apostrophize" it by telling it "you are just a thought and not at all the thing you claim to represent" ... recall when Kakia approached Heracles, she called herself Eudomonia.  This is the same thing ... the impression is not real, it is false.
    • by "defusing" these thoughts, you weaken the desire
    • if it helps, imagine a role model or your trusted mentor is watching you and imagine what they would say ... this is a form of using accountability to distance yourself from your impression
    • use the Discipline of Assent to break the impression of the thing down into something that isn't so impressive ... a divide and conquer or depreciation by analysis.  This is where a purple robe is just cloth with the shellfish blood dye in it; wine is just dead grapes, etc.
      • don't use such rhetorical language like "I'm dying for some chocolate.  Why is it so good?  It tastes like heaven!  This is better than sex!"
      • perhaps think of yourself like a scientist and view desires and impressions of things from a detached, clinical, perspective
      • regarding sex, Marcus described it as "the rubbing together of body parts followed by a convulsion and the ejaculation of some mucus.  Not very romantic, but that's the point - he was aiming to neutralize inappropriate sexual urges ... the point isn't to obliterate all desire but rather to moderate unhealthy or excessive desires." p. 146-147
  4. Do something else instead of engaging in the habit / desire
    • remind yourself often that you are always free to do something else
    • "do something that gives you a sense of genuine accomplishment"
    • "replace unfulfilling habits and desires with activities that you find more intrinsically rewarding"
    • when thinking of habits we want to instill in our lives, "we should be guided more by the qualities we admire in other people and our true values" p. 149
    • "if you want to be a good role model for your children, you should ask yourself what sort of person you are and what qualities you want to exhibit." p. 149
    • "we aim for wisdom and strength of character not because we're hoping to gain something else but simply because that's who we want to be in life." p. 149
Addition of the Improvement Cycle
  • Like Marcus did in Book 1, set aside time to think about the qualities in others that you love and wish to add to your character
  • visualize and contemplate these qualities and how you might instill them in your life
  • GRATITUDE plays a big role in the management of desires, by imagining you've lost certain things; keep a gratitude journal
  • Morning Meditation
    • picture how you will cope with the day's challenges ahead and what virtues you will use and how you will instill the desired characteristics in your life for that day
  • During the Day
    • be mindful, look for triggers and signs for impressions and desires
    • every day is practice!  every day is an opportunity to become better!
  • Evening Meditation
    • Review your day's events three times
    • Identify what you did well and what you didn't do so well
    • Praise yourself for the well-done and coach yourself for the ones that need improvement, imagine your mentor coaching you
  • With the above 3-step improvement cycle, you have the foundation and system for improving yourself and becoming more Stoic

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Notes and What I Learned From Reading "How to Think Like a Roman Emperor" PART 1

Get the book: How to Think Like a Roman Emperor by Donald Robertson

  • It should be "simple and modest" p. 69
  • It requires conciseness and objectivity p. 69
  • practice by "deliberately describing events more objectively and in less emotional terms" p. 73
  • "learn to take greater ownership of or responsibility for the catastrophic value judgements that distress us" ... use down-to-earth language ... decatastrophize things p. 73
  • It's not the end for the world ...
  • Will this matter in a few hours, days, weeks, months, or years?
  • Now that you're viewing this as not a catastrophe, what virtues can you use to deal with the situation?  What are some realistic ways to bear and deal with it?
  • Write letters to yourself using this simple language and write about positive opportunities to exercise strength of character p. 76
Cognitive Distancing p.78
  • Write down thoughts concisely when they occur; view them on paper/notebook/whiteboard ... if on a whiteboard, stand on the other side of the room to read/view them
  • Simply recognize your thoughts ... "I notice I am thinking ...."
  • Do the same as above, but refer to the thoughts in the 3rd person
  • Evaluate the pros and cons of the thoughts in a detached manner
  • Tally the times you've had such thoughts
Interesting tid-bit: "Marcus kept a statuette of Rusticus in his personal shrine and offered sacrifices in his memory" p. 86

What Rusticus Taught Marcus p. 87
  • not to be pretentious
  • dress like a normal citizen
  • to be a careful and patient student of philosophy
  • to read attentively instead of skimming
  • not to be swayed too easily by speakers who have a silver tongue
  • side note from Epictetus: show the fruits of philosophy in character and action
"Indeed, those who assume that they have the fewest flaws are often the ones most deeply flawed in the eyes of others." p. 89

Get a Mentor
  • find a suitable mentor in whose wisdom and experience you can genuinely trust p. 90
  • make the effort to acquire an older friend: one known for honesty & plain speaking, who has master the same passions that you need help with, someone who can properly identify your vices and tell your frankly where you're going astray
  • listen patiently to your mentor and take criticisms without irritation

  • "If the real goal for Stoics is wisdom, then sometimes just blurting out the truth isn't enough.  We have to put more effort into communicating with others effectively." p. 92.  On the same page, Robertson mentions Marcus' "impressive ability to resolve conflicts between his friends ... ability to unite all his friends together in harmony ... patient diplomacy and sensitive use of language ... always be tactful and honest."
  • "Stoics like Marcus placed a lot more value on manners and civility than the Cynics did.  The Stoics realized that to communicate wisely, we must phrase things appropriately.  Indeed, according to Epictetus, the most striking characteristic of Socrates was that he never became irritated during an argument.  He was always polite and refrained from speaking harshly even when others insulted him.  He patiently endured much abuse and yet was able to put an end to most quarrels in a calm and rational manner." p. 93
  • Regarding tact in response to criticisms of us, "we should give everyone we meet permission to tell us what our faults are ... and resolve not to be angry with any of them." p. 93 ... we ought to welcome criticism and "turn it to our advantage by making all [people] into our teachers ... and show gratitude ... to those who rebuke us." p. 94  However, we should be wise in discerning good advice (criticism) from bad ... we need to be "scrupulously honest with [our] mentor"
  • our soul should be "naked and simple"
  • we should "never crave anything in life that requires walls or curtains" p. 95

Your Values / Modeling

  • If you don't have a mentor or can't find one, you can use Marcus' example from his Book 1 and write about the values you admire in others ... "write down the virtues exhibited by someone you respect" p. 99 ... this stems from the advice given to Zeno to "take on the color of dead men"
  • Write these values down; think about them often, revise the list, process them again ... visualize these characteristics and traits and you will begin to live them ... this is how you "dye your soul"
  • Another idea is to write down the virtues of a hypothetical sage
Stoic Mindfulness / Prosoche / Daily Routine for Implementing Values
  • after getting feedback from a mentor or after identifying your values, you need to install a personal feedback system of introspection and improvement ... "continually to be self-aware, as if a wise mentor or teacher is observing you.  We call this Stoic mindfulness."  The old Stoics called it prosoche.
  • Morning and evening meditation provide planning opportunities for the day ahead as well as retrospectives for the day that has passed
  • For the morning, ask yourself two questions:
    1. What would the consequences be if you acted as a slave to your passions?
    2. How would your day differ if you acted more rationally, exhibiting wisdom and self-discipline? p. 105
  • For the evening, use guidance from "The Golden Verses"
    • Allow not sleep to close your wearied eyes.
    • Until you have reckoned up each daytime deed:
    • "Where did I go wrong?  What did I do?  And what duty's left undone?
    • From first to last review your acts and then
    • Reprove yourself for wretched acts, but rejoice in those done well
  • Sticking to this routine, you will begin to be more mindful during the day
More on Values
  • Consistent reflection on your values helps you find clear direction in your life
  • Additional questions might make your values even clearer:
    • What's ultimately the most important thing in life to you?
    • What do you really want your life to stand for or represent?
    • What do you want to be remembered for after you're dead?
    • What sort of person do you most want to be in life?
    • What sort of character do you want to have?
    • What would you want written on your tombstone? p. 108
  • Writing out lists; side-by-side columns
    1. The things you most desire for yourself in life
    2. The qualities you find most praiseworthy and admirable in other people
  • Contemplate "what would happen if you were to make virtue your number one priority in life?" p. 109

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Stewardship & Sustainability

I love peanut M&M's.  That chocolaty crunch gets me every time.  I pop one in my mouth, crack it down the middle with my teeth; the peanut separates from the chocolate and then I grind the whole thing and savor the taste.  Seeing a jar full of peanut M&M's is also very satisfying.  I can hardly help myself, if I walk in a room and see a jar of those delicious pebbles, I scoop a handful and begin to munch on them!

Years ago, I heard story about a jar of M&M's.  This world-famous rock band toured many, many cities.  As part of their contract with venues, they put a clause in that demanded all brown M&M's be removed.  You're probably thinking, "what the hell??  They must be prima-donnas!"  But there is more to it than that!

Think of it - this huge rock band production has literally tons of equipment that is hauled around from city to city.  Their concert schedule is very tight and there are thousands of things on the list to do in order for them to pull off a successful and safe concert.  The venue host has to be able to meet the demands of the band efficiently and quickly.  So the band produces a contract, provides it to the venue ahead of time.  And this contract is very detailed and if even one demand is not met, such as verifying the weight of the stage will support the band and the equipment, then the band's safety is in danger.  The band doesn't have time to verify the entire contract, but they want to be sure it has been met.  So that put a clause in there that demands brown M&M's be removed from the jar that is in their backroom.  When the band shows up, and sees brown M&M's they know the host has not read the contract! (link)

We live in a world that demands people get shit done!  We have busy lives and in some business and industries, there is a lot of complexity.  People are assigned duties and work and they are expected to GyShiDo!  In a more professional term, this is called stewardship.  You have been given some task; now you must steward it to completion.  If you complete a task, you might be given another one of equal or greater weight.  Once you string together multiple tasks for a consistent amount of time, you will be given more and weightier tasks and responsibilities, with greater complexity and difficulty.  People who show the ability to handle these problems "level up" in life.

In our capitalistic society, we reward people who can sustain their good stewardship.

A kid learns to take care of their body, their clothes, their room, their possessions, their friendships, their grades, their hourly wage job, their middle school and high school courses, and then their college courses.  If they complete the thousands of tasks during those years, they will graduate and most likely find a job and begin their career.  The cycle of stewardship and sustainability continues.  This is how winners are made.

So when you don't feel like cleaning up after yourself in the kitchen or if you don't want to organize your room, just remember you are making bad grooves and habits in your life.  Learn what it takes to get your shit done and then GyShiDo!

Friday, August 2, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 4.13 - To those who talk too readily about their personal affairs

To get right to the point, when it comes to sharing secrets and being vulnerable, Epictetus advises us to hold our cards tight to our chest, until we've determined that we can trust other people and they are virtuous.  Otherwise, just keep quiet.

We are often faced with people who try to gain our confidence who might share very personal information or a secret, in the hopes of getting us to reciprocate.  These are con-men and you need to watch out for them.

"When someone seems to have talked frankly to us about his personal affairs, we are somehow impelled to reveal our own secrets to him in turn, and we regard that as being frankness.This comes about partly because, after hearing our neighbor's confidences, it seems unfair not to reply in kind by giving him a share of our own; and also because we think that we won't give such people the impression of being frank if we keep quiet about our personal affairs." (v. 1-2, p. 275)

If you are going to share your personal affairs and secrets with others, you need to be sure you can trust them.  Otherwise, "it is just as if [you] had a water-tight barrel and [someone else] had one with a hole in it, and [they] came and entrusted [their] wine to [you], for [them] to store it in [your] barrel, and [they] then complained that [you] for [your] part didn't entrust [your] wine to [them]!" (v. 12, p. 276)