You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.
—Marcus Aurelius

Disclaimer: All views expressed on this blog are my own based on my own experience and do not represent of any entity with which I have been, am now or will be affiliated.

My why for this blog: To think less of myself. To be humble in my aspirations, gracious in my successes and resilient in my failures.

April 10, 2021
Philippines

After a year of pandemic, here we are again experiencing a lockdown. The pandemic taught me a lot of lessons in how I view my life and my response to the things that are happening around me. I found out about Stoicism this year and it changed my life. The past years of experimenting how to improve my life and those around me, led me to the Stoic philosophy. I love methods – the how to’s in life. I wrote this blog not because I have attained some wisdom I feel qualified to preach but I wish I knew about these things at critical turning points in my life such as what path will I take and who do I want to be?

Life will always throw things at us and it can make or break us. But it is always up to us. What stands in our way, becomes our way.

Here are the lessons I learned from Stoicism philosophy and why I think it’s cool and try to practice everyday.

1.Ego is the problem

For the past years, I have been obsessing about relationship – anything involving people. Years came and the universal issues began to emerge. My experiences brought me to focus in ways that I could never have previously understood. Wherever I am, whatever I am doing, my worst enemy is already living inside me: my ego. What makes me promising as a thinker or doer, makes me vulnerable to the darker side of the psyche.

It came to me when a friend reached out to me because he found out I will be leaving Singapore and I told him things that hurt his feelings. Back then, I thought I was just “daring greatly”, speaking my truth, I was right, he’s wrong and I won’t apologize. Moving forward to what I know now, I did not see that he was just concern about me (I should feel good about that) and he might be struggling with other issues in his life (I should be kind). I was just too full of myself, knew too many things, I always wanted to be right, not asking help because I thought I have it all figured out. But, this friend is on my 3am club – that person I can call at 3 in the morning when I needed help and I knew he’d be there. The person I write on my emergency contact list because I knew he’d be there. I even memorized his number. But I ended up hurting his feelings. Despite what I did, he still reached out to me. I did not understand but he understood me when I could not understand myself. It’s a gift, he changed my life in that moment. Who am I not to wrap around the idea of humility when he was showing me how to be grounded when shitty things happen?

We think something else is to blame for our problems (most often, it’s other people). We can’t work with other people if we’ve put up walls. We can’t improve if we don’t understand it or ourselves. We can’t take or receive feedback if we are incapable of or are interested in outside sources. How am I supposed to reach, motivate if I can’t relate to their needs.

Every great journey begins with a calling, a goal or a new beginning. Yet far too many of us never reached our intended destination. We build ourselves up with stories we tell ourselves, we pretend to have it all figured it out, let our stars burn bright only to fizzle out and yet we have no idea why.

What replaces ego is humility – hard rock humility and confidence. Humility and reality is the cure for ego. Stoic philosophy helped me be grounded and I am blessed with people around me to keep my ego in check.

2.Stillness

This lockdown is not convenient, but it doesn’t matter. Being stuck at home is anxiety-inducing experience. Instead of ranting in social media how fuck up the government is, what if instead I saw this time as a unique opportunity to slow down. To recalibrate my priorities.

I spent my time getting to know myself, spending time in solitude and just observing my thoughts. When my thoughts go out of its way, I center myself. Reflecting on my day and dissecting the source of whatever my thoughts are coming from. To be steady. To act without frenzy, to possess quietude – inner and outer. I also used this time to learn new language and other free courses in Udemy.

Stillness aims to inspire new ideas, generates a vision, makes space for gratitude and wonder. It allows me to persevere, to succeed. Stillness is the key to becoming a better daughter, sister, girlfriend, friend, colleague – a better human being. Stillness is living your life, looking out the nature and feeling like part of something bigger than myself. Quiet evening with a loved one, talking to my boyfriend, reaching out to people who are important to me, going outside and feeling the breeze of air and warmed by contentment – these are all part of stillness. I don’t have to go to the ashram to find it, it’s just from within. In the midst of chaos, can we be still? – to think clearly, maintain relationships, manage our emotions, physical excellence, feel fulfilled, capturing moments of laughter and joy and build good habits. To hold the mind still is an enormous discipline.

To achieve stillness, we need to focus on three domains – the mind, body and the soul. I am still a student in Stoic university.

3. Sticking to the rituals

Routines have a calming effect.

I started my year waking up at 6 in the morning then gradually shifted to 530 in the morning. Fixed my bed, meditate, walk in the nature for an hour, journal, reflect on what I need to be doing in the day, cold showers, cleaning the house, reading and coffee haha. My social media is offline – I don’t install them on my phone anymore and I only use it once a week to check what’s going on with my friends and relatives. I find it such a relief to focus on my day early – I do a lot of things focused and grateful. It is also soothing to the soul. Being on the nature helps me be centered, I am an equal to everyone and everything. I want to be kinder, to always approach my day with intention. I know that things will go haywire – people can piss me off, plans not going anywhere, health concerns, lockdown after lockdowns – I need to be prepared for the worst things that are going to come. This is how my day looks like everyday. It is such a liberating experience.

4. Humility

I know that the notion of Stoicism is being tough but I actually see that as understanding others. I will always do better if I keep my focus on correcting my own conceitedness and self-deception, rather than focusing on the faults of others. I only go back to my past to check the mistakes I did and how to make it better in the present and move forward.

I am always on a student mindset – I can learn from anyone I meet, I always think of it this way now. I don’t know anything and I’d like to learn from others no matter how small. “To accept it without arrogance, to let it go with indifference.”

I always remember that the most permanent thing is impermanence.

5. Value your time more than your possessions

I mentioned this all the time when I blog about dating. I value my time so much because I always think that what do I do if this will be my last day on earth. I can’t control how long I’ll need to engage in social distancing, but I can control if I spend that time productively. The version of me who steps out of quarantine at some future date can be better than the version that I entered it, if I try.

I don’t want to waste my energy complaining and blaming others. I would rather do something productive and use my energy to something worth doing. This is the new normal now, I have to move forward.

6. Everything that happens is a chance to move forward

Stoics are grateful, patient and resilient. When I feel stressed, I always think of that others have worst things than what I am feeling right now. I should not complain but rather I should be grateful for what I have right now. My ancestors have experienced more adversity, I should not complain. I should be instead grateful for what I have right now. We don’t control external events, we only control our perceptions towards them.

It was Frankl himself who beautifully said “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom”

I am my own choices, and the amount in which I suffer is entirely dependent on my response to the innate condition of suffering. The choice is up to me – I may choose to suffer, or I may choose to thrive despite the condition of suffering.

7. It’s about progress, not perfection

The art of living as a process of continuous improvement—Stoics believed in progress, not perfection. No matter our roles and duties, no matter the obstacles and difficulties we face, they reminded us that there is always a deeper work going on. Living my life in the present, detaching myself in the outcome.

As I make progress in my various endeavors and encounter setbacks, I am constantly improving myself: thinking through things better, learning to anticipate trouble, choosing to act in a more virtuous way, and eliminating toxic emotions.

The courage and perseverance to keep moving toward what is good, and the self-control and awareness to resist what is bad. These are the ingredients of freedom, whatever one’s condition.

8. Take care of your relationships

Although Stoicism stresses independence and strength, moral rectitude and inner-life, it’s essential that we don’t mistake this as a justification for loneliness and isolation. We need community, we need friends. We get something out of giving, and we are made better for caring and being cared for. Relationships make my life worth living. It is key to a good life. It gives me sense of purpose. I don’t want to neglect them. My personal development is bound with cooperation with others.

Life has always been hard. Stress is timeless. In the ancient world, there were bills to pay, plague, war, no phones, they got tired too. Some of them were overwhelmed by this stress, but others managed to find not only relief, but a formula for being improved by it. Who am I to complain? Who am I to give up? I will keep pushing forward. I want to keep living just what my ancestors strive for – for me to live in this world of peace and freedom.

Amor fati — a love of what happens. Because that’s my only option.


Love,
Maria, sometimes Niskie