How I distinguished what matters most and where I have control.
Today, I feel apathetic. I am sluggish and hormonal and want to crawl under the covers and watch Dr. Who on Netflix. (Did I just share that?) I confess. Science fiction and espionage are my comfort foods. Not dystopian stuff, but the optimistic kind where good guys and bad guys are so clearly defined, and the good guys are always heroic and prevail. When I spent a straight month in bed last year, I re-watched all 7 seasons of Star Trek: TNG. I mean, if I’m having a bad day and I can’t function in the real world, I might as well escape to a simpler paradigm and experience fictional victories.
I used to get really upset when my health issues overwhelmed me and my energy failed. As if it was a personal failing. A failure of character or discipline. Like I wasn’t trying hard enough to get over it or through it or underneath it and just plain push through. But at some point, I realized that I could only do what I could do, when I could do it. I don’t currently have adrenal reserves, but as a perfectionist, I have perseverance to spare. Knowing when to stop is where my real weakness lies. But I am recovering.
Last fall, my husband and I joined about 2000 people from around the world to participate in the practice of Modern Stoicism. I’d never thought to look into stoicism as a set of guidelines by which to live. I thought it was just a quality one possessed or didn’t. (I clearly didn’t, and as an artist, I wasn’t sure I even wanted to.) Then I heard about Stoic Week, a kind of guided group meditation on the principles of this ancient philosophy through a modern perspective. And, hey, there had to be some merit in a group cool enough to have an annual event called Stoicon.
One aspect that really resonated with me was the practice of only putting attention on the things one can control. And in the face of something one cannot control, simply saying, “This is nothing to me,” and letting it go. This week, I re-did an assignment to make two lists. On the left side of the page, I wrote down everything in my life that I can control, and on the right side, everything I can’t control. Most things had aspects in both lists. (As an example, I can control what I write and when, but I cannot control who reads it or what they’ll think.) What struck me immediately was how clearly different these two lists were in tone and flavour and inspiration.
In the former was everything I truly and deeply care about. And in the latter was everything that can make me squirrelly. The lesson was so clear when I saw it laid out in black ink on the creamy white pages of my journal. My substance, my self-expression, my love for people, and my commitments. I get to create all of these. But other people’s flaws, their opinions, their actions and reactions, and whether life is fair or not have no place in my contemplations. It may be paradoxical, but creativity lives in the world of control. Circumstance does not.
As it turns out, one can find wisdom even in comfort: Resistance is futile.