November 19

“Remember, however, before all else, to strip things of all that disturbs and confuses, and to see what each is at bottom; you will then comprehend that they contain nothing fearful except the actual fear.” – Seneca

The most terrifying aspect of anything we may ever attempt is the period between us deciding we are going to do something and then setting out on the actually act of doing the thing. In that moment is all of the anticipation, the expectation, and the visualization of how things are going to go, how we think they should go, and of course how everything could go wrong.

But how often are we right? The answer of course, is never. Even in the most mundane and routine of tasks, things never go exactly the way we planned them. If we need confirmation of that we can plan out brushing our teeth, to the minute detail, and then carry it out and see how close we were. It’s not the same.

But that fear, the fear of the unknown, the fear of failure, even the fear of embarrassment these are all good things. They keep us humble, they keep us mostly within the scope of our abilities, and they remind us to control the things we can to the best of our ability before, during and after we attempt to reach a goal.

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November 18

“It is indeed foolish to be unhappy now because you may be unhappy at some future time.” – Seneca

A statement so simple and obvious that we would likely laugh at ourselves if we were to allow ourselves to be unhappy right now because we know we are going to be unhappy again at some later date.

But how is that any different than us worrying about things that lie outside of our control? Or even being upset that they are going to happen?

Things that are our of our control are going to happen every single day. And many of them are going to be negative, some will also be positive but it is almost a guarantee that we will experience at least one negative thing a day that is completely out of our control.

Another way to look at that is for us to see that we have the opportunity at least once daily to recognize when an event is outside of our control as well as the opportunity to make a choice to not allow the event to affect our disposition.

So daily we will have the opportunity to practice seeing what is and what is not in our control, detaching from our situation enough to see what choices we can make, and then acting on the aspects we do have control of to keep a situation from affecting our day more than it has to.

With that much practice, we can’t help but get better.

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November 17

“We must make it our aim already to have lived long enough.” – Seneca

We are not going to live forever. We do not know when we are going to be taken from this life and cast into the unknown of what – if anything – comes after this. We will do not know when we will leave our friends and loved ones behind.

Here, it is fair to compare our lives to the lives of other people. Specifically, we can compare our lives to the lives of people who have died before reaching the age we are currently at. Many of us will have personally known someone who has passed away before reaching our current age, some of us will have several, and some of us will have known people well before they passed.

Was their life any less valuable than ours? What about less full? Was their life in any way aside from length less than our own?

How are we sitting so ungrateful for the opportunity to live here, now and experience everything that this world has offered and provided to us? So ungrateful that we somehow feel we are entitled to more.

But if we look back at our lives, how much have we had the opportunity to experience? How many wonderful things have we witnessed? We should remember that even if it all disappears tomorrow, our lives were full and most importantly, they have been ours.

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November 16

“There are only a few who control themselves and their affairs by a guiding purpose: the rest do not proceed; they are merely swept along, like objects afloat in a river.” – Seneca

There are two principles for today’s meditation. The first is that there will be people not on the path, people who do not care about the path we are on, and people who are ‘content’ to travel through the world miserable and victims of their own apathy. These people do not matter to us as far as our view of who we are is concerned, we have zero business comparing ourselves to them.

We really shouldn’t be comparing ourselves to anyone except for who we were in the recent past. And really we should be thinking recent, comparing ourselves to who we were ten years ago is not fair. Especially if we’ve been working at becoming better people for awhile.

If we must compare to someone, the second principle of today’s meditation is that people with self control, people with discipline, they stand out. They stand far apart from the crowd. And they don’t have to be flashy, they don’t have to remind us, they typically don’t have to say anything. We can often pick them out by the way they carry themselves, the way they greet us in social settings, and the way that they choose to speak. People who have control over the things they can control are attractive to us because they stand outside the crowd but are comfortable where they stand.

We should be aiming to be people who stand comfortably apart.

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November 15

“”Pleasure, unless it is kept within bounds, tends to rush headlong into the abyss of sorrow.” – Seneca

There is nothing wrong with us enjoying ourselves. Good times, especially those spent with people we care about build relationships and strengthen bonds. Even on our own, there are things we may find pleasurable that are not in and of themselves bad things.

But even when we enjoy ourselves with our loved ones, even the most important of pleasures we enjoy within the most important of relationships we have, can be taken too far. And when we do start to focus only on the pleasure, only on the good times, even the strongest of relationships will start to feel shallow and unfulfilling. Even the strongest bonds will start to break down and relationships can become damaged.

How can we avoid this? Oddly enough, we avoid damaging relationships with too much pleasure in the same way that we strengthen ourselves against too much luxury, by struggling and focusing on building something worthwhile. And when we do that with our friends and loved ones, we develop stronger bonds and better relationships.

We do this by looking for opportunities to grow together as people. With life partners, family members and close personal friends this is easier as those bonds have been made and open lines of communication have been established.

With people a little further outside of our circle, sharing these struggles and finding common goals will be harder, but it will also be worth it. Detaching from our current situation with the goal of finding these opportunities in our work lives, our neighborhoods, and other communities will be well worth the effort.

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November 14

“Do the one thing that can render you really happy: cast aside and trample under foot all the things that glitter outwardly and are held out to you by another or as obtainable from another.” – Seneca

No matter what type of philosophy we embrace, no matter what part of the world we travel to, even if we could travel through time we still could not find a place where this message was not considered a part of enlightenment. The removal of the desire for material things is center in all of the major philosophies.

The removal of the desire for material things is not the same as not having any material things. It means that we are not moved by our need to own things, we do not allow our desire to have nice things or luxuries to make our decisions about how we work, how we make money in other ways, or how much time we spend – or don’t spend – with our families.

For some of us that might very well mean getting rid of all of our possessions and spending some time with nothing. But for most of us it is a simple shift in mindset that makes us look at the things we own as traps and this shift in perspective sets on a path to avoid being trapped by the things we own.

We can keep the things we own from owning us by removing our desire to add to their numbers.

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November 13

“The man who is goaded ahead by hope of anything, though it be within reach, though it be easy of access, and though his ambitions have never played him false, is troubled and unsure of himself.” – Seneca

Hope is a difficult concept to get around and understand as a bad thing. We can stay optimistic, we can even have hope when things look bad for us, or when we find ourselves in really difficult situations. But to be motivated by hope, to leave our contentment in the hands of things outside of our control, we have to focus on things we have no control over.

We can hope that our situation improves but that doesn’t mean that it is going to. Instead, we can change the way we see our situation and we can have an impact on our attitude right away. The situation may or may not improve but our ability to get through the situation and maybe even learn a little something certainly can.

We can have dreams and aspirations, we can set life goals, in fact we have. But if we do not keep in mind that a good deal of the things that are required to have our dreams come true, to achieve our aspirations, or meet our goals are outside of our control.

So when we start to think that we don’t have our dream job, our dream house, or even our dream partner we need to also look honestly at the situation and think about whether or not we controlled the things we could as well as we could have or if we spent too much energy on the things that weren’t in our power to control.

If we are honest with ourselves, we’ll be a lot more comfortable accepting the reality we have over some dream version we can’t get.

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November 12

“We have reached the heights if we know what it is that we find joy in and if we have not placed our happiness in the control of externals.” – Seneca

We control internal things, our emotions, our reactions to the world, the thoughts in our minds, the words that come our of our mouths , and the actions we take. This is a fairly comprehensive list. If we can think of something we have control over that doesn’t fall into one of these categories, we should probably reevaluate either our level of control or the nature of the thing itself before thinking about adding a category.

By spending our energy on the things we can control and choosing to not spend our energy on the things we can not control, we free ourselves to consider what we can do about our own happiness in life.

When we recognize how much control we have over our own level of happiness, it frees us to do all we can to maximize our own level of contentment in life.

This will involve more of the things we can control and relying as little as possible – if at all – on the things that lie outside of our control. The less control we have over the thing, the less we should allow it to influence our lives. When we hit on being dependent only on the things we have control over, we will have arrived. At that point we can focus on maximizing our contentment in this life.

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November 11

“Men do not care how nobly they live, but only how long, although it is within the reach of every man to live nobly, but within no man’s power to live long.” – Seneca

Everything in our lives. Literally everything we could possibly want comes down to control. Knowing what we have control over and what we do not have control over is part of the equation. But identifying what we control and what we do not control is easy compared to the more important part of the equation.

The most important part of the control issue is learning to control everything we can control with unmitigated daily discipline in all areas at all times. This is also likely the hardest thing to do in life, ever. It requires us to be firm with the one person we really like to cut some slack every once in a while; ourselves.

We like to think that because we are working so hard we deserve little luxuries like sleeping in, not eating right, drinking a little more than we should, and eating some food we know we shouldn’t. Or maybe we feel we deserve big luxuries like vacations we can’t afford or cars that are more than we really need. And maybe that helps us get through the hard parts but it doesn’t make our lives better, and it doesn’t make us better people. In fact, it has quite the opposite effect.

Allowing ourselves to feel entitled to luxuries takes them out of the luxury category and makes them needs. When we start to need a drink, when we need a vacation, even when we need to sleep in, we are making a choice to be a little weaker, to deviate from the path we know we should be on. Worse than that, we are giving up control when we allow those things to rule us.

Instead we should focus on keeping ourselves disciplined. In all areas.

Because that is the path to freedom.

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November 10

“There are few men whom slavery holds fast, but there are many more who hold fast to slavery.” – Seneca

Our lifestyle in many ways, has more control over us than we do of it. We work to maintain things we need for work. We live outside of our means. We eat unhealthy food because it is more convenient. We make excuses to allow us to watch more television than is good for us. We say things like ,”It’s just on in the back ground.” And we passively allow these things to get away from us.

While at the same time, we are focused on controlling things that are firmly outside of our control. We try to accumulate more stuff, we try to make more money, we do things in order to get people to like us.

So we ignore the things we have control over, ourselves and how we spend our money and time. And we focus on the things we can’t control, how other people value us as friends and employees. For some quick examples.

We’d be better off focusing on the things we have control over, mainly ourselves. We could work on getting control over a few of the things we have allowed to slip. We could implement discipline in keeping ourselves on the right path. It will be hard and it will take a lot of discipline just staying on the path. And after just a short period of time we will look up and realize that the discipline has set us free.

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November 9

“People leave such advantages as these with reluctance. They love the reward of their hardships, but curse the hardships themselves.” – Seneca

Hard work pays off. We hear it so much that it has become one of the most over used cliches we encounter. And it is backwards. The reward that comes with the struggle is one part of it but it isn’t the most important part. Because the thing about the struggle, it’s the same as the thing about perseverance or tenacity. When we are being tenacious we don’t feel tenacious, we feel miserable. In some cases we are actually suffering.

But the suffering, the misery, that is what changes us, it makes us stronger, it helps us to endure more the next time. And this makes us better at doing the hard things in life that no one wants to do. Being better at struggling keeps us calm under pressure, and confident when things start to get away from us. We know how much we can handle, and we know that we can likely learn to handle more than we currently do.

So the next time we are thinking about the reward we will get for our hard work, we should remind ourselves to focus on the moment and enjoy the difficulty of the task we are undertaking. Because hard work makes us better at dealing with difficulty. And dealing with difficulty makes us better people.

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November 8

“A good man will not waste himself upon mean and discreditable work or be busy merely for the sake of being busy.” – Seneca

Busy. Busy. Busy. We all have so much going on. We fill our lives with so much stuff. So much of it is necessary, so many things that we have to get done.

But we are also great at filling our time with stuff we don’t actually have to do, and then we feel trapped by it.

We could look at our schedules and identify things we don’t actually need to be doing. And we could work towards cutting those things out of our lives. We could simplify our lives a little bit and only allow the things we absolutely need to do to clutter our schedules. And we could take the time that frees up and we could start to identify the things we want to be doing. And we could continue working on ourselves. Making small improvements every day.

But the thing we should all stop doing, is being busy for the sake of being busy. At the very least we can look at the busy work we fill our lives with and we can cut it out or at least cut it down. Because being busy takes away our time for reflection, and being busy takes away our ability to take advantage of opportunities that come up.

In short, being busy closes doors to us.

Let’s keep our schedules light and the doors open.

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November 7

“It is base to flinch under a burden. Wrestle with the duties which you have once undertaken. No one is brave and earnest if they avoid danger, if their spirit does not grow with the very difficulty of their task.” – Seneca

Each of us has parts of our daily lives that are difficult, even burdensome. And whether we like it or not, those are still things that have to get done. We can not avoid doing the difficult things in life unless we make ourselves comfortable with failure and stagnation. Otherwise, the difficult thing will be there waiting for us until we complete the task.

If we choose to complain our way through the difficult things we have to do in life, we’ll still be getting the things we need to complete completed. In fact, most of us do just this. We complete the things we need to complete, complaining all the while, and then we go about living our lives. The hard thing finished, but we are no better or worse for having finished it.

But that would be flinching, we wouldn’t be allowing our spirit to grow with the difficulty of our task.

If instead we took the things that we hate to do, the tasks that we consider a burden, and we made them into something that we had a good attitude about, we’d see ourselves grow a little bit. We’d at least be in a better mood. And oddly enough, we’d also see that our better mood translates to other aspects of our lives.

So let’s go do hard things with a smile and let’s watch ourselves grow as people.

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November 6

“You must be not only present in the body, but watchful in mind, if you would avail yourself of the fleeting opportunity.” – Seneca

While showing up and getting started might very well be the hardest part of any endeavor, we need to be aware that not every project we take on is going to go exactly as we anticipate. And almost none of the projects that we take on are going to end exactly the way we think they will.

If we are aware of the things we actually have control over, we already understand this but what we might be missing if we just get things started, do our part, and go with the flow is that opportunities to improve on our end goal are going to come up during our project. If we have our heads down just doing our work, we are going to miss those.

While it is important for us to be aware of the details of any project – including ourselves – along the way, we can not let the details distract us from the bigger picture. TO do that we need to be able to step back from a project both physically and mentally and see the whole picture. If we make that a habit, we will start to see options we would have missed otherwise. We do this by detaching. Detachment allows us to stay mentally present by not getting sucked into the details of any project. Especially the project we are making of ourselves.

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November 5

“The belly will not listen to advice; it makes demands, it importunes. And yet it is not a troublesome creditor; you can send it away at a small cost, provided only that you give it what you owe, not merely all you are able to give.” – Seneca

We all have needs that absolutely must be met if we are going to carry on the act of living. We need to sleep, we need to eat and drink, we need to be warm and sheltered, and we need some level of human interaction.

But all of these things can be taken too far and when we choose to take them too far they become an obstacle to becoming the people we want to be.

If we choose to sleep too much, we know what happens to us. Not only do we lose all of that time that we could have been doing something more productive but we end up more tired, sleep inertia saps our energy and we feel weak for the rest of that day.

When we over indulge in eating and drinking we not only waste food that could have been saved for another time or used to feed other people, we also push our bodies into storing food and generating toxins. We feel sick and we get fat. Both of these things get in the way of being more productive.

When we become too accustomed to our comforts and luxuries we become weak and dependent. We start to feel as if we need those things or worse, we feel entitled to them. That sense of entitlement becomes an obstacle to keeping in mind the things we can control and the things we cannot.

When we overdo our human interactions we lose our ability to be content in ourselves, our ability of self reflection gets dulled because we become too accustomed to the input of others. Worse than that, we forget that we alone understand our path and relying on the input of those around us is more a distraction than a guide.

But taken in just the right amounts, just as much as we need, these things meet our needs and give us strength to continue our journey.

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November 4

“You are better at approving the right course than at following it out. You see where the true happiness lies, but you have not the courage to attain it.” – Seneca

If we spend a few minutes on the subject, it becomes pretty clear pretty fast. We all know the things we are supposed to do. We can all probably each identify the things that we do that are holding us back, though often this takes a little more effort as we are frequently blind to the habits we have that actually harm us.

We know however, that we should eat healthy food, we should exercise, we should get enough rest. But we don’t even do those three things as often as we should. We eat convenient food, we sacrifice sleep for television or online videos, and we fit exercise into our schedule when ‘it works.’

It’s amazing how simple it would be to just do those three things. Those three simple tasks, eat the right food, make exercise a priority, and get enough sleep. But as simple as those things are, there is nothing easy about them.

How many other things are going to fall along those same lines of being simple but not easy? Finances? Relationships?

In fact, the more we simplify our lives, the more we realize that most of the valuable things in life are just that, simple but really difficult to achieve. This is probably why we spend so much time over complicating them. If we think just for a moment about how much complication goes into exercise and then look at how the Greeks – the ones who invented the Olympic games – did it, it isn’t complicated. But that doesn’t make it easy.

So let’s dedicate ourselves to doing the hard things, so long as we keep them simple.

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November 3

“You greatest difficulty is with yourself; you are your own stumbling block.” – Seneca

Success and failure will ultimately come down to control. If we spend all of our energy trying to control things that are actually external to ourselves, we will fail. We might see some immediate successes but ultimately we will fail. And the sad part is, we might not even recognize that we failed but our world view, our disposition, and ultimately our quality of life will eventually deteriorate to the point where we are constantly miserable.

We likely all see this in people that we interact with on a regular basis. The constant bad mood. The constant frustration with the world around them. The failure to find anything in life amusing or pleasant.  Do we really think that this cloud doesn’t follow those people into their homes? They live in a hell that they created by making choices not to control the things they could have controlled.

If we were to try to point that out to them, we’d be headed right down the same path.

Our job is to identify the things we can control. Our job is to make changes to take control over those things over the course of our lives. And when we do finally achieve an acceptable level of control over the things we actually have control over, we will start to see success. Maybe it won’t look like the success we think of at the moment but likely it will resemble the success we know right now enough for us to recognize it when it arrives.

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November 2

“No one is born rich. Everyone, the they first see light, is commanded to be content with milk and rags. Such is our beginning and yet, kingdoms are too small for us!” – Seneca

There is nothing wrong with having aspirations. We all should want to do a little better than we are currently doing in any facet of our lives that could possibly be improved on. Providing for ourselves and our families falls squarely into that category.

There is actually plenty wrong with settling and not doing better when we know that we could. We each have an obligation to ourselves and to those around us, and especially those that depend on us to do as well as we can in all aspects of life.

There is a big difference however, between choosing to not settle and choosing to not be content. Choosing not to settle means looking at each and every facet of our lives, identifying the areas we can control, evaluating a plan to make changes that improve those areas, and then executing that plan. That doesn’t mean that we are not grateful for what we have, it doesn’t have to mean we are not content where we are. It means that we accept that we are a constantly improving system and that we will always be able to find areas where we fall short.

But we don’t have to have strong desires, and we don’t have to want more. Wanting more is not the same as shoring up a weakness. In fact, wanting more is a weakness that should be shored up immediately.

Balancing that is the challenge.

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November 1

“It is essential to reserve a few days in which we prepare for real poverty by means of practiced poverty.” – Seneca

We could replace poverty with any of the many real or perceived hardships that life is going to throw at us along the journey.

If we want to be prepared for hardship it helps if we have at least partially experienced it before even if we create it for ourselves. And for most of the hardships we might experience in life, we can do just that. We can chose to live without the luxuries that life might take away from us one day. Even if we only do it for a few days, it makes us appreciate the things we have all the more.

We could chose any single thing we enjoy today that could be taken away from us tomorrow if our fate changes a bit and we could choose to live without it for a few days, a week, a month even. And we would see that our lives are no worse off without these things, we would at least see that we could endure without those things.

And then with practice we would learn that if we had to, we could give up a large amount of the comfort we are accustomed to in order to continue on, or even in some cases to get just a little bit ahead.

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