It’s no exaggeration to say that meditation is the most valuable tool I know of. But it didn’t always feel that way. In fact, my meditation practice was spotty for years, simply because I got into a wrestling match with my mind every time I sat down, and thought that there was something wrong with that.
Of course, being put off meditation because your mind protests is like being put off exercise because your muscles do. That’s what’s supposed to happen, especially in the beginning.
Meditation doesn’t always feel wonderful. The more we make that clear, the less we risk discouraging newcomers, who were expecting a stream of endless bliss, instead of a mind that sometimes feels even more hyperactive than before. Understanding that meditation is a process gives them the best chance of discovering what it can bring to their lives.
The struggle is that the mind that knows that meditation is good for you, is the same mind that doesn’t want to stop thinking. This part of the mind doesn’t like meditation, in fact, it hates it, simply because meditation subdues its very purpose; thinking…
We could all use a little help achieving our goals from time to time, even if that help comes from the wisdom of a man born almost 2000 years ago. No, not that man. I’m talking about Epictetus, one of the most renowned Stoics in history:
The great stoic Epictetus put forth his “dichotomy of control” illustrating that the world is divided into things that are in our control (thoughts, emotions, and actions) and things that are out of our control (possessions, looks, or privilege).
If you carefully differentiate the things that are in your control from the things that are not, you influence the things that are in your control to make your life the way you visualize it. You also stop worrying about things that are not under your control. You come to realize how pointless it is and that saves you a great deal of time and energy.
"You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending."
Speaking of Buddhism, here’s a really fascinating “compare and contrast” between buddhism and stoicism from Non Zero and Massimo Pigliucci. I had no idea there was so much overlap between the two:
…for Stoics, suffering and unhappiness are derived from the fact that we have fundamental misconceptions about the nature of reality, and in particular, we do not take seriously the so-called “dichotomy of control,” which is that some things are, you know, up to us, and other things are not up to us, and that we should focus our efforts on the things that actually are under our control.
And “under our control,” turns out, is only our behavior, our values, and our judgments–everything else is outside, and you should treat it as “an indifferent”, indifferent to your ability to live a good life, a life that is worth living.
What is the self? As with any complex and slippery concept, we can draw on literally thousands of years worth of philosophical discussions in both the eastern and western traditions to address the question. But perhaps it will be simpler to begin with two contrasting definitions from a dictionary:
A fascinating look at the stoic’s concept of the self from IAI.