Practical Stoicism
Practical Stoicism

Episode 8 · 7 months ago

Training yourself to pay attention

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

This week we'll be working through the 7th meditation from book 2 of Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. "But make sure you guard against the other kind of confusion. People who labor all their lives but have no purpose to direct every thought and impulse toward are wasting their time - even when hard at work." Meditations: A New Translation (the book I read these meditations from) --> [link]

Hello and welcome back to another episode of practical stoicism. I've got some coffee here with me. This one's going to be a little bit longer, not too long, I hope. I'm going to try to keep the short format, but this is a pretty deep one and it's one of my favorites. Actually, I hope it becomes one of yours. At the outset I've got a quick favorite ask and thank you to all of you who have already done this. Many of you have, and I appreciate that greatly. This podcast is now receiving around five hundred downloads per episode in the First Week of release, which is really amazing. Here's the favor. If you are appreciating what's going on here, what we together are doing here, the learning and the teaching and, most importantly, the learning together that's happening, I would really appreciate it if you would leave a review on apple podcasts, spotify podcasts or podchasercom. I've said this before. It doesn't really help me grow, but it does help people who see the podcast for the first time decide that it might be a good idea to hit play, seeing something that's got currently we...

...have four point nine stars. Seeing a podcast with a high rating is more likely to encourage somebody to hit play. So if you haven't done that yet and you feel as though it's worth doing if you feel the podcast is worth review from you, I would really appreciate it if you did now. Today we're going to work through meditation number seven from Book Two of the Meditations, which is what we've been working through. Remember, seventeen parts series, so we've got quite a few more to go before we get to book three. And here is that meditation. Do external things distract you, then make time for your self to learn something worth while. Stop letting yourself be pulled in all directions, but make sure you guard against that other kind of confusion. People who labor all their lives but have no purpose to direct every thought and impulse toward are wasting their time. I don't like to speak for other people, but I think that it's fair to say that external things distract every single one of us from time to time, and there's no crime in this. Even as far as the stoics were concerned, they did not expect of the Procopton that they should be impervious to distraction, only that they should work towards...

...becoming impervious to distraction. And now that is the first time I've used that word, so I'm going to take a moment to describe it or to define it. A PROCOPTON is a STOIC who is on the path to becoming a sage. Now, it is true that the stoics would have expected a sage to be impervious to distractions, but it's also true, and made clear in many stoic texts, that the expectation of anyone actually achieving sage status, so to speak, is near nil. Nobody's ever expecting you to get there. It's an ideal that you work towards, not one that you're expected to get to. Like, for example, in karate you might be expected to, over a certain period of time, receive a certain degree of black belt. It's not like that. In stoicism. The assumption is that you will always be a varying level of skilled procopton and that you will realize that, and we'll talk about that in future meditations, but that you'll realize that and you will just continue to work towards becoming a sage one day, hopefully, but...

...probably not. There is another word that is tied closely to the PROCOPTON's work and to this meditation in particular. And that word is prosecut now I don't know if I'm pronouncing that exactly correct I don't have a tongue for Greek. I don't speak, read or write Greek. I am relying on Chris Fisher's pronunciation of the word in his excellent stoicism podcast, which is called stoicism on fire. But in short, even if I'm saying it wrong, prosegates how I will say it, and it means roughly to pay attention or to focus. And more specifically it is the practice of honing the skill to pay attention to what is going on currently and to block out other things. I have mentioned in previous episodes how very similar to eastern philosophies, Zen Buddhism, for example, stoicism can seem at times. This is one of those times. If you've ever done a meditation retreat, maybe you have, maybe you haven't. No judgments there either way, but in meditation retreat you're taught to quiet the mind, to when your mind expels something out, like a thought, you recognize that thought and you quiet that thought and you continue to try to...

...focus in a way that, when thoughts come up, you dismiss them after recognizing them and eventually, after some practice, these invasive thoughts reduce in frequency and hopefully eventually, if you ever become a stage, cease to happen at all. So there's a similarity here. So back to Stoicism, because that's what this podcast is about. You and I are STOIC procoptons and we will likely never be sages, and so distraction is something that will always be vulnerable to. However, by working on our ability to focus and pay attention, we can be increasingly better percoptons and increasingly less distracted. Returning to the meditation, make time for yourself to learn something worthwhile. Stop letting yourself be pulled in all directions. Now, what I'm about to tell you is not a secret. It's a personal thing about me that I'm fairly open about, but I have never mentioned it in this podcast, at least I don't think I have. I am formally diagnosed as Adhd. Now that's a relatively new diagnosis within the last five years, and I am unmedicated by choice. I was...

...medicated for a while. I was on riddling and then I was on adderall, thirty milligram extended release, and there was a way that this medication made me feel where I thought the tradeoff for what that medication brought me versus the side effects that it brought with it just wasn't worth it to me. It was better for me to just say, okay, I'm adhd, I'm going to have to deal with some extra challenges here, and I would prefer to deal with those challenges, quote unquote, in the raw then be medicated and have these other things arise which are not natural parts of my character or my behavior. That's my view of it. If you're Adhd, this is certainly not a statement of Judgment. You do what's best for you. The reason I am bringing it up is because my adhd makes the first portion of this meditation really speak to me. I am constantly, by my own mind, naturally pulled in all directions, probably more than most people, in fact certainly more than people who are not adhd. It is incredibly difficult for me to...

...choose one thing and to dedicate myself to it so that I might learn it well and, through it, become more useful. As an example, I would love to learn a foreign language, something like Spanish, German or French in particular. But when I sit down to do these things, and especially during moments where I feel as though I'm doing poorly at learning and, for example, a language, my brain actively pulls me away from a state of Prosecay, away from focus. It is easier, I think, adhd or not, to split one's focus up into many different things so that we don't have to work hard on things for too long a period of time, than it is to stay focused on and committed to the difficult things. I think when you have Adhd, as I do, it's even harder, but I think it's hard for everyone. I have wanted to learn a foreign language for more than five years, easily, probably ten years, and I haven't. I look at that past five or ten years now and I think that was definitely long enough. And now I'm almost forty. Will I put it off for another five or ten years, because then I'll be forty five or fifty,...

...and then I'll be fifty five or sixty, and then will I want to learn Spanish anymore? Well, I care anymore, and me personally, I think a lot about how much more useful I might be, how much more opportunity might arise, naturally, for me if I buckled down for two years to become not fluent, of course, but at least proficient in Spanish, which in two years you could certainly do. Now, of course, you specifically may not have an interest in learning to speak another language, but perhaps you've been wanting to write a book, write a song, create an album of music, plant to garden, get into better shape, or maybe even learn a programming language. Whatever your thing might be, and maybe there are many of them, there's no doubt one of them, or though, one of them where you've made some sort of effort but you haven't made any real progress and you don't stay focused on it for long enough. You're easily distracted from it, probably because it's hard and maybe because you feel you don't have time. But how much better, how much more fulfilling, would your life be if you were making progress towards whatever that one thing is, or...

...those two things are, if it is gardening, because I think that's a pretty common example, especially as we get older. I don't know if it's this way for you, but I'm becoming more and more interested in learning how to grow things. It helps that my neighbors have cute little planter boxes in their front yards and are growing peppers and cucumbers and squash all the time and giving them to me and me thinking, Oh, this is cool, I wish I could do this, this seems kind of neat. Well, imagine if that was your thing. Think about the serenity that might be brought into your life if you did focus on doing that, if you made a little bit of progress this week towards that thing. You just went and bought some wood so that next weekend you could build the boxes, for example, and week over week you eventually get to having your little garden boxes and then it's time to buy soil and then it's time to buy seeds and then it's time to actually start learning. But you're putting a consistent, focused effort into this. Fast forward three months and you're harvesting some peppers or whatever fruit or vegetable you would care to grow. Do you think that might change Ange the way...

...you feel about your life in generally? If you did that, I think it would create some new emotions, allow for some satisfaction and fulfillment that's not currently there. But distractions can keep us, can keep you, can keep me away from doing these things, away from making progress, and so in this way, distractions are the enemy of our happiness, and we must learn to minimize them, to practice prosecut more intentionally and effectively, lest a major part of our happiness, which I really prefer to call contentment more than happiness, should never be realized. And here comes the second half of the meditation and the other side of the coin, and Marcus is well aware of this. But make sure you guard against that other kind of confusion. People who labor all their lives but have no purpose to direct every thought and impulse towards, they are wasting their time, even when hard at work. If you've ever read a book on Productivity, you're likely familiar with this paradoxical idea that when you work less, you actually get more done. It's maybe somewhat related to all your good ideas for some reason happen in the shower, or all...

...the good comebacks you think of happen six days later when you're in the showering, or like. I should have said that there's something to be said about giving our brains arrest so that it has time to recharge. And then the problem we were having a difficult time finding a solution to. Suddenly the solution arises as we rinse soap out of our hair right we're like, oh well, that's obvious. How in the world that I not think of that before? Now, if you're listening to this and you're an American, as I am, and I realize not all of you are, but I'm going to speak to the American experience here for a moment and maybe it will apply to others who are listening who don't live in this country, Americans tie a lot of value to work ethic, and I'm sure other countries do as well, but at least from my experience, Americans are really about working and right alongside that, Americans tie work ethic most frequently and most strongly, I think, to the laboring part of work more than they do the thinking part of work. As an example I think most people will understand and possibly identify with, if two men were told to dig a ditch, let's say that ditch is...

...a mile long, and the first man did it in a pair of jeans and a t shirt, with nothing but a pick axe and a wheelbarrow and a shovel, and he took all day to do it, you would be very impressed with his work ethic. You'd be impressed at his grit and determination or hers. Americans will know the story of Paul Bunyan and at the end of Paul Bunyan there's this challenge. Or maybe even John Henry. It's a similar story, but at the end of Paul Bunyan he has to out chop an automatic chopper, a gasoline operated magical machine that will cut wood as fast or faster than Paul Bunyan, the lumberjack. At the end of those two stories, Paul Bunyan and John Henry, one chopping wood and the other laying railroad track and being replaced by machinery, we don't really feel great about the machines. We look at those men and we think, Gosh, what hard working, amazing strong men, and I don't have anything against anyone who would feel that way. I feel that way when I look at people who work hard and do an amazing job. It's incredible to me if the second man...

...in our ditch digging scenario here were a suit and a tie and dug the ditch in a back hoe, sitting in an air condition cab and never breaking a sweat. You would agree that the end result was the same. We have a one mile long, one foot deep ditch and they're both great, but you wouldn't admire that second man as much as the first psychologically. There's a lot more going on here as to why that would be the case, why you would admire the person who did it themselves, got their hands dirty and put in the physical effort verse the Guy who were a suit and tie, broke no sweat and did it with a machine. There's more going on here than just one person worked hard and one persons sat at an air condition cab. But for the purposes of what I'm talking about here, we're not going to discuss those other things. They're there, I know they are. Don't get upset. What I'm getting at is that we as Americans, truly appreciate and admire those who toil verse those who do not. When a man or a woman struggles physically to achieve something, we feel better about those people than we do the people who achieve things with ease or who achieve things other...

...than through the sweat of their brow. Now, Marcus is certainly a fan of toiling towards an important goal, but he's not necessarily a fan, in fact not at all a fan of toiling for the sake of toiling, which is what he's getting at here in the second part of this meditation. There are people who think that because they are sweating, they are making progress. It's very, very easy to mistake work for progress. You've probably heard that expression before, or because they have their nos ever at the grindstone, that they are ever focused. But this isn't true. If you are working but you are not working towards something meaningful, then you are only working, and work for the sake of work is a distraction from identifying and working towards meaningful things. Tying this back to a previous meditation in this series, you are going to die. You have a very limited amount of time where you are both intelligent enough, physically capable enough and driven enough to realize whatever your full...

...potential is. A child cannot climb Mount Everest, but neither can a ninety year old man, but also neither can a fifty year old man who has lost his drive. But children, middle aged men and old men and women, of course, are always able to work all day and to be distracted from those greater ambitions, and many do exactly that, but not you, not the STOIC Percopton, which is what you are, and you know that now you are just starting out on your path. You have your drive, you're learning and you're capable right now of making the effort, so pay attention. I want to thank you for listening to this episode of practical stoicism. I appreciate you spending some of your weekend, some of your day with me. Whenever you're listening. If you're enjoying the show, please consider leaving in a review on apple podcast, spotify podcast or on pod chase ercom. If you have questions for the show, shoot me an email. Tanner at tennor helps calm. Maybe you're going through something specific. I'd love to help if...

I can. Anyway, thanks again for listening and until next time, take care.

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