21 July 2013

Reflections On Stress

Earlier this month, I went out in the muggy Missouri heat and climbed the big mound at Cahokia. Cars sped down the road, and the heat was impressive for someone who has avoided the Mississippi River Valley for the past seven or eight years.

I waited for a break in the traffic and crossed. It took a few minutes to figure out where the path to the summit went, and I started to ascend the stairs as a young couple walked down. No one was ascending at the same time. The distance to the top was 9 FitBit flights of stairs, but the mugginess made the flights linger. At the top, I followed a dragonfly along the path until it stopped.

No one was there for a few minutes. I made an offering, first to ancestors in general, and then to the Heroines. I stood there, perspiring, and started to walk back down the summit just as a horde of different groups of people started coming up. 

The break in activity had been a blessing from the Gods.

The next part of my trip was intense. Thunderstorms canceled the evening flights from St. Louis to essentially every runway on the East Coast. Mine was one of the last to get canceled, so I ended up stranded in the airport. (If this ever happens to you, gate C16 has no armrests between the seats.) Did you know that people polish the floors with heavy equipment at 2:30 AM?

The scariest part was my certainty that I would have no food at all. I hadn’t planned for thunderstorm cancellations, and due to food sensitivities, I cannot eat most of the food in airports. My mood improved considerably at 5 AM when I found a bag of heavily marked up gluten-free plantains and an orange.

I would love to say that, as a religious blogger and as someone who heartily approves of and appreciates Stoicism, I bore it all with grace and a level head. It was not one of my better moments. I started wondering if the thunderstorms were some kind of sign from Zeus that I had screwed up. My thoughts flashed to stress hormones and how the experience was probably screwing up my cortisol, which only made me more stressed out. I called my mom and told her my situation. She was “helpful” and gave me many hotel phone numbers, which only made me more stressed out. All of the hotels were booked.

I am not at a point where I can remain in equilibrium at all times. I don’t know that I need to be, but I think that there are certain benefits of approaching things with mindfulness and without jumping into a flight-or-fight response.

Things got better after I landed in Connecticut.

I think it’s good to have situations of piety juxtaposed with conditions of extreme stress, because these situations strip away everything we like to say about ourselves and leave us more cognizant of how far we have to go before we move in equilibrium with the Gods and with our human needs. What happened in St. Louis informed a lot of my choices as I sat down to write an Edit list, a grouping of things I want more of and less of in my life. 

A more studious approach to philosophy, a stress on my relationship with the Athanatoi, and an embrace of discomfort were all things on my Edit list.

As a start, I am going to delve deeper into philosophy by taking a Coursera on mathematical philosophy soon. I am hoping to stretch my comfort zone, and I think this course will be excellent for a recommitment to Stoic values and practices. Next time my routine becomes heavily disrupted, I’ll be ready with Epictetus and extra cans of sardines.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Glad that your trip to Missouri was successful. Remembering Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius' teaching has definitely helped me in times of stress.