30 November 2013

Stoic Week Update

Other than the terrifying shooter scare on Monday, Stoic Week has gone fairly well.

I have not always done the exercises at midday (but I have done them in the evenings when the midday pause doesn’t happen, like on Thanksgiving), and one of the things I find difficult about the morning and evening reflections is the lack of structure. I struggle with it because, for the past year and a half, I have managed my days with a calendar. It is hard to get in the frame of mind of pausing because half of my mind says, “Isn’t this type of thing already represented in the day? Why do we have to think about it  more?”

On Wednesday, I prayed to Hermês before leaving my apartment to arrive at my destinations unharmed. Immersing myself in Stoicism has taught me that painting my prayers in broad, easily-fulfilled strokes is better than asking for no delays (especially on Amtrak!) and uncomplicated travel. At Penn Station, the woman moved us down the escalator to the platform too quickly. There was a bottleneck at the bottom. I had not realized that this could happen, but I dutifully worked hard to get off to avoid injury for myself and for the people behind me.

Taking the train means traveling to Syracuse, which has a perpetual cyclone of snow and winter mix around it at this time of year. The train, however, can manage weather more easily than a bus. Amtrak was, as usual, about 30 minutes late on arrival. Bad weather on the way to my mom’s house from the train station meant that we did have a small, albeit nonzero, risk of an accident. I did anticipate things not going to plan during the morning exercises, and I think that the conscious realization of the winter weather travel risks made the journey much more manageable.

I think that these types of reflections are excellent for the holiday season, especially because nerves with family can run short. Stoic Week has helped me actualize a lot of ideas that I have held for a while (as my dance with Stoic philosophy has gone on for at least two years). Among these is the idea that our time here is impermanent, so we should relish time with family and friends as much as possible without attachment.

My mother is two years away from 60. My father (who lives elsewhere, and whom I do not see often) is in his early 60s. For them, health has become a complicated dance. My father has cholesterol numbers lower than 100, which his physician says is great but which I know actually increases his risk of cardiac arrest. (Seriously. Look in PubMed.) My mother has experienced many exercise-related injuries (not to mention the foot problems that come from a lifetime of wearing high heels for extra height), but is otherwise healthy. One sister, who lives at my mom’s house with her boyfriend and eight-month-old girl, butts heads with me constantly about things such as weaning her baby too early and hiding in the back part of the house with her boyfriend. It might be normal for them, but as I am only here once in a while, my general expectation is that people will make an effort to be congenial even if they are not feeling up to it. The other sister and I used to have a bad relationship, but it has improved dramatically over the past year or two.

I think that the best takeaway from the Stoic exercises as they relate to family stuff is the idea that we cannot control others’ behavior and that we need to check our emotions if they become too intense. If everyone practiced that during the holiday season, family gatherings would doubtless become more bearable for everyone — but even if one is the only one applying Stoic practices, it does make a difference. This holiday vacation has been much less stressful for me than previous ones, and I am finding that my family is much more enjoyable.

Of course, I am also flirting with Neoplatonism at the same time. I have Tim Addey’s The Unfolding Wings: The Way of Perfection in the Platonic Tradition in my purse for reading on the train ride back to New Haven tomorrow.


Anonymous said...

Glad you had a nice trip.


Chas S. Clifton said...

Amtrak in the snow is still better than an airplane, I say, having traveled from Baltimore to Colorado during the pre-Thanksgiving storm.

Kaye said...

Chas » True! That's why I take the train in winter whenever possible.