3. The question which I ponder most of all is this; if the body can be trained to such a degree of endurance that it will stand the blows and kicks of several opponents at once and to such a degree that a person can last out the day and resist the scorching sun in the midst of the burning dust, drenched all the while with their own blood, – if this can be done, how much more easily might the mind be toughened so that it could receive the blows of Fortune and not be conquered, so that it might struggle to its feet again after it has been laid low, after it has been trampled under foot?
For although the body needs many things in order to be strong, yet the mind grows from within, giving to itself nourishment and exercise. Yonder athletes must have copious food, copious drink . . . and long training besides; but you can acquire virtue without equipment and without expense. All that goes to make you a good person lies within yourself.
Today is a good day. I’m back to my routine. I got to bed at a decent hour last night, and I slept till I wasn’t tired anymore. I got up, got my exercise and breakfast, and now I get to sit and write for a couple of hours till I head in to the office. I get to listen to my music — a slow groove on Pandora — and just settle into the flow of thoughts for a while. Uninterrupted by all the excitement that’s bound to happen, later.
It’s encouraging. But it’s also discouraging. The low I’ve been in, for the past couple of weeks, has dragged me down in ways that don’t exactly speak to my Stoic commitment. And I’ve felt as vexed by the slings and arrows of the world, of late, as I was once indifferent to them — flush as I was with my Stoic resolve. My father has been ill. I’ve traveled back and forth to my parents’ place, twice in the past 2 months. Work has been crazy and irritating. My partner’s health has been up-and-down. I got a nasty case of poison ivy and have been on meds that have made me much more volatile than usual. My aunt died. I’ve been off my routine. My diet has shifted (from the travel). I haven’t been able to swim for the past 2 weeks, thanks to the travel and the poison ivy. I’m all discombobulated. Turned around and tired.
Kind of the perfect storm for an autistic person like me.
But none of this should matter to me, quite frankly. None of it. It’s not just a new Stoic ideal — it’s always been my ideal. My goal has always been: to be indifferent to external conditions, and continue on with sound mind (and body), keeping to my path, regardless of what’s going on around me. Keeping up with my reading. Keeping up with my writing. Staying the course of equanimity, regardless.
I know, I know… easier said than done. But still. That’s how I feel.
And it occurs to me, as I read the Stoics, these days, that some of what they say needs to be put in context, in order to be useful. And certain parts of their philosophy need to be disregarded. Namely, their emphasis on the mind, rather than the body. I’ve read some passages, where Stoics (can’t remember which, but it’s been more than one) have admonished their friends/readers/followers to pay less attention to the body and more to the mind. To not put a lot of emphasis on physical fitness, but focus wholly on the mind.
In the context of their time and place — ancient Greece / Rome, long before there were cars and gadgets and machines to do everything for them/us — there was no lack of opportunity to get your exercise. Go for a good walk. Lift and carry things. Expend some energy. Not everything was made of a featherlight composite that was as durable as it was light. Not everything was handled for them by a machine. Yes, some of them had slaves who did things for them. And some of them had litters they could ride in. But getting through life wasn’t a simple matter of figuring out which button to push, to get the thing / result you wanted.
Nowadays, we’re living under very different conditions. And actually, if you want to train your mind, you have to keep your body going, as well. More and more research correlates a sound body with a sound mind. And I can definitely tell that my mind is not working as well as it could, when I haven’t been exercising properly… like for the past couple of weeks.
As much as I’d like to think my state of mind is completely independent from my physical state, science tells us otherwise. And my experience does, too. So, I can’t take the Stoics too seriously, when they laud the mind over the body. Both of them have to work together — and that’s never more obvious than when I’m regarding my autistic experience. Autism is such a physical phenomenon, for me. And for many others. We’re wired. We’re connected in ways that many neurotypicals aren’t (and don’t understand). Sensitive. Like we’re cats covered with whiskers that pick up on everything around us and send continuous streams of signals to our sensitive systems.
Info overload. It takes a special kind of relationship to the rest of the world, to manage it. And that special relationship, for me, includes a healthy dose of exercise, to tame the physiological reactiveness and “reset” my sensors at the beginning of each day.
When I take good care of my body, my mind follows suit. And I can actually attain that state of divine indifference I cherish. Actually, when I think of it, I shouldn’t even cherish that state. It shouldn’t make any difference to me. Which is yet another paradox — the most valued state is one that can’t possibly value itself. So, the minute I start feeling smooth and groovy about my indifferent state, I know I’ve slipped out of it. The only way I know it’s “working”, is if I don’t have any awareness of it at all.
Well, anyway, I’ve got another hour before I need to start my daily hustle. I’m back on my schedule — not that it should matter — and I’m feeling more like myself — not that it should affect me — and life is good — not that it should make any difference. I’m learning as I go, noticing the most interesting things.
And that’s about the most I can ask for, at any given point in time.
So, there ’tis. All grist for the mill.