There are things you need to know about me. Need is probably a strong word. There are things I want to share with you that will help you get to know me better.
The first one is, I love the rain the way most people love the sun.
There’s a Garbage song, I’m Only Happy When It Rains that I love and adore (and which is also not the musical selection for today).
I love it not because of the rest of the lyrics which are a little too emo for my current reality, but because it’s the only song that really speaks to how I feel about the rain.
The second thing is, I love Stoic philosophy. I find it endlessly fascinating on so many levels. It blows my mind that issues people were talking about more than two thousand years ago are still relevant.
It highlights for me how similar human brains are and how little the way they work changes, despite the drastically different circumstances and even vast amounts of perceived time between now and then.
This brings me to the point of this episode, a two thousand(ish) year old story that I’m going to tell in my own way, but that you can check out in John Sellars’ book, Stoicism.
A Stoic philosopher and a reporter boarded a ship along with a group of other passengers. During the voyage, a brutal storm raged and tossed the ship about as rain came pouring down and waves crashed over the decks threatening to push the ship to the bottom of the ocean.
With every passing moment, the storm became more intense and the passengers grew more terrified.
While the reporter was terrified he was also curious, as reporters tend to be. He was especially curious how the Stoic philosopher would respond to the events that were terrifying everyone else. After all, Stoics were supposed to be mind management ninjas who were always chill about all the things.
He expected the philosopher to be in full Yoda mode but what he saw surprised him. The Stoic looked as terrified as everyone else.
The reporter went back to the business of not being thrown overboard and being lost at sea but when the storm stopped and everyone was reasonably sure they weren’t going to die, he went to the philosopher and asked the Stoic why he was acting like a normal human when he was supposedly able to use thought work to manage his mind about any circumstance so he could avoid those pesky feelings he didn’t want like terror.
The philosopher looked at him and laughed because clearly, the reporter was confused. The philosopher pulled out the fifth book Epictetus’ Discourses and explained that we humans don’t have control over the circumstances we encounter, we only have control over the thoughts we choose to intentionally think about them.
The thing is that we don’t have perfect control of the thoughts we unintentionally think when presented with a circumstance like a wave trying to knock us to the bottom of the ocean. That unintentional thought happens automatically but the Stoic philosopher can then recognize the unintentional thought and tell his brain to simmer down and then choose a thought they like better that gives them the feeling they’d prefer to have.
Silly reporter, being a Stoic doesn’t make you an android without an emotional processing chip (I see you Data, and all my Trekky friends). It simply gives you the option to assume control of your thoughts instead of being tossed about like a ship at sea.
Now it’s time for a little disclaimer.
First, I tell the story better - but feel free to look it up and for sure read the book because it’s awesome and I’m close to becoming a fangirl of the author.
Second, Stoics didn’t use words like managing your mind, unintentional thoughts, or intentional thoughts. Those are life coach words. They said things like impressions and assents and first movements. But they’re the same thing.
Finally, the reporter wasn’t a reporter - he was a Roman author and grammarian and neither he nor the philosopher knew about Data.
So why am I telling you a two-thousand-year-old action-adventure story?
Because it’s a great illustration of the neutrality of circumstances and the opportunity we all have to challenge what our brains initially offer us and decide for ourselves what we want to think.
If waves are crashing down around you metaphorically rather than literally, you can for sure think you’re going to die and it’s scary and ohmygosh all the things and you probably will. It’s completely natural to have that moment of panic and unintentional thoughts.
But the cool thing about your brain is that you get to choose if you want to keep thinking those thoughts that lead you to an emo breakdown or if you want to choose a different thought that allows you to move forward intentionally.
Today’s episode is accompanied by the song Flood from Jars of Clay.
Rain rain on my face
It hasn't stopped raining for days
My world is a flood
Slowly I become one with the mud
But if I can't swim after forty days
And my mind is crushed by the thrashing waves
Lift me up so high that I cannot fall
Lift me up
Lift me up - When I'm falling
Lift me up - I'm weak and I'm dying
Lift me up - I need you to hold me
Lift me up - Keep me from drowning again
Down pour on my soul
Splashing in the ocean I'm losing control
Dark sky all around
I can't feel my feet touching the ground
Lift me up
If you had the ability to choose any thought you want when the world comes crashing down around you - or when normal annoyances like a flat tire, annoying boss, jerk at work, boyfriend who forgets your birthday, or child who has a tantrum in the middle of the store - would you do it? Would you want this Stoic superpower of choosing your thoughts intentionally so you experience the world however you want? I totally would - and do. What are the top three thoughts you’d replace and what would you love to replace them with?
Spend time with these questions and see what comes up. If you’re feeling frisky, hit me up on Instagram and share your answers with me. If you want help choosing new thoughts, I’d love to work with you. You can contact me at www.wickedveracity.com/consult
Until next time, my wish for you is an intentional thought that lifts you up and puts you back in control with your feet on the ground.