Control the Things You can Control - A Stoic's Guide to 2020
At the start of this year, I started reading Ryan Holiday’s book, The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on wisdom, perseverance, and the art of living, and soon started journaling in the accompanying Daily Stoic Journal. There’s so much wisdom in Stoic philosophy, which focuses on helping people live their best possible lives. While I had no idea at the start of the year how the wisdom perspective of the ancient stoic philosophers would be relevant to my life in April, 2020, I am grateful to have this perspective to draw on in this trying time.
Ryan Holiday recently wrote a piece on focusing on what you can control, at this time of crisis with COVID-19.
Ryan writes that the most important practice in Stoic philosophy is differentiating between what we can change and what we can’t. Quoting the ancient Stoic, Epictetus:
“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own…” — Epictetus, Discourses, 2.5.4–5
With the increasingly restrictive government directives and regulations surrounding what we can and can’t do, in response to the constantly changing landscape brought about by COVID-19, we may feel that we have very little control in our lives at the present time. However, we can always choose how we respond. We can always choose what we do in response to the situation we find ourselves in.
A powerful example of how recognising we can always control how we respond is found in famous Auschwitz survivor, Victor Frankl. As a young Austrian psychiatrist finding himself in a Nazi concentration camp, Frankl decided to find meaning in the atrocity of Auschwitz. As a doctor, he began caring for other prisoners, helping them find purpose as much as any limited medical assistance he could provide. So connected did Frankl become to his personal mission in the concentration camp, when an opportunity to escape presented itself, Frankl turned back and remained in the camp, because he decided that the other prisoners needed him, more than he needed his freedom. After surviving Auschwitz, Frankl wrote about his experience in the book, Man’s search for meaning, published in 1946, and with over 10 million copies sold. He went on to develop a system of therapy called Logotherapy, which is based around finding meaning in our lives.
Here are a couple of thought-provoking quotes from Man’s search for meaning:
“The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.”
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Tips to keep moving forward
Building psychological immunity (as well as physical) is critical to wellbeing and resilience. Here’s a few tips to help you move forward towards the best life you can live at this time:
- Keep moving. While we can’t go to the gym or swimming pool, we can continue to exercise. Whether it be walking or taking part in an online movement program, we can find a way to stay active. Exercise is therapeutic, contributing to overall wellbeing as well as improvements in energy and mood.
- Meditate. Engaging in regular meditation is invaluable for getting ourselves out of our worrying minds. Coming to the present moment, and grounding ourselves in our senses, can be a powerful antidote to a mind full of media news stories, plus our mind’s own stories (and replays) about the problems we are facing.
I am offering online meditation sessions with details below. Here is a link to a short practice from one of these sessions, a short meditation focused on bringing us back to the present moment through grounding ourselves in our senses:
- Access online resources. There are so many great online programs that have been developed, and many more appearing all the time. Here’s a few I highly recommend:
- Ten Percent Happier, has put together a wonderful set of free resources that provide practical ways of coping with stress, fear, and anxiety. There’s a great collection of meditations, podcasts, blog posts, and talks here. There is also a daily meditation break with leading meditation teachers hosted by founder of TPH, Dan Harris, and you can access this program at tenpercent.com/live.
- Daily Stoic is where you can find words of wisdom from Ryan Holiday as he synthesises the philosophy of the ancient Stoics.
- Sharon Salzberg a leading meditation teacher who has contributed greatly to bringing meditation to the West, has produced a survival guide and free lovingkindness meditation here.
- The Peter Attia Drive podcast has some excellent podcasts (in general) from an intelligent and articulate medical doctor, Peter Attia, on living well and longer. Recent podcasts include interviews with leading medical specialists involved in the fights against the coronavirus, as well as inspiring interviews with thought leaders, including Sam Harris talking on ‘Comprehending the crisis and managing our emotions’, and Ryan Holiday on ‘Finding stillness amidst chaos’
Individual Psychology Online Sessions
Psychology is regarded as an essential service by the Australian government, and as such I am continuing to provide face-to-face psychological counselling at the present time, following all the protocols for health providers to prevent transmission of the virus. Any client attending a face-to-face session is required to confirm they have not travelled overseas recently and have no symptoms of illness.
I also offer telehealth (online or phone) psychology sessions for all individuals who are not able to physically attend a session. The majority of private health funds have agreed to provide coverage for telehealth psychology appointments during the COVID-19 outbreak.
In addition, the Australian government has demonstrated its recognition of the importance of mental health services at this unprecedented time by making available bulk-billed telehealth (online or phone) psychology services to all eligible Australians between now and September 30. Individuals who meet the existing eligibility requirements for Medicare-rebatable psychology services are now able to receive these services by telehealth if clinically appropriate.
If you would like to book a psychology appointment, or discuss your options for an appointment, please contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Online Meditation Classes
9:30am to 11am Fridays.
Extended meditation practices to calm the mind and relax the body, plus discussion on how to apply meditation and mindfulness into our lives.
Cost: $25 for an individual. ($15 for a second family member in attendance). Payments for online attendance can be made via bank transfer and you can pay for a single session or for a block of your choosing. Email Sue at email@example.com to book your spot and all details including Zoom link and payment options will be sent to you.
6pm – 7pm Thursdays.
Led meditation practices that focus on calming our mind and nervous system, and letting go of the worrying thoughts that will likely be part of our day-to-day living in this tumultuous time.
Cost $15 per class. Payments for online attendance can be made via bank transfer and you can pay for a single session or for a block of your choosing. Email Sue at firstname.lastname@example.org to book your spot and for all details including Zoom link and payment options.