I was talking to a friend the other day who has also gone through a divorce and we were joking that it all comes down to two boxes. It’s both funny and tragic.
As I packed up all my belongings, sorted through what needed to be sorted through, gave what I no longer needed to charity, all that was staring back at me was two boxes.
That’s it, twenty years of marriage, and a twenty-four year relationship came down to two boxes. Half of my life, and I am left asking “Surely I own more than that?”
To comfort myself, I did what I often do, “What would Marcus say?”
Marcus Aurelius was a Roman emperor, a Stoic philosopher and a warrior. Marcus was one of those guys you could really look up to, and while he observed a fastidious nature and an intellect sculpted by a rule driven reason, you never got the impression that he felt he always had his shit together. Much of his writings are drawn from his own personal experience. It’s really him trying to make sense of his world. I think this is why what he wrote in 161-180 AD still resonates with people, because the problems he faced then, are the same problems we face in our own lives today. Personal anguish hasn’t changed much over the centuries.
As one chapter of my life comes to an end, and another begins. Marcus reminds me that, when arising in the morning “think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.”
While there are important memories in those two boxes, the most important and cherished memories remain inside me. The memory of my eldest son Egan deciding at two that all motorbikes should be called ‘muckets.’ The memory of listening to my youngest son Tobynn playing the guitar while signing in his room, and the subsequent feeling of tears welling up in my eyes thinking, “Wow, his good”.
Change is always hard.
Having now to redefine my life, and to find new purpose is going to take time. But, as Marcus notes, “Loss is nothing else but change, and change is Nature‘s delight.” It’s in the natural order for things not to stay the same. Sometimes, we have to let go in order to find that which we were really looking for, and longing for in the first place. As they say, when one chapter closes, a new one can be written. I am writing that new chapter right now, and as as such, the story can go anyway I choose.
And that’s the thing, I get to choose.
As much as it is easy to harbor resentment towards someone else, to feel bitterness towards the situation one finds oneself in, it still comes down to choosing how we want to respond. To be enveloped in anger is to destroy oneself. As Marcus notes, “How much more grievous are the consequences of anger than the causes of it.” These consequences are how we often allow our anger to live and grow inside of us.
THE HAPPY LIFE
This is where Marcus makes one of his most valuable contributions, “Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.” It’s not what is happening to us externally that causes our suffering, but rather how we attach to it, how we interpret it on the inside, that does. In other words, our thoughts become our reality.
Now, I don’t take what Marcus has to say as suggesting to think happy thoughts while the sky is falling down around us. Rather, I see a pragmatic view of dealing with problems. Just as I can think to hate the situation I find myself in, I can also choose to accept where I find myself right now. This doesn’t necessarily change the situation, which is fucked up, but at least I have accepted it for what it is, and from that point of view I can make rational, decisive steps that are in my control.
This is just my take, but telling yourself to think happy thoughts when you find yourself in a really bad situation doesn’t make things better. In fact, in my experience it makes things worse. Happy thoughts will backfire, because the thought will be misaligned with how you are actually feeling. When thoughts and emotions are not aligned, they have a tendency to make you feel even worse. Maybe you will feel slightly better for a brief moment by lying to yourself to be happy when you are not, but it will backfire soon enough.
Acceptance on the others hand, is not only underrated, but never acknowledged for the power it has. Some situations cannot be changed, but I can find a way to accept it for what it is, and in turn focus on what I am able to do.
Acceptance = a rational mind, whilst happy thoughts + a shit situation = self defeating.
As Marcus reminds us all, “You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”
Marcus is right, “Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.” The only way I have found that works, is by accepting exactly where I am.