“Let not future things disturb you, for you will come to them, if it shall be necessary, having with you the same reason which you now use for present things.”Marcus Aurelius
I am tired of reaction. I grow weary of anticipating disaster. I do not want to cease thinking rationally, but would like to avoid conflating rationalism with toxic self-protection. Hypervigilance — the mainstay of PTSD — has gotten me nowhere. In fact, it has caused me much misery. I would like to release it. My watch has ended. I cannot avoid pain by searching for it in every word or action.
What has it brought me that is worth keeping? Anxiety, fear, distraction, miscommunication — pushing people away out of fear of being left, a fear of loss so overwhelming, I convinced myself I’d rather be alone. Or tried to, at least.
I do not want to be alone.
Here’s the thing, however — we’re always alone. In our heads, we’re alone. In our bodies, we spend our lives alone. (For women, this is a bit murkier, with children and lovers taken into account.) But we are born alone and we die alone. Why would the middle be any different?
But are we?
I think of life as one long trek through the darkness. We feel our way along, never truly knowing where we are going, periodically reaching out to the space around us to make a connection. The human animal is so lost without the warmth of another of its kind. This is not weakness. It gives us strength.
Men exist for the sake of one another: Teach them then, or bear with them.”Marcus Aurelius.
Aurelius wrote extensively of the interconnected nature of all: humans, nature, the cosmos. Humans are individuals, each a singular light unlike any that has come before or will come after, and yet we are still connected, however alone we may feel. We may feel disconnected, reaching out into the darkness and feeling nothing but emptiness, but we only have to take a step forward to find another light flickering in the endless night. One step. Then another.
Let the universe move around you, with all of its chaos and uncertainty. You can control none of it. You can master yourself, however, teaching yourself to be still. Distraction begets emptiness, and emptiness leaves us bereft of hope. But the term “hope” is often misleading. Often when we “hope,” we are simply trying to control the uncontrollable by sheer force of will. Hope is a thing to be held loosely, like we hold onto those we love. If you hold onto someone too tightly, you will pull them under with you. You will drown what you love.
We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more from imagination than from reality.Lucius Anneaus Seneca
Stoicism posits that we are the cause of our own discomfort — the “whiplash” we experience when the chaos of living asserts itself — by our stubborn optimism. We hope for the best — for consistency, for a positive outcome, for justice, for coherence. For life to make sense. Life will not make sense. People will not be consistent. We can rage against it, hope for a happy ending, and ultimately set ourselves up for disappointment and pain. Or we can accept the chaos. Be still. Adapt. Keep going.
I am an incurable optimist. Or perhaps I am a desperate one. Marred by the hurt of so many deep, brutal, aching disappointments. I desperately desire a happy ending. And yet life has other plans. Always. I must learn to adapt. Rather, I must allow myself to adapt, as tired as I have become of adapting to the whims of others. To the casual cruelty of the universe. If I cannot use my experiences to make another human feel less alone, to do good, then it will have been for nothing.
Let go. Be still. We can control nothing but our reactions to the chaos that is the only constant in this life. Sometimes this feels like giving up, but there’s little point in fighting a war we cannot win. Instead we can adjust and adapt and make the most of the limited time we have.
There are no second chances.