The power of a mantra

“Erase the false impressions from your mind by constantly saying to yourself, I have it in my soul to keep out any evil, desire of any kind of disturbance – instead, seeing the true nature of things, I will give them only their due.  Always remember this power that nature gave you.” 
– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 8.29

I first head about mantras while I was learning about business and management.  I always viewed them as short missions statements or political one-liners and product tag lines like “1000 songs in your pocket”. Essentially, used as internal corporate marketing that allowed people to make decisions at any and every levels of the organization, while keeping the goals and objectives in line.

In essence, that is essentially correct – a word or phase intended to provide clarity  or spiritual guidance.  I have try and create a annual mantra, starting each year by sitting and clarifying some objectives and then defining a short phrase that allows me to stay focused on those objectives along the way.  This year, is “make it happen” – a year where I start putting aside my hesitations and push forward again some of my long time goals.

However, I think the discussion this week surrounds a more spiritual and deeper aspect direction for your life.  An everyday reminder to keep out distractions of life and focus on the things that are important and true.

“I have it in my soul to keep out any evil, desire, or any kind of disturbance – instead, seeing the true nature of things, I will give them only their due.”

What can you come up with?  I know I am going to dwell on this a little more.

The only prize

“What’s left to be prized?  This, I think – to limit our action or inaction to only what’s in keeping with the needs of our own preparation … it’s what the exertions of education and teaching are all about – here is the thing to be prized!  If you hold this firmly, you’ll stop trying to get yourself all the other things. … If you don’t, you won’t be free, self-sufficient, or liberated from passion, but necessarily full of envy, jealousy, and suspicion for any who have what you prize. … But by having some self-respect for your own mind and prizing it, you will please yourself and be in better harmony with your fellow human beings, and more in tune with the gods – praising everything they have set in order and allotted you.”
— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 6.16.2b-4a

This may seem kind of ironic coming from the Emperor of Rome, but you have to remember he is writing these to himself – not to others.  The very effort of prizing those things we don’t have leads to desire for them, which is a slippery slop to jealousy and envy for those who obtain them before us.

In the world today where many of us are in debt and living paycheck to paycheck – all chasing the Kardashians, entertainers, and even friends – we are left desiring more than we need, sometimes more than we even want.  In fact, I would debate many of us don’t have a good grasp on what we want.  Often choosing to map this wants to our material desires, a house, a car, the new phone.  Though, some of us are more interested in experiences and travel.  This leaves us longing for the “things” we see on social media, in movies, on tv.  We stretch ourselves to acquire things beyond our means, only showing the shiny, feeding back into the loop for all your friends and followers.

What I am reading in the Marcus quote is a refocusing of the attention and desire from those material items, to my internal mind. To focus on my learning, my training, and the things I can provide.  Focus on the work that I can do and want to do and take pride in that, letting the chips of ambition fall where they may – be less worried about the raise, the title, the car, the status.

This is not an easy lesson to take to heart, as like most people I have ambitions.  I want things for me and my family.  I work hard and desire the rewards that should come from it.  However, I have had to learn to live with less and define my life based on what I have – in that I have found is that the chase never ends.  You will always want more.  As in the material you don’t find peace.  In the experiences you may find momentary joy, but it is in your mind where happiness endures.  Focus there.

The Thinker

Push for Deep Understanding

“From Rusticus … I learned to read carefully and not be satisfied with a rough understanding of the whole, and not to agree too quickly with those who have a lot to say about something.”
— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 1.7.3

In an nutshell, that is why we are here. Felt it was time to dig deeper into stoicism.

In our quick and busy lives it becomes all too easy to take information we hear on face value. To read headlines but not the full articles. To hear snippets and think we understand the context. We map the things we hear to our belief structures, allowing us to fill in the gaps.

It is important to dig a little deeper into those topics that both impact you or drive you forward.

Question, Discuss, Understand!

The truth about money

“Let’s pass over to the really rich – how often the occasions they look just like the poor! When they travel abroad they must restrict their baggage, and when haste is necessary, they dismiss their entourage. And those who are in the army, how few of their possessions they get to keep…”
— Seneca, On Consolation to Helvia, 12. 1.b-2

Today we are reminded that money and material goods will not fix issues that dwell within us. Instead these external devices only change the environment. Be careful not to put those on top of the financial ladder on a pedestal, for they too have many of the same fears and the same insecurities.

I so easily forget this, and focus myself on making more. This then leaves me feeling anxious and worried, like I am not doing enough. And so I start to descend down the rabbit hole. No matter how much have, you will always want more. It will never be enough, unless you define what enough is.

Ambition is good, growth is essential, and desire can be really a powerful tool – just be mindful of the sacrifices that need to be made. As money will not fix you.

Never do anything out of habit

“So in the majority of other things, we address circumstances not in accordance with the right assumptions, but mostly by following wretched habit. Since all that I’ve said is the case, the person in training must seek to rise above, so as to stop seeking out pleasure and steering away from pain; to stop clinging to living and abhorring death; and in the case of property and money, to stop valuing receiving over giving.”
— Mosonius Rufus, Lectures, 6.25.5-11

Today’s lives are busy. We are often left rushing from one place to the next, using our latest GPS device to map the easiest and fastest directions. Yet, over the last few years I have found so many people dependent on these tools. So much so that they cannot find a well known establishment them. The have become dependent upon it. Dependent on a tool – but with that tool we have formed a habit, and without the tool we are lost and confused.

The Daily Stoic uses this passage as an example to constantly question procedures we often follow at work, but also throughout our lives. By continuing those processes, never questioning and never adjusting, we leave ourselves open for attack, or missing opportunities that we would otherwise desire. Taking a moment to review and assess, and by always changing and adapting, gives you, your team, and your product or service the opportunity for longer sustainability.

Jocko Willink talks in his latest book, Leadership Strategy and Tactics, about the need to disengage, detach, and step back as it often offers a new perspective on how to handle a situation. I think his lesson applies both in good times as well as in bad. I find it easy and almost natural to conduct a self assessment when you are not happy or you feel your life is being put through a grinder. Yet, how about when everything is going well. After you just received that big bonus or obtained the dream job. Habits can keep us locked in and pushing forward, without thought or reason.

The allure of complacency is an enticing one. This is one more reminder to keep constantly pushing at the edges of your comfort zone – both physically as well as mentally and emotionally. Habits are not bad in and of themselves, as they do lead to greater efficiencies, sustainability and discipline. Yet, be careful. Control your habits, and don’t let your habits control you.

What habits do you have in life? How do you find they help? How do they hinder?