Meditate on these quotes every day

Picture credits: The Daily Stoic

Stoic philosophy is a very practical philosophy. Many stoic philosophers like Marcus Aurelius, Seneca and Epictetus had spoken of some of the ultimate truths of life. They were not gods. They were common people like us with responsibilities at home and workplace. They had families to look after. They had jobs to do to. They had adversities and challenges to face. In the middle of all this they did not stop being philosophers. They did not stop working on themselves. It was only when they were striving for mental clarity, peace and self improvement did they reveal some beautiful words which still survive today- more than 2,000 years later. 

1. “We suffer more in imagination than in reality.”– Seneca

Stoic philosophers believed events are objective. They are ‘what they are’. If someone has ridiculed us on social media then it is an objective reality: it is what it is. We cannot go back in time and change it. But how we choose to look at those events will eventually decide how we are going to feel about them. In other words, our subjectivity or perception is going to determine how we feel about that particular event. How we are going to react to that ridiculous comment someone has made against us on social media is either going to make our day or break our day. A lot of times things are not that bad. Our judgement make them. Therefore it is of great importance that we work on improving our perspective. A lot is at stake when we do not have a favorable perception.

2. “Why should we feel anger at the world? As if the world would notice?”- Marcus Aurelius

Every time I read this, I feel a little different. We are not always angry at ourselves. Majority of the times we are angry at the world; at people- for not being kind enough, for not being honest enough with their jobs, for not being understanding enough, for not being like us. It is a big mistake to expect the world to work as per our preferences. People are not going to be like us: they do not care much if they are being greedy or not, they do not care if they are efficient at their jobs or not, they do not care about your expectations. They are just carrying on with their lives just the way you are.  Then what is the point in punishing yourself for someone else’s mistakes. Why are you angry? Why you? Do you think they care? Do you think they are noticing your anger? Do you believe they are going to come console you? NO. NO and NO. We can influence people. We can make a difference in this world. But we cannot do it for everyone.

3. “When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.” – Marcus Aurelius

We all dread mornings because we have to go to work, we have to do household chores; we have to think of innumerable tasks on to-do list. In the middle of all the responsibilities we forget what a privilege it is to be able to breathe; to be alive. We forget it is a new day to correct our past mistakes. We forget it is a new day to make our plans again. We forget we have another day to care deeply about the people we love. This is what Marcus Aurelius said. He wanted us to make time for gratitude. If we are focused too much upon what we don’t have, we will never be able to enjoy what we already have. This is what gratitude teaches us. Strive for better but also enjoy what’s already there.

4. “You have to assemble your life yourself – action by action.”- Marcus Aurelius

Life is never build instantly. There is no magic formula to build our lives quickly. Everything is done brick by brick. In other words, one step at a time. Human beings are very impatient. We expect instant results with little time and hard work. We do our work on a daily basis and feel like we are not getting anywhere, like we are stuck. I am most certain it happens with everybody.  Every day progress doesn’t seem to matter a lot because we don’t get to see any changes. But in reality, we get better. We make progress. Like Marcus Aurelius said we have to assemble our lives action by action. Act once. Then act again. Act once more. Keep doing your work. You will definitely get there.

We are natural born dualists?

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What is dualism?

To speak for myself, when I was younger the word simply meant people’s tendency to be double- faced. This was dualism for me. That’s it!!

I think I was naïve. Not wrong. Just naïve because the literal meaning of the word ‘dualism’ is dichotomy or division of something into two opposing aspects. So, that should suffice for my naive understanding because technically I wasn’t wrong.

But what exactly is dualism? How deep can it be? Who coined the word ‘dualism’ after all? When it comes to dualism there is no other name than Rene Descartes that pops up. Rene Descartes was a French philosopher and a scientist. He had written many great works including “Discourse on the Method” which still survives today as one of the important works ever written. He is often regarded as the father of Western philosophy whose approach has changed the course of Western philosophy and set the basis for modernity.

Cogito, ergo sum”: Cartesian dualism

 “I think, therefore, I am.” This is what Descartes meant with “Cogito, ergo sum”. These are the most important words ever spoken by Descartes. He said, “How can one know that anything including oneself actually exists rather than being some sort of a dream or phantasm?” He believed human senses are completely unreliable. He said that he could not be trusted to know whether he was actually sitting in a room in his gown or merely dreaming about it. However, he was confident about one thing: that he was actually ‘thinking’. Descartes was a fierce rationalist and trusted in the power of human logic.

Body and soul

Mind-body dualism is closely associated with Rene Descartes. He had believed that ‘mind’ and ‘body’ are two separate things. Our bodies are physical while our minds or souls are immaterial. Since he had made a clear distinction between the mind and the body he concluded that there is definitely an interaction between the two but one of them can exist in the absence of another. The idea is debatable even today among the scholars. Whether Descartes was right or whether he made sense with this mind-body dualism is a matter of another day. What’s important here is that it is being proven through some studies that we are actually ‘pre-wired’ to believe that mind and body are entirely two different things.

Pre-wired for Dualism

Psychologists are now trying to find answer to a question: where does the distinction between mind and body actually comes from? Is it something that we learn as we interact with the external environment or we are pre-wired to believe in the duality of mind and body? Scientists believe the mind is what the brain does. I, personally, believe so. This is called “The Astonishing Hypothesis” which was first coined by Francis Crick who won a Nobel Prize. At the same time some significant studies say that we have an innate ability to distinguish between the mind and the body. Two psychologists- Jesse Bering from the University of Arkansas and David Bjorklund from Florida Atlantic University conducted a study with young children. In the experiment, they told children a story about an alligator and a mouse that actually had a tragic end. The story was told through a series of pictures shown to children. For an instance, children were shown a picture in which alligator was eating the mouse. “Uh, oh!! Mr Alligator sees Brown Mouse and is coming to get him!” This is how the experimenters interacted with children. “Well, it looks like Brown Mouse got eaten by Mr. Alligator. Brown Mouse is not alive anymore.”

Further in the experiment, researchers asked different questions from young children regarding the mental and biological functioning of the mouse. The questions related to mental functioning included, “Now that the mouse is no longer alive, is he still hungry? Is he thinking about the alligator? Does he still want to go home?” The questions related to biological functioning included, “Now that the mouse is no longer alive, will he ever need to go to the bathroom? Do his ears still work? Does his brain still work?”

It was found that children said that the mouse would not be hungry anymore, would not be able to go to the bathroom, ears won’t be working, etc. In other words, body is dead so there is no functioning. However, to questions related to mental functioning children said that the mental activities will remain intact. In other words, the soul will live. It will survive. Only the body will decay.

Encountering dualism at a personal level

After reading an article by Professor Paul Bloom from Yale University (whose work I follow and admire very much) titled “Is God an Accident?” I realized that yes, dualism does prevail in all of us. Although I am a believer of “The mind is what the brain does” I think I am skeptical when it comes to dualism. Probably because I still do not understand a lot of the things proposed by Rene Descartes. At the same time, I have come to realize that whenever I am talking to myself (self-talk) I often regard my own self as “YOU”. I am just one person. I know that. Still while having a conversation with myself regarding anything I am talking as if there is someone else in the room with me. I believe I can call this my predisposition for dualism.

I am no expert in dualism. I am still at a nascent stage when it comes to such complicated philosophical approaches. Also, there are no right or wrong answers. Presently, I do not believe in dualism. I definitely do not believe that ‘souls’ exist. When we die our bodies and brains die too.

Important lessons I have learned so far- Part 2

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(Note: This blog post is a continuation of my previous post)

5. Less is more

Less is more.” Read that again if you haven’t quite understood it yet. Yes, ‘less’ is ‘more’. Words might sound contradictory but reality isn’t. Having less people around you, having less stuff alongside you, having less of everything is always better. Before you get all confused let me clarify a bit more. I used to believe that having more people around me was a good thing. It was never easy for me to let go off people so easily. That, obviously, had a huge demand on my cognitive resources– I had to pay constant attention to their needs, I had to pay attention when they needed help, and I had to pay attention to the fact that I wasn’t not ignoring them. In the middle of this, I wasn’t paying attention to the people who were actually worthy of my time. I wasn’t prioritizing myself either. My constant efforts to keep the relationship going weren’t recognized as well. So, I cut off all the compulsions I had set up for myself. Now I don’t have contact numbers on my phone beyond 20-30. I am very particular about investing my time on people who do not come under the radar of my social circle. I am not saying that I have become cruel or rude. I help people if they need my help. But I don’t keep any expectations. This has literally let me have a lot of peace in life. The same goes for material things. Before buying something, I ask myself, “Is this really necessary?” If not, I move on.

6. Prioritize health

One of the biggest mistakes we often make is ignoring our health and putting everything else first like we can manage to do ‘everything’ with our so called ‘good health’. Actually it’s just poor health if you are not giving it any importance. Compromising on health is equivalent to compromising on life. When we are young we feel like we have the most perfect bodies. We feel sickness can never touch us. It is true when we are young we don’t feel maladies affecting us but as we grow older and older we come to understand that our bodies are far from perfect. Actually, we further realize that our bodies were never perfect or well maintained. Focusing on our physical health is very very important. It can’t be emphasized upon more. While physical health should be a priority we must never forget about prioritizing our mental health as well. A sound mind is just as important as a sound body.

7. Don’t be on social media

Honestly, I hate social media. I am not available on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and countless other social media platforms designed deliberately to be addictive. Many might comment that I have a very weak will power and I do not know how to use it moderately. To such assertions I will retaliate that this idea is completely naive. People do not understand that these social media platforms have been designed very cautiously to be addictive. Those cute and vivid colors of the apps, without your conscious awareness, are playing with your brain and eventually you are giving them more time than you are supposed to. You do not realize that the red color you see when a notification comes on your Facebook account is a result of deliberate thinking by some experts. Moreover, there are constant unconscious comparisons that we make through social media and it takes a big toll on our psychological well-being. That is why I have disappeared from social media. That is why my life has become a lot more peaceful.

Important lessons I have learned so far- Part 1

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“Sometimes even to live, is an act of courage”- Seneca

When we are at some point of our lives where we are vulnerable, we start believing we have got life figured out. We start believing that we are now invincible and nobody can dare touch or harm us. We start believing there is nothing new left to learn. However, it is a fool’s errand to think like that. Life will never seize to inspire us. It will never seize to teach us. It is a lifelong teacher and we must stay a lifelong student. At every point of life we will have something new to learn.

That’s the rule!!

I have been on the journey of self development and self improvement for some time now. It was only after I went out of my comfort zone (my home) and saw the real world that I understood there was so much to life- challenges, improvements, knowledge, achievements, principles, etc. And it was only when I went out into the real world I learned some important life lessons- the lessons which can only be learnt better if experienced.

1. You have to be patient in your life. Things will come around if you’re patient.

We believe things often work out if we are in a hurry. It is true that we must be efficient and fast but sometimes we should not rush into anything. Patience is one of the keys to success and people who cannot afford to wait should not expect better results. There’s a beautiful quote that resembles exactly what I mean- “Greatness takes time. Just remember it takes 13 hours to build a Toyota but 6 months to build a Rolls Royce.” So do your work and be patient.

2. Trust the process. Whatever is happening (good/bad), just trust your life.

It is not easy to trust anything when nothing is happening in our favor. And it isn’t easy either to be optimistic about it. And that’s where people often fail- fail to accomplish what they are seeking. Trust is very important. Now, I don’t mean trust in any supernatural beliefs which are beyond scientific explanations. I also don’t mean merely trusting things to work out while you’re sitting comfortably doing nothing. That’s just you being lazy. What I mean is doing your best and not worrying too much about the future because in life we only have control over limited things. There is so much that we don’t control. Understanding this key difference eases our journey. Every event-good or bad is making you. Let it make you. Don’t interrupt the process.

3. Be kind and humble. But not with everybody.

One of the important factors responsible for success in people’s lives can be attributed to their kindness. Being kind is not some conventional mindset. It is very much a conventional wisdom that has many psychological benefits. Nowadays, people don’t believe in these moral values but no matter what the trend has become nothing can beat the power of kindness. Kindness is the essence of our existence and if we sustain it we can make huge impacts in the lives of other people. However, I believe not everybody deserves our kindness. Some philosophical minds are of the opine that we should be kind with everybody no matter what. For some cases it is true but for others it isn’t because it is not wise to make a fool of ourselves. People who can’t value our kindness should not be a part of our lives. This may sound very rude and cruel. But that is the best way to avoid any sort of emotional baggage.

4. Take your own decisions.

All decisions in life are not easy. They demand a lot of discomfort, cognitive bandwidth and what not. When it comes to critical decisions of life it is plausible to seek help of people we trust and who are more experienced than us. But there’s a fine line between taking our own decisions and seeking help for the same. We cannot always expect someone to save us- not all the time. Many things in life happen all of a sudden and in those moments we are alone.  That’s when we must be bold enough to gather courage and make the call. It is because no one else knows what we really want in life better than us. Take help and guidance if you want but the final decision should always be yours.


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When you ‘see’

What do you see?

What’s right there

or what you plot in your head?

When you use your lenses

Are they old and dusty

or new and clean?

Use them well.

They will make you.

Syed Sumbul