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Posted by on Feb 28, 2015 in Crossfit, Lifting and Crossfit, Master, Mobility, Music and Rants, Olympic Lifts, Rant, Recovery, Strength Training

Stoics, Pooh, and Ron Fucking Swanson

Stoics, Pooh, and Ron Fucking Swanson

I have two midterms in about 2 hours and I decided now is the best, most convenient time for me to write this…I’ve had this post on the back burner for far too long. And then I back burner’ed it again, but now I’ve done 15.1 it’s a Saturday night, and I have two fingers of whiskey and nothing but time. My goal when I left for Italy was to read, and read a lot. I was having a bit of an existential crisis before I left, if you couldn’t tell by my posts…(The Fuck Am I Doing). There was a lot going on, and as I think is only natural, my mind was searching for explanations, tools to keep me sane, ballast if you will. I was given a remarkable opportunity to leave my life for 2 weeks, literally leave it, I didn’t touch it. In this vacuum I was able to pick it apart, reflect, and hopefully emerge a beautiful butterfly. In any case, I often look around when searching for clarity and perspective, I find the words of others are far more comforting and informative than whatever I tell myself. Why reinvent the wheel? I’m not dealing with anything someone else hasn’t already gone through, more or less.

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So what’s my point here. My point is that your mindset matters. Not only does it matter, but it deserves your attention just as much as training and diet. You can read the best training books, spend your life writing the most brilliant programming in the world, and dial your diet down to the mg of carbohydrate; that’s all well and good, but if your mind isn’t right in training, in competition, in life, you’ll destroy yourself. Maybe not immediately, but eventually you’ll crack, and weight will compound, and eventually you’ll shatter. I’ve been shattered, I’ll be shattered again, what’s important is that when you put the pieces back together you get something better than you had before. In Japan there’s a tradition called Kintsugi, repairing broken pottery with gold inlay, treating the breakage of an object as part of its beautiful history, not an attempt to hide it and pretend it’s perfect. That’s what I’m after here, I want my mind to be the most beautifully repaired shattered bowl there ever was.

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This all being said, this post is about my path, the pieces that I read, the words I found most meaningful. That’s the beauty of literature, everyone finds their own meaning, the parts that resonate within them. Maybe some of these will resonate for you, maybe they won’t, the point is that I’m sharing the process. Yours might look different, but the process is what I’m trying to highlight, not the specific stones along my path. Here was my reading list…

Enchiridion – Epictetus
Meditations – Marcus Aurelius
Get Change – Chris Moore
Paddle Your Own Canoe – Nick Offerman
The Tao of Pooh – Benjamin Hoff

I will be the first to admit that this is a very strange list of books. You’ve got thousand year old manuscripts of some of the most respected stoic philosophers, a book by an old power lifter, a guy who plays Ron Swanson on TV, and a book about Pooh that isn’t “Everybody Poops.” My point with this was to broaden my perspective, some things were well within my wheelhouse, some of these books challenged me, but they all gave me something, some new bit of perspective or morsel of thought that could be used for my betterment. Even more strangely, they all coalesced, they actually worked together, there were common threads. Those threads are what I used to pull myself together. I’ll also admit I found some far more useful than others, “Meditations” in particular is a must read for anyone and is a book I will probably keep within arms reach for a long time to come.

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Maybe its because I’ve been a student for most of my life, or because my reading comprehension is awful, but I always read with a pen, it helps me find the meanings I’m looking for, pay attention to each word, and when the spark hits me, I’m never looking for a way to capture it. As part of this, I’ve included some of my most poignant passages from some of these books, partly to illuminate their power and depth, but partly to give you an idea of where my mind was, and is. First is Meditations, a collection of Marcus Aurelius’ writings to himself, which is what makes them so interesting, to see what wears on his mind, how his thoughts progress and sometimes unravel. What strikes me is how insightful it can be, his thoughts really are timeless.

Change, nothing inherently bad in the process, nothing inherently good in the result.

Meditations

…there is a limit circumscribed to your time – if you do not use it to clear away your clouds, it will be gone, and you will be gone, and the opportunity will not return.

Remind yourself too that each of us lives only in the present moment, a mere fragment of time: the rest of life is past, or uncertain future.

The ruling power within us takes a flexible approach to circumstances, always adapting itself easily to both practicality and the given event. It has no favored material for its work, but sets out on its objects in a conditional way, turning any obstacle into material for its own use. It is like a fire mastering whatever falls into it. A small flame would be extinguished, but a bright fire rapidly claims as its own all that is heaped on it, devours it all, and leaps up yet higher in consequence.

The mind adapts and turns round any obstacle to action to serve its objective: a hinderance to a given work is turned to its furtherance, an obstacle in a given path becomes an advance.

Your mind will take on the character of your most frequent thoughts: souls are dyed by thoughts.

It is my bad luck that this has happened to me. No, you should rather say: ‘It is my good luck that, although this has happened to me I can bear it without pain, neither crushed by the present nor fearful of the future.’ Because such a thing could have happened to any man, but not every man could have borne it without pain. So why see more misfortune in the event than good fortune in your ability to bear it?”… So in all future events which might induce sadness remember to call on this principle; ‘this is no misfortune, but to bear it true to yourself is good fortune.

In your fits of anger have this thought ready to mind, that there is nothing manly in being angry, but a gentle calm is both more human and therefore more virile. It is the gentle who have strength, sinew, and courage – not the indignant and complaining. The cover to control of emotion, the closer to power. Anger is as much a sign of weakness as is pain.

Remove the judgement, and you have removed the thought ‘I am hurt’: remove the thought ‘I am hurt’, and the hurt itself is removed.

What ease of mind you gain not looking at what your neighbor has said or done or thought, but only at your own actions, to make them just, reverential, imbued with good!

Change, nothing inherently bad in the process, nothing inherently good in the result.

Do not imagine that, if something is hard for you to achieve, it is therefore impossible for any man: but rather consider anything that is humanly possible and appropriate to lie within your own reach too.

The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing, in that it stands ready for what comes, and is not thrown by the unforeseen.

A man following reason in all things combines relaxation with initiative, spark with composure.

I probably should’ve started with the Enchiridion. Enchiridion is to Epictetus what the Meditations were to Marcus Aurelius. Though it was written as less of a journal and more as a prescription, a stoic’s how-to. It’s sometimes called the Manual of Life. It was the precursor to a lot of the Meditations, and you can see a lot of one in the other.

And if you ever wish to exercise yourself in labor and endurance, do it for yourself, and not for others.

Enchiridion

The stoic view, our capacity to be happy is completely dependent on ourselves – how we treat ourselves, how we relate to others, and how we react to events in general. Events are good or bad only in terms of our reaction to them.

If then you desire such great things, remember that you must not attempt to lay hold of them with a small effort; but you must leave alone some things entirely and postpone others for the present.

For this is your duty, to act well the part that is given to you; but to select the part, belongs to another.

For even sheep do not vomit up their grass and show to the shepherds how much they have eaten; but when they have internally digested the pasture, they produce externally wool and milk. Show the acts which come from their digestion.

And if you ever wish to exercise yourself in labor and endurance, do it for yourself, and not for others.

Whatever you shall have given to the body you soon eject: but what you shall have given to the soul, you keep always.

The “Tao of Pooh” was one of the most interesting books I’ve ever read. I’ve always been a bit of an eastern philosophy kind of guy, I enjoy the way they view the world, free of omniscient figures, focusing instead on the paths to self improvement that lead to tranquility, as a gross generalization. Further, the way it uses Pooh and the Hundred Acre Woods to explain eastern philosophy is fantastic. It’s also remarkable how similar it is to the other books, developed thousands of years and even more miles apart in times when communication was nearly impossible, it highlights the truths that exist no matter how you choose to think or write about them. Explained differently, math will always be math, maybe philosophy and a healthy mindset are no different. There was a point when I was happy, and then there was a point where I was very unhappy, I had decided that ignorance was bliss, and now no longer ignorant I had loss my bliss. What I realize now, with the help of this book, is that ignorance is not bliss, nor is knowledge a curse. The bliss lies in recognizing knowledge and continuing to be content in spite of it, rather than let it weigh on us like it does on Owl and Rabbit and Eeyore. No matter how you arrive there, you’ve probably come to the same or similar conclusions. Maybe this whole post is decidedly un-Pooh like, but its a process.

While Eeyore frets …
… and Piglet hesitates
… and Rabbit calculates
… and Owl pontificates
…Pooh just is.

The Tao of Pooh

Do you really want to be happy? You can begin by being appreciative of who you are and what you’ve got.

“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?” “What’s for breakfast? said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?” “I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet. Pooh nodded thoughtfully. “It’s the same thing,” he said.

While Eeyore frets … … and Piglet hesitates … and Rabbit calculates … and Owl pontificates …Pooh just is.

Things just happen in the right way, at the right time. At least when you let them, when you work with circumstances instead of saying, ‘This isn’t supposed to be happening this way,’ and trying harder to make it happen some other way.

The main problem with this great obsession for saving time is very simple: you can’t save time. You can only spend it. But you can spend it wisely or foolishly.

“Rabbit’s clever,” said Pooh thoughtfully. “Yes,” said Piglet, “Rabbit’s clever.” “And he has Brain.” “Yes,” said Piglet, “Rabbit has Brain.” There was a long silence. “I suppose,” said Pooh, “that that’s why he never understands anything.

The wise know their limitations; the foolish do not.

A clever mind is not a heart. Knowledge doesn’t really care, wisdom does.

But isn’t the knowledge that comes from experience more valuable than the knowledge that doesn’t? It seems fairly obvious to some of us that a lot of scholars need to go outside and sniff around – walk through the grass, talk to the animals. That sort of thing.

To know the way, we go the way, we do the way. The way we do, the things we do, it’s all there in front of you. But if you try too hard to see it, you’ll only become confused. I am me and you are you. As you can see; but when you do the things that you can do, you will find the way. The way will follow you.

Sourness and bitterness come from the interfering and unappreciative mind. Life itself, when understood and utilized for what it is, is sweet. That is the message of The Vinegar Tasters.

…you’d be surprised how many people violate this simple principle every day of their lives and try to fit square pegs into round holes, ignoring the clear reality that Things Are As They Are. We will let a selection from the writings of Chuang-tse illustrate: Hui-tse said to Chuang-tse, “I have a large tree which no carpenter can cut into lumber. Its branches and trunk are crooked and tough, covered with bumps and depressions. No builder would turn his head to look at it. Your teachings are the same – useless, without value. Therefore, no one pays attention to them.”

“You complain that your tree is not valuable as lumber. But you could make use of the shade it provides, rest under its sheltering branches, and stroll beneath it, admiring its character and appearance. Since it would not be endangered by an axe, what could threaten its existence? It is useless to you only because you want to make it into something else and do not use it in its proper way.

The honey doesn’t taste so good once it is being eaten; the goal doesn’t mean so much once it is reached; the reward is no so rewarding once it has been given. If we add up all the rewards in our lives, we won’t have very much. But if we add up the spaces *between* the rewards, we’ll come up with quite a bit. And if we add up the rewards *and* the spaces, then we’ll have everything – every minute of the time that we spent.

I think, therefore I am… confused.

By the time it came to the edge of the Forest the stream had grown up, so that it was almost a river, and, being grown-up, it did not run and jump and sparkle as it used to do when it was younger, but moved more slowly. For it knew now where it was going, and it said to itself, “There is no hurry. We shall get there some day.

No matter how useful we may be, sometimes it takes us a while to recognize our own value.

Those who know what’s wrong with them and take care of themselves accordingly will tend to live a lot longer than those who consider themselves perfectly healthy and neglect their weaknesses. So, in that sense at least, a weakness of some sort can do you a big favor, if you acknowledge that it’s there.

The wise are who they are. They work with what they’ve got and do what they can do.

We simply need to believe in the power that’s within us, and use it. When we do that, and stop imitating others and competing against them, things begin to work for us.

Gathering, analyzing, sorting, and storing information—these functions and more the mind can perform so automatically, skillfully, and effortlessly that it makes the most sophisticated computer look like a plastic toy by comparison. But it can do infinitely more. To use the mind as it’s all too commonly used, on the kinds of things that it’s usually used on, is about as inefficient and inappropriate as using a magic sword to open up a can of beans. The power of a clear mind is beyond description. But it can be attained by anyone who can appreciate and utilize the value of Nothing.

Within each of us there is an Owl, a Rabbit, an Eeyore, and a Pooh. For too long, we have chosen the way of Owl and Rabbit. Now, like Eeyore, we complain about the results. But that accomplishes nothing. If we are smart, we will choose the way of Pooh. As if from far away, it calls to us with the voice of a child’s mind. It may be hard to hear at times, but it is important just the same, because without it, we will never find our way through the forest.

If you’ve gotten to this point, bravo, I’ll admit this post has been a bit of a rant, sometimes I discover my purpose some percentage of the way in. So what? Why do we care about Pooh, or old Romans and Greeks? My point is without work like this, without strengthening your mind, your resolve, finding some measure of tranquility in what you do; the day will come when you’re tested and you’ll fail. That day, you’ll reach for these books, you’ll reach for insights. Maybe that’s the day you’ll find this post, and read it all the way through. Then again maybe not, maybe you’ll never be tested, maybe you’ll succeed and you’re already Pooh, wondering through the woods, content. In the same breath I’m jealous of you, and pity you, never forced to look into yourself and figure these things out. This post isn’t about those things though, this is about my path, what I took from them, and where I am now, on the eve of 15.1.

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I’ve reached this point, on the other side of these books, and time spent thinking, probably overthinking, and I realized, this is exactly the problem. At a point you get lost in the thoughts and lose out on the implementations. You have to embrace this stuff, live it. That’s the goal right now, and its going really well for me mentally. I’m doing well in school, I’m still okay at competitive exercise, and one day I might be better at both. Right now I’m enjoying the journey of seeking balance, finding pleasure in my current state, making the most of what each day gives me and not losing sleep over what it doesn’t. Have I missed some training for school, yup, is my diet as optimal as it could be, nope, is my sleep perfect for a high level athlete, not even close; but I’m not worried about any of it. I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing, the things that I love with as much passion and fervor as I’m allowed. What could be more fulfilling? Content. I can’t be sure of where I’m headed, but I’m certainly stronger than where I was before.

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