I have never kept a diary or had a desire to journal. The extent of my writing over the last 10 years has been emails in the professional setting. Lately I have been pondering not just the idea to document this experience, as that is already occuring, but moreso reflecting on what I am looking for and what I am gleaning from this effort. It started as a way to keep in touch with friends & family, share the lessons I have learned, the progress I am making, and how I am keeping my sanity. I also hoped that people who go through what I’m going through could someday find some semblance of peace in a first hand account of the experience.
I recently read an article where Satyna Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, was interviewed. The interviewer asks Nadella why he is writing a midcareer memoir. Nadella says that he ran into Steven Ballmer a couple of months after Steve had finished as CEO, and asked him if he was writing a book. Ballmer said that he wasn’t, that (his experience) was in the past; he is now in the future. Nadella goes on to comment that maybe while he is going through it all he should actually reflect on what this process is – what it means to him. He states that his autobiography was written as a cathartic thing for him, and for the employees of Microsoft, as they were going through this transformation together. He wanted to think through and write about the process as it unveiled.
Sharing these updates and musings creates a time to reflect on what I am experiencing, and how I want to experience it moving forward. When I take the time to write down my thoughts and share them I become more cognizant of what I am actually thinking and feeling. I can already sense that my immediate reaction to events/people/circumstances is adjusting based on new perspectives, which come from a mixture of adaptation, introspection and learning.
I have started reading the work of Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, Cicero and Seneca. A friend from Boise sent me a book on Stoic Philosophy. Stoic, in this sense, does not have the traditional meaning of the word – grim or despair. Stoicism is referred to because the founder of this school of thought, Zeno of Citium, taught in a public colonnade or porch, which is known as a stoa. The concepts I am working through right now focus on the following idea: we don’t react to events, we react to our judgements about them, and the judgements are up to us. An event occurs, then a judgement or opinion about it, and then a reaction. You can notice the middle step, understand its frequent irrationality, and through the use of reason, control your reactions. In theory, it sounds easy, but the practice of it is more challenging. The author who correlated all these writings put it best when he wrote “We always feel as though we react to things in the world; in fact we react to things in ourselves.” “This doesn’t call for a reversal of our aversions and desires. It calls for detachment from them. That isn’t easy, either, but it is far more often feasible. Humans ability to change their experience by changing their thinking is greater than they usually suppose.”
On any given day this can apply to ten or more “events” in prison before it is even time to head to the chow hall for lunch.
Cicero has a succint yet thorough expression of the thesis of Stoicism:
“Grief, then, is a recent opinion of some present evil, about which it seems right to feel downcast and in low spirits. Joy is a recent opinion of a present good, in response to which it seems right to be elated. Fear is an opinion of an impending evil that seems unbearable. Lust in an opinion about good to come – that it would be better if it were already here”.
I have been having a challenging time finding a situation these concepts do not apply to. That’s hard for me to say and accept, but at the same time, it makes the days more manageable. I can keep a realistic perspective as to what is actually occuring, but still use these ideas so I emerge from this stronger, not broken down by circumstances out of my control.