Lao Tsu – Tao Te Ching

I struggle with the idea of inaction. Letting things stand. Finding the strength to endure and not directly confront injustices in the moment.

And because I feel compelled to respond to almost every moment of my life, I’m kept from considering the core motivation behind my actions, as I oftentimes act out of fear.

Fear that I’ll be taken as a fool if I let a transgression stand. Or fear that I’ll be perceived as weak for not fighting back.

Lao Tsu’s Tao Te Ching presents a series of eighty poems that again and again remind me that this desire driving my actions is often directing me towards my own folly.

The path Lao Tsu recommends is one of virtuous inaction. I can’t count the amount of times Lao Tsu suggests doing nothing, thinking nothing, draining your desires, emptying your cup and accepting the world as it passes around you.

Not as you fear it might be, or as you fear it might see you.

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Find Your Edges

At a shockingly early age we get pushed towards identity-defining metrics like good grades. High marks become the target for a successful life to children whose life experience measures in the single digits.

Unfortunately, this simplification of our identity leaves many bewildered graduates on the other end of the education system. Diploma clutched in one hand, head scratched by the other.

Hunting for good grades can muddy the vital process of self-discovery, which is arguably the best use of higher education.

College has added value if you can remain adaptive to your own interests. I changed my major three times before landing on what I loved, which required me to admit I was wrong, and then wrong again.

College provided me the time to take classes focused on the edges of my interest. Allowing me to discover at least as much about myself as the facts we were compelled to regurgitate on tests for grades that we’ve lived our entire lives to earn.

Running headlong toward my edges allowed me to find what I loved and what I didn’t, what I’m good at and what I’m not. It helped me understand how I might best fit in the world.

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I’m a Hurt-aholic

I was raised in a manner that led to my emotional masochism. But, I’ll avoid highlighting any specific instances of abuse that may have contributed. I’ve found that pursuit as silly as reaching for a pill to solve this.

I’m also not certain how genetics might influence this development in an individual.

But I do know that when this pain rings, I get transported back in time to being scolded as a child, my vision tunneling down to his eyes as he screams. Almost as if he was downloading his pain into me through his clearly hurt, but disturbingly lifeless eyes.

It took a long time to recognize my choice in becoming bewitched by that pain ringing in my head. Allowing myself to forget the life I’ve built since, handing my body over to that broken child still inside me, and being fully consumed by it.

I think the most revealing thing I learned from someone not suffering from anxiety is that they can have these hurt feelings too, just not as severe. Their view doesn’t tunnel. Their world doesn’t crumble with despair.

It’s like how I am able to drink alcohol, but not to excess. Other people are able to feel hurt, but not the soul-shattering, existence-threatening hurt that I would feel about the same event.

I’m not a different species, I just suffer from a weakness that propels me deeper into hurt than necessary. Others might recognize hurt when it happens, but they don’t pile on and push themselves deeper.

That’s what I do. Like a hurt-aholic.

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My Combative Brain

I notice that I occasionally wake with a combative mindset.

Those aren’t my best mornings. Not at first. At first I fight everything. Every thought, every person, every action, every stumble.

My brain chooses to take offense. Finds holes, pokes.

Identifying these mornings as early as possible in the cycle can help in defusing them.

I find that I can identify my moody1 mindset pretty quickly. Usually within 15 minutes of waking up, I can figure out if every thought entering my mind slants negative.

After identifying it, I can begin reconciling each thought by recognizing that it isn’t me presenting these ideas. I’ve learned to see that not every thought in my head originates within me.

When I’m in this state, I often have to remind myself that jerks will continue to exist out there, but I don’t also have to be one today.

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Marcus Aurelius – Meditations

Here’s a guy that lived for a mere 59 years on Earth, managing to become the emperor of Rome, and writing a journal that remains one of the most heavily recommended books of all time.

Why is Meditations so good? I’d assume the reason might be his relatable perspective of self, and the briskness and focus of his messages. The Hays translation also brightens up the conversational nature of Aurelius’ passages.

This guy understood the relative insignificance of his own existence when measured against all of eternity, but within that humility he found a razor sharp perspective on what to value in life.

It might sound silly to say that the emperor of Rome could teach the plebeians about perspective. But then again, reading this book written around 150 A.D. still feels as relevant as ever in today’s world.

That’s really saying something.

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