Daily Journey is a collection of my thoughts from reading The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living. My objective is to gain greater control of my emotional responses by reading and sharing my thoughts on stoicism with you all everyday over the course of a year. If you would like to explore these topics with me, and others who are seeking to gain emotional control come over to the Mastery of Skill closed facebook group to join in on the conversation.
The month of December is focused on “Meditation on Mortality”
December 1st: Pretend Today is the End
The profession of arms (military service) is distinguished from other professions by the ultimate liability clause. This is the willingness we develop to put our lives at risk, and even sacrifice our lives if necessary for our country, our team, and our mission. Because of this, I don’t think it is very hard for us to pretend today is the end… we think about this possibility often. Not only that, we are taught to (and sometimes required) to act on it.
Before deployments we set our affairs in order. We reach out to those we care about. We train and prepare for the worst case scenario. This has to be an honest and sometimes hard conversation in order to be mentally and emotionally prepared for the stress of facing the realities of the ultimate liability clause every day.
For a lot of us there are subtle changes on the other side of deployments. We hug our kids longer. We say I love you more frequently. We find other ways to serve each other, our families, and our communities. I think we do this because we have come closer to how fragile and fleeting life can be. We didn’t have to pretend today was the end, we lived some of those days face to face with the potential end.
From my perspective this challenge, to pretend today is the end… can have some real effects in your life. Take a serious look at what you need to do to put your life in order. Reach out to your family and friends. Put your time and energy into what is most important to you. Focus on the real value you add to those around you, and at the end of the day reflect on what you need to do to stay in the game as long as you.
December 2nd: Don’t Mind Me, I’m Only Slowly Dying
What would you do if you were diagnosed with a terminal illiness? Would you start being nicer to your friends and family? Would you take a trip? WOuld you write a book?
Would you spend more time doing the things things you love? Would eat healthier and exercise more to try and fight off the prognosis?
Why don’t you just start doing those things now? Life is a terminal condition. Accepting the inevitability of our mortality can generate significant positive changes in our lives.
It is just a simple fact that we are steadily advancing towards the end of our lives… we don’t need a terminal diagnosis in order to be given permission to live the way we want to live.
December 3rd: The philosopher as an Artisan of Life and Death
We can study the different philosophies of the world as a way to learn how to live our lives and respect our inevitable and natural end. Doing this helps us craft our lives like an artists crafts their masterpieces.
December 4th: You Don’t Own That
The stoics taught that if something could be taken from you by a force outside of your control then your ownership of it was fleeting and not total. Your house, your land, your TV, your family, your friends, your car… literally everything you claim as yours… can be taken from you by force, malice, or fate.
The notable exception is your life. Your physical, mental and emotional self is yours to build, control, shape, and direct until your last breath. This is the one thing you can and should be seeking utter and complete control over.
December 5th: The Benefits of Sobering Thoughts
Putting off thinking about the possibility of negative outcomes weakens our resilience to the unexpected. We shouldn’t dwell exclusively on the harsh realities that will one day face us, but we also shouldn’t exclude them from our thoughts, our planning, and our actions.
Contemplating your own mortality now should drive you to improve physically, mentally, and emotionally. While no guarantee of extending your life, it will edge the advantage in your favor.
December 6th: The Sword Dangles Over You
The sword of fate is constantly descending upon us. We shouldn’t live in a fantasy land, pretending that we will live forever. This fact should remind us to constantly live to the fullest of our potential.
December 7th: The Cards We Are Already Dealt
The past is the past, it is over and the life ahead is bonus to to make use of the cards you have been dealt. What are you going to do? What would you change if you knew you only had a year, or maybe a week left to live? Why aren’t you seeking after those things.
Thinking about my inevitable death isn’t as somber and dreary as I thought it would be. I am finding that it shines a light on what I want to be doing with my time and who I want to be spending that time with.
December 8th: Don’t Hide From Your Feelings
Honestly facing your emotional responses is one of the keys to developing self control in the face of tragedy and loss.
Suppressing your feelings or blaming them away on others and the circumstances that surround you is a surefire way to complicate your life and erode your physical, mental and emotional well being.
December 10th: Don’t Sell Yourself Too Cheaply
Your time is limited with an unknown expiration date. Think about this when you are deciding who and what you let into your life to take up your time.
Your time is the most valuable asset in YOUR life. Don’t sell it cheaply, don’t squander it on useless and frivolous endeavors.
Seek out true value, real return on investment. Get control of your time back from the people and things that are using it up for their own selfish or wasteful purpose.
December 11th – Dignity and Bravery
Why do we respect the hero? For me it is because of the ability to place their lives at risk in order to face down a threat with dignity and bravery.
In the face of fear and under pain of death they take actions others cower and shrink from.
This isn’t a lack of fear, it is the ability to control your physical, mental and emotional response threats. To take action in the face of danger is the mark of the brave and dignified.
December 12th – The Beat Goes On
Life advances with or without us. This was true before us, and it will be true after us. The comfort we can get from this truth is found in the legacy we leave behind with our families and friends.
The best satisfaction in life is found in the effort and energy we expend to advance the betterment of our the world within our sphere of influence.
December 13th – It’s Just a Number
Age. There is a tendency to have a dramatic relationship with our age. When we are young we can’t wait to be older. When we are older we long to be younger again.
We don’t have to live in this dichotomy, we can (and should) live as hard as we can in the moment of life we are in.
I know I have marveled at the young entrepreneur and inventor and enviously gawked at the old man athlete. The exact life you want is attainable at any age. Go out and get it.
December 14th – What We Should Know By Now
It pays to learn life’s big lessons as early in our journey as possible so they can have more time to impact our choices, actions, and behaviors.
One of these lessons is that we will die.
Accepting this fact should stoke the fires of our passion to master our physical, mental, and emotional selves in order to live a masterful and skillful life.
December 15th – A Simple Way To Measure Our Days
We have a lot of different social construct that try to tell us what success looks like. Some focus on money and material objects like the best house or car. Others gauge success by gathering experiences and knowledge. Gaining power and influence may even be considered by some as a sign of success. These goals can be laudable and healthy, but the stoics taught a simpler measure of success that encircles all these other measures.
Did you live today like it was your last?
What would it take to live your last day without it being in a frenzy, wallowing in laziness, or pretending everything is just fine? What should you have already done to be physically, mentally, and emotionally prepared for the end of your days?
Everyday is getting you closer to that last final moment.
Your physical health will help determine where and how those last days are spent, what should you be doing to secure that physical well being? Go do it… that will make for a good day.
Your mental health and clarity will help ensure you are prepared to depart this life. Are your affairs in order? Have you done what you needed to do to protect your family and stewardship? Go do it… that will make for a good day.
Your emotional well being will protect you during the transition and give you strength and grace to finish strong in the face of the greatest change. Are you sad, angry, malcontent, or lost? Can you do something about it? Go do it… that will make for a good day.
I know it isn’t realistic to think we can knock everyday out of the park, but moving each of these priorities a little further forward each day is a worthy goal, and a high quality measure of success and a good day.
December 16th – Everlasting Good Health
Our reasoned choice, the ability to think logically and make sound, rational, and moral decisions, is the one skill that is entirely within our sphere of influence and control.
We can refine this ability through study and practice. We can protect it from undue outside influence and corruption. We can rely on it when all other options for help and action fail us.
Because of this we can use it to our advantage in living a healthy, happy, and purposeful life.
December 17th – Know Thyself; Before It Is Too Late
Emotional intelligence, self-awareness, situational awareness, context… knowing yourself is a powerful tool. We need to strive for a better understanding of who we are, what we want, and what we need.
We are constantly running out of time to figure these things out and the longer it takes you to get there the less action you will be able to take in order to satisfy the basic need for a life purposefully lived.
December 18th – What Comes To Us All
Death is the great equalizer. Every new life born into this world is destined to end in death. This isn’t a cause for panic, it is just a simple truth. A truth that can temper our perspective because in the end we are all brought to the same equal fate.
No matter what station we climb to, or depth we sink to, this great end is the result of our simple beginning. We are born, therefore we die.
Every person we meet is on this same journey and shares in the same inevitable destiny. Every person we encounter may be on a different path but will ultimately shares the same fate.
Holding to this thought, shouldn’t we be a little kinder? Shouldn’t we take the time to help a little more? Shouldn’t we help eachother ease the incredible burdens we have to carry so we can all have a little more joy, a little more happiness, and a little more peace.
December 19th – Human Scale
It is a very human thing to feel the “weight of the world.” We assume to imagine the entirety of existence revolves around us and our day to decisions. In the grand scale of things this is pretty absurd thinking.
The universe around us is immense and ancient beyond our true comprehension. On this scale our individual effort is infinitesimal.
Our role is small on the grand scale of time and existence. Small, but focused. Like a finely tuned laser we burn sharp and hot at tiny point. We can have our greatest effect on those who immediately surround us, and from there our influence can spread.
Even so, we should come down from our lofty perch of self importance. Our time isn’t even a flick of dust on the grand scale. Stay humble, but stay focused.
December 20th – Fear the Fear of Death
Lets keep this simple. Being afraid of the inevitable end is a waste of time. It is crippling in more ways than I care to list, but really the most damning thing this fear does is prevent us from taking the actions we need to take in order to get what we truly want out of life.
Instead of being afraid of death, tremble and quake at the thought of fearing death. Shun the fear of death like the plague. Hide from the fear of death like it is a world destroying monster coming to get you from the upside down.
Being so scared of death that we are lulled into inaction and malaise, cynicism and depression, should terrify us to the core. View the fear of death as a threat and let it invoke the fight or flight response and drive us to act.
December 21st – What Do You Have To Show For Your Years?
For all the years, days, and hours accumulated over our lives… what do we have to show for it?
Did you learn the skills you wanted to learn?
Did you build the relationships you wanted to build?
Did you see the things you wanted to see?
Did you travel?
Did you create and build what you wanted to build?
Did you become the person you wanted to be?
Lets not let the years, days, hours, and minutes aimlessly pass away. Lets live with a passion and a focus to get after it and achieve the dreams and goals we have.
December 22nd – Stake Your Own Claim
A life well lived is sure to be full of wisdom built from successes and failures. These bright points of enlightenment are yours to share and it will be a dark world if we don’t take the time to share what we have learned with each other.
December 23rd – What Are you Afraid of Losing?
What is the actual quality of the time you would lose if you died today? What would you actual miss out on? What would break, or go undone? Be honest with yourself.
If you aren’t happy with the list you just made, it is time to change!
December 24th – Meaningless… Like a Fine Wine
There are so many things in life that we consume and in turn they consume us. What are we really doing with these things? We let them take so much control over us. We want more and so we work to get more, and more, and more…
What we really need to be happy is often right in front of us. Look around you, see those kids you are raising, that wife you commited your life to, those friends you should reach out to… go spend your time with them. The happiness on the other side will last way longer than that expensive bottle of wine (that is unless you want to enjoy a bottle of wine with me).
December 25th – Don’t Burn the Candle at Both Ends
Good advice for the holiday. Take it easy, reflect on the good things… enjoy your time with family and friends. It is time to recharge… after all the new year is right around the corner.
December 26th – Life is Long, If You Know How To Use It.
You have plenty of time to do many amazing and wonderful things. The trick is know when you are wasting time and when you are using it to your fullest.
Luxury and leisure will not leave you with life fulfilled. Get up and get after it.
Love hard, work hard, and play hard.
December 27th – Don’t Let Your Soul Go First
One of the saddest things I have seen is someone who has given up. When you look into their eyes and see that the flames for passion have died away and there is no thirst for life left. They occupy their shell of a body for no other reason then it is where they have ended up.
Take on the other hand the frail old timer who has persevered through decades. They loved hard and lived hard. Even as their body, and maybe even their mind fails them, they still possess a tenacious and indomitable spirit.
This is where I want to be at my end. Body spent… spirit soaring!
December 28th – On Being Remembered
I don’t want my life to be about being remembered. I want it to be about the impact I had. I want to be the best I can be because that will help those I care about the most be better than I am. In turn, they can pass on their growth to their friends and family.
This is the simple legacy I want.
December 29 – Give Thanks
There are countless things to be grateful for every day. Stop for a minute and list some of them out. It is worth the time it takes to see just how good things are.
-Friends all over the planet
-Living in Japan
-Cars to drive
-Time to do the things I want
-A gym nearby
-Warmth in the winter
-A group of people to listen to my ramblings
December 30th – Taking the Bite Out of It
One of the things I have learned over the years is that you can help yourself get through a lot of hard decisions or experiences by thinking about it well in advance. Meditating and thinking your way through the inevitable, in a sense pre-wires the brain and takes some of the edge of the impact trauma. This in turn can leave you with more clarity and focus to deal with the pain and grief, or stress and trauma.
This trick doesn’t make it all go away. It won’t remove the emotional responses, but it will give you the advantage of a head start.
December 31st – Get Active In Your Own Rescue
The whole point is to live a good life and have a good death… you aren’t going to get these things through study and meditation alone.
The Scholar and the Monk require the Warrior. Take an active role in getting after the things you want and need out of life. Crave adventure, crave health, crave discipline, crave success, crave happiness for you and those you love. Pursue these things with a relentless passion.