If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.
– Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, Roman emperor, stoic philosopher (121 – 180 CE)
As emperor for about two decades of the greatest empire until modern times, Marcus Aurelius knew what it would be like to allow external problems to prey on his mind. Though he was known as one of the five great emperors of Rome, there was always a lineup of powerful men who wanted the job and had the swords and henchmen needed to cause him to lose his life.
Any empire has problems and a great emperor has great problems that prey on his mind day and night. He had the wisdom to separate the operations and vicissitudes of his position from the conducting of his life. Not an easy task, surely.
Considering the number of quotations attributed to him that pass around the internet nearly two millennia after his death, Marcus Aurelius distinguished admirably between himself and his people, his empire and its conquered people and occupied lands, even between himself and life itself.
Thus he knew well that to allow external influences to cause you pain and worry was to adopt the pain and worries of the world. He wouldn’t do it. He respected himself too much.
Look back at your own life for a moment. Remember back ten years. What sorts of things troubled you then? Do they still trouble you now? Almost no one can say their problems of old still trouble them, unless one of their problems is lack of self confidence.
A decade ago my life seemed to be hanging by a thread due to financial problems. Sometimes I wished I could just die so that the pain would go away. Until one day I had coffee with a friend who is a chartered accountant. Just when I was thinking that my next meal might have to come from a soup kitchen, he said “You’re a long way away from being bankrupt, or even from severe financial hardship.”
When I stepped away from my self destructive thoughts after our casual meeting, I could see that by rearranging my finances I could pay all my bills and have a decent life. My fear of becoming poor kept me from doing what I could to improve myself. I had emotionally hog-tied myself and thrown myself into a downward spiral.
That all ended that same day. As Marcus Aurelius said, I used my power to revoke external influences that were ruining my life.
When I consider how far I have come in the past ten years, that very special life lesson that came at a time of great personal crisis in my life may have been one of the best things that has happened to me.
The amazing thing to me is not that life changed for me, because others long before me obviously knew that could happen. The amazing lesson for me was that I had the power to refuse to allow problems I had no control over to affect my life.
Since that time I have developed two different medical syndromes which impact every day and hour of my life. But I know how lucky I am that I don’t have to let them bother me. I emphasize the positive in my life and ignore the negative, at least I refuse to give it any power over me. I am the positive part of me; the negative comes along, but no one cares about it, including me.
I enjoy freedom today that I never had before my great crisis (or previous ones) because I refuse to let problems I can’t control affect me. And the ones I can control, I fix.
Try it. I give you the gift of freedom, if you choose to accept it.
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today’s Epidemic Social Problems, a book that shows adults how making small changes in their own lives can improve them, the lives of their children and everyone else who knows them. It tells you what you need to know.
Learn more at http://billallin.com