On embracing change the Stoic way
I’m going through a lot of significant changes at the moment.
On a personal level, my parents have just left Dubai, the city we’ve lived in together for over 25 years. They have permanently moved to India. The weekend was tough. Lots of tears, nausea and acne (!); and I still have a knot in my stomach and no appetite.
At my work, everything is changing. Management, plans, processes and people. I believe that change is always for the good, but usually preceded by upheaval and uncertainty.
I have been eating junk and too much chocolate, and not getting enough sleep. Add to that a lingering cold which has any made exercise difficult and not helped the situation. I have hardly spent any quality time with my kids lately. My mind feels like mush.
“Just breathe into it”, my husband tells me, “it will pass”, something that was engrained in us when we did Vipassana, an ancient meditation technique that is meant to equip you for times like these.
It’s a wonderful gift to have learnt how to meditate, however if you don’t practice, there is no point. I find it hard to sit still. Yoga is my moving meditation but I never do ‘Shavasana’ at the end to relax. Perhaps I need to start there.
Change is constant and much of it is outside of our control. So how can we deal with it better?
Here are a few things that I am *trying* to do, and much of it is Stoic philosophy:
- Not reacting: Although I may have a monkey mind at the moment, I am trying not to react to any of the changes externally. I am not taking any decisions, or changing anything just yet. Doing anything from a place of haste or angst is not helpful and it is likely you will regret your actions later.
‘’You have power over your mind — not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength’’ ~ Marcus Aurelius, Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher
- Focusing my energy on staying calm: I am easily bothered these days, I think it’s a result of everything going on, alongside fatigue. I am easily snapping at my kids and sometimes my coworkers, for no reason. I am incredibly aware of it, and am just trying to breathe into it and stay calm.
To be lucky all the time and to go through life without mental distress is to remain ignorant of half of the natural world — Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Roman Stoic philosopher
- Recognising what I can and cannot control: This is so key. I think we often forget what we can and cannot control. All the changes happening in my life right now are totally out of my control, why then let them bother me?
“Things that are in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire and aversion; our own actions. Things not in our control are property, reputation, command; whatever are not our own actions”, Epictetus, Greek Stoic philosopher
- Reminding myself that everything in life is uncertain: Sometimes we chase certainty too much. Ask yourself when was the last time everything in your life went exactly to plan? The answer is never. And that’s just life. If you knew how everything was going to pan out, everyday of the rest of your life, life would be pretty boring.
“So think of uncertainty as the cure for that boredom. A future you can’t predict is central to keeping you learning and growing” — Ryan Holiday, author and modern Stoic
- Preparing for change: My parents living in Dubai was a source of certainty for me all my life, they were my anchor to this city. Although I knew they would leave one day, now that its happened, I’m feeling a bit lost as I wish they stayed longer. A pointless thought that brings me sadness.
I’m quite good at mentally rehearsing for change, however I hadn’t prepared myself for this at all. I guess I was in denial that they were ever going to leave.
Stoic philosopher Seneca in his essay on The Shortness of Life has a great analogy on preparing yourself: “A great number of people plan a sea voyage with no thought of a storm,” he wrote. “It is too late for the mind to equip itself to endure dangers once they are already there. ‘I didn’t think it would happen’. Why ever not? Know, then, that every condition can change, and whatever happens to anyone can happen to you too.”
- Prioritizing rest: A good nights sleep can do wonders to your mindset. I usually write this newsletter on Sunday night, but the last two nights I have prioritized sleep. I write this at 5am on a Tuesday morning, after a full 8 hours sleep last night. What a difference.
- Keeping perspective: In the grand scheme of things, nothing disastrous is happening to me. My family is fine, we are safe and well, I guess that’s all that matters.
If you are going through change or a tough time, I hope this has helped you.
If you like what you have read, I write more like this on my Working Mums Club Substack, a newsletter for mums want to have better careers and be better mums.