Why philosophy for a better life? – Part III

Anyone who has encountered with anxiety knows that it is not a comfortable experience. The fight or flight response usually leads to more anxiety and as Dr. Thomas Richards explains, anxiety is paradoxical. As he elaborates in his book, trying to escape from anxiety leads to more anxiety. Pema Chodron, in her life changing book titled When Things fall apart, explains that anxiety is like a dog, if you run away from it they will chase you, but if you run towards it, they will stop.

I am no stranger to anxiety, actually, an anxiety episode was the reason why I became a coach, a process that I can now understand with a profound gratitude. The lesson from today is based on a Marcus Aurelius quote, which Ryan Holiday immortalizes in another life changing book titled The Obstacle is the way. Marcus Aurelius states in his book Meditations the following:

The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 5.20

This quote is indeed, paradoxical. The same paradoxicality that we experience when they tell us to calm down in an earthquake or to slow down to diminish anxiety. Marcus Aurelius writes to himself that he has to remember that the obstacle is the way, in which in this case, I would convert into our challenges are the way.

Philosophy invites us to do the hard work. To engage in our problems, to work in not avoiding them. This principle unites itself with amor fati, which we discussed in the previous post. If there is a challenge in front of us, amor fati begs us to ask the question: how can you love it? Marcus Aurelius adds to the question: How can this be useful to advance action?

I am an avid reader of Winston Churchill life, of its awkwardness, his brilliance, his embracement of flaws. Some biographers of Churchill argument that his depression led him to understand what Hitler´s plan was aiming for. Even though Churchill fought with depression, specially when his daughter died, he took this obstacle as an advancement for the way. The question is: how can I use this challenge for advancement?

Returning to my experience, when I was during my anxiety episode, I wanted to escape and never feel this again. As I became a coach, I saw myself as an inadequate coach because I lived an episode of anxiety that I couldn´t handle. Philosophy led me to ask the question on how I could use this to advance. My first step was to be vulnerable with others, to help others who are going through anxiety knowing how they feel and how they can move forward. I started to understand that there is knowledge in the challenges we face in life.

When I work with entrepreneurs there is always the fear of failure, but I have noticed that failure has helped most of the successful entrepreneurs. I have come to learn that most of the greatest leaders in the world had hard challenges, and advanced through them. I remember the greatest orator in Greek history, the famous Demosthenes. Demosthenes was considered weak and without the ability to debate because of his speech impediments. He began training by climbing mountains while shouting speeches to strengthen his lungs. He advanced through his obstacle and became a legend for those who debate.

We see this with leaders, CEO, entrepreneurs but mainly in those who make the world a better place because they that humanity is part of this advancement. Marcus Aurelius quote is the perfect exercise for those who are facing a challenge or those who want to help a person who is facing a challenge. For example, imagine that you lost your job. You got fired. Yes, it is not pleasant. You can choose to analyze this challenge, love it and create from it or hate the person who took the decision or worst of all, hate yourself. The answer is up to you, that is the importance of liberty, you choose. Even if decide to stay in the same place without moving, you are choosing.

Bill Eckstrom went through this process and explains it greatly in his Ted Talk about the Complexity Rings. In the talk he tells us that he was on top of the world when one day he gets fired. His talk goes through the process of loosing his job and how he chose this to lead him into the creation of the complexity rings theory. The process was not easy but it was fruitful. The theory is simple, as most of the brilliant theories are: you changed or you will be changed, search for complexity before complexity searches for you.

In episodes such as anxiety, depression, getting fired, losing a loved one, it is difficult to ask ourselves to love it (amor fati) and to advance through it. But what option do we have? We can choose to do nothing, which could lead to a worse scenario. We can chose hate. We can ask ourselves: why me? We can see ourselves as damaged. The other option is that, we can also see this as a way to help others, to be better, to focus, to take a step forward, to pivot in life. Remember, you advance is important even if it is a millimeter, a mile or a marathon.

For some it will be being able to breath, to get out of bed, to face the outside world or to conquer the Kilimanjaro. Don´t compare your path to others, your path is your path. Love your path and help others love theirs. Never give to hate.

This is one of the reasons why philosophy is a fundamental for a better life. As the founder of the stoics, Zeno of Citium, experienced when his boat sank to the bottom of the ocean, he was bound to a question of what to choose. His whole fortune, story tells us, was in the boat. With a sunken ship, he went from wealth to poor, in financial terms. But this led him to search for a better life or as Zeno called it, a good flow of life.

We will experience challenges. They can be from our birth, our childhood or any other time of our lives. Let us choose the hard way, to advance through it. To grow through it, to be better through it. Let us not label ourselves as a failure, as damaged, as unworthy. What we are living or lived are not defects, they are just obstacles that stand in the way, that become the way. Aristotle insisted that this is why humanity is a task.

If I could leave you with a thought it would be this. Let us love our obstacles. Let us grow through our obstacles. Let us help others through are obstacles. Let us respect those who are advancing through the obstacle. We are all searching for the good flow of life and probably what you are living, is the process to reach it.

Important information:

Mental health is extremely important. If you are dealing with anxiety or depression it is important to visit a professional and allow them to help you. Please take care of yourself, you are extremely important to the world. Remember, that as Marcus Aurelius stated, we are all connected live bees in a hive. And yes, you are loved.

For resources in the United States I found this list in Everyday Health.

If you are not dealing any situation, be gentle with others. Lend an ear. Listen. Listen with love and most of all, don´t hate.

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