“Whenever you suffer pain, keep in mind that it’s nothing to be ashamed of and that it can’t degrade your guiding intelligence, nor keep it from acting rationally and for the common good. And in most cases you should be helped by the saying of Epicurus, that pain is never unbearable or unending, so you can remember these limits and not add to them in your imagination. Remember too that many common annoyances are pain in disguise, such as sleepiness, fever and loss of appetite. When they start to get you down, tell yourself you are giving in to pain.” — Marcus Aurelius
I never understood this idea until this past weekend when I had a chance to practice it. Funny how that works, I read and study constantly and sometimes I wonder why. Most of the time I don’t even have an agenda for my reading. My books, articles, and podcasts seem to come at random. But then, there I am moving through life, and I recognize a situation and think, “This is what they were talking about!”
I was in a situation this past weekend. What that was isn’t important, but let’s just say it was a typical family get-together. Anyway, there I was, sitting amongst some of my relatives in a restaurant when I began to grow uncomfortable. Too many people I didn’t know, too much being nice, uncomfortable clothes, I really didn’t know what it was. I needed a break, so I excused myself and went outside for air. I texted my husband and we went back and forth a few times. In the past I wouldn’t have gone in the first place or, if I did go, I’d have had an exit strategy, but this time I didn’t have my usual escape plans. I took a deep breath and went back inside.
My escape was blocked, and, in the past, my next behavior would have been to get angry or “piss on” whatever was going on, but I realized something as I sat there, I could choose to just “be there” like the Stoics said. This isn’t unbearable, and I could just let it happen and do nothing, not react. So, I tried something new, something I’d learned from the Marcus Aurelius. I just played along and watched. I let it all wash over me and away. I came home and described everything that happened to my husband, complaining as I went, and then went to bed.
The next morning, I realized that I’d learned something. I hadn’t left and made people feel awkward. I hadn’t lashed out and made people feel angry. I had listened and learned instead. I realized it was only me that felt any pain. It was only in my head that a tragedy was occurring. There was no need to make everyone else feel it. They are not bad people doing bad things, they are just different. We only have different tastes, that’s all.
I’ve been rather estranged from my family the past ten or so years. It’s been difficult, but I think things are changing. I think I’m finally growing up. Maybe the next one will be more fun. I’m hoping so. Family is too important to lose over anxiety and differences of opinion.