Stoic Week and a Trip to the ER


About a week ago I wrote about a project called “Stoic Week”.  You can read more about it here.  The quick version is that a group of philosophers, classics scholars and psychologists at the University of Essex in the UK proposed a web based project where people would try to live with the daily practices that were part of the Stoic philosophical school and then share experiences.  The goal, as I understand it, is to consider the value of Stoicism as both a way of life and a therapeutic tool.

I decided to participate in this project and filled out the questionnaires like the Life Satisfaction Survey and began engaging in the daily practices.  I was finding it an interesting experience.  The daily meditations on what lies truly within our control and what doesn’t, what is truly ours and what is impermanent did help lend a kind of calm to my dealings.  Detaching emotions from judgments and observations gave a framework to dealing with work and other stresses.  It all seemed promising and I was enjoying the forum dialogues sharing thoughts and experiences.   Then things went in an unexpected direction.

I’m won’t spend a lot of time on the gory details of the accident that happened Wednesday evening.  Suffice to say, a piece of equipment had a major malfunction, I was hit in the face like a shot from a trebuchet, much bleeding ensued and I ended up in the emergency room.  I had a very long night of cat scans to see if facial bones were broken, multiple tests for eye trauma , stitches for the jagged gash that may give me a cool scar I can tell lies about (something about a bar fight in Amsterdam and a guy with a knife sounds plausible).  I was very fortunate as the eye trauma could have been much worse.  I dodged that bullet by about half an inch.  Now I’m dealing with recovery and some treatments to hopefully prevent any lingering aftereffects.  We’ll see.

What makes my tale of woe relevant is its timing.  When I made my trip to the ER I had committed myself to remain mindful of the practices of Stoicism for the week.  It seemed a good time to practice what I was preaching.  Not trying to draw on those practices in a moment of crisis would mean my interest was rather superficial.  I had lots of time to consider things from the Stoic perspective while lying around waiting for the next test.

If I suffered serious or permanent damage would it alter my ability to lead a good and worthy life?  No, not really.  Had there ever been any logical reason to believe that I would pass through my life as a mortal flesh and blood creature with no injury or illness?  No.  So then did I really have any cause for complaint?

I recognized that no likely result of this accident would prevent me from continuing my business, my practice of martial arts, my studies or anything else I wanted to do.  Some things might have to be adjusted and be inconvenient but that was all about external conditions and not the well-being of my mind or character.  All these thoughts did have a calming effect.

Yo Adrienne.  Externals can't effect my inner state.  No really.  I'm serious.

Yo Adrienne. Externals can’t effect my inner state. No really. I’m serious.

There’s no question that the mental practices of the Stoics were truly helpful in the midst of this pain and distress. However, I’d also be kidding if I said that my use of these practices completely eliminated negative emotions.  There was still anger that such a stupid accident had occurred.  There was still anxiety about the possible results.  There was plenty of stress when I thought about what all of this will cost me with my insurance deductibles.  Since the accident happened I find myself struggling with irritation and depression as I deal with recovery.   Stoic practice definitely has helped but I’m clearly not headed for serene Sagehood yet.

That’s fine.  Even the ancients weren’t sure that achieving pure Sage status was possible.  We are human animals after all and that comes with some hard wired instinctive emotional impulses.  I don’t believe Greek and Roman Stoics really expected to eliminate those completely and render us numb.  They wanted to understand how to minimize negative emotions, channel our impulses productively and lead worthy, preferably tranquil lives.

So, for me, I would say the week of living daily and deeply with Stoic practices and meditations was reasonably successful and useful.  I just would have preferred not to be put to the test quite so dramatically.  But then, as the Stoics taught, preferences are indifferent as they do not alter our ability to live the good and worthy life.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: