…it is customary to reflect over that which has passed. Was this a good year with hindsight as metric? And what are we really measuring here, financial success, accomplishments, health, happiness, personal development?
Before I answer these questions…and at this point I am not entirely sure how to answer them, I have to put them through the perspective of my ever fascination and interest in the old stoic philosophy. The other day someone asked me to sum it up, and I still believe a Christian prayer called the Serenity prayer captures the stoic mindset really well:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
(Although known most widely in its abbreviated form above,
the entire prayer reads as follows…)
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.
I have highlighted the stoic concepts here, which are further expanded on in the works of Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Epictetus et al.
Thus coming back to 2014… it was not until the last month, I truly let go of the last bit of anger and resentment I harboured over my situation and stopped my efforts to change certain aspects I really have very little control over. I delved into the concepts of Intrinsic Value (or the lack thereof) and Amor Fati, which Nietzsche wrote an interesting passage on:
“I want to learn more and more to see as beautiful what is necessary in things; then I shall be one of those who make things beautiful. Amor fati: let that be my love henceforth! I do not want to wage war against what is ugly. I do not want to accuse; I do not even want to accuse those who accuse. Looking away shall be my only negation. And all in all and on the whole: some day I wish to be only a Yes-sayer.”
So my world became very small, and instead largely centered upon myself (this is quite a paradox, as this may seem the height of narcissism, but it should not be interpret as such). It was based on acceptance of what I can influence/change and what I cannot, the acceptance of what I can control (my thoughts and my intentions) and what I cannot (again we are talking in absolutes here….control vs. influence are two different things!). There is no good or bad – my own judgment is the only thing that makes is so.
With this understanding and acceptance, it brought me – little by little – peace. And with peace there cannot be room for anger. No matter what happens. (NB: Acceptance versus striving for Justice are again not polar points of view, and thus Acceptance should not to be mixed up with being complacent when things can and should be changed for the better)
Stoics place great emphasis on ethics and how to live truthfully, and as faulty humans that we are, this also makes it rather difficult to adhere to. It’s yet in our innate nature to know what is good (using how we want to be treated ourselves can be a pretty useful scale of measurement). Thus being good and doing good is ever in our grasp. Or as Marcus Aurelius puts in:
“Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.”
Thus going back to where I started, The year has been good, and it has been blessed with more learnings than ever before. Perhaps this time I took the effort to examine and walk the path in the sunlight of this philosophy. Yet I made mistakes, but those are of course now my lessons.
Work wise…I am glad to say I worked, and work comes in many forms, and one is not more or less shameful than another. So I worked, on external projects, on my own Fashion line, on selling a house which came with a lot of packing and cleaning and ultimately I closed off a chapter that needed closure. I am grateful for that.
Through changes to Sebastian’s afterschool I had more time to spend with the little man and see him grow, whether building lego castles, playing memory games by the fire or watching history documentaries in bed. Right now we are reading a contemporary reprint of the first Edition of A Christmas Carol. Sebastian knows one thing, and so we start every evening… Marley was dead. As dead as a doornail.
I am finalising this year with my family on a beautiful estate just outside Maastricht. Although I wish Victoria could be here, I know she will have fun this evening with her friends. Again I feel blessed for having my family and for their courage to mirror my shortcomings. These are many and I shall do my best to work on them in the coming year.
So I can only conclude it’s been a good year, as I hope I will be able to find every year from now on. With the wisdom of knowing that whatever happens, we can bare it with our backs straight and our heads high, yet find the humbleness to bow when so required.
Yes, I feel I am prepared to take on 2015. It will an interesting year. I finish it off with another quote from Meditations:
“Look at the past – empire succeeding empire – and from that, extrapolate the future: the same thing. No escape from the rhythm or events. Which is why observing life for forty years is as good as a thousand. Would you really see anything new?”