Day 6 of the Daily Stoic’s 14 Day Stoic Challenge was all about the stoic practice of Premeditatio Malorum (premeditation of evils) – thinking about the things that can go wrong, can be taken away from us, ills that can befall us. The idea being, if we steel ourselves by thinking about what it would be like if these things happen 1) we can experience gratitude when, in all likelihood they never happen or 2) we aren’t as upset when they actually do happen because we’ve already practiced it, and maybe even realized it wouldn’t be that bad to get over it.
Nevertheless, seeing it on the calendar several days ago (as “get rid of a prized possession”), I was dreading it, and contemplating what I was going to be asked to do, what I was going to be asked to get rid of. So I was immediately grateful this morning when I read the full instructions that we didn’t (necessarily) have to actually get rid of something, and the value of the activity was made apparent immediately.
My wife and I have been systematically trying to reduce the “stuff” we have – both as a practice in charity and as a way to declutter our minds. One thing I have resisted is getting rid of any books, ones I’ve read and ones I’m never likely to read. So I immediately set about this morning going through all my books. And with the lessons from the other days challenges in mind I decided to really cull down the books to ones I want to re-read. This actually ended up making space in my book shelf for a little stoic section all to itself which was nice. And then I took about ⅓ of my books and put them in the recycling. Felt good and I didn’t have quite so many books staring at me, silently judging me for not reading them. Combined with my Day 2 commitment to read every day I felt totally energized to make reading the daily habit it once was.
Then as I sat down to write my accountability update in the challenge Slack channel, I realized I hadn’t actually completed the challenge. I’m not going to miss any of those books, and if I do I will download the audio book and listen on the commute into Denver. So, I went back to a mental inventory of what is in the house that I would truly miss, something that wasn’t easily replaceable at Best Buy or Amazon.
The one thing in the house that would get me most upset is probably the least expensive thing I have – a little Catholic novena card that my great-grandmother had written on the back. She had given it to my grandfather, and he carried it all throughout WWII. I, in turn, carried it with me all throughout my deployment to Iraq in 2007-2008. So I took some pictures of it, and then sat and contemplated losing it. This little card is an important connection to my grandfather, and the thought of losing it is very painful and I actually got upset, so today’s exercise ended up being very visceral for me.
And the takeaway is just what you would expect, and in fact what the stoics write. That reading about it is a lot different than actually doing it. Which is what these challenges are all about afterall.