Buddhism and stoicism overlap a lot in their teachings. I know this because I visit their teachings over and over again whenever I feel I am drowning.
These days, I am reading this amazing book, “No mud, no lotus” by a famous Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh.
In this book, the author writes that it’s worthless to run away from pain. In fact, the sooner we embrace that everything is temporary (both our pain and our happiness), the sooner we will feel free and at peace.
Stoic philosophers have given us practical tools to embrace reality and let go of unnecessary suffering.
Here are 6 stoic lessons that will help you avoid emotional suffering in your life —
Choose Not to Be Harmed — and You Won’t Feel Harmed. Don’t Feel Harmed — and You Haven’t Been. (Marcus Aurelius)
There’s famous Buddhist teaching known as “The Arrow.”
It says if an arrow hits your body, you will feel immense pain in the area where the arrow hits. If a second arrow hits you at the same spot, your pain will not only double; it will be 10X more intense.
If somebody was rude to us, that’s like the first arrow. But when we choose to hold on to this feeling of getting hurt, we hit ourselves with the second arrow. This second arrow is optional; it’s our choice to attach ourselves to the pain of the first arrow or to let go of the incident.
You can choose not to feel harmed. It’s your choice.
We Are More Often Frightened Than Hurt, and We Suffer More in Imagination Than in Reality. (Seneca)
You overslept on an important event day.
You are running late for the event. You must be having all the crazy thoughts in your mind, thinking, ‘Oh, I’m dead now’. And when you reach there, you see the event is running just fine, even without you.
Your presence wasn’t even that much necessary.
And hence goes the words of wisdom from Seneca-“…we suffer more in imagination than in reality.”
Did it really hurt you as much as you thought it would?
It’s Not What Happens to You, but How You React to It That Matters. (Epictetus)
Don’t belittle your emotional pain. Feel it and embrace it. But what’s next?
Do you want to keep holding on to this pain? Or do you want to move on?
It’s never about what you have. It’s about what do you do with whatever you have.
Lionel Messi was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency as a child. Whatever happened to him as a child didn’t stop him from being one of the best soccer players of today’s time.
What’s your story?
What’s stopping you from achieving greatness?
There’s the Event Itself, and The Story We Tell Ourselves About the Event. (Ryan Holiday)
What if I told you — “I just want to kick your butt really hard.”
You could either feel offended or laugh it off and give me even a sarcastic reply to this. There’s the event itself and the story we tell ourselves about the event.
“Oh, Dipanshu is so rude and offensive!” Or “Dipanshu definitely likes being sarcastic in public, and don’t mind getting a more sarcastic reply in return.”
It’s on us what story do we tell ourselves about the event.
Remember the second arrow? It’s a choice.
The Impediment to Action Advances Action. What Comes in the Way Becomes the Way. (Marcus Aurelius)
Emotions are the villains in your life — right?
But what are you going to do about it? For once, you can be a nerd and learn everything about them — what are they, how to manage them, how to utilize them, etc. OR you can play the victim and cry about it.
There are three types of people in this world –
- Ones who get destroyed by tough situations.
- Ones who somehow survive the tough times.
- Ones who actually change their tough situations to get the advantage of them.
What kind are you?
Do you get destructive when the times get hard, or do you somehow let the tough time pass through and survive it…
Are you the one who turns the obstacles into a stepping stone?
Amor Fati (Love for Fate)
No matter how powerful, strong, wealthy, you are — you can never overcome fate. So, it’s a thing you can’t control- no matter what. Period.
Instead of fighting with it, struggling against fate, stoics were taught to love their fate.
Loving your fate is practicing acceptance. Acceptance towards the uncontrollable parts of life — that’s how you avoid your emotional suffering.
There’s a famous story about Edison.
When Thomas Edison was 67 years old, one fine day, while he was having dinner at his home, his laboratory caught fire. He went outside to see his office building burning in flames — all the five-six stories of the building.
All of life’s work would be ashes in a few hours.
He immediately told his son, “Go call your mom and her friends. They might never see a fire like this again!”
Sounds laughable. So far, yes.
Edison calmed his coworkers saying- “We probably got rid of all the rubbish.”
And the story doesn’t end here.
Fast forward one month later, Edison was working with his workers, double shift, to nullify the loss. They had suffered a loss of $1M (of that time), and due to their efforts and hard work, Edison and co. generated revenue of $10M that year.
That’s not an example of only loving what’s happening, but let go of what you can’t control.
Stoicism teaches a dichotomy of control — there are things you can control, and there are things you can’t control. You can’t control emotional pain.
If someone betrays you, lies to you — you will feel hurt, you will feel emotional pain.
Emotional suffering is optional. It’s in your control. You have the choice to let go of the incidents that haunt you even after years.
You get to choose if you want to hold on to painful things or if you want to make room for things that make you feel happy and content.