It’s been a tough year in more ways than one for many people, many countries around the world have endured repeated lockdowns and economic harm as a result of the Coronavirus, job security is all but gone for many people and others have nothing to look forward too. The future is once again in doubt, the grand illusion, of course, is that the outlook was previously certain.
I’m not a big fan of the mainstream media, I personally find the various news channels and talking heads of the world to be an assemblage of corrupt, bad faith actors that report about anything other than reality. These are people who try to fabricate a reality by imposing their views on the rest of the planet presumably for their own economic advantage. This is why I prefer to get my information from reliable, credible and trustworthy sources in the alternative mediascape of the world wide web. Occasionally however I’m still exposed to mainstream media nonsense, their handcrafted and carefully placed stories and soundbites often slip under my radar disappearing into the subliminal mind without a trace like a ship lost at sea, the wrecked pieces of which resurface into my conscious awareness later on like flotsam and jetsam.
One such repeat narrative of this year has been the mental health damage inflicted on sad, lonely and isolated people forced to stay in their homes for anything from two weeks to three months at a time. Whenever I hear about someone crying in their beer at the effects of lockdown on their social life, sex life or their inability to be a pop star two thoughts run through my head simultaneously. First, I get a sudden rush to judgement that they ought to pull themselves together, they are clearly people who have never had any real problems in life. If their world is ruined by having to stay in, just wait until someone they love unexpectedly dies or all of their luggage is lost in a shipwreck like Zeno of Citium (a 4th Century BC Hellenistic thinker who founded the Stoic school of philosophy).
The second and almost immediate thought to run through my mind is that it’s a pity that they do not know philosophy, it’s sad that not one person in their lives has gifted them with a toolset that would help them through this modern form of exile known as ‘lockdown,’ allowing them to thrive in seclusion like dear old Musonius Rufus.
“Gaius Musonius Rufus was a Roman Stoic philosopher of the 1st century AD. He taught philosophy in Rome during the reign of Nero and so was sent into exile in 65 AD, returning to Rome only under Galba. He was allowed to stay in Rome when Vespasian banished all other philosophers from the city in 71 AD although he was eventually banished anyway, returning only after Vespasian’s death. A collection of extracts from his lectures still survives. He is also remembered for being the teacher of Epictetus.”
Wikipedia entry on Gaius Musonius Rufus.
Musonius was exiled twice to a distant island where it was exceedingly difficult to scratch a living. In exile, he not only thrived but founded a community of philosophers doing so well that eventually he was recalled to Rome and allowed to go about his business.
Exile is no punishment if you choose to enjoy it! The point being that isolation can actually be a good thing if you decide to make it so.
It’s your mind that gives assent or not to the emotional debris of a personal shipwreck such as being unable to hang out with your friends or spend time with your loved ones.
I for one as a former mental health sufferer, totally understand what it is to be an extrovert, a gregarious person who draws their energy, sense of wellbeing and other feelgood factors from their interactions with other people such as friends, family members and random strangers whom they happen to strike up a conversation with. When big government steps in to say that you are no longer allowed to do this it can be an overwhelming cause of chronic depression, but only if you allow it to be so. Thank God we have telephones, social media, the internet and a whole plethora of apps that allow face to face communications with just about anybody that we happen to know, all easily accessible with just a fingertip. Musonius would have laughed at this modern form of exile and would remind you that the hardest thing about the experience of watching time passing is the realisation that you are running out of it and you should make the most of your opportunities to do something good with the time you presently have. Stoics live for virtue and virtue comes in many forms. Being alone does not mean being lonely or an inability to have shared experiences with other people. Online multiplayer games have been bursting at the seams throughout 2020 thanks to the effects of the global pandemic and all represent opportunities for social interactions with people that you either already know, don’t presently know or have yet to meet. These types of interactions often spill over into real life, many of my fondest friends are people that I’ve met online, fought alongside in whatever make-believe reality we were engaging with and kept in touch with via the magic of the world wide web, having regular chit chats and long conversations with each other in online groups and chat rooms despite living on different continents.
The internet isn’t just a space for boring old websites and computer games, it’s full of communities all converging around shared interests. It’s also a great place to learn new skills, video sharing sites are full of tutorials and all sorts of online courses that will teach you anything from auto-maintenance, computer programming, cooking, guitar lessons, how to speak another language, photography, beauty and makeup tips to painting and all sorts of activities limited only by your interest. There isn’t anything that you can’t find out how to do really well on the internet. This is important because the people you interact with online become your peers. If you learn from the best, you become the best, self-improvement is a great thing to do when in the midst of a lockdown because it replaces negative thoughts of loneliness and social isolation with more positive thoughts of achievement, accomplishment and a sense of personal growth that comes from being part of a larger community made up of people who only want the best for you. So, when thoughts of failure, fatigue or depression come along as they inevitably will just take a moment or two to remind yourself that it’s your choice whether you give them your assent or not. Your piece of mind and internal happiness is down to you.
The mind is the one place where you can reign supreme, no government no matter how big or authoritarian can take that from you. You are the master of your own personal psyche. All you’ve got to do is pay attention to your thoughts and your feelings as and when they arise, considering where they come from and whether they are valid, ask yourself if they are teaching you anything, are they signposting you towards a positive outcome? If not simply disregard them as the worthless chaff that they are. Happiness is within your own gift, it’s the stoic thing to do.
“If we were to measure what is good by how much pleasure it brings, nothing would be better than self-control- if we were to measure what is to be avoided by its pain, nothing would be more painful than lack of self-control”
Musonius Rufus – How to Live
“Others have been in poor health from overindulgence and high living, before exile has provided strength, forcing them to live a more vigorous life.”
Musonius Rufus – How to Live
“Thus it appears that exile helps, rather than hinders body and spirit, by treating them better than they treat themselves.”
Musonius Rufus – How to Live