What is in my control?
In stoicism the world divides into things that are in your control and things that are not in your control. You have very little control over who your parents are, where you were born, the wealth that surrounds you or even the period of history you happen to be in, and if you are alive today, you are living in the greatest period of technology and economic growth, we have ever seen. However none of that is in your control, it happened to you and now you get to make the next choice, there are no do-overs. You have to play the cards you are dealt and there is no point in worrying about which you do not have, you concentrate only on those things that you can control.
That is the essence of recognizing what you are in control of, as trying to change things which are not in your control is a complete and absolute waste of time. The list of things that are not in your control are of an oceanic scale. Everything on the news is not in your control, the economy is not in your control, how people treat each other is not in your control. How your family and friends act and think is not in your control, even some of your own reactions and subconscious thinking is not in your control.
The only real thing that is in your control and where you should be concentrating your efforts, is how you react and what choice you make from the limited range of choices that you have. Which might sound limiting and unfair that you can not be anything thing you want, however I find it a bit of a relief. Can you imagine if you could choose to live any life that has ever happened that you wanted. I have enough trouble deciding what to have for lunch. If I had to decide between 20 billion different lives, I would not know where to even start. How do you even measure the worth of a life or whether the upsides are worse than the downs, there is pain and happiness in almost every life. What we get instead is a blank page where we get to write the next chapter in our own story.
However we do not get that kind of choice, we are given a small ship to sail on the ocean of things we are not in control of, we might be born into a storm or calm waters. In most situations the range of choices, might come down to two or three real choices and that can cause us enough pain in decision making. We make our best decisions when they are aligned with who we are, our values and character, that is where our real control comes into play when we have confidence in where our decisions are coming from, where who we are matches the sum total of our action. Of course you have to know who you are first, so time spent on that is worthwhile to increase your control.
What we do have control over in the moment is how we react and who we decide to be when it happens. How we see the world and indeed how joyful we are depends on only one things, how we react, the only suffering we have comes from reactions. That is not to say that there is not sadness and loss, however suffering comes from our thoughts both about the life situation we find ourselves in and our thoughts about our feelings. It is up to us to find the positive, even if it just learning a lesson.
In “the search for meaning”, Viktor managed to find meaning and an avoidance of suffering in the most awful circumstances imaginable. He controlled the only thing he could his thoughts. Thoughts lead to feeling which generates emotions, that can lead to further feeling generating thoughts. So when we control our thoughts, we can generate the feelings and emotions that we want as opposed to those that cause us to suffer.
In the same way, we can chose to shift to a state of mind that gives us peace, whatever we can imagine, we can become by visualizing it first, even a state of grace, easy and joy. We move towards that state, the more time we spend in it, even if it a few minutes a day initially. It is the act of thinking the thoughts though visualization that starts to give us the feeling of what that state would be like, and once we know what is possible. It can be become probable that we are going to experience that state and the longer we experience that state for, the greater then are the chances that we change our default thinking to that state and when that happens our personality shifts to a new state of being.
That is the kind of control over my life that I am interested in, I do not care where I started, I am interested in where I ended up and most of all I care about the journey through the stoic maze, the processes, not the destination in and of itself. I wish to be a growing being of consciousness not only because there is not another show in town, but because nothing brings me greater joy than growing as a person. That is what I wish to have in my control and it is lucky as it seems to be the only thing that I truly have in my control. And if there is a greater plan, a bigger game being played that none of us have been told about, if we are at best mere pawns and the only destiny that we seem to have is to become the best version of us, the version that continues to grow as a being of consciousness, one which makes better choices and maybe helps to raise the consciousness of all of us. That seems like a good enough reason to show up and play the game.