This is the second-to-last chapter in my The Obstacle is The Way project, bringing me that much closer to claiming the title of ‘finisher.’ I wasn’t super impressed with this chapter.
This chapter kicks off with a killer quote from Marcus Aurelius:
When jarred, unavoidably, by circumstance revert at once to yourself and don’t lose the rhythm more than you can help. You’ll have a better grasp of harmony, if you keep going back to it.
Partly, I wish that ‘revert to yourself’ was the kind of thing I could use in conversation: “Son, you have diabetes, but let me first help you revert to yourself.” It sounds cold, but it’s such great advice because it’s the first thing I want people to do: get back to yourself, because that’s the person who’s going to have to deal with this problem.
But then, Ryan Holiday lists examples.
And I have a problem with his examples. Partly, it’s that there’s a lot of sports in there and… who cares?
My larger problem, though, is that I’m wary of using black athletes as examples of overcoming adversity, because I’m not always sure they do. Ryan mentions Arthur Ashe and Joe Lewis. I’ve only ever heard Joe Lewis’s name in passing, and Arthur Ashe’s name not at all, but the premise in both examples is this: denied ‘permission’ to be emotional players because they were black, they both channeled all that energy back into their performance and excelled.
And I certainly think that channeling your energy into constructive channels is better than not. Without knowing anything about either of the athletes, though, when I put myself in the shoes of an elderly Joe Lewis or Arthur Ashe, I wonder if they’d look back and feel successful.
Everything I’ve heard suggests that the world of the 1% is just as degrading for minorities as the rest of reality, though maybe not quite as dangerous. Maybe they can see themselves as one link in a long chain of change, and be content. I don’t know.
Either way, Ryan Holiday is right in using them as examples of people standing up to adversity, and the examples he draws — here in my favorite paragraph — from daily life seem pitiful in comparison:
And yet we feel like going to pieces when the PowerPoint projector won’t work (instead of throwing it aside and delivering an exciting talk without notes). We stir up gossip with our coworkers (instead of pounding something productive out on our keyboards). We act out, instead of act.
Physically loose, mentally tight
My greatest takeaway from this chapter will be to lines: the ‘revert to yourself’ quote from Marcus Aurelius that I mentioned at the beginning of the post, and an epithet that Arthur Ashe created for himself: “physically loose, mentally tight.”
Of course, he was talking about sports. (Ick.) But, I like the idea of feeling limbered up, energized and ready for spontaneous, but controlled action coupled with mental focus. It’s the kind of line I can adopt and apply to coding as much as to tennis.
And, it fits in with this paragraph from Ryan Holiday:
To be physically and mentally loose takes not talent. That’s just recklessness. (We want right action, not action period.) To be physically and mentally tight? That’s called anxiety. It doesn’t work, either. Eventually we snap. But phyiscal looseness combined with mental restraint? That’s powerful.
I hope I can learn to be physically loose and mentally tight… and to revert to myself when I start to stray away from who I want to be.