A VIEW FROM ABOVE – A BARBELL STOIC’S PERSPECTIVE PART 1

Brian Jones

Stoicism is an ancient Greek school of philosophy founded at Athens by Zeno of Citium. To most, Stoicism is either unknown or misunderstood. This vibrant, action-oriented, and paradigm-shifting way of living has become shorthand for “emotionlessness.” Given the fact that the mere mention of philosophy makes most nervous or bored, “Stoic philosophy” on the surface sounds like the last thing anyone would want to learn about, let alone urgently need in the course of daily life.

My purpose today isn’t to extoll the virtues or besmirch the practice of Stoicism.  The study of the study of Stoicism is something I find interesting.  Now I know many of you are saying, “How many layers of (cue fake snoring noise) boredom do you need to wrap yourself in, Brian?”  Boring and exciting are relative terms.  Believe me, I first made this argument with Summer, my wife, on our wedding night.  My hope is that it flies better here than it did in the Shack Up Inn in 2006.  Nevertheless, I digress

Stoics have a practice that has been termed, “A View from Above.”  This involves picturing events as though seen from high overhead.  Real quick – lets give it a try.  Matthew Van Atta, in The Beginner’s Guide to Stoicism, suggest you sit in a comfortable place, close your eyes (after reading this, not now) and picture yourself from above.  While seeing yourself, kind of like a close Google Earth shot, begin to pull back.  See yourself in relationship to your neighborhood and neighbors.  Pulling back further envision your town, your country, the world, perhaps even the universe.  From this perspective we can see that everyone is confronting challenges.  Put your challenges in relationship to what you are seeing.  Understand that the world isn’t so focused on you that your mistakes are seen by all.  Others have their own “rocks to tote” and “rows to hoe”.  (I will eventually put together an Appalachian to Outsiders translation document to assist with some of my more hillbillian colloquialisms and slang.).

Picturing events as though seen from above, maybe even like the gods on Mount Olympus (or as 17 year olds on Bickle’s Knob pounding Schlitz and Iron City Light), provides a degree of emotional equanimity or as some of us from West Virginia may say “It ‘ill all come out in the wash” or “It don’t amount to a hill of beans.”  We are provided perspectives from a varying range of vantage points as we zoom out seeing ourselves in relationship to others.

Providing different perspectives from a variety of vantage points is my hope for The Barbell Guy.  As many of you know, in 2011, I fell from a roof and severely broke both legs.  We were given the prognosis that I would never walk unassisted again.  The phrase, “a wheelchair or a walker” was used ad nauseum by nearly everyone with which I had contact.  Medical folks, family and friends.  We were preparing for the worst case scenario.. just to cope.  It wasn’t long before all I could see was the rest of my life spent in a prison of my own construct – whether it be a hospital bed, a walker or a wheelchair. At that point, I had never heard of the Stoics, their philosophy or of pulling back for a bigger picture.  My entire existence was in a 4’ x 6’ mattress; my bars the bed railings.  I thought there was no hope.  For those that believe as such, my hedge had not only been parted – there had been a hole blown into it the size of a life.  Now that life was looking at the prospect of being a burden on everyone he loved.

I had no perspective.

This is Part 1 of 2.  Part 2 will be available “come Monday.”    Until then think about the following:

  •  Is there anything in your life that you used to really want or fear, that you no longer do?
  • Why did that change?

Check out The Barbell Guy Facebook group.  We’ll have the above questions listed and I am really looking forward to hearing from you guys.

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